Keynote Address to the Aero Club of Washington

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Administrator Kip Hawley
Washington, D.C.
Monday, July 28, 2008
As Delivered

Good afternoon everybody. It's a great pleasure to be here with you during this ninety-ninth year of the Aero Club, and it is a great pleasure to occupy the Marion Blakey Memorial Seat at the head table.

And 99 is a lucky number in Chinese culture, so we are fortuitous and so is ‘08. Ninety nine signifies a doubly long time, like eternity, and ‘08 foretells prosperity. So in a year of unprecedented growth for aviation-unfortunately in fuel prices-it is no wonder that ‘08 will be remembered as a year that went on forever, maybe even The Year Of Eternal Pain. And as for prosperity, umm, I don't know. But anyway, with all the bad news that seems to be hovering around the aviation industry these days, perhaps you're wondering, "As if that's not tough enough, here comes TSA." So I hope that I can at least offer a glimmer of some future opportunities. You may have seen a flicker or two of innovation out of TSA recently with our fabulous laptop bag that goes through the X-ray and some of the other things we're doing. There is some innovation going on at TSA.

I have been honored to serve in this job now for three years and I think, to the astonishment of myself and virtually everybody else, I have almost lasted the three years. It has been a great pleasure to work with all of you and our TSA team, and we share something that I think is underappreciated. That is, one of the greatest things professionally is to have a job that matters and that is something that we share. I feel very fortunate to have had the chance for the last three years, anyway, to have a job I think really matters and working with all of you together in that mission.

In contemplation of the transition of administrations, I would like to share with you a list that I have prepared for whoever may end up at TSA in the next administration. It's my version of The Top Ten Things Not To Do as TSA Administrator. And I speak from experience.

Number ten: Don't take calls from friends in Washington about returning to government.

Number nine: Don't use your real name. Or if you do, reserve the URL, whatever your name is, like, reserve that URL.

Number eight: Do not stick around for the "is mascara a liquid or a gel?" debate.

Number seven: Don't ask for clarification when somebody says, "Huh, you look different in person."

And number six: Don't ever speak before checking the mute button.

Number five: Don't read the TSA blog just before going to bed.

And number four, this one is particularly important: After meeting at DHS Headquarters, do not rush out of the meeting, hop into the front seat of the Secretary's Suburban, and surprise the Secret Service agent on the Secretary's detail.

Number three: Never carry your wife's baggie through the checkpoint. It's a long conversation, but…

Number two: Do not forget to keep a straight face, no matter what, if you ever find yourself on the C-SPAN call-in show. (I won't explain that one, but…)

I'm going to save number one until a bit later.

So first, really, I did say that I had the opportunity to work with so many of you very closely and I appreciate that. We have accomplished a lot and we have accomplished it together. TSA has stepped forward, but clearly everybody in the aviation industry has partnered with us and I think that the country is better off for that. The most notable event was on the night of August 10, 2006 when everybody stepped up together, and we really haven't taken a break since that time. I know it has been exhausting, but it has been effective security and I appreciate the tremendous partnership from throughout the aviation community.

Our security measures are driven by intel. We've made a very major focus-at DHS in general and at TSA particularly-in orienting the measures that we do based on what we learn from the intelligence and law enforcement communities. It is a pledge that I make to you, and I think the organizational honor going forward, that the security measures that we seek to put in place are in fact driven by what we see of the threat picture or vulnerability picture.

Equally important is the work with our international partners. We recognize-and the 2006 UK plot made very clear-that our security in the United States is only as good as the nations that serve as platforms for flights into the United States. It is in our national interest to keep up a robust and connected international security regime.

