Transcript: John Pistole

 

The Oath with Chuck Rosenberg

John Pistole: Full Circle

 

Rosenberg: Welcome to the Oath. I’m Chuck Rosenberg and I am honored to be your host for another compelling conversation with a fascinating guest from the world of public service. This week, I sat down with John Pistole, the former head of the Transportation Security Administration. Every person who has ever passed through a U.S. airport knows of TSA, but not many folks know much about TSA. How big it is, how many airports does it cover, and how does TSA incorporate intelligence into its mission? John Pistole came up through the ranks of the FBI as a special agent all the way to the number two spot before President Obama asked him to run the TSA. John’s life has come full circle since his time at the FBI and the TSA. He grew up on the campus of Anderson University in Anderson, Indiana, graduated from Anderson. And today, serves as its President. And we are with John on a beautiful fall day in central Indiana, in the President’s office, his office.

John Pistole, welcome to The Oath.

 

Pistole: Thank you, Chuck. Great to be with you.

 

Rosenberg: We are in your office at Anderson University in Anderson, Indiana, where you are President John Pistole.

 

Pistole: Yes, which is somewhat surreal since I was a student John Pistole decades ago. And so, it’s been a full journey coming back home, in a sense.

 

Rosenberg: You grew up in and around campus?

 

Pistole: A block and a half away from here. And my dad was a professor here at the school of theology, a seminary. We’re a faith-based school. Two older sisters and an older brother, all who went into education. And then as a college professor, then my mom was a high school teacher. So, five out of the six of us were in education. And then I broke bad. I wanted to be a lawyer. And so, I did that for a couple of years.

 

Rosenberg: Black sheep of the family.

 

Pistole: So to speak, yes.

 

Rosenberg: Now, your father taught theology here. Your sister also taught here.

 

Pistole: She taught freshman English and some other classes. And just had a great career and seen helping young people figure out what they want to do in life. And then, my other sister taught grade schools and then my brother taught as a college professor in University of Pennsylvania, an hour east of Pittsburgh. And then, my mom taught psychology at the high school here. And it was interesting because she would come home and do experiments on us kids before she’d do them with the class. So, if I’m acting strange in that–I’d just blame it on that upbringing.

 

Rosenberg: John, why law school?

 

Pistole: I grew up enjoying analyzing things and debating issues and some people might say arguing, but all in a positive way. As I was going through school, high school and then clearly college, I had people encourage me, say, boy, you might want to consider being a lawyer. And so, I thought, OK, well, I might pursue that. And if I get into law school and get through, then I’ll give that a shot. And so, it worked out. But after a year of practicing, I just thought, oh, boy, did I make a mistake here?

 

Rosenberg: Why did you think you made a mistake?

 

Pistole: Well, part of it was both the firm I was in. It was here in Anderson, small firm, doing mostly civil. So, a little bit of criminal defense work. But part of it was just seeing attorneys who’d been doing it for literally 30, 40 years doing the same things: divorces, bankruptcies, wills—all good things, services people needed. But I just thought, boy, is there something else? So, I grew up in a faith-based home, and just a sense of does God has a plan for you? And how do you pursue that? How do you discern that? And so, a lot of praying and talking to some folks and turned out two of my family’s friends had been attorneys and joined the FBI.

 

Rosenberg: As special agents.

 

Pistole: Special agents. And so, I talked to both of them. They, they both said, well, we enjoyed practicing some, but if you’re looking for a real change, then encourage you to pursue the FBI. And so, I did.

 

Rosenberg: And you applied?

 

Pistole: I applied. And a year later, and I was finally accepted after about eight months. I got a call from the applicant recruiter. He called to say, hey, congratulations, you’re going to be in the next new agents class at Quantico a month from now. I said, wonderful. So, I let the managing partner of the firm know, and his older brother was an FBI agent, so he knew what was involved. And so, I resigned from the firm, put our house on the market, and it sold in a day. Took a week’s vacation, and came back, and, and there’s nothing in the mail. I thought, shouldn’t there be something? And so, I called the applicant recruiter, the agent, and he said, “oh, yeah, boy, I’m glad you called. Well, no, it turns out we’re not going to be able to hire you after all.” I said, “excuse me?” “Well, no, something came up and it turns out you’re when you did your physical at the VA hospital, the doctor didn’t check the box at the end of the form. This is: ‘applicant is capable of engaging in strenuous physical activity.’ So, we can’t hire you. And we saw on your application that you’d had a broken neck. And so, sorry about that. Yeah.” I was in a car accident, senior in high school, two broken vertebrae, but they did spinal fusion. I had a complete recovery. I played four years of college basketball and tennis after that. And I’m actually in decent shape. He said: “well, OK. Well, maybe we’ll send you back to have another physical.” I said, “OK. Could we have another doctor, please?” So, it worked out. So, a couple months later, after having the new physical and the doctor checking the box, I checked in with the applicant recruiter. He said, “well, yeah, I’m glad you checked in again, because now it turns out we were not going to hire you after all.” I said, “well, what happened?” He said, “well, it turns out your mother in law—we found out she was born in Egypt,” which I’d put down on the application.

 

Rosenberg: They found it out because you told them.

 

Pistole: Yes, ten months ago, and they said, “so, yeah, turns out we can’t do a neighborhood investigation. And by the way, what was your mother law doing in Egypt when she was born?” And I so much wanted to say that she wanted to be close to her mom when she was born. But I thought no, that’d be a snappy answer to a stupid question. And this is my potential employer, so let’s not do that. So, I said, figuring out what they’re concerned about, I said, “well, her parents were U.S. citizens. They were missionaries for the church were part of and they were just there for four years. And that’s when my mother in law was born that came back to us. And she’s a US citizen.” “Oh, okay. Well, look, we can probably get that figured out.” So then two months later, they told me, “congratulations, we’re hiring you.” I said: “are you sending me a letter?” They said yes. So, I got the letter. So, I’d been off work for about four months, moved into an apartment. I got in really good shape. So, my lesson learned for that, for any people who are interested in government work or something, is be patient, but be persistent.

 

Rosenberg: Patience and perseverance.

 

Pistole: Perseverance. Right. Sometimes just need to do that and don’t take no for the answer unless that’s what you’re satisfied with.

 

Rosenberg: Finally made it to Quantico, Virginia as a brand new special agent trainee.

 

Pistole: Yes.

 

Rosenberg: Did you like it there?

 

Pistole: No. Well, the first night I felt like I’d stepped into the movie “Animal House” because it was all these people, including my roommate—which I’d been married for several years, that I don’t need a roommate. But OK, so I’ve got one. And he was a Chicago vice cop, had been for the last seven years before he came to Quantico and he sat in bars looking for underage drinkers and things. Well, he was drinking for part of his cover. Well, turned out he was an alcoholic and he got drunk the first night there. So, he came back to the room and was singing and throwing up and yeah, just a mess. I thought, wow, this isn’t what the FBI I thought would be like. And so, really had some second thoughts about what is this?

