TSA: Pat-Down Policy May Be Revised

A man is patted down by a TSA agent. From the CBS Evening News, Nov. 21, 2010.
The Thanksgiving travel rush is gearing up and between tightened airport security and higher gasoline prices, holiday travelers may feel they're facing an obstacle course. There was a hint late Sunday that the government may consider some easing of the security measures that have triggered so much public protest.

CBS News investigate correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports that at airports like Reagan National near Washington D.C., patience with new body scanners and their revealing images is being put to the test.

One teen described the images from the body scanner as "exposing yourself."

For many it's their first exposure to the scanners and probing pat-downs that have become a national conversation.

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On CBS News' "Face the Nation" anchor Bob Schieffer asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, "Would you submit to one of these pat-downs?"

"Not if I…not if I could avoid it," said Clinton, laughing. "No, I mean who would?"

Those pat downs are for those who refuse the body scanning. But some passengers like Thomas Sawyer get both. He says his pat down at Detroit's airport earlier this month was so aggressive it spilled his urine bag, which he got after cancer surgery. He had to travel in urine-soaked shirt and pants. The TSA says it's looking into it.

The TSA is working overtime to reassure travelers, promising that images aren't stored, and the scans have safe levels of radiation. A CBS News poll finds 81 percent of Americans are OK with that.

"I'd rather have a body scanner than be pat down," said a flier.

This weekend, President Obama seemed to indicate the furor over privacy could lead to changes down the road.

"What I've said to TSA is you have to constantly refine and measure whether what we are doing is the only way to ensure the American people's safety," said Mr. Obama.

Yet TSA's administrator John Pistole appeared dug-in Sunday, telling CNN they weren't going to change anything.

But within hours, TSA issued a statement clarifying that the door is open to changes. It said security procedures "will be adapted as conditions warrant" to be "as minimally invasive as possible."

TSA says 99 percent of passengers are consenting to full body imaging. While CBS News observed Sunday most of the passengers were sent through metal detectors, not the body scanners.

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    Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.