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Women and Airport Security

Aired November 24, 2004 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE: pat-down or put-down? As holiday travelers pack America's airports, more and more women reveal they're being humiliated by aggressive pat-downs during security checks.

As this controversy erupts, a 79-year-old woman is arrested in South Florida for trying to carry a pistol on board an aircraft hidden in a book. Are screeners being too touchy-feely or do we need all the extra security to ensure our safety in the age of terrorism?



ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, sitting in on the left, Donna Brazile, and sitting in on the right, Bay Buchanan.


Millions of Americans are lining up at the airports on one of the travel -- busiest days. like Bay and myself, many of the travelers are women, some of whom will be subjected to potentially humiliating pat-downs. Are invasive screening procedures necessary?

BAY BUCHANAN, GUEST CO-HOST: In the post-September 11 age, it's hard to dispute that tight airport security is just common sense, but are we doing it in a sensible way? That's our debate.

But, first, the best little political briefing on television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

House conservatives have finally found their voice, and while the president may not be too happy about it, Americans should be thrilled. Instead of buckling under when the calls came in from the highest of places, House Republicans told their leadership they'll not sign off on an intelligence bill if it doesn't protect the troops and the citizens.

While one congressman argues the bill endangers troops, many others say the bill was gutted when restrictions on obtaining driver's licenses was removed. Since the current bill is no more than -- quote -- "a hollowed-out 9/11 bill," in the words of one congressman, House conservatives will not rubber-stamp it.

The president may feel emboldened, Donna, by this election, but so do House Republicans, and they are just the ones to return this party to their populist roots. It's time to rejoice. The will of the people is alive and well in this town again, Donna.

BRAZILE: Well, it just goes to show, Bay, that we should elect more Democrats next time.


BRAZILE: After all, the president said he would use his political capital to keep us safe and secure. This is a bill that has serious consequences on the nation's security. Why not give the president what he wants with this intelligence reform bill?

BUCHANAN: Well, it's clear. What they did is, they took the 9/11 recommendations and the House passed a really strong bill. And I would agree with you on that point.


BUCHANAN: And the Senate gutted it. That's why they won't go with it. They want a real one.

BRAZILE: It's time to give the president what he wants.

Now, Republicans in Congress are feeling so cocky these days that they tried to sneak a provision into the massive spending bill that would have allowed congressmen and their staff to see your tax return. Luckily, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi -- go, Nancy -- busted them, and now she's going to make them pay.


BRAZILE: After sheepish Republican leaders disavowed that a Republican sponsored the provision, Nancy Pelosi offered them a good deal. Spare yourself further embarrassment. You can take that provision out by a quick voice vote, but only if you agree to stop this kind of underhanded garbage. Well, the Republicans won't agree to stop it. So Nancy Pelosi is forcing them to wait for the House to reconvene next month before they can put this whole disgraceful episode behind them.

Bay, as a former Hill staffer, I say the Republicans obviously haven't been looking after the budget. Why should they be allowed to look at my tax return?

BUCHANAN: Or mine, for that matter.


BRAZILE: Amen. See, we agree on something.

BUCHANAN: Absolutely. That was a terrible thing to be found in there. Good thing it was found by whomever. (CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: It was found by a Democratic policy wonk.

BUCHANAN: Well, you know, so much for the Democrat, whomever it was. I praise that fellow, because he saved both of us some embarrassment, I'm sure.


BRAZILE: Absolutely. And a lot of those Congress people.

BUCHANAN: It was a staffer. I'm positive it was a staffer who put it in there.

But let me ask you all a potential -- who would have possibly said the following? And it's a potential presidential candidate -- quote -- "I am, you know, adamantly opposed to illegal immigrants." Another quote: "People have to stop employing illegal aliens." And then the person goes on to complain about people who are loitering on street corners, waiting to be picked up for a day's work.