 

Rosenberg: Did you think about leaving?

 

 Pistole: I did.

 

Rosenberg: What kept you there?

 

Pistole: Well, the sense that God did have a hand in this. That worked out even with the two times when they told me that I needed to persevere and to get through it and that I would do that and then see what would happen.

 

Rosenberg: Was training mentally tough? Was it physically tough?

 

Pistole: So, because I’d had time to get ready physically and I’d stayed in shape from my college athlete days, that was the easy part. In fact, I was fortunate enough to eventually max out the physical fitness exam. So, five different events, 10 points each.

 

Rosenberg: What about the academic part of it?

 

Pistole: Given my legal background and training, I felt like I was well-prepared for that and a good portion of the overall academic training is legally base or whether it’s criminal procedure–a little bit civil procedure–but rules of evidence and things like that. And I’d had a couple of jury trials as my attorney and had a perfect record for FBI training. Both my clients were convicted of the crimes they charged with. And so, I felt like I knew a little bit about that.

 

Rosenberg: Despite you.

 

Pistole: You know, probably because of me. No, they knew they are guilty. The police knew, the judge knew, they were guilty. And yet, they invoked their right to go to trial.

 

Rosenberg: Which is their right.

 

Pistole: It is their right. And so, we went to trial and, and they were appropriately convicted. And I just thought, you know, I think I’d rather be on the other side of this rather than defending people who everybody knows is guilty.

 

Rosenberg: John, the FBI has 56 field offices in the United States and Chicago and Los Angeles and Dallas and Boston. As a new agent, you’re invited to list which office you’d like to go to, and then it’s up to the FBI to send you to one.

 

Pistole: Needs at the bureau is the expression that they teach you on the first day of Quantico. So, I listed the 56 offices. I mean, the first 10 were ones I thought, OK, I’d really like to go to the bottom 10, not really, and then the others just kind of filled in. And so, in the 12th week of your training, out of four to five months training to know what you’re doing, a class counselor gets up and has a transfer letter and an envelope, opens it up and says, “Special Agent Trainee Pistol, where do you want to go?” And you’re able to say that.

 

Rosenberg: Where did you want to go?

 

Pistole: Well, I thought I was going to go to Little Rock for some reason, not because I wanted to. I just had a sense, I’m going to Little Rock.

 

Rosenberg: What did you list first?

 

Pistole: So, I listed Atlanta first. And that was where my wife was from. And it was not a small office, but not a huge office. And so, the counselor says, “you are hereby transferred to Minneapolis, Minnesota.” And I looked at my list and it was third from the bottom. So, I mentioned that the counselor said, “oh, no, just turn your list upside down. You’ve got a number three on your list.” I thought, OK, that’s how the bureaucracy works. And turned out to be a fabulous assignment. Great people to work with, challenging work. I learned a lot. I made some great friends and some of whom were still friends with 35 years.

 

Rosenberg: So, what did you work on in Minneapolis as a brand-new street agent?

 

Pistole: Well, I had a variety of assignments that included things like drug trafficking, investigating Hells Angels, things like that. But one of the most moving, challenging assignments was investigating human trafficking. And it primarily involved individuals who were being put to work as prostitutes who were under age. So pimps would recruit underage girls, typically, and put them to work either Minneapolis Twin Cities or taken to Chicago or New York. And that was difficult, challenging.

 

Rosenberg:  Must have been heartbreaking.

 

Pistole: The human side of things to see how some people have been mistreated and abused at home, by loved ones, supposedly. So they’re running away. For example, one of the individuals that I dealt with as a victim was literally a 13-year-old girl from Minneapolis suburb. And she had been abused at home by her dad and her uncle. And by the time I was able to locate her and interview her, she was just a hardened, tough person who had obviously been through a lot. She’d been stabbed working the streets of Minneapolis on her own as a prostitute. And so, she decided to get a guy to protect her, a pimp. And of course, then he was exploiting her.

 

Rosenberg: How did you eventually find out? Where did you find her?

 

Pistole: So, it took quite a while and is part of a task force with the Minneapolis PD. And just trying to find witnesses who would be able and willing to testify against these two prominent pimps. And so, I eventually located her in kind of like a halfway house, but a protective custody, if you will. And so eventually met with her and she didn’t want to talk at first. Very resistant. She eventually did and agreed to testify.

 

Rosenberg: How did you break through? In other words, how did you reach her?

 

Pistole: The first time another agent and I, a female agent, went to meet with her, she was in this room and sitting on one of these little beanbag things on the floor. And here I was, a FBI agent in my suit and all that. And I thought, oh, this is not good. And I just felt like I should just–so took off my jacket and just sat on the floor and the other agent sat in a chair nearby and just asked her about her life and her story. So, she eventually started opening up in terms of, well, here’s why I got in the business and all this. And, and eventually not then, but eventually again, she agreed to testify. And so, the two subjects of the investigation, the two pimps ended up pleading guilty without having to go to trial. And that was one thing. She didn’t want to face them in a courtroom.

 

 Rosenberg: Which isn’t unusual.

 

Pistole: No. I mean, to be re-victimized, in a sense.

 

Rosenberg: Now, I know Minneapolis was fifty fourth on your list of 56 cities at Quantico. Where was New York?

 

Pistole: It was 50s, five or six. I don’t remember whether it’s that or San Juan or L.A.. But yeah, I didn’t want to go to a big city because primarily the cost and just the traffic and all those things. Great work often, but it’s a real tradeoff.

 

Rosenberg: And you’re from a wonderful small community in the middle of Indiana.

 

Pistole: That’s right. Not bad commutes, not bad traffic. When I got my transfer orders from Minneapolis to New York City, there was no pay differential between a small city like Anderson, Indiana and New York City. So, for example, I just received what was called a within grade raise, and I was making 28,500 dollars. And I’ve been in the FBI for two and a half years. And I got transferred to New York City it’s up to me where to live. So, I learned pretty quickly that you couldn’t afford much for on that kind of salary.

 

Rosenberg: So 28,500 in Minneapolis is not the same as 28,500 in Manhattan.

 

Pistole: No. A little bit different. So, that hundred and fifty square foot closet in New York was still cost prohibitive to me. So, yeah. And it was interesting talking to prospective realtor about—“ they can’t send you here for that kind of money”—“I think they can.” “They did. So, can you help me?”

 

Roosenberg: Did you like working in New York?

