Transportation Security Administration chief John Pistole defended his decision to let passengers carry small knives back on board flights Thursday, saying "these are not things that terrorists are continuing to use."
Instead of looking for knives, he told House members on Capitol Hill, airport security officers should be concentrating on non-metal explosives that have the capability to blow a hole in a plane.
Pistole last week announced that starting April 25, passengers could carry on small penknives and some sporting equipment such as two golf clubs, hockey sticks and small, souvenir baseball bats for the first time since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
His decision sparked a backlash from flight attendants, pilots and even air marshals who fly undercover on airline flights to protect planes from terrorists.
George Taylor, president for the federal air marshal service within the Federal Law Enforcement Office Association, said terrorists could figure out how to defeat reinforced cockpit doors with weapons similar to the box-cutters used on Sept. 11, 2001.
"It's just absolutely insane," said Taylor, a 36-year law enforcement officer who has been an air marshal since 9/11. "I don't put my faith in that reinforced door. If it's made by man, it can be broken by man."
"They're very upset," Taylor said about his fellow air marshals. "This is not the time to implement this policy."
Taylor spoke at a news conference outside the Capitol before the hearing by the House Homeland Security subcommittee.
There, Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., threatened a House vote on his legislation to prohibit knives on planes if the TSA doesn't reverse course.
"The TSA policy makes no sense," said Markey, who held up an allowed knife with a blade longer than a box-cutter's. "It is a dangerous policy."
At the hearing, Pistole showed lawmakers a video of the destructive force of the explosive found on a passenger in December 2009 that destroyed a sheet of plywood between two sawhorses.
"This is what I believe the TSA should be focused on," he said. "It really comes down to how can we best utilize our resources."
He also showed lawmakers a display of small knives with other items that have been allowed since 2005, including scissors with blades less than 4 inches long, knitting needles and screwdrivers less than 7 inches long. He said the TSA is still more restrictive than knives allowed in federal buildings.
Pistole acknowledged he could have consulted with flight attendants and pilots better before announcing the change in policy. But, he said, "I think the decision is solid."
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., commended him for the move. "I think it's common sense what you've done," Rogers said.
Not every congressman on the subcommittee agreed. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., held up a golf club and a hockey stick. "I think it could cause serious harm," Thompson said of the hockey stick.
Attendants aren't convinced. The Coalition of Flight Attendant Unions, representing 90,000 workers, set up a White House petition with a link to noknivesonplanes.com.
"Any way you slice it, a knife like this is a weapon, and it doesn't belong on an airplane," said Laura Glading, president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, representing 16,000 workers at American Airlines. "His ridiculous position remains unchanged."
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For the first time since the 9/11 terror attacks, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will allow small knives and some previously prohibited sports equipment onto airplanes as carry-on...
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) plans to let travelers carry small knives and some sports equipment aboard passenger planes for the first time since 2001, which airline attendants say...
Small scissors will be allowed on aircraft