A week ago the United States Senate did something it rarely if every does … vote unanimously. Last Friday, on the 25th of June, the United States Senate voted to confirm John S. Pistole to the position of Administrator for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) … just five weeks after President Barack Obama nominated Pistole … but a year and a half after the position was vacated by former TSA Administrator Kip Hawley.
Pistole was sworn in yesterday in an unusual ceremony at Penn Station, in New York City, by the Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. On Pistole’s first day in office he went on a whistle-stop campaign with Napolitano through New York, Philadelphia and DC to launch a new “See Something – Say Something” campaign in an effort to help make citizens alert to terrorist threats.
Quite honestly, I think Pistole is an excellent choice for the TSA Administrator position, but I think his first day in office should have been focused on the TSA’s primary mission of airport security since it accounts for roughly 98% of the TSA’s budget, where as “Surface Transportation” accounts for 1% of the annual budget.
Pistole’s credentials for leading the flagging Transportation Security Administration include a substantial mix of law enforcement, administration and counter-terrorism. Pistole’ served with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for 26 years and was recruited to lead the TSA while serving as the FBI’s Deputy Director.
While many top law enforcement officials have the credentials to lead the TSA, one highlight in Pistole’s career stands out like a beacon to me. Pistole worked with the FBI’s General Counsel to create a policy that limited the FBI’s role in interrogating prisoners held in the “war on terror.” Specifically the directive co-created by Pistole stated that “FBI officials were not allowed to sit in on coercive interrogations conducted by third parties; FBI officials were required to immediately report any instances of suspected coercive interrogation up the FBI chain of command.”
This highlight in Pistole’s career stands out because it means that he has restraint and a clear understanding of the laws of the United States. Additionally Pistole served with the FBI’s Civil Rights Squad and he also happens to be an attorney who practiced law for two years before joining the FBI.
The TSA has a significant history of over stepping its bounds and pushing the edge of mission creep, and a director who fully understands the law and the rights of all people in the United States has the ability to reign in the agency so it may focus on its core mission.
Prior to Pistole’s appointment to the administrative tasks of serving as the FBI’s Deputy Director, he served as the FBI’s Executive Assistant Director for Counterterrorism and Counterintelligence, lead the FBI’s expanded Counterterrorism Programs and has extensive experience leading aviation and transportation related major cases.
Pistole’s experience in combining counterterrorism and handling major airline related cases is especially important given the primary role the TSA is tasked with. Some cases Pistole lead include the attempted attack on Northwest Flight 253 in December 2009; a foiled plot to attack the New York Subway system in 2009; the foiled liquid bomb threat against airliners in the United Kingdom in 2006 and lead the investigation and evidence recovery from the crash of Egypt Air Flight 990 off the coast of Nantucket in 1999.
It is nice to see the TSA finally have a leader at the helm … and not just a leader who can steer the TSA in the right direction … but also a leader who by all accounts is perfectly qualified to overhaul the TSA and turn it into the agency it is supposed to be.