TSA head sticks to his position on new knives policy

(CBS News) The knives were out on Capitol Hill for a plan by the TSA to allow passengers to carry small blades onto airliners again. Pilots and flight attendants hate the idea. But the head of the TSA explained to CBS News why he's going forward.

On Capitol Hill, Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts joined flight attendants and others opposed to the policy change.

Massachusetts Rep. Ed Markey spoke outside the Capitol about his opposition to the TSA policy about small knives on planes.

"The TSA policy makes no sense," he told a crowd while holding some blades.

Boxcutters, which were used in the 9/11 terror attacks, will still be banned. The TSA said that's because they carry so much emotional baggage. But starting April 25, passengers can carry on folding knives with blades shorter than 2.36 inches and no wider than one-half inch, as well as some sports equipment.

At a Homeland Security Subcommittee hearing, TSA Chief John Pistole took criticism from Congressman Eric Swalwell of California.

"Wouldn't you agree," Swalwell asked Pistole, "in an orchestrated attack they can do great damage to our flight attendants and great damage to our passengers?

Markey: TSA knife policy "will not fly"
"No Knives Act" to overturn TSA policy change?
Delta CEO opposes TSA policy on knives
Some 9/11 families angry over loosened TSA rules on knives

"Well sir, if you're asking whether I think individuals with those small pocketknives can take over an aircraft, take control of it, I don't think so," responded Pistole.

Pistole said the TSA's focus needs to be on weapons that could crash the plane, not just hurt passengers.

"A small pocketknife is simply not going to result in a catastrophic failure of an aircraft," he said at the hearing. "An improvised explosive device will."

To make the point, he played an FBI video showing what liquid explosives and small bombs can do on a plane.

Laura Glading heads up the Association of Professional Flight Attendants. "Curiously, what they seem to have determined, is that their job is solely to prevent an airplane from going down," she said, "that they're really not responsible for the safety of the passengers on the plane. And I think that's a very, very dangerous place to go."

"The reason we were created after 9/11," Pistole told CBS News about the TSA, "is to prevent terrorists from committing a terrorist attack involving an aircraft, so that's our job."

Pistole said the safety of the passengers is and always has been the airline's responsibility. As of now, he said the only thing that can stop the new policy is an act of Congress -- and some Democrats and Republicans are working on just that.

Knives allowed on flights from April 25, 2013.
Transportation Security Administration

Knives not allowed on flights.
Transportation Security Administration
  • Sharyl Attkisson On Twitter»

    Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.