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Video: TSA chief rethinking screening procedures

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    LAUER: Tom Costello , thanks very much. John Pistole is the head of the Transportation Security Administration . John , good morning to you.

    Mr. PISTOLE: Good morning, Matt.

    LAUER: You know, we spoke on this show last week just after these new procedures were put into effect and I have to admit, I thought the uproar over this would die down rather quickly. It has not. In fact, it seems more and more passengers are complaining. Are you now actively rethinking this policy?

    Mr. PISTOLE: Yes, Matt. You are probably aware that we constantly evaluate and evolve our protocols in light of the latest intelligence. And, of course, we saw over the weekend new intelligence coming out of al-Qaeda and the Arabian Peninsula about how they constructed the cargo devices from Yemen at the end of last month and what that means. But clearly there has been a significant concern raised with the traveling public and members of Congress have expressed concern from their constituents and things. So yes, we're going to look at how can we do the most effective screening in the least invasive way, knowing that there's always a trade-off that we talked about, that trade-off between security and privacy and where, again, reasonable people can disagree after that precise blend for them.

    LAUER: Let me -- let me make sure I understand what you're saying here. Are you thinking of -- are you rethinking this policy and adapting it based on the intelligence and the threat level out there, or are you going to adapt this policy simply because people are complaining about it?

    Mr. PISTOLE: Well, obviously we have to take all factors into consideration. My job is security and what can we best do. What I'm interested in, Matt , is going back to the Government Accountability Office , the GAO , the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security , and say, look, you were the ones who did this covert testing prior to 12/25 last year, what did you find in ways that if we did modify in some respect of the type of screening that we do...

    LAUER: Right.

    Mr. PISTOLE: ...how could we adjust that because what they found is they were able to get through security because of the lack of thoroughness that we had.

    LAUER: I want to talk about -- I want to put this in perspective, if we can, John . When it comes to the actual number of people who are being patted down, for example, what are we talking about? What percentage?

    Mr. PISTOLE: So it's a very small percent, I can't give you the exact amount, but a very small percent. For example, since we started the new pat-down procedure, we've had approximately 34 million people travel. It is a very small percentage and number of those who have actually received this type of thorough pat-down. So it seems like from what I'm seeing in the media, anyway, that every passenger almost is receiving this pat-down. That's clearly not the case. It's a very small percentage.

    LAUER: Right.

    Mr. PISTOLE: So...

    LAUER: Again, it can be overblown. Let's -- I'm not going to be the one, nor can you be to decide whether people think this is overly invasive or not invasive enough, but I think we can both agree and probably all agree on one thing, this is not the fault of the TSA screeners. And we've heard that they're being, you know, blamed for this. They're being called names at airports and that clearly can't continue, can it?

    Mr. PISTOLE: Well, I appreciate that, Matt. And actually, I've heard both sides. I've received comments from some of the security officers who have said that customers, travelers, have been very complimentary and appreciative of the work that they are doing to keep them and the traveling public safe. But clearly we can't have passengers who are abusive to security officers who are there to protect them and their loved ones while they're traveling.

    LAUER: Doing their job. And I hate to be the one to even bring this up, but in this -- in this situation with these pat-downs and this increased screening procedure, you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't, John . I mean, I hate to even think of what happens if the government caves in on this and relaxes these procedures and someone manages to get something on board a plane and cause harm. Imagine the questions you'd be asked at that point.

    Mr. PISTOLE: Well, clear, and that's the dynamic tension that we deal with every day. So how do we do the best possible job of balancing the security that everybody wants and even demands, and rightfully so, with the privacy that everybody wants, and how do we best blend that? So that is a challenge that we face every day and we try to do that in partnership with the traveling public. Say, look, work with us because we are there to help protect you. We just want to make sure that you and everybody else on that plane arrives safely.

    LAUER: Right. And real quickly here, there are some people calling for this national opt-out day and they're calling for it I think on Wednesday, one of the busiest travel days of the year. Do you have the manpower to actually deal with a situation where large numbers of people simply refuse screening?

    Mr. PISTOLE: Well, clearly we'll be fully staffed, Matt , but the question becomes, what happens to the wait times and do people end up missing flights because of a small or large group, whomever it is, decides to protest and delay those vast majority of people who just want to get home for the holidays . So I hope that people use some judgment and reason to say look, everybody just wants to enjoy the holidays. Let's be safe when we do that. Let's not tie up those people who just want to go home and spend time with loved ones .

    LAUER: Well, John Pistole . John , I think you're in a tough position. I appreciate your time this morning. Thanks very much.

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