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Pistole: TSA's purpose is to stop terrorists

Thursday - 3/14/2013, 8:36am  ET

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Transportation Security Administration Administrator John Pistole speaks while announcing the expansion of TSA's 'Pre Check' passenger prescreening initiative at Reagan National Airport February 8, 2012 in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

John Pistole, administrator, Transportation Security Administration

TSA's controversial knife policy

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WASHINGTON -- The Transportation Security Administration can't be "all things to all people at all times," says John Pistole, head of the administration.

"We want to focus on the highest-risk items," he says. "And also, bring us into alignment in some respects with the international community."

Pistole spoke to WTOP on Thursday morning about the controversial TSA decision to allow small knives on passenger planes, which was announced earlier this month.

"This is part of our ongoing effort to move away from our one-size-fits-all approach," he says. "That was set up by necessity after 9/11."

Pistole says the change in TSA's prohibited items policy is the third since Sept. 11, 2001. In 2005, knitting needles, scissors and screwdrivers up to 7 inches were taken off the list. And later, matches and lighters were allowed.

The decision to remove small knives from the prohibited items list has sparked criticism from both the airline industry and the public. Pistole says he understands those concerns, but the primary focus of the TSA is to keep terrorists from blowing up and hijacking planes, and intelligence shows that small knives are not a significant threat.

He says the move will also bring America in line with international regulations, which have allowed small knives since 2010, Pistole says.

"This is an effort to help us accomplish several things. One is to help us focus on the greatest threat, and that's what we know from intelligence is the bombs and the improvised explosive devices that are made of no metal, so they don't alarm metal detectors, and yet can be concealed," Pistole says.

When asked about concerns voiced by pilots and flight attendants, Pistole says he understands.

"They don't want to be dealing with a disruptive or unruly passenger who may assault them," Pistole says. "Since 2010 passengers have been allowed to fly with these small knives. And there hasn't been a single incident, worldwide."

Pistole will testify at a hearing on Thursday in Washington regarding the TSA's decision.

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