Video: TSA chief rules out body cavity searches

Transportation Security Administration chief John Pistole told reporters at a Monitor Breakfast Monday that body cavity searches at airport checkpoints are 'not where we are.'

Harry Hamburg/AP
Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Administrator John Pistole prepares to testify on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.

Transportation Security Administration chief John Pistole is careful not to rule out the use of additional security measures at US airports – except to say that body cavity searches were not on the table.

At a Monitor-sponsored breakfast with reporters, TSA Administrator Pistole was asked whether the recent public controversy surrounding pat downs and full body scans showed the current government approach to airline security had reached the end of the line.

His response: “We know the threats are real. We have this determined enemy. So what can we best do to blend the security and privacy? So I won’t opine on where we are on that continuum, other than to say that everybody wants to know that everybody else on each aircraft they are on has been thoroughly screened, and yet everybody wants their privacy also.”

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The TSA chief said his agency tries to address the tension between security and privacy “on an evolving basis.” But he ruled out a move to searching body cavities for bombs, despite reports that terrorists have used that approach.

“Being a risk based intelligence driven organization, the information I have seen out in public about body cavities and bombs I think is perhaps not accurate. There has been reporting about at least one incident involving … the Saudi Deputy Minister of Interior. The forensics on that are not dispositive as to it having been a body cavity,” he said. In 2009, a terrorist blew himself up in an attempt on the life of Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the nation’s anti-terrorism chief. The Prince survived the attack.

Since a body cavity bomb needs an external triggering mechanism, there is a possibility current screening technology would pick up the trigger even though it could not detect explosives hidden in a body cavity. “So we are not going to get in the business of doing body cavities,” Pistol said at breakfast. “That is not where we are.”

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