CBS' Smith Conducts Soft Interview of TSA Chief, Begs Him to 'De-mythify' Controversies of Screenings

Labeling the uproar over new TSA screening procedures as a "tempest-in-a-teapot," Harry Smith avoided pressing TSA chief John Pistole on CBS' "Early Show" Wednesday about the controversies of the new methods. Rather, Smith deferred to asking Pistole to explain the process further and "de-mythify" false rumors.

"There are so many myths about this, not the least of which is 'Well you know, the TSA guy, he's standing there, he can see your – you know what'," Smith told Pistole Wednesday on CBS' "The Early Show." Smith asked Pistole to "De-mythify this process a moment" and clarify that "somebody is in another room looking at this stuff. They never see your face."

"That is misinformation," Pistole responded to the "myths" Smith referred to.
 

Smith even helped Pistole explain the procedures to the American people, remarking how the new scanning methods recognize hidden objects that would not have been found at the time of the Christmas Day bomber. "This can see things that the other technology can't, especially, for instance, the sort of explosive that the guy was landing at Detroit airport had in his underwear last Christmas," Smith affirmed.

In addition, the CBS anchor characterized the backlash against the procedures as a "tempest-in-a-teapot." He then asked Pistole to respond to assumptions by the American people that the government is overstepping its bounds.

Finally, Smith asked if Pistole could have done a better job in explaining the controversial new procedures to the American people.

A transcript of the segment, which aired on November 24 at 7:05 a.m. EDT, is as follows:

HARRY SMITH: If people are heading to the airports, if they are heading there today, what is the single best piece of advice to get them through the screening process as quickly as possible?

TSA chief JOHN PISTOLE: Partnership, Harry. It really comes down to being prepared, knowing what to expect, and then just working in partnership with the men and women of TSA who just want to get you to your destination safely and securely.

SMITH: I've been talking – a lot of folks have been talking about this around the office for the last couple of days, there are so many myths about this, not the least of which is "Well you know, the TSA guy, he's standing there, he can see your – you know what." De-mythify this process a moment and explain that somebody is in another room looking at this stuff. They never see your face.

PISTOLE: No, there's been so much out there Harry – I appreciate the opportunity – that is misinformation. So obviously, the – if you go through an advanced imaging technology machine, which are in about 70 airports, almost 400 machines now – it is a blurred image – it's not a photograph or anything like that – it's a blurred image of the body seen by a security officer in another area, in a room. And that person never sees the passenger, and the security officer dealing with passengers never sees that image. The images are not stored, they're not capable of being stored or transmitted, and obviously no cell phones, cameras, or anything are allowed in those security rooms –

SMITH: And the difference between –

PISTOLE: And so we tried to build into this privacy.

SMITH: And the difference between this technology and the technology that we're so accustomed to over the last couple of years is this can see things that the other technology can't, especially, for instance, the sort of explosive that the guy was landing at Detroit airport had in his underwear last Christmas.

PISTOLE: That's right, Harry. It detects things that the walk-through metal detector that we all know does not detect, such as the Christmas Day bomber who had that explosive device that was all non-metallic. So he could literally walk through the walk-through metal detector. If he did not have a thorough pat-down, he could get on that plane and kill everybody on board. So that's what we're trying to avoid.

SMITH: Alright, this has created its own sort of tempest-in-a-teapot, maybe even a little bigger than that. There are many people who are suggesting that the government is overreaching its bounds with both the kind of scanner and the pat-downs that come as a result of opting out. How do you respond to that?

PISTOLE: Well I think everybody wants to arrive safely, so everybody agrees on that. It's a balance between privacy and security, and as we've said, reasonable people can disagree about that. The most recent Gallup poll which just came out, I understand, indicates that 71 percent of the people who travel on a somewhat regular basis support our efforts to keep everyone safe, and balancing the security with those privacy protections we have in place.

SMITH: And last but not least, at the minimum, if you had it to do over again, would you have mounted some sort of public relations campaign to sort of roll this out in a way that the traveling public would have said "Oh, I get it. This is coming, and this is what I can expect"?

PISTOLE: Harry, we talked about that. And I made the decision not to do that because I was concerned that we would be not only informing everybody as we wanted to, but we'd also be informing terrorists that we had gaps in our security that we were trying to shore up. So it was a balance and I went with that decision to try to keep everybody safe.

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014