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TSA chief defends new knife policy, focus on ‘highest threat items’

TSA Administrator John Pistole on Thursday defended the decision to allow knives on airplanes, saying the security agency needed to focus its attention on threats from explosives.

Pistole said the decision would help security screeners focus on the “highest threat items, such as non-metalic improvised explosive devices, those underwear bombs, other liquid bombs that can bring down an aircraft,” in an interview on NBC’s “Today.”

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TSA announced last week that it would allow passengers to begin carrying knives with blades shorter than 2.36 inches aboard flights.

The decision sparked controversy and is facing broad opposition from the airline industry, unions representing flight attendants and Transportation Security Administration airport screeners, as well as lawmakers.

Pistole is scheduled to testify before the House Homeland Security Committee on Thursday about the new rules.

Pistole said the agency’s decision was based on intelligence about the current threats to air passengers. 

“Part of what we do is base our decisions on the intelligence that’s out here. There’s intelligence about terrorists continuing their interest and attempts to blow up an aircraft either passenger or cargo planes,” he said, adding that there was no intelligence about a possible threat to hijack an airliner with knives. 

Pistole said that TSA policies had always been evolving since the agency’s creation.

“The policies have been under revision and review for a number of years, really since TSA was stood up after 9/11,” he said. “This is part of our ongoing initiative, which we call ‘risk based security,’ to really move away from the one-size-fits-all approach which was stood up by necessity after 9/11.” 

He noted that many international travelers were already allowed to carry smaller knives on board flights and said that since 2010, there had not been “a single incident in threat to an air crew.”

He added that he recognized the concerns of flight attendants and was working with those groups to explain and coordinate implementing the new policy. 

Pistole said that he believed any opposition from TSA workers would be addressed once they saw the policy in implementation. 

 “The challenge becomes if we focus on something that will not cause a catastrophic failure to the aircraft and miss something that could, then we haven’t done our job,” said Pistole.