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TSA chief seeks more airport full-body scanners

Transportation Security Administration chief John Pistole on Wednesday asked Congress for money to deploy 275 more full-body image scanners at the nation's airports, NBC News reports.
/ Source: NBC News and news services

Transportation Security Administration chief John Pistole on Wednesday asked Congress for money to deploy 275 more full-body image scanners at the nation's airports, NBC News reports.

The technology used by the machines "has been proven safe and I assure you our operations respect individual privacy," John Pistole told a House budget commitee. He said TSA also seeks to add 100 more dog teams around the country to help screen passengers for explosives. And he's asking for money to sustain federal air marshal coverage of domestic and international flights.

Pistole also wants to add 350 more behavior detection officers at airport checkpoints, to watch passengers for suspicious behavior.

"We want to focus our limited resources on higher-risk passengers, while speeding and enhancing the passenger experience at the airport," Pistole said.

Pistole's appearance before the House budget committee comes a day after U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said that she's looking forward to the day when travelers won't have to shed their shoes before boarding an airplane.

Napolitano said the agency is developing what she's calling the "airport checkpoint of tomorrow" that will allow passengers to go through fewer screenings.

She says the agency is refining its technological capabilities and to rely more on human and behavioral expertise to spot would-be terrorists.

Planes still a target
"Our overall goal is to have an integrated checkpoint that allows people to keep on their shoes, reduces the need for physical searches and maximizes the likelihood that we will prevent another aviation attack," she said.

The job is staggering, according to Napolitano, pointing out that on any given day, as many as 2 million passengers take to the air from America's 370 airports.

She also said that based on the latest intelligence, aviation remains a preferred target of terrorists who seek to attack the United States.

Napolitano said her vision of a smoother, less intrusive airport screening process won't happen overnight. She also said that technology alone isn't enough. A screening that allows passengers to keep their shoes on, but takes 20 minutes per rider, won't work.

"To imagine, design, test, procure and eventually deploy the checkpoint of tomorrow we need new kinds of expertise," including managerial and operational expertise, she said.

Need for security professionals
Napolitano made her comments during a speech at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where she also made a jobs pitch to students.

She said her agency needs "the minds and talents of individuals who are excited" about entering the emerging field of security.

Part of that emerging field includes finding better ways to sift through the oceans of information that floods the agency every day to find the bits of data needed to track down terrorists.

She said the new technology must be not only fast and flexible, but also protect privacy and civil liberties.

"There is no one definitive profile of a terrorist," she said.

Earlier in the day, Napolitano joined Massachusetts public transit officials to urge the public to report anything suspicious they might see while using public transportation as part of the "If You See Something, Say Something" campaign.

The program is funded by a $1 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security.

Riders are urged to call and report to police anything suspicious, such as an unattended package or backpack, or a package that contains batteries, wires or cell phones. They should also report any suspicious activity by groups of people.

Napolitano said there were no specific threats that prompted officials to relaunch the campaign.

Information from the Associated Press was included in this report.