Your first sympathy lies with the woman who was forced to remove, with a pair of pliers, the rings she had cosmetically attached to her nipples. Pliers? Really?

However, you’ve also got to feel for the poor woman, the TSA screener, who first encountered the unusual security situation of a passenger setting off security bells with nothing more than Madonnaesque accoutrements.

How does one articulate this to a passenger, with curious and impatient onlookers awaiting their turn to board … Excuse me, m’am, but your breasts may be a threat to national security?

It has more the markings of a Vegas comedy act than a security situation. And yet, would you want to be the one to avert your eyes and wave through a, literally, walking metal detector alert? Terrorists have indeed used women and their undergarments as safe harbor for explosives – to bloody effect.

The female screener made the easy – and correct – call by passing this decision up the chain – or at least across it. It is unclear whether the male TSA colleague who stepped in was a manager or simply eager. In any case, he should have followed his female colleague’s lead and passed the buck as well – all the way to whichever desk at TSA Headquarters has the “The Buck Stops Here” sign. Instead, he grabbed a pair of pliers and told the woman to remove rings.

It hurts me to think of this. And I’m not talking about the act of the woman removing the rings from her breasts. I’m talking about the public relations debacle that should have been foreseen. You don’t have to be a PR expert to expect that the words “nipple” and “pliers” composed in the same sentence of any afteraction report is likely to end badly.

Of course public relations should not be the deciding factor in a situation like this. Good judgment should be, though. We are told that TSA does not have any regulations dealing with body piercings and that the screeners were following procedure as best they could. After the nipple-pliered woman’s attorney went public, however, somebody somewhere up the chain of command made a better decision: An apology, or something close to it, and assurances that such regulations are feverishly in the works now.

Another regulation they may want to consider: Any time screeners come across unexpected situations involving sensitive private body parts and heavy metal – send it up the chain of command.

Chris Battle founded Security Debrief as a forum for the homeland security community to discuss pressing issues and current debates in national security, counter-terrorism and law enforcement. After a long fight against kidney cancer, Chris passed in August 2013. Read More