Updated: Third time’s the charm? President Obama on Monday made his third try to fill the vacant chair atop one of the government’s primary security agencies, this time picking someone who may have an easier time passing the F.B.I. background check – the deputy director of the F.B.I.
The president announced that he will nominate John S. Pistole, the number two official at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to take over the Transportation Security Administration, which oversees airport passenger screening. With Mr. Obama’s first two choices withdrawing after revelations of past behavior, the T.S.A. has been without an Obama appointee heading it for 16 months since he took office.
“The talent and knowledge John has acquired in more than two decades of service with the F.B.I. will make him a valuable asset to our administration’s efforts to strengthen the security and screening measures at our airports,” Mr. Obama said in a statement announcing Mr. Pistole’s nomination.
The appointment comes at a sensitive moment for the T.S.A. as procedures come under review following the near escape of the suspected Times Square attempted bomber. The man being hunted by the authorities was able to buy a ticket to Dubai with cash at the last minute and board a plane at John F. Kennedy International Airport even though his name had been flagged by the F.B.I. Authorities discovered that he was on the plane and removed him from it just minutes before it was supposed to take off.
Mr. Pistole has direct understanding of the situation since he was involved in the manhunt that ultimately led to the arrest of the suspect, Faisal Shahzad. Mr. Pistole was the official who appeared alongside Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to describe the case and to tell reporters that Mr. Shahzad was cooperating with interrogators even after he was read his Miranda rights to remain silent and have an attorney.
A graduate of Anderson University and the Indiana University School of Law at Indianapolis, Mr. Pistole joined the F.B.I. in 1983 and served in the Minneapolis and New York divisions before joining the organized crime section in Washington. He later worked in Indianapolis and Boston and in 1999 helped lead the investigative effort following the crash of Egypt Air Flight 990 off the coast of Rhode Island.
He helped lead a working group in 2001 to address security issues raised by the arrest of Robert Hanssen, an F.B.I. agent working as a spy for Moscow. In 2002, he moved to the counterterrorism division where he held a series of jobs before taking on his current assignment in 2004.
Mr. Pistole’s likely support for confirmation from both sides of the aisle was quickly reflected in statements issued by lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Senator Susan Collins, the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, quickly applauded the choice of a career law enforcement official to head the agency. “I have known John, who currently is the Deputy Director of the FBI, for many years,” she said. “Since the attacks of September 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.”
The president’s first two choices to lead the T.S.A. withdrew after questions about their past. The first, Erroll G. Southers, a former F.B.I. agent and counterterrorism supervisor for the Los Angeles airport police, dropped his bid for the job in January after giving conflicting answers about conducting police background checks on a man his estranged wife was seeing.
The second, Maj. Gen. Robert A. Harding, a retired Army intelligence officer, withdrew in March just two and a half weeks after his nomination when questions were raised by Congress about his work as a defense contractor. Among other things, his private company collected more federal money than it was entitled to for providing interrogators in Iraq.
Earlier post by Carl Hulse:
The White House plans to nominate John S. Pistole, currently the deputy director of the F.B.I., to be the new head of the Transportation Security Administration, officials said Monday.
Mr. Pistole’s name was to be submitted to the Senate as early as Monday after two earlier attempts to fill the job responsible for securing the nation’s airports and other transit systems were unsuccessful. The T.S.A. job is an increasingly high profile post given the Christmas Day bombing attempt and the focus on the no-fly list.
Officials say Mr. Pistole, deputy director of the agency since 2004, has a strong reputation and credibility with lawmakers in both parties. He has been with the F.B.I since joining as a special agent in Minneapolis in 1983 and also worked in the counterterrorism area, in addition to holding the deputy director’s job. He was recently involved in the investigation into the Times Square bombing attempt.
The T.S.A. position has been vacant since the previous director resigned at the end of the Bush administration. Two previous Obama administration nominations for the job were withdrawn when they ran into confirmation problems. The latest was Maj. Gen. Robert A. Harding, who withdrew in March.
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