By Calvin Biesecker

President Obama’s nominee to lead the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) yesterday said that his top priority will be to ensure that the agency is driven by intelligence.

John Pistole, who is currently the deputy director of the FBI, told a Senate panel that we would "ensure that the men and women at TSA, and all those that deal with it, see it as a threat-based, intelligence driven agency with a national security focus." Later in his confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Pistole said that following his nomination last month, he met at TSA to receive a threat briefing, "so my top priority is making sure that TSA has the latest intelligence threat information and is making informed judgments as how to allocate their resources."

For example, Pistole, who as deputy FBI director has been involved in the investigation of the failed Christmas Day bombing attempt aboard a passenger plane flying into Detroit from The Netherlands, said that event should begin a series of actions. He described the concealment of the bomb, which was hidden in the underwear of a passenger, as sophisticated, saying this has to inform the front line screeners as to the "type of detection that is appropriate," their training, and "the latest techniques and latest technology to work as part of that layered defense."

Pistole is Obama’s third nominee to lead TSA. Erroll Southers and Robert Harding each withdrew their names from consideration this year, Southers because the Senate was concerned with actions he took as an FBI agent for improperly accessing files and Harding when news broke that his former consulting firm was listed as a service disabled owned business due to his sleep apnea (Defense Daily, March 30).

As to threats, Pistole said that based on actual and attempted terrorist attacks in the United States and abroad, as well as intelligence assessments, Al Qaeda and its affiliates are interested in soft targets, such as rail systems, including subways, heavy and light rail, ports, and hazardous materials shipments.

The second priority is work force development, Pistole said. This consists of things such as training and retraining, and working with the agency and department to understand the metrics associated with morale and proper staffing, he said.

As expected, the issue also came up regarding Obama’s desire to allow Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) collective bargaining rights, but Pistole said that he will review this and collect information from all stakeholders. Pistole said he wouldn’t do anything that adversely affects the safety and security of the traveling public.

In response to questions and comments made by Republicans opposed to collective bargaining for TSOs, Pistole noted the FBI doesn’t allow this because it needs the flexibility to surge its human resources "at a moment’s notice." However, he also told one Democrat that in his experience working with unionized law enforcement personnel throughout the country that their primary concern is doing their jobs.

The third priority for Pistole is stakeholder outreach, he said. Pistole said he wants to involve "all stakeholders in the business of TSA to make sure they know their voice can be heard and all the issues they are dealing with can be addressed by TSA."