Officials defend frisking of baby at KC airport

Thursday, May 12, 2011 | 12:03 a.m. CDT
In this handout photo from Saturday, a baby boy, held by his mother, is frisked by security screeners at Kansas City International Airport. Federal officials insisted Wednesday that the screeners were just doing their jobs when they frisked the baby, an incident that gained worldwide attention after a pastor posted a cellphone picture of the pat-down online.

KANSAS CITY — Federal officials insisted Wednesday that screeners at Kansas City International Airport were just doing their jobs when they frisked a baby, an incident that gained worldwide attention after a pastor posted a cellphone picture of the pat-down on Twitter.

The baby's stroller set off an alert of possible traces of explosives Saturday, so the screeners were justified in taking a closer look at the boy cradled in his mother's arms, said Nick Kimball, a spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration.

The Rev. Jacob Jester, an Independence evangelist who snapped the photo Saturday after he cleared security for a flight to Albuquerque, N.M., said it didn't sit right with him to see the baby being patted down. He said he thought the boy was about 8 months old.

After taking the picture, he posted it on the social networking site Twitter, commenting that the search was "extreme." His wife and another pastor also posted it, and soon it was a cyberspace hit with more than 300,000 viewers. It eventually made it onto such websites as The Drudge Report and London Daily Mail, sparking complaints from many readers that the screeners' actions crossed the line.

"That was definitely a surprise," Jester said of the reaction to the photo. "I didn't expect to get all the attention I've garnered from that picture."

He said the woman whose baby was patted down contacted him later, and he apologized profusely for drawing all of the attention to her and her child.

"I apologized left and right," he said. "I said, 'I regret that I tweeted the picture in the first place.' But she was laughing the whole thing off."

Jester, who has an 8-month-old son of his own, declined to disclose the woman's name or any contact information.

The Kansas City airport is one of 16 in the U.S. that uses private screeners, instead of those provided by the TSA, Kimball said, but private screeners follow government guidelines.

"Less than 3 percent of all passengers get pat-downs at the checkpoint," Kimball said.

The hubbub surrounding the Kansas City incident is similar to a story last month about a 6-year-old girl who was patted down at an airport in New Orleans.

The girl's mother, Selena Drexel, said she asked why her daughter was selected for a pat-down, but was not given a reason. Drexel and her husband uploaded the video of the screening onto YouTube, generating huge national interest and prompting sharp criticism from a congressman involved in national security issues.

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Steve Baumann May 12, 2011 | 6:56 a.m.

I am still stunned that we do not have the ability to pre-screen the majority of passengers, streamlining the process.

I'm a little tired of the "let's punish everyone" for the acts of a few.

(Report Comment)
Kaleb Rippstein May 12, 2011 | 11:20 a.m.

Ok... And how many people would be outraged if it was policy that this would never happen - and then an extremist loaded his baby's diaper with explosives and blew up a plane?

(Report Comment)
Kaleb Rippstein May 12, 2011 | 11:26 a.m.

Pre-screening could be a great thing. In addition to a no-fly list there could be a safe-fly list. You apply to get on the list and go through background checks. If you pass all of the checks you get a clearance that skips you ahead in security lines. Good thought.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield May 12, 2011 | 1:03 p.m.

Kaleb, the TSA did exactly that a few years ago with the Registered Traveler program: Such passes are now available from companies including Clear:

(Report Comment)
Dan Levitan May 12, 2011 | 3:46 p.m.

I am with Steve. There have been as many incidents of people killing each other over chicken nuggets at a fast food restaurant than there have been people trying to blow up planes. This mass hysteria is exactly what terrorists hope to achieve. We have fallen right in to their plans...
The terrorists have won and we handed them the victory.

(Report Comment)
Richard Saunders May 13, 2011 | 4:02 p.m.

Dear Kaleb,

While it is theoretically possible for someone to make a bomb from a baby, is it really worthwhile to search inside of a diaper, or is this simply ridiculous? As for the, "but the stroller tested positive for explosives!" retort, why are they even testing baby strollers for bombs? That is even more irrational, and in this case, created a false positive that led a grown man to fear a baby.

Too bad that baby didn't have an "explosive" diaper. Then Mr. Baby-Groper would've gotten his just deserts.
Touch my children in such a manner, and my lawyer will be in touch (after I make bail, that is). Oh, wait, I quit flying back in 1999 due to the continual encroachment of law enforcement into the lives of innocent travelers.

(Report Comment)

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