TSA Press Office
Kip Hawley, Administrator, Transportation Security Administration
Aero Club of Washington
Luncheon at Capital Hilton Hotel
Thank you for inviting me. It is a great pleasure to be with all of you today.
A special recognition goes out to Marion Blakey. Marion has been a great partner at the FAA and a good friend. I think history is going to show her to be a great leader at a critical time for the agency. It’s too early for her to take a victory lap, but all of us at TSA are better off for her contributions, so thank you Marion.
And thanks to each of you for your partnership with TSA. We have a shared responsibility for the security of the aviation system. The soft target attacks in the U.K., TSA’s large-scale VIPR [Visible Intermodal Protection Response ] deployments the week of July 4th, and last week’s public announcement of the National Intelligence Estimate have once again underscored the importance of our work together.
All of us in aviation are on the front-lines and we must face the reality that we may be challenged.
Last year, thanks to the excellent work of our U.K. and U.S. intelligence partners, a chilling attack was disrupted. There, we knew of a specific attack methodology – a novel kind of liquid explosives, formulated to evade then-existing security measures. We were able – with the help of many people in this room – to close that vulnerability.
This year, we know of Al-Qaeda’s continued interest in aviation, we know terrorists are training, and we know of terrorist movement, but we don’t yet have the particulars of a specific plot.
In an environment where we know we are at risk, but don’t know the what, where, or when—How should we, those responsible for flight crew, employee, and passenger security, how do we deal with that?
We don’t deal with it by sitting still.
We don’t deal with it by digging in behind our checkpoints and relying on predicting the next object of attack among the millions of bags and people we see every day. To be sure, the checkpoint is a component, a layer of the larger plan, but it absorbs too much of our focus and too many of our resources.
We deal with this threat by moving, by not setting up a standing target that can be designed around. We have to be proactive, surprising, intelligent, and flexible.
We act—we don’t react.
We believe in using multiple layers of security to complicate and defeat terrorist planning. 100 percent security—of anything—is not realistic, especially for a vast network of transportation spread around the world. We cannot protect everybody from everything, everywhere, all the time. Meeting a statistical goal (especially if it is 100 percent) is probably not the best use of our limited resources. Think about it: what is a better security system? One big obstacle standing in the middle of the room? Or multiple layers that are spread out over time that you do not have the luxury of planning around?
We rely on these layers of security … Starting with intelligence, to watch list checking, to observation of behavior out front, linking it now to document checking back in the airport, connecting it to the checkpoint, and then on to the aircraft with pilots, flight attendants, federal air marshals, and passengers. Eighteen layers of security lends strength to the system, regardless of any individual vulnerability inherent in any one layer.
The terrorists' aim is to beat our system— so therefore, we need to make it hard to figure out what that is. The best security strategy is unpredictable and changes on our schedule, not theirs.
If an element of unpredictability is introduced– such as changing or adding inspection routines on a variable basis, or using canine teams at different points anywhere in the airport– that increases the complexity for would-be terrorists. Getting the terrorists off balance and making them unsure is one of our most effective tools to defeat them.
How can we give our security officers more opportunities, more time, and more space to identify, deter, or capture a person who poses a security risk?
TSA is focusing on identifying those with hostile intent even if they are not carrying a prohibited item. We can do that anywhere on the airport.
We invest in a lot of technology—but we all know: there is no silver bullet.
In addition, we take advantage of the tremendous human capability in our organization—and yours—to get ahead of the terrorists. To disrupt, interrupt, and deter, rather than to wait and react.
To address the current threat, we need to go on offense.
Some examples of how we’re going on offense are:
We have significantly stepped up our operating tempo. Last August 10 we were able to change the entire security regime around the country—and around the world—and do so very fast. This July 4th, the public saw action by our VIPR Teams working side-by-side with our partners at airports, airlines, and local law enforcement to intensify security. This got a lot of media attention and publicity during that week, but in truth, this is how we operate every day. Yesterday, some of you may have noticed that we had a VIPR Team in operation at Dulles.
We have significantly increased the layers of security in front of the checkpoint. Behavior Detection Officers are a wonderful tool to be able to identify and do risk management prior to someone coming in to the airport or approaching the crowded checkpoint. We also, at the back of airports, have our random screening of everything and everybody at any point anywhere in the airport. This is an additional layer of security that I think adds tremendously for the issue of employee screening. We don’t take the “check-the-box approach” and look in lunch pails. We do random screenings in unexpected locations that cannot be avoided.
And I would draw your attention to my colleague Mo McGowan, who is here today. He is head of TSA’s Security Operations. Mo’s doctrine is to move fast, to change up what we do, to engage the workforce, and to try to be as innovative as we can.
We use shared intelligence. The best way to stop a terror attack is to disrupt and dismantle it before it becomes operational. We have many recent examples of the benefits of strong, proactive relationships with law enforcement, industry partners, and intelligence communities.