 

Pistole: I loved it. It was fabulous people. And just a great sense of mission. So, I was very fortunate was assigned to a joint organized crime task force between the FBI and NYPD. And so, we had 10 detectives, a lieutenant, and sergeant in the FBI office embedded with us at that time, five mafia, La Cosa Nostra families, very well organized. And that’s why they call it organized crime. But just into everything, we called a target rich environment, because the RICO, Statute Racketeering Influence Corrupt Organization Act, was designed with a mafia in mind. So, you could take different things like gambling, loan sharking, which is high interest loans, arson, murder, all these different things, and combine them with the prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office in the Southern District, Manhattan, Eastern District in Brooklyn, and make a racketeering case based on these somewhat disparate acts, if you will. And so, it was such a target rich environment that you could almost take a board, put all the mob guys faces, names up there and throw a dart and say, OK, let’s go after Jimmy or Vincent or Ralphie or whomever it was. And so, I spent like say nearly five years just doing really interesting, meaningful work. One of the highlights was I got to arrest the boss of the largest crime family, the Genovese family, a guy named Vincent “The Chin” Gigante. You know, most of mob guys had nicknames and this guy had been a boxer as a young guy. He feigned insanity by walking around Greenwich Village, where he had an apartment, his mom’s apartment, where he lived in a purple bathrobe and little Chapo cap and, and mumbling to himself hadn’t shaved in days, and starts urinating. And then he also checked himself in to a psychiatric hospital for two weeks every year. He’d been doing that for 20 years to build an insanity defense.

 

Rosenberg: All of it was a ruse in case the FBI came along,

 

 Pistole: Right.

 

Rosenberg: And they did.

 

Pistole: They did. And it wasn’t my investigation. A great squad out what we call “BQ,” Brooklyn and Queens resident agency. They had done on some extortion of construction contracts and windows and things like that. But because he was living in Manhattan, they had the Manhattan squad for the Genovese family. So, I got the lead that arrest team and we got to use the—what we actually referred to as “the master key”–it’s a 30 pound two-person sledgehammer to open his door.

 

Rosenberg: So, the work in New York was fascinating and important. And you loved it. Why did you end up leaving?

 

Pistole: We had our first child while we were living there. And my in-laws lived in the D.C. area. And there was an opportunity to apply for a promotion to become a supervisor at FBI headquarters. I did that, and eventually, I received a promotion to the organized crime section of FBI headquarters. But the main reason was so we could be around our grandparents or our young daughter and my wife could be back home because she grew up in the D.C. area.

 

Rosenberg: Explain, for those who didn’t grow up in the FBI culture, the headquarters/field office distinction. Important work is done in the field and at headquarters, but there’s often a wedge.

 

Pistole: I think most field agents see headquarters personnel as a necessary evil, that if you need resources, meaning additional money or authorities like, for example, to do a wiretap, you have to go through headquarters. So, there is a role to be played, but you basically kept each other at arm’s length. There was a group of it’s got a unit that was that handled things in special circumstances for high profile or special circumstance individuals. So, to get a wiretap, you had to have a special circumstance, inform a cooperating witness headquarters had to approve those things because that’s part of the oversight role to make sure that agencies, including the FBI, aren’t just out running amok on their own, that there’s process and that oversight role.

 

Rosenberg: That process is critical to the operation of the FBI, but also sometimes from the perspective of a field agent, slows them to.

 

Pistole: Sure.

 

Rosenberg: That’s in the way.

 

Pistole: Right.

 

Rosenberg: What do you do from there, John?

 

Pistole: Part of the career progression is to not stay at headquarters forever and to go out into one of the 56 field offices as a field supervisor. And I was interested in going back to New York City because I had such a great job there. And there were nine different organized crime squads, so nine supervisors. So, it’s about a year after the time you have to–at least do two years at headquarters–I waited a year for one of those supervisors to retire or move on, and they worked and it didn’t look like they’re going to.

 

Rosenberg: And ironically, then, one of the officers you thought you would never want to go to became an office, he wanted to go back to: New York.

 

Pistole: Exactly. I had such a rich experience there in terms of quality of work and relationships. I met some great prosecutors in the Southern District and Eastern District and just some great friends. And it was just the best work in the bureau.

 

Rosenberg: But a position in New York did not open.

 

Pistole: Did not open. And so, I’d been at headquarters three years now. And we had our second child. And I thought, you know what? This might be an opportunity to be with my side of the family if something opens up in Indiana and my folks are becoming elderly. And I thought, yeah, this might be such a time for this. And so, white collar, civil rights, and—a new emerging area—computer crime supervisor desk came open in Indianapolis.

I applied for it, and eventually got it. And so, we moved Indianapolis and got to spend over five years of quality living around my parents and I have two sisters still in the area.

 

Rosenberg: Your housing dollar went further.

 

Pistole: Housing down a lot further, and I was making a little bit more. So, it was a good experience. The work was not nearly as satisfying in the sense of high impact, high notoriety. Things like that. But it was important work. And that’s one of the neat things about the FBI that each office is, at least at that time, prior to 9/11, able determine their own priorities in concert with the U.S. attorney’s office. And so, it was a good work. Just very different.

 

Rosenberg: What is the relationship between a field office of the FBI in Minneapolis or Boston or Indianapolis and the local U.S. attorney’s office?

 

Pistole: Of course, the U.S. attorney’s office is the office of the prosecutors who actually take FBI investigations and charge individuals with crimes, prosecute, go to trial, whatever it may be. And so, it’s a dynamic tension, I’ll say, because every FBI agent with the investigation assigned to them, believes that their case should be prosecuted. Obviously, the U.S. attorney’s office doesn’t have the resources to prosecute every case. And there’s what’s called, as you very well know, prosecutor guidelines in terms of thresholds, in terms of dollar losses or economic impact, or all these different things. And so is that dynamic tension of trying to get the prosecutor, the assistant U.S. attorney, AUSA, to prosecute a case that may or may not be a priority for their office. The U.S. attorney’s office has lots of different agencies that they’re dealing with in terms of trying to bring together drug cases, DEA or ATF in terms of their type of cases, or any of the other investigative agencies in terms of homeland security investigations, Secret Service, ICE, all these different agencies that have responsibility to investigate and pursue investigations of federal criminal law. Title 18, your Title 21 of the United States code.

 

Rosenberg: How does a case get prosecuted? How does an FBI agent bring her case to an assistant U.S. attorney and get it prosecuted?

 

Pistole: So, it’s interesting because it frankly depends on which FBI office city you’re in and which U.S. attorney’s office is handling that investigation. So, for example, when I was street agent, as it’s referred to in New York, worked very closely with the AUSA as assistant U.S. attorneys in both Manhattan and Brooklyn. All the way through an investigation, because there were so much involved in terms of evidence and intelligence collection, that it was important–other areas of the country, it’s much more–the FBI does an investigation and actually prepares a prosecutor report, that is then, turned over to the U.S. attorney’s office for their review. And that might be the first time they’ve even heard about something, which is crazy.