Who could this be? No, the answer is not Pat Buchanan. It is none other than Hillary Clinton. Senator Clinton is pushing for a crackdown on illegal immigration. She wants more resources to put along our border, argues for better technology to track down who's coming in and who is leaving, and she has even raised the possibility of supporting a national I.D. system.

That, I'm afraid, Hillary, is a little too far. But she is definitely on to something.

Donna, could it be you that gave her this terrific advice?

BRAZILE: Well, you know, President Clinton -- I'm sorry, Senator Clinton -- is seriously concerned about our nation's border, and she has a right to take a look at this. After all, she knows, as a member of the Armed Services Committee, this is a priority for our country. And she's doing the right thing.

BUCHANAN: She absolutely is doing the right thing.


BUCHANAN: But I don't think you'll find many Democrats joined in behind her. But she may pick up some of those good Republicans, bring them along.

BRAZILE: I better get you a Hillary button for president real quick.



BRAZILE: Earlier this month, it was said that Bob Jones was talking about liberals -- quote -- "despise Christ."

Well, now more hateful words from America's radical religious right wing. In a televised sermon Sunday, Reverend Jerry Falwell basically referred to the National Organization of Women as a national order of witches. He also said that he was going to invite members of an animal rights group -- I'm sure he's referring to PETA -- to a dinner of wild game, so, in his words, they can suffer.

A day later, he called Americans United For the Separation of Church and State, whose executive director is an ordained minister, an anti-Christ organization. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, Bay. Outbursts like these from those supposed men of God serve to remind us that, when it comes to the hateful rhetoric of religious fundamentalism, Islam doesn't have the monopoly.


BUCHANAN: You know, he did not -- he clearly did not show himself to be a compassionate conservative.,

BRAZILE: I agree.

BUCHANAN: A little politically incorrect in his statements. So, it went over the line, I believe. I would agree there.

BRAZILE: Whatever happened to turn the other cheek or love those who hate you or love those who persecute you, love thy neighbor as thyself?

BUCHANAN: Listen, I'll tell you where I think he's wrong, not only in his language, but, also, listen. This election really did take care of the feminists. They were put out. The religious right came out, voted them down. We won.


BUCHANAN: And then we have got to be gracious, and let's move on. Put them in -- put them where they belong.

BRAZILE: Feminism is not dead. It is alive and well. And NOW is a great organization.


BRAZILE: Is it a pat-down or a strip search? Now security procedures targeting female travelers have many upset. Is a public body grope really what we need to preserve safety in the skies? And President Bush has some royal visitors at the ranch. We'll show you how he gave royal protocol a real Texas twist later on CROSSFIRE.

ANNOUNCER: Join Carville, Begala, Carlson and Novak in the CROSSFIRE. For free tickets to CROSSFIRE at the George Washington University, call 202-994-8CNN or visit our Web site. Now you can step into the CROSSFIRE.


BUCHANAN: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Protection or perversion? More and more women are complaining of getting -- things getting too little bit close and personal, rather than patted down at these airports today. How do we balance security with the right to privacy when we travel?

Joining us are Laura Murphy, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington, D.C. chapter, and Gony Frieder, an attorney who works with TSA screeners. That's Transportation Security Administration screeners -- Donna.


BRAZILE: Thank you.

First of all, I guess this is a first on CROSSFIRE, four women. So, who let the girls out today?


BUCHANAN: It's just the beginning, though.


BRAZILE: Absolutely.

Gony, earlier this week, the head of TSA put out a press release. And in a quote, he said that is -- this is a busy holiday season, of course, and we know a lot of people are traveling. He said that we want to become partners over the holiday season to ensure we can minimize passenger wait times.

Well, he went on to tell us basically nothing about what we can do to reduce the amount of time we spend in line and also the amount of time we spend getting, you know, pat down. Now, I don't want to be graphic, of course, Bay. Some might be watching. But I think most passengers need a wardrobe consultant in order to go through the security checkpoint.

What should we do?

