Pistole said the key to travel security is finding the proper balance between protecting against very real threats -- such as the failed cargo bomb plot and the current search for two suicide bombers believed to be at large in Germany -- and protecting individual privacy, something that some passengers claim invasive pat-down procedures have taken away.
A video of a father taking his young son's shirt off so he can be searched has gone viral online with nearly half a million views in three days. The TSA today released a statement saying that it was the boy's father who chose to remove his shirt "in an effort to expedite the screening" and pointed out that no complaint was filed.
Passengers aren't the only ones calling for a new look at security procedures.
TSA screeners are also fed up with the blame being leveled at them and agree that a better system is needed, according to travel blogger Steven Frischling, who spoke to 20 officers about the new procedures and pat downs.
"The frontline people have significant problems with it," he said. "They feel they are handing suggestions up the chain and they're simply not being listened to."
The screeners told Frischling about their discomfort at touching people's private parts, and getting verbally abused by some passengers.
"I was asked by some guy if I got excited touching scrotums at the airport, and if it gave me a power thrill. I felt like vomiting when he asked that," said one officer. "This is not a turnon for me to touch him -- it is in fact a huge turnoff. There is a big difference between how I pat passengers down and a molester molesting people."
The TSA has attempted to downplay the actual number of people who get pat downs, although Pistole today admitted that he'd dropped the ball when it came to informing the public on what it should expect.
"I wish I could say somebody else was responsible for that, but that was my decision, and it was a risk-based decision," Pistole said at a breakfast with reporters hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. "My concern was because we piloted the new pat downs anyway in two airports, Las Vegas and Boston, that we not publicize that because it would then provide a roadmap or a blueprint to a putative terrorist, who may say OK, I know there's 453 airports around the country."
There's also concern about possible health risks stemming from the new scanners, a fear that the White House today said is unfounded.
"The truth is, you have greater [radiation] exposure sitting in an airplane than you do going through one of those machines," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said today.
The new scanners and pat downs were introduced Nov. 1, but their impact will be felt the most this week, the busiest travel period of the year.
Geoff Freeman with the U.S. Travel Association said the new procedures have prompted an important debate about what passengers would do for the sake of national safety.
"For the first time in a post 9/11 environment, travelers are now saying they're willing to discuss risk, they're willing to discuss tradeoffs; that's the discussion we need to have," he said.
A grassroots Internet campaign to encourage travelers to "opt out" of the full-body scans on Wednesday, the busiest travel day of the year, has officials fretting over a possible travel gridlock.