 

Rosenberg: For what it’s worth, John, I always prefer the first panel where I was working closely with the agents.

 

Pistole: Sure.

 

Rosenberg: From the outset.

 

Pistole: Absolutely.

 

Rosenberg: Developing the case, putting witnesses in front of the grand jury and discussing both in investigative and prosecutor’s strategy.

 

Pistole: Exactly. And that there is the FBI in the old days, I’ll say, used to have an approach of the autonomy that the AUSAs would not be involved other than for process. You need a subpoena. You need a wiretap, court order, whatever it might be. You have to go to the U.S. attorney’s office to do that. But that paradigm really shifted after 9/11 in a significant and national way.

 

Rosenberg: And I think the best prosecutors and the best agents embrace that collaborative.

 

Pistole: Oh, absolutely. Right, now, that’s that is clearly the preferred route because you get the best outcomes.  

 

Rosenberg: You eventually become an assistant special agent in charge. That is sort of upper middle management.

 

Pistole: Right. THE ASAC is what it’s called, yeah.

 

Rosenberg: ASAC in Boston.

 

Pistole: In Boston, right. The challenge was it was in a time after an agent who was later found to be corrupt, John Connolly, had was being investigated.

 

Rosenberg: John Connolly was a Boston FBI agent who was mixed up with Whitey Bulger in the Winter Hill gang.

 

Pistole: Right. The Irish mob. There’s been lots written about Whitey Bulger. I got there after he had fled. He’d been tipped off by somebody. But I learned from the master police and DEA and some other people I became friends with working on other things, about what a huge breach of trust and just the lack of collaboration that caused to have an agent who was selling them out. There’s been “Black Mass,” other lots of movies, books written about the corruption that Whitey Bulger engaged in and where DEA investigations and mass state police investigations in particular, were compromised and actually, people were wrongfully convicted because of FBI’s efforts–to one individual–perhaps others, but, but one, John Connolly’s efforts to protect his source of information and in his mind, as I understand it, his tasking was to investigate the Italian mob. So, the Irish mob that that Whitey Bulger headed was in competition with the Italian mob, the mafia. And so, John Connolly and his distorted way of thinking is, if I can get the Irish mob to rat out or get information about the Italian mob, then I’m doing my job.

 

Rosenberg: For John Connolly to get the Irish mob to rat out the Italian mob, he ostensibly had to protect the Irish mob.

 

Pistole: Exactly. And that’s exactly what he did, including tipping off Bulger when he had been indicted, but not arrested in 1995. So, he fled and was a fugitive for 17 years before he was eventually found.

 

 Rosenberg: Whatever happened to John Connolly?

 

Pistole: So, he was eventually charged and convicted on several different counts, including a murder charge out of Florida, where he had tipped off the Irish mob to the location of a guy in Florida who was murdered. And so, he was basically that state charge of like accessory after the fact, aiding and abetting in a murder. He’s been in prison for years now.

 

Rosenberg: I imagine the Boston office was reeling from that matter.

 

Pistole: Yeah, I mean, that’s a vast understatement. And it came down a question trust. And if you can’t trust people in the FBI, then what does that do to our psyche about the rule of law? And the FBI have historically been one of the most respected organizations in the government in terms of reputation and that, but not in Boston, just a huge, huge mark. And rightfully so. So, it’s taken a long time. And there’s lots of stories to how that breach caused some irreparable harm. For years, it’s almost a generational thing that is taken. So, 25 years, almost, since Connolly tipped off Bulger and he fled and and so is a new generation coming up.

 

Rosenberg: But it takes a long time to build that credibility and that trust to earn that reputation. And as the Connolly matter illustrates, you can lose it in an instant.

 

Pistole: And in this case, not only was it an instant, but it was pervasive and systemic, ongoing, unfortunately.

 

Rosenberg: So where were you on 9/11, John?

 

Pistole: Syracuse, New York, on the inspection division and had just met with some people in the local TV business when they said, hey, there’s something going on in New York City. And my next interview was with the chief federal judge for the western district of New York. So, I got to his office, and people standing around watching the TV, and they said, yeah, there’s something going on New York. The FBI office was in the same federal courthouse. And so, I said, “well, I just stood watch for a few minutes and if something’s not right here.” And so, I went to the FBI office upstairs and watched there and was and then was watching, along with most of America as the second plane hit the second tower.

 

Rosenberg: To that point, you had worked so many different areas for the FBI, white collar cyber-crime, public corruption, civil rights violations. But you really had not work counterterrorism.

 

Pistole: I don’t have a counterterrorism background. And I think a good leader, somebody who does three things knows a way, shows away and goes the way, is able to lead. I said, I don’t feel like I could do that. And they said, well, your name is coming up as being a good candidate for the number two position, deputy system director in this newly expanded division.

 

Rosenberg: And by the way, this newly expanded division is now under the leadership of one Robert Mueller, the director of the FBI.

 

Pistole: That’s right. Robert Mueller was appointed, and started as the FBI director one week before 9/11. So, September 4th of ‘01. So, he was new to counterterrorism, new to the bureau. And eventually he called me to say, “John, I don’t know you, but you’ve got a good reputation. You’ve been recommended for this position. And I’d like you to accept it.”

 

Rosenberg: Well, the director calls, John. What do you do?

 

Pistole: You say yes, or you resigned. I decide I wasn’t eligible to retire. So, I decided to accept. And I said with appreciation, sir. So, yeah, I reported to the counterterrorism division.

 

Rosenberg: Certainly post-9/11, John, the counterterrorism division at the FBI took on a preeminent role. And you were going to headquarters to be a part of that.

 

Pistole: Right.

 

Rosenberg: You move pretty quickly through the ranks of the counterterrorism division, as deputy assistant director, assistant director and then executive assistant director. And then after that, you became the longest serving deputy director, the number two spot in the FBI in the history of the FBI.

 

Pistole: Yes. So, the bureau started 1908 and Director J. Edgar Hoover had somebody who might be considered deputy director but didn’t have that title. Clyde Tolson for many, many years. But as far as the deputy director position, yeah, I’ve served almost six years and that’s still a new indoor record.

 

Rosenberg: So, what’s the job of deputy director?

 

Pistole: The deputy, is course, the number two person in the FBI, the chief operating officer, the overseer of all investigations, counterterrorism, white collar, all the different things.

 

Rosenberg: Essentially, the entire FBI reports ultimately to the deputy director.

 

Pistole: Right. So, there’s one funnel, if you will, up from the director, deputy director, and then everything branches out from that.

 

Rosenberg: It’s certainly one of the two hardest jobs in the FBI.

