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TSA chief shifts his stance after media pat-down

Could there be less invasive security screenings at the airport this Thanksgiving? John Pistole was against the scale-down before he was for it.

The Transportation Security Administration chief was on CNN Sunday, chatting about the uproar over the "enhanced pat-downs"--a euphemism if there ever was one--that the agency is using when travelers who fail a metal detector test refuse to go through a device that shows the body through clothing. He told host Candy Crowley that, despite the controversy, "we're not changing the policy." While he understands and sympathizes with the public debate over whether the pat-downs amount to invasive groping, the agency is "not going to change" anything, he said.

Within a few hours, however, Pistole had changed his tune. The TSA chief issued a statement saying the agency was working to "make them as minimally invasive as possible." The statement, published here at Politico, takes pains to make the agency appear inclusive of Americans' opinions and sympathetic to concerns. Suddenly, the adamant leader from the news interview appeared to be backpedaling.

It's hard to understand exactly what Pistole was thinking. The furor over the new pat-downs has been growing for days, and he needed to have a strategy for dealing sympathetically with the inevitable questions about what the TSA was doing in response to travelers' complaints. He tried, of course, but instead seemed intent on repeating talking points over and over again (such as how few people actually receive the new "enhanced" pat-downs). While he admitted the new policies were "invasive" and "uncomfortable," there was almost no explanation whatsoever for how the TSA was going to take into account fliers' fury.

This was made worse given the context of Pistole's comments. When the president of the United States and the secretary of state have both said in recent days that the government is looking to refine or "diminish the impact" of the new approaches, it's hard for anyone not to raise an eyebrow when the TSA chief contradicts them. But Pistole did just that in the interview when he told Crowley he was not going to change anything. Such a stance could have made Obama and Clinton look insincere in their previous comments--something neither leader's camp was likely to tolerate.

It's hard to know whether Pistole really was adamant that there would be no change, or whether he got so caught up in trying to stay on message that he didn't realize he was challenging his higher ups in the process. Either way, by softening on the issue after sounding so initially intransigent, and by differing from the president and the secretary of state, Pistole made the federal approach to the current security turbulence look muddled and inconsistent. I'm guessing that wasn't in his talking points.

By Jena McGregor

 |  November 22, 2010; 9:24 AM ET |  Category:  Bad leadership , Crisis leadership , Federal government leadership , Government leadership , Public leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: The art of the announcement: Cuomo's charges against Obama's 'car czar' | Next: TSA debacle: How media controversies keep tripping up Obama

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TSA: Feeling its way to insanity.

Posted by: MrBethesda | November 22, 2010 2:22 PM

Why are those with disabilities, a man with a urostomy bag, a child with leg braces, a child with an insulin pump, getting targeted at dis proportionally higher rates and being treated more harshly? The letter from their doctor is ignored, their urostomy bag opened up or pulled out, the diabetic child pat searched more often and the parent frequently is ordered to leave the diabetic child alone, out of sight of parent. Diabetic lows that are dangerous to the life of the child, let alone it is a child we are talking about, can happen anywhere and at anytime. TSA rules say parents are not supposed to be separated from their children. Yet it is happening where parents of these kids are repeatedly told to leave the screening after going through themselves before their child has cleared, or is waiting for the pat down. Not all insalin pumps should go through the new xray machine according to manufacturer. Nor can they go through the luggage screener. We use to be able to walk through the metal detector with the Minimed, not the Animas. But now with the addition of the new xray machine life for diabetic kids and their parents got a whole lot more stressful during travel, and it was already scary just getting insulin and other supplies through. TSA is separating moms and dads from diabetic children waiting for pat downs due to the presence of an insulin pump.

Tell me why TSA agents are treating diabetic children and their parents this way? Why are they treating those with disabilities so harshly? Will they pull out the insulin pump like the guys urostomy bag too?

Posted by: siren1 | November 22, 2010 1:58 PM

November 22, 2010

For immediate release

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration announces:

Feel Free: Pick your patter from our lineup of babes and hunks.

Enjoy!

