New TSA Screenings Raise Travelers' Hackles

Guests

Kim Zetter, reporter, Wired
Noah Shachtman, nonresident fellow, Brookings Institution
John Pistole, head of Transportation Security Administration

More than 1.5 million fliers are expected at airports during the Thanksgiving holiday. Many will face tough new security measures. The Transportation Security Administration requires select passengers at many airports to choose between stepping into a body scanner or being patted down.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Next Wednesday, one of the busiest travel days of the year, some one and a half million fliers may face delays as frustrated passengers protest new screening procedures on National Opt-Out Day. Some believe that TSA's new body scanners take excessively revealing pictures and that the alternative pat-downs become too intrusive. Government officials have argued that the threats are real. These measures improve safety, and that you have choices. If you don't want to be screened, you don't have to fly.

Have you felt personally uncomfortable during an airport screening? Tell us your story: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's in npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION. Later in the program, Fran Lebowitz on wit, humor and a new documentary, "Public Speaking."

But first, Kim Zetter joins us from the studios at member station KQED in San Francisco. She writes the Threat Level blog as a reporter for Wired magazine. Nice to have you with us today.

Ms. KIM ZETTER (Reporter, Wired magazine): Thank you.

CONAN: And the protest does seem to really have erupted after one passenger in particular refused to both to go through the new body scanner and then to accept the alternate pat-down.

Ms. ZETTER: Yes, in San Diego, John Tyner. It happened last week. He was at the airport in San Diego, flying to South Dakota with his father-in-law and brother-in-law. He had checked the TSA's website beforehand and didn't see the airport on the list of facilities using the backscatter X-rays. So he went to the airport and was fully prepared to go through security and he was standing in line for the metal detector...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. ZETTER: ...and was directed to go through the backscatter instead.

CONAN: Because they're introducing those new machines in a lot of airports, and sometimes they divert people from one line to the other to get things moving a little faster and test the new machinery.

Ms. ZETTER: Yes, they're in 70 airports around the country right now.

CONAN: And so he goes to the new machine and says, wait a minute, I'd rather not do this.

Ms. ZETTER: Yeah. He declined to do it. He says he will undergo a pat-down instead. But when the TSA agent starts to explain to him the extensiveness of what the pat-down is going to entail, he basically told the TSA agent, if you touch my junk, I'm going to arrest you - have you arrested. So that created sort of an incident, where the TSA agent had to call in the supervisor, and there was a bit of standoff there.

CONAN: And, well, the controversy came about when he also recorded that and then posted it on his blog. It's gone viral since then. But the controversy seems to stem from the idea that there is a new kind of threat. This is - of course, we all remember the so-called underpants bomber, tried to bring down a plane over Detroit last Christmas Day, had the explosives in his underpants. Those explosives would have been revealed either by the scanner or by the more intrusive pat-down.

Ms. ZETTER: Yeah. It's, you know - well, it's a little unclear here now. There are some people that are saying that those explosives would be revealed by this - the new scanner, and there are some people that are saying it wouldn't. It also wouldn't detect, you know, explosives that are secreted in the body. I think the issues here though, are health issues related to the scanners, that they haven't been fully tested and examined, and then also the issue of the alternative.

I mean, the TSA initially said when they were deploying these scanners that passengers would have the option of not going through the scanner and everyone thought, okay, fine. But then, of course, recently, they've instituted this new pat-down, which is much more invasive. And so the alternative here seems to be just as bad as the scanner itself.

CONAN: And so this protest, does it seem to be gathering steam? Is it - there any way to measure how disruptive it might be?

Ms. ZETTER: It does. I mean, you know, it's started very grassroots. It's taken off on the Internet. And I think people are just kind of fed up with this. You know, it's still undetermined how many will go through with it once they get to the airport and whether or not they'll be sensitive to the fact that maybe other passengers don't support this and will be inconvenienced by the delays. But it looks like a lot people, you know, they're pretty fed up, I think.

CONAN: What's the evidence on the medical front, the amount of radiation - by the way, they'll be more on that tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY with Ira Flatow. But from what you know, Kim Zetter?