Every decision that we make is about keeping the American public safe from terror, and we understand-and I mentioned this last year-we do understand that security isn't necessarily at the top of everybody's mind these days. When the term "security" comes to mind, people think of baggies and shoes, and I understand that. But be assured that regardless of what the media portrayal is or what we see out of the public, at least at the surface level it does appears that people have moved on and that simply relying on 9/11 to motivate the public does not seem to resonate as much as it did in years past. That is one of the challenges we have as a community because the threat is not less but the measures that we take have to be fresh. The things we do must be done with a smart frame of mind and with a public that fully understands that they need to participate. We need to participate together. That challenged us last year and continues to challenge us.

I'd like to point out a couple of my colleagues. I see we have quite a few of the TSA leadership team here today. TSA is in very strong shape going forward in the next administration, with a deeply experienced and committed management team. [Deputy Administrator] Gale Rossides has the great pleasure of appearing before a Congressional panel at this hour, so she is not able to be here. Over the last year and a half, essentially for three hours every Wednesday morning, Gale has gathered our leadership team - the career professionals - together, without the benefit of my input, and met as a team to do team building, make decisions, and have a decision process among each other. If there's one organization that knows about transition, I would suggest it's TSA, having been through four of them in its very limited history. I am completely confident that the leadership team is very strong going forward through and beyond the next administration.

I've had the opportunity to be with the Aero Club a number of years and I'll do a brief synopsis. You'll be glad, it's only a sentence each: In 2005, when Secretary Chertoff had just come in and done his second stage review, we talked about our view of risk and how to manage it in the transportation network. In 2006, we talked about integrating with partners both internationally and domestically. Last year, I spoke about the evolution of TSA passenger screening and the need to get the passengers back in the game. A consistent theme throughout my time at TSA has been the need to change up our security process so as to be not too rigid or too predictable. What holds across the board - whether it's in general aviation, commercial, cargo, and frankly any of the aspects of transportation security overall - is the need, in the face of an adaptive enemy, to put in place security measures that they cannot plan against and be certain of what they will find when they do their attack. That is, in my view, the best way to disrupt Al Qaeda planning.

Looking back after three years, I think the strategy is well understood by this group and the question arises, "Okay, what is in place that is sustainable that will carry forward to make sure that the level of protection continues?" First, we have a lower Transportation Security Officer FTE [full-time equivalent] count than we did in 2005. We are doing a lot of things, but I think the first point I'll mention is in recognition of our leadership team that has managed to do it with fewer people.

The Travel Document Checker position was a vulnerability that very much concerned me given the importance of identifying who it is that is trying to get on an airplane. If the door is open for somebody to fake their way through with a phony ID, that is a considerable vulnerability. I believe it is significantly closed now with the Document Checkers and their integration into the rest of our security.

We have talked about behavior detection as an important additional layer. We've got about two thousand BDOs [Behavior Detection Officers] out there and we'll probably add another several hundred before the end of the year. This is a very effective layer of security. Every morning when I go over the aspects of what happened the day before, Travel Document Checkers or Behavior Detection Officers almost every day come up with the most interesting counterterrorism finds. Certainly we have a lot of people who bring, for instance, guns or other things, but most of them are people making a stupid mistake. Of the people of counterterrorism interest, we find that the Document Checkers and the Behavior Detection Officers are highly effective.

Along with the ID requirement, if you do not have an ID, we're going to try and ascertain who you are before letting you enter the sterile area. In the process of setting that up, we now have a real-time connection between our Freedom Center-our operations center-and the checkpoint. This means that when the Travel Document Checker and the Behavior Detection Officer, or anybody else for that matter, identify something at a checkpoint, we have real-time connectivity back to the Freedom Center that has the high-side connectivity. That's very important because I just mentioned how intel and law enforcement drive what we do. This is the way to close that loop and have the benefit of that information directly at the checkpoint as well as visa versa.

In the years since 2005, you are familiar with our VIPR [Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response] teams that move around in any part of the transportation environment and pop up and pop down. They're a good example of the unpredictable, dynamic security that I was speaking of earlier. We've done over a thousand VIPR operations now including over five hundred this year alone. We have law enforcement, local law enforcement, canines, our regulatory inspectors, Behavior Detection Officers: this is a very good counterterrorism package. And for the first time in 2008, working with our international partners, we've had BDOs paired with security officers from other countries operate jointly.

