Airport pat downs and body scans: My questions for TSA chief Pistole
Like a lot of the flying public in America, I have doubts and concerns about the new airport security screening methods. What about loopholes? What about effectiveness? What about profiling? I put these questions to TSA chief John Pistole at a Monitor breakfast today. Here's what he said.
Like a lot of Americans, I have doubts and questions about ramped-up airport screening, especially since I'll be flying in the coming weeks.Skip to next paragraph
Veterans Day: Monitor Facebook fans sound off
Bahrain protests and Obama's 'drop by' diplomacy
Honk if you support Saudi women drivers
How Kevorkian and assisted suicide fit into America's mixed moral landscape
Keeping on with the work of a slain journalist in Pakistan
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Unlike most people, though, I had a chance to put some of my concerns directly to the head of the Transportation Security Administration at a Monitor breakfast with reporters this morning. Happily for me, I squeezed in probably more than my fair share of questions. Here's what I asked TSA chief John Pistole, who has more than 25 years with the FBI in his background. And here's how he responded:
First off, I wanted to know why the entire country has to go to a whole new level of invasive screening, when a known loophole exists for terrorists to get around this?
I asked specifically about body cavities; they are not included in the screening. It has been widely reported that a terrorist from Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula got close to the Saudi intelligence chief and detonated an explosive hidden in the terrorist's body cavity. The suicide bomber was killed; the Saudi minister was injured but survived.
Mr. Pistole's answer taught me something. He said that initial reports about the Saudi case were "perhaps not accurate." Forensics show a "stronger indication and findings that [the explosive] was actually ... strapped to the upper thigh, as opposed to it being a body cavity." Later on, Pistole commented that "every piece of information I have says the terrorists have not been successful in using ... a body cavity."
Even if they were, he explained, a terrorist would still need an external device to detonate such an explosive, and the imaging machines would catch that.
Ahh, I thought to myself, but what about a cell phone that could trigger a device from a distance, such as was discussed with the recent cargo bombs from Yemen? I didn't have a chance to ask that but my colleague from AOL did.
Pistole acknowledged the cell phone concern, but then went on to a bigger point about risk assessment and risk management, which means weighing the likelihood and scale of an attack.
Obviously, the TSA doesn't see a big risk in body-cavity explosives. Pistole said quite plainly the agency won't be going in that direction. When I asked, as he was getting up to go, whether it was technically possible to use a cell phone to set off a body-cavity device, he held out his arms and shrugged.