Ms. ZETTER: Well, the FDA is saying - is insisting that the amount of radiation is miniscule, and that you'd have to go through this 5,000 times before you'd get the same amount of radiation that you get from a chest X-ray. Experts are disputing this and they're saying that the FDA reports are - some of them are a decade old and they don't examine this particular technology. And they're saying that they also don't take into consideration that these - the radiation is concentrated on the skin. And it hasn't been examined enough to know what this will do in terms of the tissue directly underneath the skin, particularly breast tissue and testicular tissue, and in terms of skin cancer.

And there is also, one in 20 people who have more susceptibility to gene mutation, possibly, as a result of this.

CONAN: We're asking what your experience on the screening line has been. Has there been something that made you feel uncomfortable? 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. Karen is on the line calling from Argos in Indiana.

KAREN (Caller): Hi, there.

CONAN: Hi.

KAREN: I did have to go through a full body scanner and I felt totally invaded. I don't want anybody seeing me naked except my husband. And you have no choice. At the time that I went through, it was go through that or not get on the plane. So as far as I'm concerned, I would get on any plane that somebody didn't have to go through that horrible experience.

CONAN: Even though it might be somebody with a pocket full of explosives?

KAREN: To me, this whole PC thing, if not doing racial profiling, is idiotic. How many women, small children, blew up airplanes?

CONAN: Well, if you only screened for those people - the so-called shoe bomber, for whom we now have to take off all of our shoes - he would not have been caught.

KAREN: Are you sure you would have been caught with a full-body scanner?

CONAN: I don't know. But we take off our shoes and put them through the metal detector now and that might have caught him.

KAREN: Might have, might not have.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. So you'd rather take the risk?

KAREN: I would.

CONAN: Okay.

KAREN: Life is not risk free.

CONAN: No, it's not. No, it's not. You know, also, Karen, you don't have to fly.

KAREN: Unfortunately, sometimes you don't have that option. I want to go to Australia next spring. I don't know a really good, quick way to get there.

CONAN: Well, then good luck on the security line.

KAREN: Thank you.

CONAN: All right. Thanks very much.

And Kim Zetter, a lot of people feel like Karen does. This is, well, tantamount to taking nude pictures.

Ms. ZETTER: Yeah. The - there are some algorithms in the machines that can be tweaked so that the, you know, sensitive areas are blurred out. But it's unclear, you know, how extensively that's being done. There's also some issue here about the ability to save these pictures. TSA insists that the machines cannot store pictures and that you cannot send them anywhere.

But we know that, you know, in a federal courthouse in Miami, federal marshals - weren't TSA and they weren't the same machines that TSA uses, but they were storing pictures and about 35,000 of them. So I think, though, the problem here is trust, that TSA hasn't, you know, been very transparent.

CONAN: So to speak.

Ms. ZETTER: In deployment...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: No pun intended.

Ms. ZETTER: Yeah. And it's also an issue about people not really knowing what their rights are. You get to the airport, and in some cases the machines are clearly marked what they are. In other cases, you're just directed to the machine without being told what it is. Some people know their rights. They know that they can opt out of - and get a pat-down.

But in some cases, you know, the previous caller said, while the option is to go through the scanner or not fly. While in John Tyner's case, he was told that he couldn't even leave the airport. Initially, they told him if he didn't want undergo the pat-down or the scan, he could leave. And when he did, they chased him down and said, well, no, actually, you can't leave. And we're going to sue you if you don't and you will be facing $11,000 fine.

CONAN: And he said, so sue me and left.

ZETTER: Yeah.

CONAN: And we would have to see what happens with his lawsuit. Kim Zetter, thanks very much for your time today. I appreciate it.

Ms. ZETTER: Thank you.

CONAN: Kim Zetter is a reporter for Wired magazine, covering cyber crime, civil liberties, privacy and security rights for Wired's Threat Level blog. And she joined us from KQED, our member station in San Francisco.

Here's a couple of tweets. This from fitmomsflag(ph): Nope. I've never felt uncomfortable. I would rather someone sees me naked than something bad happens on a plane. Stare away, boys and girls. This from Craig(ph): Have you felt uncomfortable? Yep. I won't let my young kids go through them either and I'm no tinfoil hat conspiracy theorist. I don't like privacy loss or radiation risk.

Joining us now from our bureau in New York is Noah Shachtman. He's a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution, a contributing editor at Wired. He also wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, "Has Airport Security Gone Too Far?" And thanks very much for being with us today.

