USA Flag

Official website of the Department of Homeland Security

Press Release

TSA Administrator John S. Pistole, Homeland Security Policy Institute, George Washington University, Washington, DC

Thursday, November 10, 2011
TSA Press Office
(571) 227-2829

Speeches & Testimony

TSA Administrator John S. Pistole
Remarks As Prepared for Delivery
Homeland Security Policy Institute
George Washington University

November 10, 2011
Washington, DC

Good afternoon. Thank you, Frank, for that kind introduction, and for inviting me to share some thoughts with all of you regarding both the current state of transportation security, and what we at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) are doing to strengthen it for all American travelers.

Next week marks the 10th anniversary of ATSA – the Aviation and Transportation Security Act passed by the United States Congress as an important part of our country’s response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Through that legislation, the Transportation Security Administration was created, and we were staffed and operational in less than one year. It was the largest, most complex mobilization of the federal workforce since World War II.

Tens of thousands of Americans answered the call to service, and many of the dedicated individuals who joined TSA – including numerous veterans and first responders – are still serving today.

As for me, some of you know that I was in upstate New York on 9/11 working as an inspector for the FBI. Like many others, the trajectory of my career was significantly altered by those attacks against our country and I became much more involved in the Bureau’s expanded counterterrorism operations. Within a year and a half I was serving as the Assistant Director for Counterterrorism, and in 2004 I was named as the Bureau’s Deputy Director.

I only mention my background because I believe it prepared me to help lead the Transportation Security Administration at an important time in the agency’s history – a time when TSA’s evolution and growth as a high-performing counterterrorism organization is more important than ever.

I’ve been privileged to serve as TSA Administrator for nearly a year and a half now, and I am encouraged by the progress we continue to make. My goal has been to build on TSA’s accomplishments over the last ten years while moving the agency further away from a one-size fits all approach as we implement risk-based, intelligence-driven security to continue effectively countering the evolving threats we face.

As we begin our second decade of service, we at TSA remain focused on and committed to our core mission – to secure the freedom of movement for people and commerce.

Today I want to highlight some of TSA’s accomplishments in the course of our first ten years. I will share some of the successes we’ve seen as a result of deploying state-of-the-art technologies and layers of security, and then I will wrap up my remarks by talking about where we hope to take the organization during its next 10 years and beyond as we approach the busy holiday travel season.

To understand where we are now, it helps to take a brief look back and recall that the transportation security landscape before the September 11th terrorist attacks bears little resemblance to the robust and multi-layered system in place today. This is especially true with respect to aviation security, where weaknesses were exploited and thousands were killed.

Remember that before September 11, 2001, there was:

  • No cohesive system in place to check passenger names against terrorist watch lists in advance of flying;
  • Only limited technologies in place for uncovering a wide array of threats to passengers or aircraft;
  • No comprehensive federal requirements to screen checked or carry-on baggage;
  • Minimal in-flight security on most flights; and,
  • A lack of timely intelligence-sharing, in both directions – from the federal level down to the individual airports, as well as from an individual airport up to the national level.

Then 9/11 happened, and everything changed. For those in the industry, it didn’t take long – seconds, really – to understand that air travel would never be the same.

As most of you are aware, we’ve achieved a number of significant milestones over the past decade – including meeting key 9/11 Commission recommendations.

First, TSA now matches 100 percent of all passengers flying into, out of, and within the United States against government watch lists through what is called the Secure Flight program.

Second, TSA now screens all air cargo transported on passenger planes domestically and, as you know, we are working with our international partners every day to screen 100% of high-risk inbound cargo on passenger planes.

Third, and perhaps most significant, we have improved aviation security through technology that provides advanced baggage screening for explosives. As of today, nearly 100 airports feature in-line explosive detection units screening checked baggage. In total, nearly 2,000 EDS machines are currently in service.

We are seeing the benefits of how these important steps – combined with our multiple layers of security including cutting-edge technology – keep America safe every day. Since TSA was established nearly ten years ago, we have screened more than five billion passengers and detected thousands of firearms among approximately countless prohibited items discovered, including more than 1,000 firearms thus far in 2011.

TSA offers detect, on-average, four firearms per day in carry-on bags at security checkpoints and keep them off airplanes.

TSA has deployed approximately 2,800 Behavior Detection Officers at airports across the country. The behavior detection program has lead to more than 2,200 arrests at airports.

TSA also utilizes more than 400 TSA explosives specialists, including aviation and multimodal environments.

