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.
November 22, 2010; 9:24 AM ET |
Federal government leadership
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