Mr. NOAH SHACHTMAN (Contributing editor of Wired magazine): Thanks for having me.

CONAN: And one of the things you say is that this technology and these pat-downs instituted by the TSA seem to be going after the last threat, not necessarily anticipating the next one.

Mr. SHACHTMAN: Yeah, it's like every time Al-Qaida or a related group tries to send a bomber out, you know, we have a defense against that last threat. So Richard Reid brings out the shoe bomb and all of a sudden we have to take off our shoes. There's a liquid bomb plot and all of a sudden we have to dump out our water. And now, there's this underwear bomber and all of a sudden these naked scanners and these, you know, pat-downs pop up. And you really got to wonder if defending against the last threat is really the smartest way to do aviation security.

CONAN: But if you don't defend against the last threat, it may continue to be a loophole in your security.

Mr. SHACHTMAN: Yeah, but defending against threats, defending against the type of bomb is not the only way you can do security. You can also defend against people instead. And instead of having every single person that flies, all 621 million passengers in the domestic aviation system go through the same rigmarole, you could more target it, you know, you could apply things in a more targeted way.

CONAN: Which is, as you pointed out, the way El Al does it.

Mr. SHACHTMAN: Right. The Israelis are world-renowned for having the tightest, you know, most secure aviation system in the world and they think these body scanner are kind of a joke. And instead, what they do, they use highly professional, highly trained employees to ask a series of questions of potential flyers. And based on those responses, you either question them further or let them go.

CONAN: And you do have to report a little earlier for an El Al flight and be ready for that questioning and be ready for all of your luggage to be searched.

Mr. SHACHTMAN: Yeah, that's right. And when I go to Israel, they keep asking me when my bar mitzvah was and what my Hebrew name is. But the fact of the matter is their track record on the stuff is a lot better than ours. And while I haven't seen comparative dollar for dollar costs, I've got a guess that they're doing it for pennies on the dollar compared to us, too.

CONAN: Many fewer planes, flying to many fewer places, though.

Mr. SHACHTMAN: Yeah, of course. But in some ways, that only argues for how ridiculous our system is, right? That you're apply these very invasive means to 621 million passengers seems a little crazier than asking people a couple of questions.

CONAN: We're talking about the dilemma on the security line at the airports with more intrusive body scans and more intrusive pat-downs. National opt-out day is scheduled for the busiest flight travel day of the year. That's the day before Thanksgiving, next Wednesday. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. 800-989-8255. Have you felt uncomfortable on the security line? E-mail us, talk@npr.org. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

A backlash is growing against the new body scanners and pat-downs at many airports. Some passengers plan a boycott next Wednesday on one of the busiest travel days of the year. The TSA have made some changes to security measures. Children under 12, for example, won't have to go through the more intrusive pat-downs. But John Pistole, the head of the TSA, says he will not change the new screening policy. He'll join us in a few minutes.

Right now we're talking with Noah Shachtman, a non-resident fellow at the Brooking Institution who wrote the op-ed "Has Airport Security Gone Too Far?" for the Wall Street Journal. There's a link to that on our website, that's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION. Have you personally felt uncomfortable during an airport screening? Tell us your story. 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And you can join our conversation at our website. That's at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Steve's on the line, calling from Canton, Ohio.

STEVE (Caller): Hey, how's it going?

CONAN: Not too bad. Go ahead, please.

STEVE: Hey, thanks for taking my call. Hey, I have no problem going through these enhanced screen procedures. Most of these people, if they were to get their - the people who are complaining about these enhanced procedures - if they were to get their way and there was another 9/11 or a plane blown out of the sky, they would also be the ones wanting to sue the government for not doing their job.

In the comparison to El Al - I think I've heard this before. El Al's one very small airline compared to our trans - or world or whatever, Continental or some of the larger airlines in our company. You know, I don't think it would be practical for us to interview every passenger who flies in the United States.

CONAN: And Noah Shachtman, to that first point, if there were another incident, if that underwear bomber had been successful, for example, certainly the screening procedures would have been brought under tremendous scrutiny, as indeed they were.

Mr. SHACHTMAN: Uh, yeah, that's true. However, the government accountability office found that these current body scanners, it was questionable at best, whether they would have actually found the underwear bomber.

