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TSA head: "Persistent threat" from terrorists amid holiday travel

As the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) continues to refine its methods of forecasting and preventing terrorist attacks in a post-9/11 world, the outgoing head of the agency says there remains "a persistent threat" from those who not only "have the means of committing an aviation attack," but also "the intent to do that."

"It is concerning that [there] is a persistent threat that has not abated as we would have liked to have seen," TSA Administrator John Pistole told CBS News Homeland Security Correspondent Bob Orr, alluding to the busy holiday travel season.

"I think we've done everything that we can, based on the intelligence to identify and disrupt potential attackers," he went on. "That being said, there's no perfect system, and the whole notion of risk-based security is that there's no 100 percent guarantees."

Pistole said the biggest challenge for TSA is anticipating the technological advancements terrorists are making.

"They are innovative in their design and construction and concealment of not only their cargo bombs, which are so hard to detect -- only through great intelligence were they detected," he explained. "But those person-borne devices that may get through aviation security checkpoints and other locations around the world that are then bound for the U.S."

And terrorists continue to focus their efforts on U.S. airports because, since they're so heavily secured, their plots attract worldwide attention even when they fail.

"Even if [an attack] is unsuccessful, as we saw with the cargo plot or the underwear plot, the response to that worldwide," Pistole said. "They -- the terrorists -- take credit for... disrupting the global supply chain, and economic costs and burden to taxpayers, because of enhanced security protocols."

That's why, Pistole said, he's spent his tenure at the agency trying to move it from a police security force to an intelligence-based operation that focuses on risk assessment.

"We've tried to be very intentional about identifying the primary [goal] of TSA, and that's to keep terrorists off of planes," he said. "[W]e have moved from the one-size-fits-all that was needed after 9/11, when TSA was created, to using intelligence and making risk assessments that recognize that the vast majority, if not everybody -- 1.8 million people that travel every day in the U.S. -- are not terrorists."

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