The Washington Post

Despite disagreement, Sen. Barbara Boxer and TSA’s John Pistole still like each other

Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat from California. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Barbara Boxer, the U.S. senator from California, gets excited.

John Pistole, the career FBI agent who now heads the TSA, does not.

Despite the yin and yang, they agreed Wednesday that they like each other.

First, they raised a little dust at a Senate hearing. The Democratic senator wanted to know how a 16-year-old boy penetrated security at San Jose International Airport last month. The teen squeezed into the wheel well of a Hawaiian Airlines plane and somehow survived a five-hour flight to Maui.

Three weeks before that happened, TSA did a comprehensive review of the airport’s security, including it’s perimeter security, and found that it was in compliance on all counts.

“What happened here?” Boxer asked.

“We’re obviously following up on that, senator,” Pistole said.

“Why are you just now following up on it? Why didn’t you follow up on it the next morning?” she said, her voice rising.

“We did. . . . We’ve been working that nonstop since then,” he responded.

“I just think you’re too calm about this,” Boxer shot back.

Pistole is accustomed to taking heat on Capitol Hill, particularly on the House side of the building, where he’s been berated for all sorts of things, such as overly intrusive X-ray machines and invasive checkpoint pat downs.

Boxer’s tongue lashing was tame by comparison. He quietly explained that the runway fences were “in fine shape, but as one former homeland security secretary said, show me a 15-foot fence and I’ll show you a 16-foot ladder.”

The senator was not in a mood to be soothed.

“There’s something wrong here. I’m worried about this. What if it was somebody else with an explosive?” she said. “I just don’t feel the sense of urgency in your voice that I’d like to hear.”

“I try not to be too over the top, to be measured in what I do,” Pistole said, going on to explain the concept of “measured risk.”

“I get it, you cleared these people and that is wrong,” Boxer said.

“I respectfully disagree. I think you’re drawing the wrong conclusion. . . . It’s not a guarantee that nothing bad is ever going to happen.”

“This is serious business,” Boxer said.

“I agree.”

“I don't think you’re taking this seriously,” Boxer said.

“I disagree.”

“I still like you,” Boxer said.

“I like you, too,” Pistole said. “We disagree.”

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Ashley Halsey reports on national and local transportation.



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