Chairman Rockefeller's Remarks on Today's Transportation Security Administration Oversight Hearing

November 17, 2010

Chairman RockefellerWASHINGTON, D.C.—Turn on the TV. Pick up the newspaper. In the past 48 hours, there’s been a steady stream of stories about airport screening procedures - on pat-downs, and full body scanners. I appreciate people’s concerns. I understand that there is frustration. I realize some of these screening procedures appear invasive.

The new pat-down procedures embody the enormously difficult task of balancing the need to protect the public and the need to maintain their privacy. One of my first questions for you, Mr. Pistole, concerns these procedures, and how you came to develop these new security regulations. I do recognize the threat we face.

I used to Chair the Senate Intelligence Committee. I am still a member. I can tell you that this threat is real, and it is evolving every day. We face a deadly and determined enemy who seeks to do us harm.

Consider the events of this last year: a terrorist boarded a plane bound for America on Christmas Day. He carried a deadly explosive onboard. Federal agents uncovered a plot to bomb multiple subway stations in Washington, D.C. The terrorist’s goal: to kill as many people as possible. Good intelligence-gathering prevented this from happening. Authorities recently disrupted a plot to blow up planes over the U.S. using bombs hidden in cargo. Again, excellent intelligence stopped this plot from moving forward.

But we cannot be complacent. Our transportation system remains a prime terrorist target. We must continue to bolster our defenses against a determined enemy. And as terrorists’ methods evolve, so must TSA’s. TSA has massive responsibilities and multiple missions. They move half a billion people through the U.S. aviation system every year; screen billions of pounds of domestic and foreign cargo; and protect our ports, and our diverse public transportation systems.

I do not doubt the difficulty of TSA’s mandate, but the agency must remain well-resourced and nimble in their response to new and emerging threats. We must take appropriate action to close any security loopholes, while making sure our global transportation system continues to move people, freight, and goods in an effective manner.

I continue to have concerns about general aviation security. Clearly, the existing system of international cargo security needs a fresh look, which I know TSA and DHS have started to do. We must also incorporate new technology that will make it harder for terrorists to exploit our transportation system. And as I’ve already stated – but think it’s important enough to say again: the balance between security and privacy is a delicate one. I believe TSA is committed to achieving this balance. I would urge all of us to consider that these procedures are in place to protect us from a real risk.

In the coming weeks, I will be working with my colleagues in Congress to make sure TSA has the resources it needs to address key security concerns.

Mr. Pistole, thank you for being here today. You have been at the helm of TSA for several months now. I know it’s been a demanding time for you and our nation. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on what your agency needs to continue to protect the public.