CONAN: As you look at some of the pictures that were posted, again, when those images that were not supposed to be preserved were preserved, apparently, in an effort to humiliate a TSA employee and some of them were posted at Gawker.com. You look at them and it looks like if you were carrying explosives in your underpants they'd see it.

Mr. SHACHTMAN: Right. So there's actually two different kinds of scanners, right? One, it uses x-rays, the other uses millimeter waves. In both cases of these, privacy algorithms that are applied, in the case of the millimeter waves, they can blur out, let's say, the groin or the chest or the face. In the x-ray, what they do is they sort of fuzz up or dumb down the entire image. But the catch-22 here is that the more - the closer you want it to look for bombs, the more immodest the pictures become.

So, for example, in Muslim countries where these scanners are used, the pictures are fuzzed up quite a bit because they don't want to violate women's modesty. Here it's sort of in a middle ground. But, you know, that's a choice by the TSA, that they can either dial up or dial down.

CONAN: And let's get another caller in. This is Katie. Katie calling us from Madison in Wisconsin.

KATIE (Caller): Hi, can you hear me okay?

CONAN: Yes, I can hear you fine. Go ahead, please.

KATIE: I don't mind going through the screening just to make sure the plane is safe as long as your privacy is respected. I recently had to go see my daughter when she had her babies. And because I made my trip two weeks before it departed, I heard that you are often automatically red-flagged, and sure enough, I was pulled out of the line and I was told that I needed to be searched. And there were two women and one was in training and they were waiving a wand around my bra, because sometimes there is underwire in a woman's bra.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

KATIE: So she was kind of fumbling and everybody in line saw me. They did not pull me behind a screen or anything, and I felt really kind of embarrassed that they were touching my breast area and everything. So if they're gonna do it, you know, provide some privacy. Don't make people have to pull their shirt up and expose their skin and, you know, it's just how they do it.

CONAN: And Noah Shachtman, that sounds like sensible advice,

Mr. SHACHTMAN: Yeah, it does sound sensible. Here's another thing to consider, right? I mean, what we're really looking for here is a very, very small signal, that's someone carrying a bomb, in a very, very, very big amount of noise - that's the rest of us flying, right? And so there's kind of two different ways you can approach that. You can either try to scrape away the noise and concentrate on the signal or you can try to sort of screen everybody and kind of concentrate on the noise and hope you find the signal somewhere in there.

Now, to me, the first way sounds smarter, which is to concentrate on the signal, try to really use intelligence to burrow in on the actual terror suspects. But instead, what happens is, we all get virtually the same amount of screening. And so Granny has to take off her shoes and this poor woman has to be kind of embarrassed in front of her fellow passengers while she gets groped. It just doesn't make sense to me.

CONAN: Katie, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it. And here's a Tweet, we have this from St Louis, Colleen. Have you felt uncomfortable? Yes, flew out of St. Louis this month and it was just a disheartening feeling, hands over head, standing in place for seven seconds. Odd. Noah Shachtman, thanks very much for your time today.

KATIE: Thanks for having me.

CONAN: Noah Shachtman is a non-resident fellow at the Brooking Institution, wrote the op-ed "Has Airport Security Gone Too Far?" That was in the Wall Street Journal. There's a link to that on our website. Go to npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION. He's also contributing editor to Wired magazine.

And joining us now is John Pistole, administrator for the Transportation Security Administration, and thanks very much for your time today. We know you're very busy.

Mr. JOHN PISTOLE (Administrator for the Transportation Security Administration): True. And Neal, glad to be with you.

CONAN: And I know you've heard a lot of these criticisms, how do you respond to the people that say, wait a minute, you've just gone too far here?

Mr. PISTOLE: Well, I think it's a reasonable question, Neal. I think the - what it comes down to is the balance between security and privacy, and what type of partnership that we can have to insure that everybody who gets on every flight can be sure that everybody else on that flight has been properly screened. So the analogy that I've used, is about the two planes going to the same place, and if one had been fully screened and high confidence, and the other plane has not had that same level of screening, what would people opt for?

My sense is that people would opt for the plane that's been properly screened. So that's the one extreme. The question then becomes can reasonable people disagree as to what that exact or precise balance is between the privacy and security. I would say that I think we have instituted proper privacy for the advanced imaging technology, where the operator doesn't see the person who sees the image.

