TSA chief: Eliminating agency would give ‘opportunity’ to terrorists

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Transportation Security Administration chief John Pistole said Tuesday that, despite criticism from congressional Republicans, getting rid of the TSA would increase the risk of terrorist attacks on commercial airplanes. 

“There will always be some people who don’t see the utility or value added of the TSA or any government agency,” Pistole said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times

“If we granted these people their wishes and did away with the TSA, what an opportunity for the terrorists to take advantage of,” he continued. “It would only take one plane to get blown up or hijacked for people to say, 'Wait a minute, where was security?'”

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Republicans in the House have pushed in recent years to privatize airport security functions that are currently performed by the TSA, arguing that non-governmental companies could do the work more cost-effectively. 

TSA has created a program, known as the Screening Partnership Program, that allows allow airports to opt-out of utilizing its security personnel if they can prove they can provide the same level of protection with private workers at lower costs. The requests have to be approved by TSA, however, which has led to friction between some lawmakers and the agency. 

TSA critics have seized on complaints on social media from elderly passengers and parents of young children who have accused the agency of mistreating them to argue that techniques such pat-down hand searches and X-ray machines invade the privacy of airline passengers. 

Pistole said in the interview that TSA was “just following congressional mandates,” despite the occasional criticism from lawmakers. 

“Congress said create TSA in the aftermath of Sept. 11. Don’t let this happen again,” he said. 

“Some would say there has been a hassle factor. Absolutely,” he continued. “That’s been the case where we are patting down 95-year-old great-grandmothers with cancer or taking a teddy bear from a 3-year-old. Those policies have been changed to reflect the intelligence that says those people are probably not terrorists.” 

Pistole added that he would tell critics of the TSA that “there is no perfect solution." 

“That’s what I would say to those folks: 'OK, if you want to do away with the TSA, then what’s your solution?' It’s easy to be the armchair quarterback,” he said.  

-This story was updated with new information at 4:47 p.m. 

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