TSA Press Office
Speeches & Testimony
TSA Administrator John S. Pistole
Remarks As Prepared for Delivery
October 4, 2011
Good morning. Thank you for that kind introduction and thanks to Tony Tyler and everyone at IATA for your ongoing efforts to effectively represent and respond to the needs of the aviation industry around the world, especially in a time of continued financial uncertainty and faced with a dynamic and challenging global economy. Your continued dedication is reflected in the fact that this year marks the 20th edition of this important aviation security and facilitation conference.
Thank you for the invitation. I appreciate the opportunity to discuss some of the challenges we face working together to strengthen aviation security in the 21st century, and how our approach has changed throughout TSA’s first 10 years of service. And of course, it has changed not only for the American people – but for air travelers around the globe. Our ability, and yours as an industry, to evolve and grow in such an environment depends how well we can adapt to those changes and how quickly we are able to respond to those challenges while working to provide the best possible security at every airport, on every flight, every day.
I am encouraged by the great progress we continue to make, together, with respect to meeting the challenges of global aviation security, and the evolving threats our industry continues to face.
As many of you know, we at the United States Transportation Security Administration are about to begin our second decade of service, and we remain focused on and committed to our core mission to secure the freedom of movement for people and commerce.
So today – in addition to touching on a few of TSA’s signature accomplishments – I also want to share with you a little bit about what we’re doing now, including “TSA PreCheck,” a trusted traveler type initiative which begins its evaluation phase today at four U.S. airports, and then I will wrap up my remarks by talking about where we hope to take the organization during its next 10 years.
From TSA’s perspective, to understand where we are now, it helps to take a brief look back and see that the aviation security landscape before 9/11 bears little resemblance to the robust and multi-layered system in place today.
Remember that before September 11, 2001, there was:
- No cohesive system in place to vet passenger names 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; and,
- Minimal in-flight security on most flights.
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.
In the weeks following the September 11 attacks, the United States Congress moved quickly, passing the Aviation and Transportation Security Act in November 2001, authorizing and standing up the Transportation Security Administration in less than a 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 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 vets 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, we’ve improved aviation security through technology that provides advanced screening for explosives. As of October 1st, nearly 100 airports featured operational, in-line explosive detection units screening checked baggage. In total, nearly 2,000 EDS machines are currently in service at 265 airports. In addition to these, TSA uses Advanced Imaging Technology at hundreds of passenger security checkpoints around the United States. These units, among other advanced technologies such as Explosives Trace Detection and Bottle Liquid Scanners, provide us the best opportunity to detect both metallic and non-metallic threats including improvised explosive devices.
We have also upgraded automated target recognition, or ATR, software being deployed on hundreds of Millimeter Wave Advanced Imaging Technology machines throughout the United States to further enhance privacy protections by eliminating passenger-specific images. We also know that this upgrade makes the technology more efficient. Anytime a piece of new technology gives enhanced security, privacy and greater resource efficiency – that’s a winning formula for both the industry and the traveler.
Third, 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.
Of course, issues of cargo security came front and center with the air cargo bomb plot last October, in which we saw how ordinary items such as computer printer cartridges can be used and adapted to conceal improvised explosive devices. In fact, after speaking at AVSEC World in Frankfurt last year, I traveled to Sana’a, Yemen, to assess the situation on the ground and work with Yemeni officials to improve cargo security procedures.
So, in addition to 100% passenger vetting through TSA’s Secure Flight program, using the latest technology to stay ahead of evolving threats, and continuing our efforts to screen 100% of cargo, regardless of where or how it is moving, TSA is working to continuously strengthen our layered approach to aviation security.
Today, we also deploy explosive-detection canine teams, behavior detection officers and explosives trace detection tools to stay ahead of evolving threats and keep passengers safe.
We continue to work closely with public and private partners inside the airports to assist with gate and perimeter security practices. And we will always retain random and unpredictable methods so that terrorists intent on replicating the destruction of 9/11 aren’t able 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, the greatly expanded Federal Air Marshals Service and the Federal Flight Deck Officers program, as well as important self-defense training for other crewmembers.
Of course, intelligence 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. We begin every day with a classified intelligence briefing and work to share critical information with key industry stakeholders and our frontline officers.