And finally, we have added significant new technology to the checkpoint process. Starting in August, we will begin operational testing of Advanced Technology X-ray. This explosive detection is in common use in Europe for checked baggage. We’ll be using it at the passenger checkpoint because we think it adds meaningful additional security and additional clarity for our Transportation Security Officers and will help us with our explosive detection capabilities. In the next month we will be rolling out to three airports, including Washington Reagan National Airport.
Joining our backscatter X-ray pilot, we will be adding a pilot of a new body scanning technology called millimeter wave. I saw it in operation recently at Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport, and I believe that it has a role in our future mix of tools.
But there are more fundamental changes in the works.
Technology is a strength but can’t do it alone. Our people have proven themselves to be professional, dedicated, and occasionally heroic, but they need a better way of doing business in their daily interactions with the public—99 percent of them who are not a threat of any kind.
The process needs to improve.
The legacy process, dating back more than thirty years, feels almost like a medieval jousting match between the TSA and the passenger.
We start out at our end of the box, and the passenger waits his turn at the head of the line. Then as the tension mounts, the passenger launches toward us and we collide under the magnetometer for just an instant, and then it’s over. It’s disheartening to see the passengers sometimes walking away disheveled, dazed, and dragging shoes behind them to retreat to a quieter place.
So we get it. We go through the airports ourselves. We know that there has to be a better way. That is really what the so-called sippy cup incident taught us: There are a lot of passengers with a lot of pent-up frustration with today’s process.
In the coming months—and I do mean in the coming months—I look forward to working with this community to figure out a better process for doing this. It will embody some of the principles I just mentioned in terms of flexible, changeable, unpredictable, mobile, things like that. We view the best way to identify hostile intent is to make it in sharp contrast to the normal people going through. The way we look at it is to calm down the atmosphere in the security process. To spread it out, so that it’s not jammed into that one fifteen foot by twenty-five foot box.
Calm it down, spread it out, and change it up. Give some variety to it. Throw some curve balls. Not to be expected in exactly everything we do.
We heard a lot from people telling us how frustrated they are with the legacy process. The security impact of that is meaningful. It says that the many passengers who are an integral part of the security measures themselves, their active participation, their helping on security, which was so apparent in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, has eroded somewhat. Passengers get frustrated and have forgotten, “why exactly am I taking my shoes off?” and “what is it with this 3 ounce bottle and that baggie?”
The core mission we have at TSA, and that we share with all of you, is to realign the large passenger base with us, to get all of us on the same team. To get us all working together, understanding what security is and participating in it.
Yesterday there was a lot of news media attention on a particular screening methodology in Phoenix. I think it’s worthwhile to use that as an example. How do you accomplish the goal if you want to get passengers and all of us on the same side? How can we win back the passengers’ active engagement in the security process?
It revolves around two things: transparency and accountability. It specifically relates to TSA. We need to be accountable and we need to be transparent.
The incident in Phoenix was extremely interesting. When you look at it at its basic, common sense level, apart from whatever the rules and regulations were, we have no reason to believe that anyone was ever in any danger or that there was anyone not following the process or any lack of cooperation. We’ve had tremendous support from the Phoenix airport community. But it raises the question: if we’re going into a sterile area that becomes sterile once TSA opens its checkpoint, how can you let people in without more attention, particularly for those in the sterile area? In this case, we believe we needed to have a common sense answer for this, and it was, let’s screen the people and then we’ll sort it out.
That is how we want to operate. What is the common sense answer? I was just talking with some of you here about the different rules we have with our different communities that overlap in some places and maybe don’t always connect. We’re working through that and changing it to make a smoother process.
Our guiding light needs to be not the checklist, but common sense.
We know that taking off shoes is a point of concern and a pain, but it does remain a current concern and X-rays give us a crystal clear look to see if a shoe has been tampered with. Give us a little credit, nobody sees more shoes every day than we do.
Yes, we know that the baggie is a pain, but in fact, liquid hydrogen peroxide bombs remain a current tool of choice. With the help of our National Labs – Los Alamos, Livermore, and Sandia – we know a great deal about those explosives’ properties. We know a great deal about what can and cannot detonate and endanger an aircraft. The 3 ounce container size and the 1 quart baggie give us a great deal of security value. At the same time, it also allows passengers to bring on standard travel items.
We are at aviation Orange, we continue to be, and that is not going to change any time soon.
We must make sure our heightened security measures are sustainable for airports, airlines, TSA, and passengers. This is a long haul fight and everybody needs to be on the same side. We need to build common sense, thoughtful, effective measures into a flexible process that understands the type of enemy we face. We are one target. It doesn’t matter to them if they attack through the checkpoint, through the bags, through the soft targets as it was in Glasgow. That says to us a base level of security needs to be everywhere and we don’t have the luxury of strengthening one piece of it and being satisfied. We have to be flexible enough to cover the whole picture but light enough not to get stuck in any one place.
We can no longer afford to sit back and look for prohibited items from behind the checkpoint.
We, all of us, including passengers, have to join forces, stand up and take the offensive.
How can we combat an adaptive terrorist who is looking to exploit a vulnerability anywhere in our huge global system?
It is not to sit, wait, and worry.
It is to stand and move together.