 

Pistole: It’s very challenging, demanding job because of the dynamic nature of not only the proactive work that the FBI has to do in terms of post 9/11, preventing terror attacks happening in the U.S. or against U.S. interests overseas, working with other partners, of course, but then simply, on the day to day activities and the reactive. So, bad things still happen. How is the bureau poised to respond and do things in partnership, which we frankly didn’t do as well as we could have prior to 9/11? And so, 9/11 was a forcing mechanism not only with the thousands of state and local departments, police departments, sheriff’s office, but within the federal government and the U.S. intelligence community in particular. So, the improvements that I saw between, for example, FBI and CIA during my time and NSA and other U.S. intelligence community agencies, was, was remarkable, very positive.

 

Rosenberg: After 9/11, there was a push in the United States government to break the FBI apart, to split it into two pieces along the lines of MI-5 and MI-6 in Britain.

 

Pistole: Right.

 

Rosenberg: What is MI-5, MI-6, and what was the push in the United States about the FBI?

 

Pistole: Yeah, so MI-5, the British security services like the FBI, and MI-6, the British secret intelligence services, like the CIA. And so, they’ve had a bifurcated system for decades and it’s worked fairly well. After 9/11, there was a strong push by some, in positions of leadership, that we should model our approach to law enforcement and counterterrorism on the British model. And so, there are different commissions that were appointed and one of them was supposedly focused on WMD in Iraq.

 

Rosenberg: You mean weapons of mass destruction?

 

Pistole: Right. And so, they called in a number of witnesses from around the country. They talked to lots and lots of FBI folks, including me, and reviewed files and all these things. And they also called in the head of MI-5 and MI-6. I met with the head of them, MI-5, Eliza Manningham-Buller. One time, when Director Mueller was out, and we were talking about all the different challenges and the pros and cons, frankly, of having this bifurcated service or a unified service like we had.

 

Rosenberg: And what was her view?

 

Pistole: Her view was that we were fortunate to have a unified service, that it made it more challenging to have the bifurcated approach that they had. And she was wishing that that’s what they had, that they had the FBI model.

 

Rosenberg: In Great—

 

Pistole: Great Britain. In fact, a couple weeks later, I got a note from her, handwritten note on one side, on the one side, it was a printed message and it went something like: “the government was faced with a crisis and so responded by reorganizing.” And then you turn the card over. And she had signed it and with a little smile, smiley face. So, at her point, when she was in my offices, as do anything you can’t resist, don’t agree to that. And because of Bob Mueller as a director, he was so passionate and persuasive, I’ll say, about the need to maintain the FBI as a single entity, not to create a new domestic intelligence service is what basically some were recommending. President Bush did not order that, Congress didn’t order that, and we were able to stay as a unified agency.

 

Rosenberg: John, why would it have been more difficult for the FBI to do its work if it had been broken into two pieces along the MI-5 and MI-6 model?

 

Pistole: So, there’s a couple of issues. One, are just the legal authorities in terms of what process needs to be followed. And then, just the bureaucratic–when you have two agencies trying to work together to accomplish the same mission, just some of the hoops that have to jump through without a single point of authority and leadership. So, that was part of it. And then just when it came down to the operational. So, if you are relying on another agency’s information or intelligence to do a search warrant or arrest or something, how does that complicate things?

 

Rosenberg: So if one of the criticisms pre-9/11 was that there were too many walls and too many stovepipes, the notion of creating another wall or an additional stovepipes didn’t make sense.

 

Pistole: Why would we do that if the whole purpose of the U.S. government in the national security world is to prevent the next 9/11? Exactly.

 

Rosenberg: I don’t know that a lot of people appreciate that. Among the many things that Bob Mueller did, and I’m a huge fan and consider it a great privilege to have worked for him, he, by sort of sheer force of personality, held the FBI together.

 

Pistole: Oh, he really did, because he was seen, not only as nonpartisan, which was a key ingredient in the post 9/11 days, he did not have a political agenda, didn’t have political bone in his body.

 

Rosenberg: And he still doesn’t.

 

Pistole: I don’t, I don’t believe so fortunate to have had him here on the campus of Anderson University about six weeks before his named Special Counsel. I mean, he is a true patriot and a true hero. In my mind, and because of what his, his brilliance and his perseverance and his nonpartisan approach to doing what’s right for the country, then people gave him and the bureau the benefit of the doubt. And we’ve been very fortunate since that time. And obviously, Congress responded after he’d served his 10 years, the mandatory maximum, if you will, the Congress pass laws that you would like you to serve another two years. And so, he served 12 years and just provided great continuity in a time of dynamic change and challenge.

 

Rosenberg: Did you enjoy working for Bob Mueller?

 

Pistole: Oh, very much, though. But it is also very challenging because he’s very demanding boss. He’s got very high expectations. And so, part of it was just trying to figure out how to best mesh with his leadership style, which was not a social nicety style, it’s what’s needed to be done, and how we’re going to do it. And then the follow up, he was really good in terms of he kept a yellow legal pad with a checklist of things and say, OK, where are we on such and such?

 

Rosenberg: The list.

 

Pistole: The list. Yes. You’re very familiar with the list. It was effective, challenging, demanding, but very rewarding, also.

 

Rosenberg: I remember a number of stand-up meetings in his office.

 

Pistole: Yes. Why sit down if you can just get it in?

 

Rosenberg: Standing is more efficient.

 

Pistole: Yeah,

 

Rosenberg: I always described him, and I loved working for him as, tough but never unfair.

 

Pistole: Yeah, I think that’s right. And part of it was just for the–I’ll call them the old timers–so, I’d been in the FBI 18 years before 9/11, and I didn’t consider myself an old timer, but many did, who’d been in longer. And they were used to Louis Freeh for example. Very different style, very effective in his own way. But just a very different style. And then Jim Comey later. Very different style. And Chris Wray, so each director obviously has their own style. So, for me, it was the challenge and the opportunity to learn his style and adjust to it and then use his strengths and my strengths in a way that would mesh that would help the bureau.

 

Rosenberg: One of the things I noticed about Bob’s leadership style is that he never asked anyone to work harder than he was willing to work.

 

Pistole: Right, now, he was a big believer in leadership by example. And that, know the way, show the way, go the way, and so he even if he didn’t know about how to do certain things, particularly in the national security side of things, because that was all new to him and new to many in the bureau, he put the time in to learn and trying to move the FBI from the premier law enforcement agency in the world, to the premier counterterrorism agency, which was much different paradigm and not what a lot of people signed up for. And so, it was that not only the legal process procedure shift, but the whole mentality, that the ethos, if you will, in terms of how does this agency move from point A to point B while we’re flying at 30,000 feet, the engines is rolling along here.

 

Rosenberg: He was a voracious reader. He asked tons of questions. I imagine you saw this, John, that people had to be well-prepared if they were going to brief him.

