TSA's John Pistole: Scanners Might Not Stop an Underwear Bomber

I'll have more on this later, but I had a very interesting conversation yesterday with John Pistole, the administrator of the Transportation Security Administration, and I wanted to bring you some of it, via my Bloomberg View column. Bruce Schneier, Goldblog's security guru (and the guy I used to break into airports with), has argued that the recently discovered underwear bomb 2.0, a more sophisticated device than the Christmas 2009 device that failed to ignite, doesn't mean that we should necessarily increase airport security, in part because if the bomb plot matures to the point where it's two hours away from completion, and the TSA is the last line of defense, then it is probably too late. I'm sympathetic to the Schneier argument. Pistole, not really sympathetic at all. Anyway, here's some of what Pistole had to say about the scanners and their ability to detect complicated, well-disguised bombs:

...Would the TSA have been able to identify this most dangerous anomaly in the crotch area, had al-Qaeda managed to build one in the U.S.?

(Pistole) mentioned the TSA's new scanning devices, now in use at about 180 airports.

"The advanced imaging technology gives us the best chance to detect the underwear-type device," he said.

The best chance? "This is not 100 percent guaranteed," he said. "If it comes down to a terrorist who has a well- concealed device, and we have no intelligence about him, and he comes to an advanced-imaging technology machine, it is still our best technology. But it's really an open question about whether the machine, or the AIT operator, would detect the device."

You can read more here.

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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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