Alaska legislator refuses pat-down at Seattle airport

Anchorage Rep. Cissna's mastectomy prosthesis triggered security screening

February 21, 2011 

Anchorage state Rep. Sharon Cissna refused an "invasive, probing" security pat-down at the Seattle airport and is driving and taking the ferry back to Alaska.

Cissna was in Seattle for medical treatment and planning to fly back to Juneau on Sunday night to rejoin the legislative session. She underwent a body scan while going through airport security and was singled out for a full body pat-down because she'd had a mastectomy, said her chief of staff, Michelle Scannell.

Transportation Security Administration officials didn't return a call from the Daily News on Monday, a federal holiday, asking to discuss Cissna's case. But there have been reports of cancer survivors saying TSA gave them extra screening because of a prosthetic breast. The TSA website says "security officers will need to see and touch your prosthetic device, cast or support brace as part of the screening process."

Cissna sent out a statement late Monday saying the body scan showed scars from her breast cancer. She said she knew that meant there would be "invasive, probing hands of a stranger," and that a similar incident had happened three months earlier.

"Facing the agent I began to remember what my husband and I'd decided after the previous intensive physical search. That I never had to submit to that horror again!" she said. "It would be difficult, we agreed, but I had the choice to say no, this twisted policy did not have to be the price of flying to Juneau!"

Cissna sent her statement from Prince Rupert, British Columbia. She said she's been traveling north from Seattle by car, small plane and the Alaska state ferry system.

She can catch the state ferry Malaspina in Prince Rupert today and make it back to Juneau on Thursday morning. She has been excused from the legislative session through Wednesday.

TSA's full-body scanners and pat-down searches are controversial, and the story of Cissna's refusal was appearing on news websites all over the nation on Monday. Her action was drawing praise from critics of the TSA.

"She's standing up not just for her but other people, particularly women ... What's really, really terrible and just scandalous is that these procedures do little or nothing to enhance security of our flight, and really are nothing more than security theater," said Scott McMurren, an Anchorage-based travel marketing consultant.

TSA sent the Associated Press a general statement saying the agency is "sensitive to the concerns of passengers who were not satisfied with their screening experiences and we invite those individuals to provide feedback to TSA."

Cissna said she repeatedly told TSA at the Seattle airport that she would "not allow the feeling-up and I would not use the transportation mode that required it." She said more and more TSA, airline workers and Seattle airport police gathered during the incident. Airport police said their records division would need to handle requests for any reports made about the incident; no one in the records division answered the telephone on Monday, the observed President's Day holiday.

Cissna said the "TSA threat of 'do you want to fly?' " means something different to Alaskans than to the rest of the nation, as flying is a necessity in the huge and remote state.

She said the freedom of travel should "never come at the price of basic human dignity and pride."

"For nearly fifty years I've fought for the rights of assault victims, population in which my wonderful Alaska sadly ranks number one, both for men and women who have been abused," Cissna said in her statement. "The very last thing an assault victim or molested person can deal with is yet more trauma and the groping of strangers, the hands of government 'safety' policy."

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