Skip to main content

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

By Mike M. Ahlers, CNN
March 7, 2013 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
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
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
>
>>
TSA rules on knives, sports equipment TSA rules on knives, sports equipment
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."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1443 GMT (2243 HKT)
A captured fighter tells CNN's Ivan Watson: "They gave us drugs... that made you go to battle."
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 1331 GMT (2131 HKT)
A terminally ill woman who plans to take her own life checks off the last item.
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 2340 GMT (0740 HKT)
In a plot straight out of Hollywood, federal agents gain access to a suspected Triad boss' Vegas hotel room by pretending to fix the Internet connection.
October 31, 2014 -- Updated 0434 GMT (1234 HKT)
Was it only black and Latino men who harassed a woman in NYC? The filmmaker has found himself in a race controversy.
October 31, 2014 -- Updated 0317 GMT (1117 HKT)
The history of human rights often overlooks the struggles of gay people. This must change.
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 0115 GMT (0915 HKT)
Armed with Kalashnikovs and chanting for the dead comrades, women are among ISIS' most feared enemies. They are fighting for their families -- and now they are getting U.S. help.
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1246 GMT (2046 HKT)
Lere Mgayiya put his best foot forward and set up a shoe-shine firm after his career plans fell flat.
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 0528 GMT (1328 HKT)
One Chinese drone manufacturer wants to take away the warmongering stigma of "drones."
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 0312 GMT (1112 HKT)
Sketcher Luis Simoes is traveling the world -- slowly. And he's packed his sketchbook.
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
European states help North Korea's brutal treatment of its people by allowing luxury goods like cars and cognacs to evade sanctions, two experts say.
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 0345 GMT (1145 HKT)
Chinese leaders want less odd architecture built in the country.
October 31, 2014 -- Updated 1104 GMT (1904 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT