A police officer wields an assault rifle while standing guard at Los Angeles… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called on the federal government Tuesday to expand the use of a controversial scanning device at LAX and other airports that produces an X-ray-like image of a traveler's body that can reveal objects hidden under clothing.
The mayor also scolded Congress for delaying the approval of Erroll Southers, assistant chief of the Los Angeles World Airports Police Department, as head of the federal Transportation Security Administration, a critical agency responsible for airline security.
Villaraigosa spoke to the media at the Tom Bradley International Terminal after inspecting LAX security measures with dignitaries and high-ranking law enforcement officials, including Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck.
In the wake of an alleged terrorist's attempt to bomb a Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas, Villaraigosa said Congress must allow airports such as Los Angeles International to employ full-body scanners on a much wider basis.
About 40 devices are operating at 19 airports across the country -- two at LAX, the nation's third-busiest airport and one of the top potential targets in the country for terrorists.
The TSA has ordered about 150 scanners to be installed this year and has received funding for an additional 300.
The technology, which scans a person's entire body, was introduced several years ago, but airports have been slow to adopt the machines because of privacy concerns raised by civil rights groups and members of Congress.
"The time is now to have a full complement of body scanners," said Villaraigosa, who was screened by one of the devices during his visit to LAX. "They are not as invasive as you might think. With the right protocols, we can balance civil liberties and public safety."
Southers, a former FBI agent and Santa Monica police officer, was nominated to head the TSA by President Obama in September, but Senate Republicans have held up his confirmation in recent weeks over concerns that he might support the unionization of TSA officers. "He is the right person at the right time," Villaraigosa said. "Congress is behaving in an obstinate way. It is time to get the leadership we need."