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Monday
Nov222010

White House: Terrorists Discussed Prosthetics to Conceal Explosives

Photo Courtesy - ABC News (WASHINGTON) -- U.S. intelligence has picked up terrorists discussing the use of prosthetic or medical devices to conceal explosives, sources tell ABC News.

The revelation about the intelligence, which is not new but relevant to debate over new security measures at airports, comes as the White House Monday acknowledged that the implementation of the security procedures has not gone perfectly.

Americans by a two-to-one margin support the use of naked image full-body X-ray scanners in airport security lines, but fewer than half back aggressive new pat-down procedures, according to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll. Opposition to both rises among those who fly with any frequency.

The Transportation Security Administration has come under fire for new body scanners and what some say are highly invasive pat-downs.

Thomas Sawyer, a bladder cancer survivor, said he was humiliated after a pat-down broke his urostomy bag, leaving the 61-year-old covered in his own urine. Sawyer said he warned the TSA officials twice that the pat-down could break the seal.

Cathy Bossi, a longtime flight attendant and breast cancer survivor, said the TSA made her take off her prosthetic breast.

"She put her full hand on my breast and said, 'What is this?' I said 'It's a prosthesis because I've had a breast cancer,'" Bossi said. "And she said, 'You'll need to show me that.'"

In recent days, several passengers have come forward to tell such shocking stories about their experiences with TSA officers.

The head of the Transportation Security Administration, John Pistole, on Monday said that at least one airport passenger screening went too far when an officer reached inside a traveler's underwear, and said the agency is open to rethinking current protocols.

That search was against protocols and "never" should have happened, TSA administrator Pistole told ABC News Monday.

Pistole, responding to complaints from passengers, has said the TSA would not change its pat-down procedures but said Monday the agency was "open" to changing security procedures.

Only a small number of travelers have been subject to pat-downs, officials say. The White House says roughly 340,000 people -- or one percent of all travelers -- have been subjected to more intense searches since the new TSA procedures began Nov. 1.

Pistole said the key to travel security is finding the proper balance between protecting against very real threats -- such as the failed cargo bomb plot and the current search for two suicide bombers believed to be at large in Germany -- and protecting individual privacy, something that some passengers claim invasive pat-down procedures have taken away.

TSA screeners are also fed up with the blame being leveled at them and agree that a better system is needed, according to travel blogger Steven Frischling, who spoke to 20 officers about the new procedures and pat downs.

The screeners told Frischling about their discomfort at touching people's private parts, and getting verbally abused by some passengers.

The TSA has attempted to downplay the actual number of people who get pat downs, although Pistole Monday admitted that he'd dropped the ball when it came to informing the public on what it should expect.

There's also concern about possible health risks stemming from the new scanners, a fear that the White House Monday said is unfounded.

"The truth is, you have greater [radiation] exposure sitting in an airplane than you do going through one of those machines," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday.

The new scanners and pat downs were introduced Nov. 1, but their impact will be felt the most this week, the busiest travel period of the year.

Across the nation, there are 385 of the new, full-body scanners at airports, but there are a total of 2,100 security lanes.

That means about 80 percent of security lanes won't have the machines in place.

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ABC News Radio