TSA Chief Aims to Balance Privacy, Security

John Pistole, head of the Transportation Security Administration, answers a question asked by "CBS Evening News" Anchor Katie Couric Nov. 22, 2010.
John Pistole, head of the Transportation Security Administration, answers a question asked by "CBS Evening News" Anchor Katie Couric Nov. 22, 2010.
The busiest travel week of the year is colliding head-on with the most invasive airport security screenings yet.

The head of the Transportation Security Administration, John Pistole, pleaded with travelers Monday not to boycott body scans, saying that would only tie up lines at the airport.

Pistole also said he's taking another look at the new procedures - including pat-downs - as he tries to balance security and privacy.

For perspective, about a million passengers have been patted down in the past month, and just a fraction of them - 700 - have complained.

"CBS Evening News" Anchor Katie Couric interviewed Pistole about the agency's new approach to airline safety.

(Scroll down to watch the interview)

Couric: All pat downs - even those considered standard - are more invasive than they were before Oct. 29. Why was the procedure changed?

Pistole: We are dealing with the current threat environment that we're aware of that we face a determined and innovative terrorist group in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has proven adept at concealment and design of bombs that can bring down both passenger airlines and cargo airlines. So we're trying to provide the best possible security while balancing the privacy issues that are equally important and how we do that in a blended fashion.

Couric: TSA screeners are now having to deal with some very sensitive issues, including cancer patients and people with prosthetics. Have they been required to go through additional training as a result?

Pistole: Each security officer is held to the highest level of professionalism, and our goal is to treat each and every passenger with dignity and respect. Now, obviously, from the report we just heard, that apparently has not happened. I did talk with one of the passengers that you interviewed this afternoon, and we had a good discussion about what his experience was, and we finished the conversation by him offering to provide training and assistance to our screeners basically to sensitize them to the issues that are involved. So that's our goal. With nearly 2 million people traveling every day, that is the challenge that we deal with, but each security officer is trained to deal with those situations.

Couric: And that certainly shows your contention that this program is evolving. When might you implement a new policy if you find that it is in fact a better balance of ensuring both security and privacy?

Pistole: So we've had an extensive outreach to a number of the groups that represent people, such as you interviewed earlier, and we try to make sure that we are sensitive to those issues including things such as private screening and discreet ways of informing the security officer that there is perhaps an external medical device, something that people should be aware of or a prosthesis. But then we also try to ensure that each individual has that opportunity to engage the security officer in a way that they can assure the officer, and that officer can have the assurance, that there is not somebody who is trying to conceal something that could cause a threat to aviation.

Couric: So you don't know when you might be changing the policy, if in fact you do?

Pistole: Yes, what we have done is go back to those entities such as the GAO (Government Accountability Office) and the inspector general who have done covert testing to show that we are not being thorough enough in our screening because they're able to get through the screening, gone back to them and to say, OK, how can we be better informed if we modify our screening then what are the risks we deal with, so that's what we're dealing with.

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