 

Pistole: His attention to detail, I think is what people appreciate it. I know the first time I went with him to the Oval Office to brief, so in the first administration of George, President George Bush after 9/11, we were going every day, Monday through Friday, and he would go to brief the president on the FBI updates on counterterrorism activities. One time, he was going to be out the following week traveling internationally. And so, he asked me to go and brief for him. And that attention to detail was really important. But, he made a really important point before we went and introduced me to President Bush and Vice president, and others. He said, if you if you’re asked a question and it’s by the president, say, yes, Mr. President, and give the answer. But don’t elaborate and never, never make up something, because he said the tendency of many people when they’re with the president, the Oval Office, is they don’t want to say, I don’t know. And so that was instructive for me. And actually, that came into play the following week on the third day in the Oval Office.

 

Rosenberg: What happened?

 

Pistole: Well, so I briefed the first two days. Everything went fine. I knew all the answers. I’m feeling pretty confident. I wouldn’t say cocky, but I feel pretty good. This kid from Indiana, here I am, the Oval Office, the president vice president, attorney general, national security adviser and all this CIA director at the time. And so, I’d answered one of the questions. And then President Bush had a follow up question, and I knew the first part of it. And so, I think, enjoyed hearing myself speak. And so, I gave the answer the first part, and then I caught myself as I was thinking what I was going to say, which was speculation I didn’t know. And I remembered what Bob Mueller had said the prior week. And I said, “but that second part, Mr. President, I’m not sure of. Let me get the answer that and I’ll get back with your staff.” He said, “OK, no problem.” And what I realized is that, that your credibility and your reputation is one of the coins of the realm in Washington, that if you have a sense, if people have the sense that they can trust you, rely on you, that is invaluable. Just as if they don’t know whether they can trust you, is just devastating.

 

Rosenberg: You know, it’s interesting, John. I never went with the director to the Oval Office, but I saw many, many people brief him. And you could tell that people were struggling to give him answers to questions he asked when they didn’t actually know the answer.

 

Pistole: Right. Yeah. I think that’s just human nature oftentimes, that, yeah, we want to be seen as knowledgeable and informed. And we’ve. And the bottom line is, if you’re there to brief the president, you can only say so many times, “I don’t know. I’ll get back with you.” I mean, your job is to be informed. And that’s what Director Mueller did in terms of the prep that you helped him with while you while you were there. And then I helped him with when I was there to get him ready to inform president.

 

Rosenberg: But if you don’t know, and the honest answer is, I don’t know. That’s appropriate.

 

Pistole: That’s appropriate. And I’ll follow up and get back. I was impressed one time. It was a following week when I was briefing President Bush because the director was out one particular day, and he asked a follow up question to something we talked about the week before. Now, I’m assuming that one of his keys in a national series staff folks had jotted down a note or something, a follow up on this. But I didn’t see him refer to a note. And he asked a follow up question. I think, wow, OK, that’s, that’s impressive. So, something that stuck in his mind or he deemed appropriate, and fortunately, I knew the answer to that one, so I didn’t say “I don’t know.”

 

Rosenberg: So important for leaders to be able to listen and demonstrate a humility that there are things they don’t. And they need to turn to experts like John Pistole to answer hard questions.

 

Pistole: Well, and John Pistole would turn to the experts, the analysts, and the agents who would be in at O-Dark Hundred every morning to help get the director and myself prepared for the day’s activities, whether it’s briefing at the White House or testifying or doing a press conference or a speech. The machine, if you will, of the FBI really pulled together in a way after 9/11, I think was unprecedented in many ways.

 

Rosenberg: We talked about Bob Mueller being tough and persistent and determined.

 

Pistole: Demanding.

 

Rosenberg: And demanding. But he’s also a remarkably compassionate man, not something that you might see publicly.

 

Pistole: Yeah, very infrequently, publicly. But I saw him on a number of occasions where, for example, he would meet with the family of a victim of crime, for example, without going into detail, or particularly, with the family of an FBI agent who had been killed in the line of duty during his tenure. And in fact, in his in his office at FBI headquarters, he had the photograph and name of each agent who had been killed during his tenure as FBI director. So very compassionate, very caring. He would follow up with notes and calls on anniversaries and things, that one occasion I went with him to a local area hospital in D.C. to see an agent who had been seriously injured, and eventually died. And just meeting with the family and expressing remorse. Another agent went to his house in D.C. He had committed suicide, and went to meet with the, now, the widow and family members and just. Yeah. Just his sense of compassion, which you rarely saw in his normal work mode.

 

Rosenberg: But it was genuine.

 

Pistole: Oh, clearly, no. We had some very poignant, calm, private conversations where. Yeah, he would you would literally start to tear up just thinking about the, the survivors and the loss and things. Yeah.

 

Rosenberg: John, you didn’t serve quite six years as deputy director, you got a call one day asking you if you would consider leaving your beloved FBI and taking another very important job in the United States government.

 

Pistole: I was enjoying my time as the FBI deputy director and was eligible retire and had some, some overtures from some folks in the private sector about doing that. But I got a call one day from the secretary of Homeland Security, the time Janet Napolitano, who asked me whether I’d be willing to consider serving as the head of the Transportation Scared Administration, TSA. So, when I got the call, my first response was, well, there’s a thankless job. And who’d want to do that? Take on that responsibility, especially leaving an agency that was so well thought of as the FBI. And as I learned later, doing a little bit of research, after I said yes to having my name floated, that TSA was ranked in the literally a bottom five out of 234 agencies best places to work.

 

Rosenberg: Tough job. Did you like it?

 

Pistole: I loved it from a whole different perspective. And I felt like the training that I had had my almost 27 years, the FBI and particularly working for Bob Mueller and others working with I learned so much. That, of course, TSA was created after 9/11, was actually assigned to the Department Transportation. There was no Homeland Security Department at the time. And so, it was still in 2010, a pretty new agency. And yet, I was the fifth administrator in its 8 to 9-year history because there just hadn’t been much continuity for, for various reasons. So, I felt like I was able to bring some things in terms of process and procedures and organizational construct that would help.

 

Rosenberg: Talk a little bit about the structure and organization of the TSA, how big they are and how many different airports they’re located.

 

[Pistole: Yeah. So, there’s about 63,000 employees versus the 35 to 37,000 of the FBI. And there are about 450 airports around the country. And then about 25 foreign liaison positions that interact with the nearly 275 airports around the world that have nonstop passenger service to the U.S. every day. then about 300 foreign airports that have nonstop cargo service. So, TSA has responsibility for passenger and cargo safety, particularly in the air, but also on surface transportation, trains, buses, things that most people never think of. And frankly, the TSA has a very small footprint in those surface transportation areas.