GONY FRIEDER, ATTORNEY, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES: Well, one of the things that you can do is, you can remove loose jackets. You can wear nonbulky sweaters. You can have form- fitting clothing.

BRAZILE: Does that include bras?


FRIEDER: Well, the goal of the pat-down procedure is just to make sure that there are no plastic explosives or other forms of explosives hidden in your clothing, and so to the extent that you can help with that.

BRAZILE: So, if you a wire in your bra and it might stick out a little bit, you could potentially have something, like your money rolled up in there or something. So they have to pat it down to make sure it's money and not plastic?

FRIEDER: Well, maybe you shouldn't put money in your bra either for the purposes of screening.


FRIEDER: But I'm not a fashion experience. I just have to say that this is the really only alternative at the moment, since Congress has not budgeted for the type of technologies needed to have other methods of screening for plastic explosives.

BRAZILE: I want to talk about money next, but Bay had some questions.

BUCHANAN: Laura, it seems that it's just in the last couple months we realize more and more women are turning themselves into suicide bombers, and that's our concern in Russia. Those planes that went down, we now feel that the women were carrying nonmetallic bombs.

And so we as a nation and our security system has decided to increase it, more and more pat-downs, a little more close. Is that a problem? Would that be something you have a difficulty with?

LAURA MURPHY, AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION: It absolutely is a problem for the ACLU, because, first of all, let's go back to what triggered this, the Chechen women.

We are not even clear they carried the bombs on the airplanes. We're not clear that they carried the bombs in their clothing. They may have bribed officials and had the bombs in their luggage. So, all of a sudden because of one incident around the globe, we are subjected and humiliated. It happened to me yesterday when I went from La Guardia on my flight to Washington, D.C., and I was patted down.

And the woman touched my breasts. She touched my groin. And the ACLU, not just me, but the entire ACLU is furious, and we encourage people to contact their local ACLU chapter, because this is out of control.


BUCHANAN: Wait a minute.

BRAZILE: Yes. I agree. I totally agree.


BUCHANAN: Yes, but, Laura, you're saying that because we're not certain, that's what they do.

But you and I both know that these terrorists are not dumb. And if they're watching and realize they're not checking women in certain places or they don't check women like they do men, then that is what they're going to go -- they're going to take and move terrorists who are females into that area and we are vulnerable then.

MURPHY: Bay, what's wrong with having a list of your Bill of Rights before you go on the plane?


MURPHY: What are your options? How do you know that you don't have to take your jacket off? When I was coming to Atlanta from the islands the other week, I had to take my jacket off and all I had on was a tube top. I felt humiliated. I looked at the TSA personnel, very nice people. They were smiling and a little bit of leering. And I don't think it's appropriate.

First of all, most of the cargo that we have is not checked in this nation on our airplanes; 22 percent of the air cargo go on passenger planes. TSA has a lot of money. Why aren't they screening the cargo? Why aren't they putting all suitcases through bomb checks? Why aren't they screening the employees who work in the airports?


BUCHANAN: Yes, but they should do that and the other as well.

MURPHY: No, no, no, because you ought to have some indication that someone is engaged in some illegal activity before there's an invasive search.



BRAZILE: Laura makes a good point, Bay, because let me just read from something that was in "The Miami Herald" just recently.

TSA agents can single out for a pat-down search anyone who sets off an alarm. We all agree with that. Triggered sometimes by metal support in bras or for any passenger at all based on the screener's visual observation.

I mean, here's my point. Who's training these individuals? What are you looking? Are you looking at a woman like me? And, of course, I'm, you know...

BUCHANAN: Yes, Donna?

BRAZILE: I'm equipped.


BRAZILE: And you say -- thank you very much.

And you say, aha, let me just go and grope and touch her. What are you looking for? Because, apparently, again -- and like Laura and many other Americans, I travel a lot, and I don't know what the rules are. No one knows what the rules are. We just go through and we just -- we're selectively pulled aside, and then somebody just feeling all our body parts.

