White House defends new airport screenings, but says they may 'evolve'

In the face of widespread criticism before the holiday travel season, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs defended the government's new airline security screening policy, but said it could "evolve."

Gibbs said the procedures, which include the use of full-body image screening and thorough pat-downs, are necessary to prevent incidents like last year's attempted Christmas Day airline bombing in which the suspect carried a device onto a plane that was not picked up by simple metal detectors.

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"We must do everything we can to protect the public," Gibbs said at his daily press briefing. "We know that al Qaeda seeks to do harm through aviation security."

Gibbs backed up comments made by Transportation Security Administration chief John Pistole on his media tour Monday morning in an effort to assuage public sentiment against the agency's procedures. 

The press secretary said he went through a full-body scanner before a recent flight to Atlanta.

The government is searching for ways to conduct the airline security screenings "in a manner that is minimally invasive" but that also protects the public, Gibbs said. "That is a balance that we will continue to search for."

Seeking to downplay the scope of the enhanced screenings, Gibbs said only 1 percent of the 34 million airline passengers who have flown since the policy took affect have been subject to the screenings. He said that scanners are now located at 69 of the 400-450 commercial airports in the country.

Gibbs said the government "Will continue to evolve and change" the security procedures since terror groups frequently adjust their tactics, explaining the new system was developed in response to the Christmas day incident. But he acknowledged that going through the searches can be burdensome.

"It would be nice to live in a world where none of this is necessary," he said.