TSA Chief John Pistole was recently interviewed by the New York Times. As usual, he attempted to spin everything in a positive way, claiming the TSA is doing the best job possible. In the interview, Pistole claimed that the TSA didn’t mitigate risk, so they came up with a program to treat different passengers differently.
Q. The experience of going through airport security has become a long, annoying, sometimes arbitrary, and often inconsistent experience. Why is that?
A. When I got here, there was still in large part a one-size-fits-all approach in place. Meaning whether you’re a 200,000 mile-a-year flier or a once-a-year traveler that knows nothing about aviation security, we basically treated you the same. And I frankly didn’t see that as being sustainable long term. What we’ve been working on in earnest over the past two years is what we call risk-based security. Our job is not to eliminate risk but to try to manage or mitigate risk.
Pistole doesn’t even answer the first question put to him. It is under his watch that the full body scanners were expanded and enhanced pat downs began. He’s basically congratulating himself on figuring out that the one-size-fits-all security that he had a hand in doesn’t work.
Q. That’s the basis for the PreCheck program?
A. It’s based on the notion that the vast majority, if not everybody on any given day, almost 1.8 million people that we screen every day, are not terrorists. They simply want to get from Point A to Point B safely. We started with the elite frequent fliers. Because we knew from intelligence that they were less likely to be a possible terrorist.
Pistole admits that the vast majority of passengers are not terrorists and pose no threat to aviation security. So why the need for so much security theater.
Q. When will the program cover international travel?
A. We reached an agreement with the European Union, Canada and Australia for them to accept PreCheck passengers from the United States. So starting in the near future, those people that are part of PreCheck or Global Entry will be allowed to go through PreCheck when they fly internationally.
Now, not only has Pistole admitted that the vast majority of travelers within the United States are no threat, the US government has convinced its major allies to accept their word that there is no threat from pre-check travelers. As usual, however, not everyone will have the opportunity to participate in pre-check.
Q. Will you be expanding the program beyond the current 40 airports?
A. We started with the 20 largest airports. It doesn’t make any business sense to be in the smallest ones. We’re at the point that we will only add airports selectively if there is a business case that can justify it. But we have a goal to have 25 percent of all travelers in the United States by the end of the year go through some form of expedited physical screening.
If the security of passengers was so vital to the security of the nation, it would be deployed at all airports, not just the larger ones.
Q. Will you ever lift the ban on liquids or allow people to keep their shoes on as the Europeans do?
A. We know because of Richard Reid [the so-called shoe bomber] in December 2001 that nonmetallic explosives can be concealed in shoes or in underwear. That is still a viable threat, as we’ve seen twice in the last three years.
Yes, we have seen these threats, but they were not detected by the United States. We have also seen that Europe, who have seen far more terrorist attacks and are, arguably, under more threat of attack, do not force the traveling public to remove their shoes. The fact remains that, if someone truly wanted to do harm to the nation’s airports, they would. The inside threat is far larger than any outside force that would do harm. There are numerous security lapses, breaches, thefts, and holes, that limiting the amount of liquid one can carry on board is the least of the TSA’s worries.
Q. If you keep expanding your trusted-traveler program and keep including more people, isn’t there a risk or a potential for bad guys to also become part of it?
A. From a statistical standpoint, I suppose that’s true. But because of the pre-screening we are doing, we have a much better idea of who they are and what possible threat they may pose. Under risk-based security, the question is let’s stop looking for prohibited items and let’s look more at the person.
Which, at some point, the Trusted Travelers program will become useless because everyone will be included on the list. Those that aren’t, go on the watch list.
Q. Is the aviation sector still a target that justifies all these policies?
A. Absolutely, there is no question about that. The bottom line is that U.S. aviation is the gold standard target for certain terrorist groups, and they are actively plotting on how they can conduct a successful attack. And that is what concerns me.
While it should be a concern, certain terrorist groups have always plotted against those they don’t like. Americans should not have to give up their freedoms and liberties to “feel” a little bit safer.
Q. But still the tolerance of the public is not infinite. Passengers could stop flying as much. Congress could step in and say the T.S.A. is overdoing it. Do you keep this in mind or do you not think about it?
A. Sure, I think one of T.S.A.’s jobs is to promote the free movement of people and goods with the best security. I didn’t see the one-size-fits-all as being sustainable. Clearly treating everybody as a potential terrorist, I didn’t see this as being sustainable.
Again, Pistole doesn’t answer the question. He admits that one-size-fits-all security isn’t feasible, yet he’s prepared to have a massive one-size-fits-all pre-check program. He never addresses what would happen if the public gets fed up and quits flying. The current version of the TSA is completely unsustainable. The ranks are filled with thieves, pedophiles, and common criminals.
Q. How are you affected by the mandatory budget cuts known as sequestration?
A. We didn’t have to furlough anyone. We are managing the sequester cuts by limiting overtime by our officers and by restricting new hires.
Except this is not what has happened. Honolulu airport in Hawaii admitted recently that they had closed two of four lanes because of the sequester. Last week, Congress passed an emergency bill, some of which was hand-written, to get TSA workers off furlough because wait times were so incredibly long at the airport. So who is lying?
Q. Still some say what T.S.A. does is just security theater.
A. I strongly disagree with that assessment. Every morning, I start with a classified intelligence brief. That’s the starting point of the highest risk. This whole notion is dispelled by the fact we still get on average four weapons at checkpoints and 2,000 small knives.
Pistole brags that they have found weapons and knives, but forgets that weapons, explosives, and incendiaries are in the TSA mandate. That is all they are supposed to look for and that is what security did before it became the TSA. To date, the TSA has not stopped a single terrorist attack or attempt. They fail at everything else while harassing children, the elderly, and the disabled.
Security theater is the practice of investing in countermeasures intended to provide the feeling of improved security while doing little or nothing to actually achieve it. This is exactly what the TSA practices. They have, indeed, failed at their mission, and John Pistole is merely telling the people what they want to hear so they will believe that the government is doing something to protect them.