FRIEDER: Well, part of the reason you don't know what the rules are is because a lot of the material that they're following is SSI, sensitive security information.

If we have the TSA reveal to the American public everything they're looking for that, then that information would also go to the terrorists. And they would be able to find the one thing they're not looking for and sneak it in. I can tell you that, when they say visual observation, for example, if there's a passenger walking through the metal detector with their hands in front of their belt, that is often a sign that they're trying to conceal something around the belt area. That is what they're looking for. So even though the belt...


BRAZILE: Or perhaps they went to Friday and had a little bit much to eat and they're just having a little hard time.


FRIEDER: Perhaps. But this is not the only people who are going through. There are also people who are trying to conceal things.

MURPHY: Wait a minute. My checkpoint didn't go off. The alarm didn't go off when I went through the security area.

I couldn't figure out one reason why I was selected for an invasive and humiliating pat-down. This is not adequate security. We need to really stop subjecting the American people and treating them like they're criminals and not telling them what their rights are.


BRAZILE: Absolutely.


BUCHANAN: All right, Laura, you say you had -- nothing happened that triggered anything.

MURPHY: All right. Right.

BUCHANAN: All right, let me ask you, would you agree with racial profiling, then?

MURPHY: No. This is profiling.

BUCHANAN: No, racial profiling, where we actually look and we pick males that...

(CROSSTALK) MURPHY: I don't agree with racial profiling.

BUCHANAN: So what is it that you want?

MURPHY: This is gender profiling.

BUCHANAN: Now, that...

MURPHY: Women are being selected more often, according to the TSA's own policies. More invasive pats and searches are occurring. And tell me, what is the evidence that in the United States that women are more likely to be carrying bombs?

BUCHANAN: You know, now, let me point out something. You have two million travelers a day; 15 percent are screened. And we have 13 to 14 complaints a week. We are talking hundreds and hundreds of thousands.


MURPHY: Not true.

BUCHANAN: That is true.


MURPHY: No, the women's -- you look at "The New York Times." There was a quote from the female executives association and she said that there are more than 15 complaints per week. The complaints are mushrooming. Our affiliates' lines are going off the hooks, Bay. We're not making this up.

BRAZILE: And it's not just women. It's also young girls. Apparently, in that same "New York Times" article, there was a 9-year- old girl, Larissa Pavich, who was subjected to a search. I don't know. Maybe she was carrying a teddy bear and the teddy bear had on earrings.

BUCHANAN: No, it had a gun inside it.


BRAZILE: No, there was no gun. That was the 79-year-old woman. Wrong story.


BRAZILE: But, anyway, and her mother was not allowed to explain to her little child exactly what was going on. She was separated from her mother while she was pulled aside again and searched without being, you know, appropriately told what was going on.

Can't you find another way to screen people and to get people quickly through security without pulling them aside, without any information about what you're looking for?

FRIEDER: Well, the answer is yes.

And let me just clarify. I'm not here as a TSA spokesperson. I'm here to explain that the screeners, who -- some of whom are not interested in performing those pat-downs, have no other choice, because they currently have not had allocated to them a budget that's sufficient to have what's called a puffer machine or a sniffer machine. It's a technology that would prevent basically these pat- downs...


BRAZILE: But are we trained on how to grope and how to pat people down?

FRIEDER: Well, yes. TSA screeners are trained. They have an extensive training before they come aboard and also while they are screening. They are trained, retrained annually. They are recertified annually.

I can't speak to this particular incident of this child. What I can tell is that, if there was more staffing, so that there were, let's say, more women staffing, so that there could always be guaranteed...

BRAZILE: And perhaps more women training.

FRIEDER: And perhaps more women training...

BRAZILE: Other women.

FRIEDER: ... other women.

BRAZILE: Because women have sensitive parts.

FRIEDER: Absolutely. No doubt about that. But there's a staffing...

MURPHY: But so do men, Donna.

BRAZILE: Well, I'm speaking for women today.



