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.