As passenger anger rises over new airport security screening procedures ahead of the busy holiday travel week, a cornered John Pistole admitted this morning that there will be no immediate changes to the screening procedures for passengers.
The Transportation Security Administration chief has come under fire to respond to growing demands to change or soften the agency’s new policies requiring travelers to pass through full-body advanced imaging scans, or undergo enhanced pat-downs that many are calling invasive. On Sunday, Pistole gave two seemingly conflicting statements: the first reiterating an earlier position that the policies would not change, and the second that the new procedures "will be adapted as conditions warrant."
When pressed on morning talk shows today, Pistole was forced to clarify. The TSA is “always looking at ways we can evolve our technology and our protocols,” he said on CNN’s American Morning. “In the short term, there will not be any changes.”
With viral videos spreading of screaming and kicking children protesting their pat-downs and pictures that make the TSA agents look like they’re giving a proctology exam, Pistole said he was surprised by the reaction.
“Obviously [the TSA was] anticipating that there would be some concerns, [like] any time you change policies or procedures,” Pistole said on Fox today. “But I think it’s also safe to say that there has been a reaction that not many people could have predicted -- including myself.”
Pistole’s second, softer statement yesterday did not specify details or a time frame for changes on passenger screenings, unlike the TSA’s concessions to pilots and crew members on Friday, exempting them from pat-downs or advanced imaging scans “effective immediately.” When pressed on Fox to explain the reason behind the two statements, Pistole said his revised wording meant that he agreed to “look at how we can do this type of screening.”
“If we can do it less invasively, I’m open to doing that,” he said.
Pistole said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe that he travels “quite a bit,” and when posed a hypothetical question asking if he would be willing to go through the body scanners several times a week, he said that he would.
When asked how he felt about the pat-down, he said that he “felt it was thorough” and he “felt it was doing exactly what it’s designed to do... try to detect somebody is trying to kill hundreds of people on an airplane.”
This defense is a marked difference from the Senate hearing last Wednesday when Pistole had said that the pat-down he underwent before the policy’s implementation in airports was “more invasive than [he] was used to” and added that it had made him uncomfortable.
As about 2 million people are expected to travel on the Thanksgiving holiday’s busiest travel days this week, the Obama administration is also under pressure to address the outcry against the screening procedures.
President Obama said on Saturday at the NATO Summit in Lisbon, Portugal, that the TSA is also under “enormous pressure” to ensure that all terrorist plots are discovered as the terrorists get more creative by stitching explosives in intimate places unlikely to be discovered, as in last year’s Christmas Day “underwear bomb” plot.
"One of the most frustrating aspects of this fight against terrorism is that it has created a whole security apparatus around us that causes huge inconvenience for all of us," Obama said. Nonetheless, he added, the safety and comfort of passengers is important to him.
"Every week I meet with my counterterrorism team and I'm constantly asking them whether -- is what we're doing absolutely necessary? Have we thought it through? Are there other ways of accomplishing it that meet the same objectives?" Obama said.
Ben Terris, Rebecca Kaplan, and Clifford Marks contributed contributed to this article.