John Pistole, administrator for the Transportation Security Administration, has admitted the TSA might not have been able to stop the most-recent underwear bomber with existing technology.
Following AQAP's failed plot to smuggle a new-and-improved underwear bomb aboard a U.S.-bound airplane, Jeffrey Goldberg, a columnist for Bloomberg and national correspondent for The Atlantic, asked Pistole whether the TSA's full-body scanners, now at 180 U.S. airports, would be able to detect such a device if terrorists were able to make one in the United States.
Pistole tactfully danced around the question. "The advanced imaging technology gives us the best chance to detect the underwear-type device," he told Goldberg, but admitted after a follow-up question that it "is not 100 percent guaranteed." Pistole continued:
“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.”
What about a lo-tech, TSA pat-down? Also not a 100-percent guarantee, Pistole said.
Goldberg left the conversation "unconvinced that the TSA can keep up with advances in jihadist bomb-making."
In his column, Goldberg shares Bruce Schneier's sentiment that the recent foiled underwear-bomb plot (and Pistole's "calibrated answer") should, rather than be cited as a reason to increase airport security, be a strong argument against it. Instead, more focus and resources should be applied to discovering and dismantling plots before they reach the airport because, as Goldberg writes, "if the only thing standing between the bomber and his target is a TSA pat-down, bet on the bomber."