 

Rosenberg: So, it’s primarily airports. It is an air travel.

 

Pistole: 95 percent of the budget and resources are allocated to air traffic.

 

Rosenberg: So, what were the immediate challenges in 2010 when you took over that job?

 

Pistole: Well, it’s just for some context. Some of your listeners may remember was known as the Christmas Day bomber. That was from Christmas Day 2009. The underwear bomber, the underwear bomber, 24-year-old Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who was radicalized, went to Yemen. And the master bomb maker, Ibrahim al Asiri, had devised what’s known as a “non-metallic IED.” So, a bomb with no metal in it, which means you can walk through a metal detector at most airports around the world. Ten times a hundred times a thousand times and never set off anything. And yet what I do. What Mutallab did on Christmas Day, was he flew from Amsterdam, to Detroit on Northwest 253, and his instructions were from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The instructions were to blow the plane up as he was coming in on approach to the U.S. So, that’s what he tried to do. He injected a chemical into this composition in a pouch in his underwear, and it burned but didn’t explode as it had when they tested it several weeks earlier, similar, similar construct. And so, it became a significant issue. And what I learned when I got to TSA in July, 8 months later, was that there had been no changes in TSA procedures because they’d had an acting administrator for a year. And so, they were waiting for a confirmed administrator to come in and make changes, which included things like we need to do more thorough pat downs so we can find an underwear bomb. Well, that’s, that’s kind of a controversial, invasive process. And yet, that’s what we needed to do to give the American people the highest level of confidence that they were not sitting next to the underwear bomber, part two.

 

Rosenberg: Or a shoe bomber.

 

Pistole: Shoe bomber. Liquids plot. I mean, there’s so many types of persistent threats. The bad guys, the terrorists, are ingenious in terms of coming up with new ways to defeat standard security protocols, a significant challenge for TSA.

 

Rosenberg: So, one inherited problem was that the TSA was not reacting to the newest threat.

 

Pistole: Right. And so, my job was to implement new protocols that if there was not probable cause or reasonable suspicion, but if there was reason to believe, for some reason, that somebody needed a more thorough pat down because they might have an explosive in their underwear. And, for example, there’d been two Russian women who had blown up Russian airliners out of Moscow about 90 minutes apart. The following year, with explosives in their bras–is the best–Russians never gave us actual access to the crime scene, if you will. And so, any concealment technique that drug traffickers have used for decades, terrorists have also tried to use or considered using. So how do you detect whether somebody is concealing explosives just as drug traffickers have concealed in keeping, including body cavities? So how do you do that in a way that buys down risk and yet, doesn’t invade privacy unreasonably? And so, that’s that dynamic tension, if you will, of how do I go into an agency that had, what I refer to as, a one size fits all approach to nearly 2 million passengers a day. Anybody could be a terrorist, which is technically true. But, why was it? My question to the leadership at TSA, why is it that I’ve been allowed to get on a plane for almost 27 years, an FBI agent with a deadly weapon?

 

Rosenberg: Any federal law enforcement officer can bring his or her weapon on board a plane. It happens every single day.

 

Pistole: Right.

 

Rosenberg: And it’s because we have determined that you’re not a risk.

 

Pistole: Right. There is a special provision, particularly for federal law enforcement, to allow that. And then, for some state and local law enforcement with appropriate clearance and protocols, if you will. So, when I ask that question with TSA leadership, they say, “well, that’s different because you’re an FBI agent,” obviously. I said, well, can’t we apply that same principle of mitigating risk, but doing it in informed way, using information, intelligence so we don’t treat everybody as a terrorist?

 

Rosenberg: The one size fits all solution doesn’t make sense.

 

Pistole: It didn’t make sense to me. And so, I had a leadership summit in October of 2010 with the 120 at that time, what’s known as federal security directors in charge of the 450 airports and then the headquarters, the 18 or so assistant administrators and executives. And said, “I think we need to move TSA in a new direction to go from one size fits all to what we’ll call risk-based security, recognizing that there is risk and heralded everything we do. We got up this morning, and you got out of bed. You’re taking on some risk.”

 

Rosenberg: You drive to work.

 

Pistole: Well, clearly, if you drive to work. But even just getting up and getting a cup of coffee is life is and has risk inherent throughout. So, can we apply some meaningful standards and criteria and protocols that buys down or mitigates risk without trying to eliminate risk? Because when you try to eliminate risk, you shut things down. The only way you eliminate it in air traffic is nobody fly.

 

Rosenberg: What was the reaction in the room?

 

Pistole: There was a general sense of, okay, this might help us, but it’s also a sense of concern. And so, what I told them, and for those of your listeners who do leadership studies and things like that, I said, “look, I need you as the leadership of TSA, the 63000-person organization, to buy into this. And if you personally don’t agree with it, I understand that. But I need you to tell me now, and I will help you find work in another agency or different position, but not in leadership. But I can’t have any this passive aggressive, “yeah, boss, we we’ve got it. And I’m all for that.” And to their credit, three of the executives came up after the conference and said, “appreciate what you’re doing, all that want to support you. But I–that’s not what I signed up for.”

 

Rosenberg: I don’t believe it.

 

Pistole: I don’t believe it because I’m concerned. One of the expressions of TSA is not on my watch. They’re not going to be another 9/11 on my watch. And so, they take that very seriously. And so, for these three, the sense was that exposes us to too much risk, and so I don’t want to take that on. And so, I hope to find jobs in other agencies.

 

Rosenberg: They weren’t comfortable moving from a one size fits all approach, to a risk-based strategy.

 

Pistole: That’s right. They were not. Now, what I found out several months later, with there are two others in the room, who I always say swore allegiance but said, “Yeah, yeah, we’re with you, boss,” who we’re not actually. And so, when I learned about that, I did remove them and didn’t help them find other work. And so, yeah, people bought into it because. Because TSA reputation was so bad at the time, that I think people are looking for a change and somebody willing to take on the risk of perhaps losing their job.

 

Rosenberg: So, what does a risk-based strategy mean? What does it look like?

 

Pistole: Yeah. So, it’s probably the most known aspect of the migration from one size fits all to, to risk base security as TSA pre-check. So, is a known trusted traveler program in partnership with what’s called Global Entry, which is a Customs Border Protection program for reentry to the U.S.. And so, TSA pre-check is people who sign up with the government and provide some really basic background information, some biometric information, fingerprints, and they go through a vetting process. And then, if they are approved, then in all likelihood they will be able to go through expedited screening, don’t have to take your shoes of and have to take a jacket off because we know something about them. So, we can make an informed judgment or decision that they are lower risk than the general population.

 

Rosenberg: You have high risk, no fly. You have general risk or general population. And you have low risk pre-check.

 

Pistole: Yes.