-30-

Posted by: OldVermonter | November 22, 2010 1:56 PM

DougW3, of course there is going to be another attack, because the TSA is wasting billions of dollars on useless faux-security procedures like full body scanners.

These things don't detect either body cavity devices or hydrogen peroxide stashed in plastic bags on a terrorist's person, and al Qaeda has already used both of these kinds of bombs. It's only a matter of time before they try them again, on a plane.

But it's hardly surprising that al Qaeda has reacted to the new scanners with delight. Getting us to waste billions of dollars while compromising everything we stand for has been their goal from the start, and they've been wildly successful at it.

On Leadership should write about that.

Posted by: Itzajob | November 22, 2010 1:40 PM

I am not a criminal. I am not a terrorist. It is routine to be treated as such by TSA overly serious posturing public safety freaks beyond reality based requirements. I left my carry on bag and walked 30 feet to a water cooler to be lectured by two intense armed TSA crazies. They are power mad and treat people like every one of us is a potential terrorist or criminal. Their problem is that therer is little to do other than to be intensely vigilant and look for trouble from 60 year old white guys.

Posted by: mikeh6 | November 22, 2010 1:37 PM

We shall see what everyone says if a terrorist ends up being successful in his/her attack. if it does happen, will you be the one on that plane who felt vindicated becasue you stopped the "bad old government" from groping you?

Posted by: dougw3 | November 22, 2010 1:26 PM

When the head's of DHS, TSA and all members of congress have to go through this stuff then I will gladly.

Posted by: KBlit | November 22, 2010 1:25 PM

Truman once said of the Marine Corps that their propaganda machine rivalled Stalin's (not his finest hour). You can certainly state that of TSA these days - look at the editorials last week! My God, they even had Capehart convinced that it was desirable to have these government functionaries groping our and our CHILDREN's groins because THAT IS THE ONLY WAY WE CAN BE SAFE! The Media-Government Hysteria-Intrusion Complex strikes again. We are SOOOO doomed.

Posted by: pt200386 | November 22, 2010 1:21 PM

How about Pistole agree to a full body scan while appearing on CNN. The video can be shown on the show. If he wants American to swallow his faulty line of reasoning, then he should be willing to make an example of himself. He needs to admit that TSA procedures have done NOTHING to prevent terrorism attempts. Only fast-acting, observant passengers prevented tragedy.

Posted by: JEFFA2 | November 22, 2010 12:47 PM

TSA fails to inform Americans that two bombers were seized on the planes in this past year after the harmful X-Ray and excessive gropping procedures.

In spite of the fact that these excessive harmful tactics did NOT stop the bombers, TSA swears that the man-made policy is effective. Give ME A Break ! Big Brother.

It's is time for all Americans to Yell: I'm mad as Hell !

Stop Government from stripping you of your Individual Rights! Just follow the Repubilican behavior: Just Say No !

Americans have been acting like a herd of sheep for too long. Just Say No to government dominance in every aspect of your life.

Adam of CA.

Posted by: AdamYoung2 | November 22, 2010 12:34 PM

As soon as Michael Chertoff left office, he formed a "consulting"
firm and started collecting money from the manufacturer, Rapiscan. (By not calling it a lobbying firm, he didn't even have to wait the usual two years.)

Why shouldn't we consider the possibility that Mr. Pistole is acting in the expectation of a similar deal? Isn't that the way it works in Washington?

Posted by: Itzajob | November 22, 2010 12:01 PM

TSA did not consult, say Nat Acad of Science, on safety of x-ray body scanners.

Some folks fly about 25 times a year on business: are 50 RT exposures safe?

Suggestion: register with TSA, get background check, as s "safe" passenger, and go thru in a breeze, saves time and TSA effort.

I would submit to a security check to avoid the scanners and pat-downs

Posted by: chicago8 | November 22, 2010 11:43 AM

There is a new video of a 6 year old boy at the Salt Lake City airport with his shirt off receiving a full pat down. Observers are disgusted. It defies any common sense, any reason to check this little boy for weapons and explosives. One you view this video on YouTube, other TSA abusive videos can also be seen. TSA agents are out of control!