And then, for the further screening - on the pat-downs, if someone wants to have that done in an area, a private screening away from the public view, that's an option, too. People don't have to go through the advanced imaging, they can opt out of that. So we've tried to build that in, but recognize that there's a dynamic tension there between the privacy and security.

CONAN: I've flown a lot in recent weeks. I've seen some places have signs about the new machinery. I've never seen a sign saying, if you wish a pat-down behind a screen, you can ask for that.

Mr. PISTOLE: Okay. Well, if that's not the case in an airport you've seen, then that's on us and we need to take care of that. So I understand that one airport, there were over 25 different signs, not just TSA, but just airport signs and everything else. And so we wanna be clear and concise. I'm putting some additional information out on the TSA.gov website. There will be some additional messaging at the airports, hopefully starting Saturday, on those options.

And so, look, I hear loud and clear, the concerns of people across the country. I'm sensitive to those. I'm also sensitive to the fact that the threats are real out there. That there are determined people who are trying to kill us and that we have to take appropriate steps. Again, it comes down to what is that proper balance and what could reasonable people disagree on.

CONAN: And again, we were told that those machines were incapable of preserving the images, as, of course, you also know. At least hundreds of them were preserved, apparently, in Miami, I believe it was. And then some of them posted on a website.

Mr. PISTOLE: Well, actually, Neal, that was a different agency. It wasn't the TSA or the federal air marshals, and that was a different type of machine. So the machines that we have, the advanced engine technology machines, those functions are rendered inoperable before they are deployed to the airport. So they literally are not capable of either storing, retaining or transmitting images. And, of course, the operators are not allowed to have cameras or cell phones.

And I'd also say, Neal, I've seen a lot of things in the news in the last few days about how graphic these images are. And if you see them, some of these things that are being displayed on the news are not the actual images. So they're not as graphic as some of the news media's reported.

CONAN: All right. Let's see if we can get some callers in on the conversation. Again, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. James is calling from Denver.

JAMES (Caller): Hi. Yes. I personally looked and - I should back up and say that I have been a frequent flyer. I've flown less than two million air miles. I have not flown recently. I will be flying again soon and, quite frankly, I look at the body scanners as security theater. I don't see them being of any benefit. I know that we're, as others have said, we're looking at what a terrorist threat has done in the past and we're not looking at the future.

In the past, al-Qaida, for the 9/11 attacks, spent years and much money in order to come up with something, and they were very effective. There is no reason to think that they are going to be content with trying something that has been tried over and over and hasn't worked. I haven't heard anything about anyone being caught with these new body scanners. If someone is willing to kill themselves, are they're not willing to have something inserted in their body, which might be very painful to ignite initially, as far as an explosive device. The other thing, as far as terrorist attacks, several...

CONAN: Right. You asked several questions, James. Can we get some responses, please?

JAMES: Okay, sure.

CONAN: John Pistole?

Mr. PISTOLE: Yeah. Thanks, James. You've hit on a number of important topics there. And first, I would say that the advanced imaging technology actually is very effective in detecting things that we consider to be dangerous or a threat to aviation, including the Christmas Day attempt. We believe these machines give us the best possibility of identifying those type of well-designed, well-concealed explosive devices that are nonmetallic. And that's one of the keys, is that this pick up metallic or nonmetallic. And that device, which would have brought down the Northwest 253, if it had gone off as designed, would be detected or gives us the best opportunity to detect.

So that's why we're using them is not because we don't - we're just looking at yesterday's threats. We realize that we have to be informed by yesterday's actions but recognize that there are people out there who may try to replicate, they may try to do something new and different, such as we saw a few weeks ago with the explosives in the toner cartridges. They may put explosives in shoes, they may have people with box cutters get on planes as we saw in 9/11, any number of things. We face a determined and a creative enemy that is trying to harm us, so that's why we're trying to do this.

JAMES: Well, I could follow you with on that - follow you with that. But at the same time, you're saying that they are body scanners. So if something were surgically implanted...

CONAN: And that has been tried in an attempt on the life of the interior minister in Saudi Arabia, John Pistole, as I'm sure you know.

Mr. PISTOLE: Yes, exactly. Well, there's actually some different views on where that was actually secreted. But yeah, these are advanced imaging technology. They don't honestly look inside the body, and so that's something that we are always trying to use.