And when it comes to advanced technologies, we continue to see it as an integral layer of security. In particular, we continue to see the efficacy of Advanced Imaging Technology, or “AIT,” machines at hundreds of passenger security checkpoints around the United States. While there is no silver bullet technology, this technology gives our officers the best opportunity to detect both metallic and non-metallic threats including improvised explosive devices such as the device Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to detonate on Christmas Day, 2009.

Since January of last year, this technology has helped our officers detect hundreds of prohibited, dangerous, or illegal items on passengers.

These catches illustrate how effective the technology is at finding concealed non-metallic items concealed on a passenger. Let me show you a few examples of what I am talking about;

In this first slide, you see approximately 700 grams of cocaine, detected using AIT, when the machine alarmed for an anomaly in the ankle area. Local law enforcement officers arrested the passenger.

The next image is that of a ceramic knife, detected by AIT at a checkpoint in Miami. This weapon could have escaped detection if we relied solely on walk through metal detectors to screen passengers.

On the next slide is a small packet of cocaine, discovered by our officers in Indianapolis. It’s important to note that what this shows is AIT’s abilities to detect even the smallest concealed items. In this case, the anomaly was contraband but it shows the technology’s capabilities at detecting very small amounts of powders and other substances – like explosives- that could pose a threat to the aircraft.

Here again, our officers used the technology to detect a small amount of concealed, illegal drugs – this occurred in Jacksonville – and the marijuana cigarettes were discovered discretely hidden beneath a female passenger’s clothing.

This last image shows guns and knives that our officers detected in a passenger’s carry-on luggage during checkpoint screening is a stark reminder that now – more than 10 years after the September 11, 2001, attacks – people are still trying to bring deadly weapons into the cabin of an airplane. And our officers are detecting numerous weapons every day and keeping them off of planes. Everything you see here was discovered less than a month ago inside a single passenger’s carry-on bag. And on Tuesday – just two days ago – we detected nine guns passengers had in their carry-on bags at various checkpoints around the country.

How prevalent is this? Just look at these numbers – more than 1,000 guns discovered by our officers thus far in 2011 alone – and you may be surprised at just how often this occurs.

Now getting back to AIT, we continue to see this important technology working every day, detecting concealed items. Additionally, as manufacturers continue to enhance detection standards we can upgrade the software on these machines accordingly to stay ahead of ever advancing threats.

I’m also pleased to report that we’ve taken significant steps to further strengthen privacy protections for Advanced Imaging Technology as well.

This fall, TSA upgraded all of our millimeter wave units nationwide with new privacy protection software called automated target recognition. This software upgrade further enhances privacy protections by eliminating passenger-specific images and displaying instead a generic outline of a person.

We know that this software also makes the process more efficient. Anytime a piece of new technology gives enhanced security, privacy and greater resource efficiency – that’s a winning formula for everyone. TSA plans to begin testing this software on backscatter technology in airports in the coming months.

But it’s important to remember that technologies such as this one do not stand alone. In fact, TSA has multiple layers of security that work together to create a formidable system that keeps the traveling public safe.

Today, we also deploy explosive-detection canine teams, behavior detection officers and explosives trace detection, among other layers of security to stay ahead of evolving threats.

And we will always retain random and unpredictable methods so that terrorists aren’t able to go to game the system.

That includes strengthening security once passengers are on board the plane, where, of course, you’ll find hardened and locked cockpits, Federal Air Marshals Service and the Federal Flight Deck Officers as well as crewmembers that have been trained in self-defense.

Intelligence – and our ability to use it in real-time – also plays a critical role in keeping transportation safe. TSA works closely with our partners in the intelligence and law enforcement communities to detect, deter and disrupt terrorist plots before they ever get to the airport. TSA’s senior leadership team begins every day with a classified intelligence briefing and we work to share critical information with key industry stakeholders and our frontline officers.

Innovation in technology is enabling us to stay ahead of an adaptive, determined enemy, and TSA is committed to collaborating with our partners in both the public and private sectors to develop, evaluate and deploy those tools that can provide the American people with the most effective security in the most efficient way.

Clearly, aviation security is stronger and more rigorous now than it was a decade ago, and TSA is continuing to enhance security with the evolution of risk-based, intelligence-driven security methods, which I will discuss in a little more detail in a moment.

But the bottom line is this: Before 9/11, there were very few layers of aviation security, but today, there is a robust system with multiple layers of security in place at more than 450 airports across the United States.

So, what do the next 10 years hold for aviation security? I believe it begins with something I mentioned just a minute ago – TSA’s commitment to developing and implementing a more risk-based, intelligence-driven approach to aviation security.

Risk-based security means moving further away from what may have seemed like a one-size-fits-all approach and establishing TSA as a high-performing counterterrorism agency. It means focusing our resources on those we know the least about, and using intelligence – often classified – in better ways to inform the screening process.

