May 15, 2012 at 2:32 PM ET
Geraldo Rivera, Sen. Diane Feinstein and now Henry Kissinger — apparently, when TSA decides you need a pat-down, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a ubiquitous TV host, a sitting U.S. senator or a one-time titan of foreign policy.
On Friday, Kissinger — former national security adviser, former secretary of state, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, etc. — got the full, hands-on treatment while passing through security at LaGuardia airport. As freelance reporter Matthew Cole told The Washington Post, the wheelchair-bound 88-year-old was subjected to “the full Monty.”
“He stood with his suit jacket off and he was wearing suspenders,” said Cole. “They gave him the full patdown. None of the agents seemed to know who he was.”
Recognized or not, Kissinger’s experience raises questions about both TSA procedures and the public’s perception of them, says Peter Ubertaccio, director of The Martin Institute at Stonehill College in Easton, Mass.
“Even if they had recognized him, they still would’ve patted him down, and that’s where we enter the realm of the absurd,” said Ubertaccio. “He’s obviously not a threat; he’s not going to harm passengers.”
On the other hand, he said, “We go through these theatrics because, reasonably, we don’t want to have people of stature able to skip the line or be afforded special consideration.”
Threat or no threat, wheelchair or walking upright, the issue, says Ubertaccio, is ultimately a function of what happens when standardized procedures meet the real world. “In any bureaucracy, processes become sacrosanct — this is what we do because this is what we do,” he told msnbc.com.
That's only exacerbated in an already stressful situation like airport security. “For travelers, it’s an assault on your dignity,” said Ubertaccio. “Then, when you see them patting down elderly individuals in wheelchairs, it’s an insult to your intelligence.”
When asked about the incident, a TSA official replied via e-mail: “TSA screens approximately 1.7 million passengers per day and TSA officers strive to treat all passengers with care and respect. There was no indication of anything out of the ordinary with Mr. Kissinger's checkpoint experience.”
Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him at Twitter.
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