TSA Supremo: We'll Move to Identity-Based Security

Jim Fallows and I made the shlep to Pentagon City a couple of days ago, to the unhandsome building that houses the Transportation Security Administration, in order to meet with John Pistole, the new chief of the -- what do they say in journalese? -- embattled air-safety agency.  Our extended interview can be found here. I'll post more on this later -- analysis, commentary, wisecracks -- but let me just note for the record that the security personnel at the building entrance made Fallows take off his shoes. My shoes remained on my feet. This might be because I don't look like a terrorist, whereas Fallows does. Sometimes, around the office, Jim will walk by and I'll think, "Hey, is that Tamil Tiger Supreme Commander Velupillai Prabhakaran?" But then I'll remember that Prabhakaran is dead.

We both found this business with the shoes amusing, naturally, but Pistole did not. He was genuinely surprised, even flummoxed, by this bit of news from the ground floor. It was pretty much the only time in our conversation that he did become flummoxed. One quick impression: He is a reasonably -- maybe even more than reasonably -- thoughtful man. Another quick impression -- he knows that his agency and its tactics need a great deal of improving. A third impression: He knows that there are things he needs to do that he can't do with the workforce he inherited. For instance, he seems to understand that an inspection regime that focuses on materials -- shoes, toothpaste, computers, creamy dips and spreads -- is thoroughly inadequate to the mission. Effective security would focus on the passengers, and not the things they carry. But that level of security -- with its whiff of profiling -- calls for a better-trained, more sophisticated workforce. And a fourth: He is not defensive about his agency and his work. This may be because he's only been in the job since July, or it may be because he's naturally not defensive. More on this interview soon. If you're interested in this subject, please read the whole thing. And not to lecture, but you should be interested in this subject; it's important.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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