BRAZILE: The boys can fight for themselves next week.

MURPHY: But let me say something for the boys. Let me ask you this. How do you distinguish a plastic explosive package from a penis, really? How do you do that? How do you do that?



BUCHANAN: ... out to the break. We may answer that next. But, in "Rapid Fire," we'll ask if women are treated worse than men at airport security, or if they just complain more? And we'll get an update on holiday travel conditions around the country right after this. You all stay with us.



JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Judy Woodruff, reporting from Washington.

Coming up at the top of the hour, major storms causing big problems for many Thanksgiving travelers. We'll tell you just how bad things are.

Fears of civil war after a disputed election in Ukraine, why you should care.

And think you don't have to worry about AIDS after the age of 50? Well, think again.

All those stories and much more just minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

BRAZILE: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. It's time for "Rapid Fire," where the questions come a lot faster than most security lines are moving at today's America's airports.

Back with are Gony Frieder, an attorney at the American Federation of Government Employees who represents Transportation Security Agency personnel, and Laura Murphy, the director of ACLU's Washington, D.C. chapter.

Gony, before I ask you a question, I just have to respond to Laura. I was a little speechless, because it's very difficult to figure out.

MURPHY: Rarely are you speechless.

BRAZILE: Very speechless. But it's very difficult to -- different between a penis and a plastic. But I wouldn't know unless I could ask one question. Is that Viagra or Cialis? I wouldn't know.

But, Gony, let me ask you a question. Some argue on Capitol Hill that you don't need more money, that you need to use the money that you have in the budget more effectively. Is that true?

FRIEDER: Well, I do not work for TSA, but I would say that people, instead of necessarily only calling the ACLU hot line, should also be calling their Congress people if they're upset with this particular pat-down policy, because it's Congress who has not allocated the budget that TSA did ask for, for these sniffing machines. They are being used at Amtrak as a pilot program, but they are not being used in the airplanes, which would alleviate the need for a pat-down policy.

BUCHANAN: Laura, I agree with you. Luggage, all the luggage, should be made certain and searched. But for the people, we do have people. We are worried about it. We don't have the machines yet. What are you going to do about them if you don't pat them down?

MURPHY: Well, you need to treat them fairly, first of all. You need to tell them in advance. What's wrong with putting something in the ticket jacket, so that people are prepared?

People are not prepared. They're not dressing for these invasive searches. So you need to work with people. People want to be safe and free.

BUCHANAN: So you agree the pat-down is fine once, indeed, they have been warned?


MURPHY: But the pat-down should be triggered by something.

What we are concerned about are these arbitrary pat-downs, people like me who don't set off the metal detectors who are subjected to this innovative search, not told that they could go to a private area. So you're not told on TSA's Web site that you can ask to take off your jacket in a private area.


MURPHY: I was told...


MURPHY: Miss, take off your jacket. That was it.

BRAZILE: All right. Thank you.

BUCHANAN: All right. And we want to thank you both for being with us.

When the king and queen of Spain headed off to Crawford, Texas, they may not have realized what a down-home reception they would receive. Next, we'll show you how the president did things up Texas style.


BRAZILE: President Bush likes to get away from it all at his ranch down in Texas, and he likes to make sure his visitors at the ranch feel right at home.

Today, the president, along with his wife and father, welcomed Spain's King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia to the ranch. The president turned his royal welcome into a real Texas-style affair when he escorted the king to his own -- well, he escorted the king, it looks like, in his own white pickup truck for a tour of the ranch. Queen Sofia, along with the first lady and the president's father, all climbed in for the truck ride as well.

Quite a royal pickup, Bay.

BUCHANAN: Donna, you have to love it. The president never forgets who he is or where he's from. And he's proud of it, even when the king and queen join.


BRAZILE: From the left, I'm Donna Brazile. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

BUCHANAN: And from the right, I'm Bay Buchanan.

Tune in to tomorrow for a special Thanksgiving edition of CROSSFIRE.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.



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