 

Rosenberg: So, can we take that a step further?

 

Pistole: Yes. And TSA continues to assess those opportunities on an ongoing basis. So, for example, when I was there, we looked at could we allow people to bring a bottle of water, not just three ounces, if you will, the hundred milliliters, but could they take a whole bottle of water because there is equipment that can scan it, a bottle of water, determine whether it’s water or is it liquid explosives. But it’s time consuming and it’s costly because it just is not an efficient process. So, one of the questions I asked once we got TSA pre-check up and running: well, we’ve already assess them as lower risk, what if we allowed them to take a bottle of water on? And by that time, I was leaving TSA, so that didn’t happen. There’s pros and cons of all these policy decisions. But for example, going back to risk-based security, the overall umbrella policy that we put in place, and TSA pre-check being the most notable, that was only one of 25 different changes that we made to help buy down risk because we were able spend more time on higher risk individuals and cargo and things like that and extradite those who were assessed as being lower risk.

 

Rosenberg: John, has pre-checked worked?

 

Pistole: Oh, I think it has. It’s included people who are assessed at lower risk and able to extradite them, which actually cuts down on the lines in the regular lanes for the standard screening. And so, it’s been a win-win in that regard. And TSA is continually assessing how to improve the system. So, yeah, I think that’s it has been a good outcome. And if people like it, I’ll take full credit for it. If there’s anything they don’t like about TSA, I can give you name of my successor two times removed.

 

Rosenberg: Now, did you hear from the public a lot in that role?

 

Pistole: Oh, every once in a while. So, my first fall at TSA in 2010 when we were now implementing this new enhanced pat down to look for underwear bombs and things like that, I actually did 44 media interviews in the week before Thanksgiving because there were people protesting at airports with signs and, and saying, “boycott TSA,” and this one guy in San Diego, “don’t touch my junk.” And that got a bunch of attention and all that. And so, I was being interviewed by everybody. And in that time, “so what are you going to do, for example, Mr. Administrator, when these protests show up at airports?” I said,” well, we’ll work through it.” You allow the people who are traveling. But I wouldn’t want to be somebody who’s protesting, who causes person going home for Thanksgiving to miss their flight because they’ve blocked lanes and things. That’s not a good outcome for anybody.

 

Rosenberg: And moreover, John, there is a threat. There is a threat out there.

 

Pistole: Yeah. And if especially that was, again, less than a year from the underwear bomber. So, not only was it a threat, it was real. It was manifest because we had intelligence at the time that al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula was working on a second generation, which they actually deployed the following year. But fortunately, great intelligence out in the Middle East identified the person and was able to detain that person, arrest that person overseas before he ever got on a plane.

 

Rosenberg: And even if travelers are occasionally frustrated, and I am and occasionally frustrated traveler, TSA has intercepted lots of prohibited items at airports around the country and they do that routinely.

 

Pistole: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. In fact, every airport in TSA headquarters in the D.C. area has showcases of the crazy things that people try to bring on flight, deadly weapons. There was one guy in a western state one time when I was administrator who goes through a TSA checkpoint, puts his carry on, bag on the conveyor to go through X-ray, takes his jacket off to walk through the metal detector, and he’s got a shoulder holster with his hand gun in the shoulder holster. And they said, “sir, excuse me.” He said “oh, wow.” And, and a record number of handguns have been found this year. And it’s like people just forget. And depending on where you are, you are maybe fined. Yes, they can find it. Eleven thousand dollars. If you’re carrying a weapon on a plane. So, people just need to be mindful of that.

 

Rosenberg: When did you leave TSA, John?

 

Pistole: In the end of 2014, when I was I’d been asked to consider serving as the fifth president of Anderson University, my alma mater. And I thought, well, now there’s a crazy idea. I know it’s a dry campus of a faith-based school, but what are they smoking out there in Indiana? And once I worked through the shock of that and yeah, the trustees eventually elected me. And so, I’ve been at Anderson University since the spring of 2015.

 

Rosenberg: I have visited you twice here. And I can attest to the fact that you are enormously popular on campus because I’ve walked around with you.

 

Pistole: Well, I think that’s some concern, again, that I might put somebody on the no-fly list or something. So, they give me nice treatment here and everything now. It’s a great campus. Invite any your listeners to come visit. And if they want to find out about what’s going on in Christian higher-ed, great place to do it. Cybersecurity, national security, all these programs we have.

 

Rosenberg: In fact, they refer to you affectionately here as P.J. P President John Pistole.

 

Pistole: Yeah, they do. And when he first asked me about it, which I appreciate the mask, and I thought, well, that’s kind of weird. I’ve been called a lot of things and that I thought of some of the names I’d been called by the guys at TSA, I thought: PJP. Yeah. I’ll go with that.

 

Rosenberg: You’ve been called worse.

 

Pistole:  I had been called much worse. Yes.

 

Rosenberg: Well, we’re sitting in your office on the campus of Anderson University in Anderson, Indiana, where you are the president. And I am enormously grateful to, John, not just for the opportunity to sit down with you today, but for remarkable legacy of service to the FBI and the TSA and to our nation.

 

Pistole: Well, thank you, Chuck. And I wanted to congratulate you on your enormously popular podcast. But, I just think it goes to show what people are really so desperate to hear about civility and public service and some of the things that are so important to us as a democracy and just this great country. So, thank you for what you’ve been doing.

 

Rosenberg: If we have succeeded, John, is because we have guests like you.

 

Pistole: Thank you. It’s been an honor to be on, Chuck. Appreciate it.

 

Rosenberg: Thanks to John Pistole, his terrific assistant, Rhonda Reemer, and the wonderful and gracious folks at Anderson University in Anderson, Indiana for hosting our podcast, we spent a great day with John on the Anderson campus, visited several classes, and met with dozens of bright and engaged students as we walked around, Anderson, with the man affectionately known in these parts as “PJP,” that’s President John Pistol. You can see that his life has indeed come full circle in and around this college and this town, from Anderson to the FBI to the TSA and back to Anderson, “PJP” is right where he belongs. If you liked this episode, please let us know by leaving us a five-star rating on whatever app you use to listen. If you have any thoughtful criticism, feedback, or questions about this episode or others, please e-mail us at theoathpodcast@gmail.comall one word. theoathpodcast@gmail.com And though I cannot personally respond to every email, please know that I read each one of them, and I definitely appreciate it. The Oath is a production of NBC News and of MSNBC. This podcast was produced by FannieCo, with Fannie Cohen, Nic Bannon and Rob Hebert. They’re a wonderful team. Lauren Chadwick and Laurel Hyneman provided production support. Our senior producer is Barbara Raab and Steve Lickteig is our executive producer. This is The Oath with Chuck Rosenberg, thank you so very much for listening.

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