Neal, I think you described it best, though, before I came on, was, look, we want to be risk-based, intelligence-driven, so we want to have the best intelligence to inform our judgments and actions. And that means that we can get information, obviously, from overseas such as the Saudi authorities did for the cargo plot. And it's something that we try to be as best informed as to what should our security officers be looking for?

So literally - you know, I mean, I came from the FBI after almost 27 years, just started a few months ago here. I start every day with an intelligence brief. And so that helps inform the judgments and actions. And that's what this advanced imaging technology does. We can't be all things, all places, all people, all times. There's no 100 percent guarantees. But I think this gives us, this technology and the protocols we have, gives us the best opportunity for identifying and defeating a possible threat.

CONAN: John Pistole is the administrator of the Transportation Security Administration. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's go next to Chris. And Chris with us from Tacoma.

CHRIS (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, Chris. Go ahead, please.

CHRIS: I personally - my dad worked for CIA and I lived 16 years in Africa and the Middle East, in Muslim countries. And I think this whole war in terror is blown out of proportion. We're spending way too much money on it, and the focus is not intelligent, it's not strategic, it's not effective. And anybody...

CONAN: So Chris, I'm sorry to interrupt, there have been multiple attempts to bring down aircrafts, some them, sadly, successful.

CHRIS: Yeah. And we actually - we just got lucky that they didn't work. The shoe bomber, the underwear bomber didn't go off.

CONAN: And so we're talking about security procedures. Do you have a question about that?

CHRIS: Well, I just don't think - I think El Al is on track. I think we need to do this intelligently and effectively. And we're not doing it intelligently, effectively or - and financially. And the other guy who wrote the Wall Street thing, absolutely right. And (unintelligible)...

CONAN: All right. So he...

CHRIS: ...thought. And I don't object. I could go nude. I'm not concerned about privacy issues. I just concern about effectiveness, and I just don't think it's effective. And I think you need to screen people intelligently.

And I'll finish with one statement. You don't have to believe. I used to work for UPS. I had to load five different trucks with packages before scanners were invented. I used to be able to feel which package was the bad package. And I could sense it coming. I could read it. And I had an unbeatable record. So call me a psychic with boxes. I'm just a person who feels what's right, what's wrong. And I think there are other people who are trained professionals who can look at somebody, can look and see this is a (unintelligible)...

CONAN: And Chris, I don't mean to cut you up, but we need to get John Pistole a chance to reply.

CHRIS: Okay.

CONAN: There have been - I'm not sure feeling boxes is reliable approach for everybody, but in terms of the approach that a lot of people talk about, with El Al, certainly the FBI, your previous...

Mr. PISTOLE: Sure.

CONAN: ...employer has a lot of experience with that kind of interrogation.

Mr. PISTOLE: Well, right, Neal. And Chris, thanks for your comments. So we use a layered approach to security. So what we don't want to have is any single point of failure. So we - as I mentioned, we try to be informed by the latest intelligence, informed by also prior attempts and all that. But relying on our partners around the world, and of course, the agency you mentioned your father worked for and others, my former - my colleague, former agency at the bureau, Joint Terrorism Task Forces, state local police officers, all those can help inform where a person may be.

In the final analysis, there may be somebody who gets to an airport who's not been detected, he has a device, such as we saw on Christmas Day. So it's really on the men and women of TSA, who by the way are just there for one purpose, and that is to make sure that you and your loved ones are able to travel safely and securely. So it's up to them, along with behavior detection officers, like you mentioned the Israeli model. We have some of those, not enough, I don't think. And then we're exposed to face detection and the advanced imaging technology, pat-downs, all those are designed for the safety and security of you and your loved ones.

So again, I know there's a balance there, but we're simply trying to do what we can to prevent the bad guys from blowing up another plane.

CONAN: John Pistole, thanks very much for your time today. Appreciate it. And good luck.

Mr. PISTOLE: Okay, Neal, thanks much.

CONAN: John Pistole, administrator of the Transportation Safety Administration. He joined us from his office at the TSA. Coming up, Fran Lebowitz once quipped, success didn't spoil me. I've always been insufferable.

Ms. FRAN LEBOWITZ (Writer): When I was a child, it was called talking back.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LEBOWITZ: Okay? You know, now it's called public speaking.

CONAN: "Public Speaking" is also the title of a new documentary about the well-known New Yorker, Fran Lebowitz, joins us next. Stay with us.

I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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