As I mentioned earlier, a traditionally busy travel season is quickly approaching, and with that, we will also see higher-than-normal levels of passengers as families and friends come together to celebrate the holidays.

When traveling this holiday travel season, passengers may notice new procedures in place at airports. In addition to the new privacy protection software I mentioned, we have begun implementing additional risk-based security initiatives at numerous airports.

Our recently launched TSA Pre✓™ initiative is a key component to this effort. This initiative tests our ability to further enhance security through passenger pre-screening and whenever possible, expedite the screening process for travelers we know and trust the most, and travelers who are willing to voluntarily share information with us before they travel.

Doing so allows our officers to better focus their efforts on those passengers we know the least about and, of course, those on terrorist watch lists. Efficiencies gained by implementing more risk-based security methods allow us to make the best possible use of the resources we’ve been provided to secure air travel.

Initially, select frequent fliers from Delta Air Lines, American Airlines and certain members of CBP’s Trusted Traveler programs, including Global Entry, SENTRI, and NEXUS who are U.S. citizens and who are also flying domestically on Delta or American are eligible for this screening option. Passengers can apply to be eligible for consideration via CBP’s Global Entry program.

By opting into TSA Pre✓™, passengers may qualify for expedited screening at select checkpoints in Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International and Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County, as well as Dallas/Ft. Worth International and Miami International airports.

We are encouraged by the early results from this pre-screening concept with a small passenger population at limited airports. As a result, we are ready to begin expanding TSA Pre✓™ to a few more airports – specifically Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Minneapolis St-Paul in the coming months. And we will continue looking for even more opportunities to expand this initiative to more airlines and airports as they become operationally ready.

If a passenger is selected for expedited screening through TSA Pre✓™, they are directed to a dedicated lane and may be allowed to keep their shoes on, keep laptops and 3-1-1 liquids in their carry-on bags, and also keep their belt and a light jacket on as they go through the checkpoint.

Of course, nothing will ever guarantee that a passenger receives expedited screening. All travelers need to understand that, to remain effective, TSA must retain the ability to employ random and unpredictable security measures at any point in the process.

In addition to TSA Pre✓™, we have also begun testing an initiative to expedite screening for Known Crewmembers, beginning with airline pilots at seven U.S. airports. This concept reflects the core principles of risk-based security: airline pilots are among our most trusted travelers- they’re responsible for the safety of millions of passengers daily.

And we recently made nationwide changes to the security screening process for passengers 12-and-under. These new screening procedures include permitting multiple passes through the metal detector, as well as the greater use of explosives trace detection to resolve any alarms that may be triggered. These changes in protocol have significantly reduced – though not eliminated – pat-downs of children…again, allowing us to focus our more extensive screening on those assessed as being higher risk.

Finally, we are continuing to look at strengthening ways to help our officers identify people exhibiting signs that may indicate a potential threat to security. Developed by adapting global best practices, TSA is testing an expanded behavior detection effort at Boston Logan and Detroit Metro Wayne County Airport.

With more than 1.7 million people traveling every day, these initiatives are being piloted at various airports as part of our layered security approach. We appreciate the traveling public’s continued partnership and cooperation as we test and implement these new protocols.

We will also continue to look for ways to enhance other aspects of our layered approach to security through new state-of-the-art technologies, expanded use of existing and proven technologies, better passenger identification techniques and other developments that will continue to strengthen our capabilities to keep terrorists off commercial aircraft.

We look forward to further expanding our risk-based security initiative to strengthen aviation security. We do this not only to keep you and your loved ones safe when you travel, but also to ensure that the transportation link in the global supply chain remains strong.

As part of this effort, we also continue to work to strengthen relationships with and gain input from our stakeholder partners. As part of this effort, I am also pleased to report that 24 new members of the Aviation Security Advisory Committee have been named by Secretary Napolitano, and I look forward to meeting with them and reviewing their recommendations. This advisory committee enhances TSA’s security posture through consultation with key partners concerning potential risks to infrastructure, passengers, and cargo. In addition, ASAC gathers input from stakeholders on the effectiveness of security procedures and develops recommendations for improvements to aviation security methods. Federal advisory committees such as this play a vital role throughout government, and I am confident TSA, and by extension the traveling public, will benefit from their counsel.

In summary, aviation security in the United States today is more comprehensive, more responsive, and more effective than it has ever been. By continuing to employ more risk-based, intelligence-driven security principles, the men and women of TSA are strengthening transportation security while also working to improve the overall experience for all of us, when we travel.

Thank you, safe travels, and at this time I am happy to answer any questions you might have.