- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 16, 2014

The leader of the Transportation Security Administration, John Pistole, announced Thursday that he would retire after 4 1/2 tumultuous years leading the agency.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to have served as TSA administrator,” Mr. Pistole said. “I could not be more proud of all that our employees have accomplished together, particularly what they have done to help enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of transportation security while improving the passenger screening experience.”

Mr. Pistole served at the FBI for 26 years before becoming TSA chief in 2010. He is the longest serving TSA leader.

During his tenure, the agency most commonly known for running the airport security passenger checkpoints, has remained in the middle of controversies over national security and privacy. Mr. Pistole has faced questions from Congress and the public about whether security measures are preventing terrorist attacks on planes; whether pat-downs and x-ray scanners are invading passengers’ privacy; and more recently about whether airport screenings should include checking for medical conditions like an Ebola infection.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Mr. Pistole had been instrumental in helping the TSA become an efficient counterterrorism agency focused on protecting transit.

“Because of his efforts over the past four and a half years, our country’s transportation systems are more safe and secure,” Mr. Johnson said.

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Mr. Pistole could become the next president of Anderson University in his hometown of Anderson, Indiana. The school’s presidential search committee said Thursday that it would nominate Mr. Pistole to be the president of the Christian college founded in 1917 by the Church of God.

Mr. Pistole’s retirement comes at a time when the agency is facing one of its toughest challenges since its creation after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack — how to prevent a terrorist from boarding a plane with a bomb that contains no metal parts and isn’t detectable through normal screening. Mr. Pistole warned last month that an al Qaeda cell in Syria known as the Khorasan Group has been researching and testing improvised explosive devices designed to elude airport security and represents “a clear and present danger” to commercial flights to Europe and the United States, The Associated Press reported.

The TSA has a workforce of over 60,000 employees and security operations at more than 450 airports throughout the United States. Setting travel rules and security standards has proven to be a politically prickly process, as Mr. Pistole has learned on more than one occasion.

He ran afoul of flight attendants, airlines and Congress last year when he announced his intention to allow passengers to carry small knives, sports equipment like bats and golf clubs, and other previously prohibited items onto planes. He was eventually forced to back down.

This article was based in part on wire service reports.

• Phillip Swarts can be reached at pswarts@washingtontimes.com.

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