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Former TSA chief backs 'knife' decision; suggests axes and machetes, too

By Mike M. Ahlers, CNN
updated 10:39 AM EST, Thu March 7, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Kip Hawley says sharp objects can no longer bring down aircraft
  • "Clean up the checkpoint where officers are focusing on bombs and toxins," he says
  • "You can commit acts of violence on an aircraft with what is allowed now," he adds

Washington (CNN) -- The former head of transportation security said Wednesday he supports a new policy allowing small knives on planes, but said it does not go far enough, and should include instruments such as "battle axes (and) machetes."

Sharp objects can no longer bring down aircraft, former Transportation Security Administration chief Kip Hawley told CNN, and the search for knives interferes with the search for objects that can harm aircraft.

"In retrospect, I should have done the same thing," Hawley said of the rule, which allows passengers to board aircraft with certain small knives, as well as sports equipment such as ice hockey and lacrosse sticks.

"They ought to let everything on that is sharp and pointy. Battle axes, machetes ... bring anything you want that is pointy and sharp because while you may be able to commit an act of violence, you will not be able to take over the plane. It is as simple as that," he said.

"So my position would be, bravo on the 2.6 inch knife. But why not take it all the way and then really clean up the checkpoint where officers are focusing on bombs and toxins, which are things that can destroy an airplane. And it would smooth the process, cost less money, and be better security."

This presentation outlines changes to the Transportation Security Administration's prohibited items list. Some small knives will be allowed in carry-on luggage starting in April. This presentation outlines changes to the Transportation Security Administration's prohibited items list. Some small knives will be allowed in carry-on luggage starting in April.
Knives allowed by TSA
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Knives on a plane

Asked if he was using hyperbole in suggesting that battle axes be allowed on planes, Hawley said he was not.

Air marshals, flight attendants want TSA to reconsider knife policy

"I really believe it. What are you going to do when you get on board with a battle ax? And you pull out your battle ax and say I'm taking over the airplane. You may be able to cut one or two people, but pretty soon you would be down in the aisle and the battle ax would be used on you."

And, he pointed out, "You can commit acts of violence on an aircraft with what is allowed now. With a Coke can, a key, a ruler, and some duct tape, you can make a 12-inch razor-sharp sword. And every eighth-grader would be able to do that."

Hawley headed the TSA from mid-2005 until early 2009, during the George W. Bush administration. During his term, the agency loosened restrictions on some items -- such as cigarette lighters, matches and small scissors -- while imposing limits on liquids and gels because of the August 2006 liquid bomb scare.

The TSA's current administrator, John Pistole, was serving as deputy director of the FBI during the 2006 bomb scare, and has also cited the plot as a reason for the emphasis on bombs.

"If undetected, I believe there is a high likelihood the terrorists would have killed hundreds of people that day," Pistole says on the TSA blog. "That's why we limit the amount of liquids you can bring on a plane."

Opinion: Is TSA serious about letting people carry knives?

Both Hawley and Pistole have embraced "risk-based security," the concept that the government should use intelligence and best practices to focus on known threats and unknown people. The TSA has expanded its PreCheck program under Pistole, expediting travel for frequent fliers and others who provide information on themselves.

Hawley and other security experts say a number of factors -- including strengthened cockpit doors, better intelligence and motivated passengers -- has changed the security equation on planes, removing avenues once open to terrorists.

Hawley said he is sensitive to concerns by air marshals and flight attendants about the rule changes, noting that they "would be the people upon whom the wounds would be inflicted."

"I do understand and respect their opposition, but from a security strategy point of view this is absolutely the right decision," he said of the knife rule.

"The air marshals and the flight attendants have legitimate concerns, certainly, for their own safety, but the threat of taking over a plane with a small, sharp instrument is zero," Hawley said. "You cannot necessarily prevent violence on an airplane, but that is not the TSA's mission. TSA's mission is to prevent a successful, catastrophic terrorist attack, and you cannot get a successful, catastrophic terrorist attack with a small knife or a Wiffle ball bat."

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