John Pistole, administrator of the Transportation Security Administration, announced Wednesday that his agency is no longer planning to allow knives under six centimeters on commercial airplanes. Last week, however, Pistole defended the proposal.
Pistole's about-face was revealed hours before the House was scheduled to vote on a bipartisan amendment to the Homeland Security appropriations bill that might have blocked the plan, the Washington Post reports. Last month 145 congressmen signed a letter to Pistole saying, "We urge you to keep the rule simple: No knives on planes."
"After getting the input from all these different constituents, I realized there was not across-the-board support that would serve us well in moving forward," Pistole told The Associated Press in a Wednesday interview. "It is a recognition that, yes, these items could be used as weapons."
A legislative vote would have likely ended in an embarrassing defeat for Pistole, who also vigorously defended the TSA's now-removed X-ray scanners in 2010 as "the best technology we have today." The scans infuriated passengers, who were upset that images of their genitals were being displayed to airport staff. A YouTube video exposed how passengers could slip items past the machines before they were discontinued. The TSA removed all of the X-ray machines from U.S. airports last month. A TSA spokesperson told Politico earlier this year that the agency paid $40 million for 250 of the now-discontinued scanners.
Last week, Pistole said during a speech at George Washington University that he still wanted to implement the plan to allow some knives on planes. His plan was first disclosed to the public in March.
"With hardened cockpit doors, better identification of individual passengers against terrorist watch lists, and the demonstrated willingness of passengers to intervene to assist flight crew during a security incident, it is the judgment of many security experts worldwide, a judgment with which I agree, that a small pocket knife is simply not going to result in the catastrophic failure of an aircraft," Pistole said in the May 28 speech, according to a transcript posted to the TSA's website.
But, Pistole conceded during that speech, he would delay implementation of the change as he gathered "input from key stakeholders." Small knives were originally going to be allowed beginning April 25.
"I went to Capitol Hill and answered lawmakers' questions regarding these changes, including discussions in a classified setting to share with them some of the intelligence that helped form the basis for my decision," he said in the speech.
Airline flight attendants furiously opposed the proposed TSA policy, picketing at airports across the country with signs that read "No Knives, Ever Again" in a clear reference to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks where al-Qaida terrorists armed with small blades seized control of four airplanes before intentionally crashing three of them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A coalition of five flight attendant unions representing 90,000 workers praised Pistole's Wednesday announcement.