Posted by: AnnsThought | November 22, 2010 11:35 AM

I love how Pistole says VERY FEW are getting groped in public at airports... Care to assign a number to that VERY FEW estimate?

I will not fly again. You've lost my business....PERIOD

Posted by: EdSantaFe | November 22, 2010 11:09 AM

Does TSA have a don't ask, don't tell policy?
I don't care to have my junk groped by a closet homo, and if I was a homo I would perhaps like it, or not, depending on the groper. I would then, perhaps, be asking for his phone number. This might inconvenience others, but who cares.

Perhaps a teenager is confused about his sexuality and doesn't know which way to go. If he has to fly to grandma's house for the holidays and is groped by a TSA homo then that might be enough to make him jump off the fence. TSA then would be guilty of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Wait! There's more!
People who 'like it' will start flying for the 'wrong reasons'. Instead of one non-stop flight they will be taking multiple short flights across the country just so they can go through security. Then a blog will appear, exchanging tips on which airport is best for ...eh,eh, say no more.

Posted by: glenmayne | November 22, 2010 11:00 AM

I would like to suggest that TSA adopt an approach to passenger screening similar to the Israeli approach in which travelers are categorized into two or more groups suitable for different levels of evaluation.

It does not seem appropriate or politically well-advised to subject a grandmother from Cleveland—where census records confirm her residence for several decades—who is traveling on a ticket purchased with a credit card 6 weeks prior to departure to the same insensitive degree of scanning and pat-downs as you should do for a non-US citizen traveling from the Middle East on a one-way ticket purchased with cash 2-3 days prior to the flight.

The traveling public does not object to heightened level of evaluation, but they do expect an exercise of good common sense. The risk that, someday in the future, a terrorist group may start recruiting “Bible-belt” grandmothers for one-way trips is not high enough, I think, to warrant subjecting millions of innocent and obviously non-terrorists to intrusive investigations.

Posted by: dnickell | November 22, 2010 10:54 AM

Actually, there is an incorrect statement in the second paragraph of Ms. McGregor's original post. These devices are not just being used for secondary searches "when travelers who fail a metal detector test refuse to go through a device that shows the body through clothing." At many airports, a number which TSA says will be growing, the "virtual strip search" is the primary method of screening and the old-style metal detectors are not being used.

Posted by: greggwiggins | November 22, 2010 10:53 AM

Gasmonkey - let's now take it to the next logical step, a bomber decides to put his bomb making materials in a body cavity. Then what, are we going to do body cavity searches of your teenage daughter?

This is a farce - UPS makes deliveries to vendors past the security screening without any of the packages they deliver being screened! Let me say that again, all of the stuff in the retail stores beyond security have not been screened! And they make us go through pat-downs?

These scare tactics of TSA are absurd.

Posted by: mdlandmark | November 22, 2010 10:37 AM

This problem for the administration doesn't begin to go away until Pistole does. He clearly has brought the heavy and ham-handed approach with him from the FBI to the TSA. The public is now boiling mad and it's only going to get worse for Obama unless it's made clear that the morons responsible for this debacle are removed and the conversation becomes a dialog rather than an authoritarian mandate from Big Brother. Pistole is damaged goods and richly deserves the fate he has invited. Terminate with extreme prejudice.

Posted by: flying_angry | November 22, 2010 10:34 AM

What Pistole actually did was make the TSA look like the rogue agency it was set up to be, one that can establish its own agenda and procedures with minimal oversight and then ignore public pressure.

The Bush 43 regime gave us a lot of reasons for people to remember them, but DHS and TSA are perhaps the worst. The wars will end--someday--but DHS and TSA will still be violating our rights for decades to come.

Posted by: jlhare1 | November 22, 2010 10:31 AM

The "furor" has been growing because the media has been stroking it. It's just another story they need to run with. It will be forgotten as soon as Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan has another DWI. Meanwhile we have to sell ad space, so let's keep amplifying the few stories of "don't touch my junk" to make it appear that this is a nationwide "furor."

Posted by: gasmonkey | November 22, 2010 10:28 AM

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