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TSA head stands by plan to allow knives on planes

WASHINGTON -- The head of the Transportation Security Administration said Thursday he stands by a plan to let passengers carry small knives onto planes despite a growing backlash against the proposal.

It's unlikely in the post-9/11 days of hardened cockpit doors and other security improvements that the small folding knives could be used by terrorists to hijack a plane, TSA Administrator John Pistole told a hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee.

TSA screeners confiscate about 2,000 such knives daily, with each incident chewing up two to three minutes, he said.

"I think the decision is solid and it stands and we plan to move forward," Pistole said.

The policy, which takes effect April 25, has sparked strong opposition from flight attendants, federal air marshals, several airline chief executives and some pilot unions. Several members of the House committee also urged Pistole to drop the proposal or face an effort by Congress to block it.

Pistole said that since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, terrorist tactics have shifted to using explosive devices, which the TSA is devoting its energies to finding, Pistole said. He acknowledged that the knives could be used to injure people on a plane, but he said that's not the TSA's responsibility.

"It really comes down to the mission of TSA," he said. "Is it to prevent disturbances by inebriated passengers on board?"

There are already items on planes that can be used to harm someone, such as metal cutlery in first class or "a wineglass or a wine bottle that they break and use," he said.

The TSA focuses on identifying dangerous passengers because "if we focus only on objects, then we're always behind the eight ball," Pistole said.

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