We also have deployed bomb tech officers-over three hundred Bomb Appraisal Officers. This is highly significant because they're at the checkpoint, not just training our officers but also resolving threat information so we can resolve an image without calling the bomb squad or closing a checkpoint. That's another significant layer.

Also with the airport community, including local law enforcement, we've had a much more robust back-of-the-airport, with airport employee screening that is in place and will continue. As you know, there are a number of pilots going on now that we're participating in for a Congressional report. It is important to know that everywhere in the country there is significant screening going on in the back of airports as well.

None of this could have happened without a dedicated workforce that is flexible and committed. This workforce has been asked to do a lot-to stand up this agency without a lot of infrastructure and to do a very difficult job with not always the best training or the best equipment or the best working conditions. But this organization is blessed with people who came after 9/11 for the counterterrorism mission and have stayed, and done so under all sorts of circumstances, including adding these additional duties while not adding headcount.

Then there's technology. This year, we are deploying AT X-ray. This is the first major system technology upgrade at the checkpoint in a very long time. About three hundred have been deployed so far. Why is that good? AT X-ray will let our officers get a dramatically improved image of what's inside a carry-on bag, enabling them to quickly clear bags or see into the clutter and find potential threats. With AT X-ray, you can take a different view of a bag, where with regular X-ray it might be shielded. It's very effective.

Most important, this technology platform has the ability to be upgraded to automatically detect threat liquids or other novel chemical formulations that might be used by terrorist plotters. That means that if there's a path for us to move away from the baggie, it will be possible through AT X-ray. We're not there yet, but the technology has the capability. It's a matter of time that the algorithms are perfected to allow us to automatically detect threat liquids or other improvised chemicals.

Regarding the sensitive topic of assuring that people do not carry harmful components on their person, TSA is improving its pat-down protocols and is deploying whole body imaging technology to do the same thing better, faster, and without physical contact. We just announced that we will be deploying 120 of these units by the end of next year. That's a very significant deployment.

We are not done yet.

Starting in September, TSA will begin a workforce-wide retraining of everybody associated with a passenger checkpoint-from the Federal Security Director, to the front-line TSO, to the Administrator, to the Assistant Administrator-as part of the Checkpoint Evolution initiative. Make no mistake, this Checkpoint Evolution effort has nothing to do with lights and music. The point is to give us the best shot at stopping an attack. We have a counterterrorism mission and this is a critical part of that security mission.

I'd like to quote Admiral McConnell, head of DNI: "Al Qaeda is improving the last key aspect of its ability to attack the US: the identification, training, and positioning of operatives for an attack on the homeland."

Bob Mueller, head of the FBI said: "Our great concern is that, while it is happening in Europe, it is one plane ticket away from occurring in the United States."

Secretary Chertoff has recently spoken about the confirmed terrorist interest in Europe.

So you have the Director of the FBI, the Director of DNI, and the Secretary of Homeland Security giving you the same message.

I would summarize it for you in the following way: Today aviation remains at the center of terrorist targeting. That's why we're doing these security measures. That's why we're doing something better, something different, to upgrade our security at these checkpoints. It is our checkpoint, it's our space, it's your space. We need to use it to go on offense.

We have the advantage.

We've screened 3.5 billion passengers since the start-up of TSA. That's more than the population of the world. That means that our officers, when they're not focused on the SOP [Standard Operating Procedure] and they're not going through our checklist, that they're going through information in their own subconscious. This is incredibly valuable information that allows them to pick up on cues if we train them on it and encourage them to use it. I'd like to give an example.

