Why Did TSA Pat Down Kids, Adults Getting Off Train?
A Florida firefighter says he couldn't believe it when Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents gave "intrusive" pat-downs to passengers including kids getting off an Amtrak train in Savannah, Georgia earlier this month.
Lt. Brian Gamble, 38, of Leesburg, Florida, posted video of the incident on YouTube. And the TSA is now apologizing.
Gamble, who also works part-time as a travel agent, tells AOL Travel News he was bringing a small group that included other firefighters and policemen to Savannah for a Valentine's Day getaway. They were among 30 or 40 people getting off the train when he says TSA officers ordered everyone into the terminal.
"They sent us all into a roped-off holding area and said 'Y'all are going to be searched,'" Gamble says. "We were getting off the train. This didn't make sense."
Once in the area, the group was guarded while TSA officers began doing what Gamble says were "intrusive" pat-downs.
When he saw a family with young kids in the lineup, he took out his camera and started filming. He does not know the identity of the family.
"They were in front of us. They (the TSA agents) started lifting their shirts and wanding them."
Gamble's wife, Traci, 38, and a female friend were also searched and he says female TSA officers made them lift their shirts up to their midriffs and patted their bras.
"One guy went through (Traci's) hand luggage and smelled her perfume and made comments about it smelling good. It was just not professional. It was just weird," Gamble says.
"My wife was livid," he adds. "We thought this is silly, we are being harassed by the TSA."
Nearing the front of the line for his own search, Gamble complained to a TSA supervisor but says he was told to calm down. "They wouldn't give us an explanation for the search."
Meanwhile, the passengers' luggage was sitting on the train platform. So the fireman waved over an officer from the Georgia State Patrol to point that out.
"I explained what was going on, he left for a few minutes and then came back and took six of us in our group and said 'Sorry about that, go get your luggage, you're good to go.'"
Gamble says he would have had no problem with such a search happening on a train, "But getting off the train, that was kind of backwards."
With Gamble's video gaining steam on the Internet, the TSA took to its blog over the weekend to explain what happened.
The TSA's Blogger Bob writes that what the Savannah train passengers encountered is known as a VIPR operation, a randomized search "where anyone entering an impacted area has to be screened."
Such searches – involving federal, state and local law enforcement – were stepped up in 2004 in the wake of the Madrid train bombings in which 181 people were killed, and happen around the country on a regular basis, the TSA says.
"In this case, the Amtrak station was the subject of the VIPR operation so people entering the station were being screened for items on the Amtrak prohibited items list as seen in the video," Blogger Bob writes.
But Bob adds the TSA learned the VIPR operation in Savannah "should have ended by the time these folks were coming through the station since no more trains were leaving the station. We apologize for any inconvenience we may have caused for those passengers."
The TSA says the passengers did not have to go into the terminal to leave the station. But Gamble says the TSA agents didn't give them a choice.
"Their apology is kind of lame," he says. "I thought this whole thing was very unprofessional and very shady."
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