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 20 layers of security in place at more than 450 airports around the United States, and in various forms at the 275 last points of departure for flights coming into the U.S.
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 approach to aviation security.
When I talk about risk-based, intelligence-driven security it’s important to note that this is not about a specific program, or a limited initiative being evaluated at a handful of airports.
On the contrary, risk-based security – or RBS as we refer to it within TSA – is much more comprehensive. It 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 physical screening process.
It is a risk-mitigation strategy that also makes good business sense. For example, enhancing cargo security wherever we can helps strengthen the integrity of the global supply chain which, if done properly, is obviously good for commerce. In this regard, we are challenging aviation leaders around the world, including our friends at IATA, to help us get there.
Another aspect of our risk-based, intelligence-driven security system is “TSA PreCheck,” the new initiative I mentioned a few minutes ago. Central to this proof-of-concept, we are looking at how 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 prioritize screening and focus our 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 given 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.
Should they opt in to this program, it could qualify them for expedited checkpoint screening at select checkpoints at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International and Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County, as well as Dallas/Ft. Worth International and Miami International airports.
As with any initiative, we are testing this pre-screening concept with a small passenger population at limited airports. If proven successful, we will explore expanding the program to additional travelers, airports and airlines.
As far as how the program will actually work, certain frequent fliers, as noted previously and if selected for expedited screening, would be directed to a dedicated lane and may receive expedited screening.
Of course, as I mentioned earlier with respect to airport gate and perimeter security, nothing will ever guarantee that a passenger receives expedited security 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.
We’ve also begun a known-crewmember initiative, beginning with airline pilots in several U.S. airports. We also recently made nationwide changes to the security screening process for children 12-and-under. Both of these concepts reflect the core principles of risk-based security; airline pilots are among our most trusted travelers, and the overwhelming intelligence indicates that children 12-and-under pose little risk to aviation security.
With respect to recent changes to security screening for kids 12-and-under, we began evaluating this concept in August at six airports, and following the successful proof-of-concept, we began implementing the change September 14, with full implementation on September 26 at airports nationwide. Depending on the day and season, this impacts anywhere from 50,000 to 150,000 children and their families each day in the United States.
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 will ultimately reduce – though not eliminate – 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 evaluate the value of expanding TSA’s behavior detection program, to help our officers identify people exhibiting signs that may indicate a potential threat. Based on an existing program which was developed by adapting global best practices, this effort includes additional training for our Behavior Detection Officers to give them the observational and engagement skills necessary to help them identify those who may be a potential threat to security.
We’ve been testing the expanded behavior detection pilot at Boston Logan, engaging more than 77,000 passengers thus far in a brief interview prior to screening.
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.
Evaluating and implementing these types of risk-based security measures also reflects TSA’s decision to engage globally, across a broad spectrum of aviation security concerns. If a program, a concept, or an idea seems to work well and strengthen security for one of our partners – those are the things we want to look at more closely to determine if it can be adapted or applied in the United States.
Our adversaries, although weakened, have made clear their desire to attack both passenger and cargo aviation. Because of this, strengthening aviation security remains a shared, global concern and addressing it effectively requires shared, global solutions.
Given the diversity of nations represented here in Amsterdam, it’s clear that everyone in this room is aware of the fact that globalization – the growing interconnectedness between all of our nations – impacts virtually everything we do. It requires that each of us commit to developing, maintaining and – whenever possible – strengthening active aviation security partnerships around the world. For good or for bad – information has never been more available, and it circles the globe in seconds.
In any environment, an essential component of effective partnerships is outreach. At its core, outreach is simply organized information sharing. For all of us, outreach requires actively engaging with each other to ensure that our situational awareness is as great as it can be with respect to trends in aviation security, sharing best practices and learning about the latest technologies.
One such initiative, of course, is IATA’s Checkpoint of the Future, a vision for aviation security in the years ahead. While still a concept, it’s an idea clearly worth consideration as technology develops. And, by definition, segmenting the passenger population for different levels of security screening in exactly what we’re pursuing through our RBS, or risk-based security, initiative.
We look forward to continue working with all of our partners, domestically and internationally, in both the public and private sector, to strengthen aviation security around the world. 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 and reliable.
Our goal is straightforward and direct – to work with each of you to provide the most effective security in the most efficient way.
Thank you, and safe travels!