Obama makes third try to find a leader for TSA

President makes another nomination following withdrawal of the first two nominees

President Barack Obama has nominated John Pistole, deputy director of the FBI, to head the Transportation Security Administration. In that role he would oversee security in airports and aviation, railroads, seaports, mass transit systems and the Federal Air Marshal Service.

Pistole was nominated to be the assistant secretary for the TSA at the Homeland Security Department.  He is the third nominee the president has selected to run TSA. The first two nominees withdrew their names after it became clear their nominations faced difficulties in obtaining approval in the Senate.

Pistole has been deputy director at the FBI since 2004. He previously worked in the bureau's counterterrorism division for two years, where he served as deputy assistant director for operations, assistant director for counterterrorism and executive assistant director for counterterrorism and counterintelligence.

The initial Senate response to the nomination has been favorable. Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, supported the nomination May 17.

“My initial reaction to the nomination of John Pistole to head TSA is extremely positive. He has a great law enforcement background and understands the threat of terrorism as well as anyone in the government,” Lieberman said.

“I have known John, who currently is the deputy director of the FBI, for many years,” said Collins. “Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he has been on the forefront of our nation’s fight against terrorism. While I will withhold my final judgment on this nomination until the committee's full examination and vetting processes are completed, I am pleased that the president has chosen an individual with such strong law enforcement experience."

Pistole, who lives in Virginia, attended Anderson University and the Indiana University School of Law, and practiced law for two years. He joined the FBI as a special agent in 1983, serving in Minneapolis and New York before being promoted to supervisor in the organized crime section at FBI headquarters. He also has worked as a field supervisor of white-collar crime and the civil rights squad in Indianapolis, and was assistant special agent in charge in Boston.

In 1999, Pistole helped lead recovery efforts for the Egypt Air crash. He also assisted in the Information Security Working Group in 2001, after the spying arrest of Robert Hanssen.

Pistole is a recipient of the 2005 Presidential Rank Award for Distinguished Executive and the 2007 Department of Justice Edward H. Levi Award for Outstanding Professionalism and Exemplary Integrity.

Obama’s first choice for the TSA directorship was Errol Southers, of the Los Angeles Airport Police Department. He withdrew after GOP senators questioned his integrity regarding his disclosures about a censure he had received two decades ago. The reprimand was related to Southers' access to confidential information about his ex-wife’s boyfriend.

The second nominee was Retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert Harding, who withdrew in March after questions were raised about his past work as a defense contractor.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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