We had an incident in Atlanta a year or so ago where we had a machine malfunction and we had an image that was supposed to be a test image that was identified by an officer. And it looked on the screen as if it were a completed IED [Improvised Explosive Device]. Now it was a test, but to the officer, it looked like an IED. So I asked the officer, what was going through your mind when you saw this. And I was expecting to hear, "So I saw the organic mass, saw the wire, saw the power supply, that could have been a detonator – I'm going to alarm the bag." What she said was, "If you really want to know what I thought – it was blah, blah blah – I have to get out of here." And that's a very insightful comment. What it says is that her subconscious was way ahead of her conscious processing. Because of her experience as an officer for a number of years. Most of our officers have been with us more than four years. That knowledge of what is normal and what is not normal is really our secret weapon.

Our Checkpoint Evolution training is about getting away from the mentality of, "Did I complete the checklist? If I did, I'm done with my job." We have to get away from that. Yes, we have to do our job of not letting prohibited items through, but my job is not finished until I've stopped an attack. The TSO has to tune into extra pieces of information that are available to us. Engage with the passenger. Connect with other members of the team, including our Freedom Center, to resolve potential threats.

Emblematic of that approach is our new uniform that includes a metal badge. There's been some interesting commentary on that, but I think it should be very clear that this is about recognizing the professionalism of this job. It's one of the hardest things I think you could do-to handle 2.5 million passengers a year, and hopefully we'll continue at that level. People who really don't want you in their face, but you have a limited amount of time and you have to resolve real threats. You have to look at the intel side and believe, as I do, that the threat is very real, and it is right with us now. These are critical decisions these officers have to make and I want to give them-and I think you want them to have-the self-confidence to make those decisions. What we've seen already in Baltimore and DC where we're piloting these new uniforms is a more confident officer. They have received additional training, and we're going to see that same attitude nationwide when we deploy these new uniforms and badges on 9/11. That's a fitting reminder to our workforce and the American public.

The SOP is very useful, but it is not an end in itself. The mission is stopping attacks. It is disrupting attacks that are in preparation and it is deterring those that are in planning. And honestly, what I'm spending my time on at TSA are those three things exclusively. There is plenty of work in those areas, and that's where I'm putting my focus.

We've found that people have moved on after 9/11. That's okay, as long as they're tuned in and following the security measures, because we have people around the world in agencies focused almost exclusively on those things. And it's a very strong network. You're a part of it, and it should give the American public a lot of confidence.

Watchlists are underappreciated as tools against terrorists. If you believe you have to have intelligence, you should take advantage when there are people risking their lives and giving their lives to find scraps of information to lead us to people who are planning terrorist attacks. If we have that information available to us, the U.S. government, we absolutely have to use it. The watchlist is the process for making that happen. There has been a lot of false information out there.

The No Fly list is a no kidding deal. When the intelligence community identifies someone who is a No Fly, we have to make sure they don't get on that plane. Yes, there is some residual hassle that goes into assuring that the identity of those who are passing through the checkpoint are not on the Selectee list. Secretary Chertoff announced in April the flexibility the airlines have to create a system to verify and securely store a passenger's date of birth to clear up watchlist misidentifications. Until Secure Flight is operational sometime next year, this is going to be where the action is to assure the public that we're not over-hassling people, that there are not more people on the watchlist then in fact there are.

I'd like to go back to the lucky number 99, for I believe that TSA is well positioned to offer effective security on a sustained basis that can stay ahead of the evolving and continuing threats coming our way.

I think it is important to remember what we have. We could not ask for better partners in all of you. We have a strong, deeply committed leadership team at TSA. We have an industry that has risen to the occasion and will rise to the occasion when the need be.

Our Transportation Security Officers and Federal Air Marshals, our critical front-line assets, are the best in the world at what they do. We need to give them more respect in public. They should have your confidence because they have earned it. They are here to protect us, to save us if needed, and I guarantee you that if given the chance they will do whatever it takes in support of the American public, no matter what the personal cost.

Let us remember what is important.

After 9/11, I think we all remembered what is important. Let's give thanks for friends and loved ones - and those who protect us.

Which brings me to the number one thing a TSA Administrator should not do.

Never forget.