The Atlantic recently posted a conversation with TSA Administrator John Pistole. It's fairly lengthy, but I recommend giving it a read here. His message really focuses on balance and risk management, but he discusses the impossibility of his job and of aviation security in general. Here are a few of the more interesting parts (sorry it's a big block of bold text, but I think it's worth your time):
Goldberg: Do you ever see a point after, God forbid, another attack, where we move toward an interrogation-based system as opposed to a material-based system in our airports? Or is it simply not doable on the scale of American aviation?
Pistole: I'm much more interested in the person than the items the person is carrying. I want to know more about that person, and I want to be able to use all available intelligence, and "Secure Flight," which we just completed in terms of the international roll out, is one step in that regard. Just those three basic data fields [required by "Secure Flight"] -- name, date of birth, and gender -- helps knowing about the person.
Goldberg: But it's infinite. I mean literally, talk about the problem of cavity bombs. Do you think it is a possible tactic that someone could use? And do you think that your current technology could stop it?
Pistole: No. It is infinite, so how do we deal with yesterday's threat? How can we be informed by those, and yet try to be predictive about what's the next plot.
Pistole: I think that's a great point, because I think that the next attack is inevitable...Given that perspective of the threats, the threats are real, how do we best devise a layered system of defenses that has no single point of failure? That's my concern.
Pistole: We're not in the risk elimination business. The only way you can eliminate car accidents from happening is by not driving. OK, that's not acceptable. The only way you can eliminate the risk of planes blowing up is nobody flies.
I've asked a number of people that, for their ideas, and we've asked internally, what should the transportation security officer, the TSO, the one that most people deal with- what should that position look like? What should the educational requirements, what should the professional requirements be? So there's a whole number of issues that I've undertaken a review of, looking to the future, recognizing that we have to protect as well as we can today. But I want to build a different TSA for the future, frankly. I want to see a different organization that can do a lot of things that I know worked, worked other places. But I need the support of Congress and the American people to do that.
Pistole: That is. So I want to use the latest intelligence to inform our judgments and actions, and use the best technology when we don't have intelligence. So there's a huge gap there. So here are the threats, here are capabilities, here are gaps. So how do we fill those gaps? And right now we do it with a somewhat blunt approach.