Remarks at the Aero Club of Washington

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Administrator John S. Pistole
Washington, D.C.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you for that kind introduction and thanks to the Aero Club for inviting me here today.

When preparing with my staff, I was impressed to learn that the Aero Club has been around for more than 100 years, with a legacy stretching all the way back to the Wright Brothers.

After being in this job for a few months now, I can already see how airline security may have been a bit different back in those days-I doubt, for instance, that Orville or Wilbur ever insisted they be allowed to fly with their lattes, and I'm sure they didn't take off their shoes!

While some only see TSA telling people what they can't bring on planes, our mission is, as you know, much broader than that, and the threats we face today are a lot broader as well.

My job - and the agency's challenge - is to lead TSA through the next stage as it matures into a truly high-performance, world-class organization that utilizes smart, intelligence-driven security solutions to facilitate travel, without compromising the safety, privacy or liberties of the American people. And just as a reality check, I know TSA is not necessarily universally regarded in this light.

With that in mind, I've spent my first two and a half months travelling the country, meeting with employees in Town Halls and talking and listening to passengers, industry partners, local law enforcement and other stakeholders.

I've had the opportunity to learn more about TSA's greatest strengths, as well as some of its challenges and frustrations, and my resulting goals and priorities for taking this agency to the next level are simple and straightforward.

My first two goals go hand-in-hand: I want to sharpen TSA's counterterrorism focus through timely intelligence and cutting-edge technology, and I want to support TSA's workforce, which is currently more than 60,000 members strong, while at the same time challenging them to reach the highest professional standards as a critical component in the U.S. Government's layered security.

The nation relies on the security expertise of our frontline personnel-particularly at our airports and other transit hubs-to prevent terrorists from harming Americans.

But a key lesson I took from my 26 years at the FBI is that one of the best tools we possess in our effort to combat terrorism is accurate and timely intelligence. Our enemies constantly evolve their methods and their tools as we so clearly saw on Christmas Day - and it's our job to stay ahead of them.

That's why I firmly believe that intelligence must drive all that we do at TSA.

I, along with my senior staff, begin each morning with an intelligence briefing. And we work with our law enforcement and intelligence community partners to help inform our decisions and judgments, acknowledging that there are always gaps.

But this alone isn't enough. The need for up-to-the-minute information about the threat we face extends beyond the senior levels of the agency.

Valuable intelligence must be distributed rapidly to our employees in the field-our frontline Transportation Security Officers, Federal Air Marshals, explosive specialists and Behavior Detection Officers, among others - in order to better combat those who would do us harm.

One important change that we're implementing, which I'm pleased to report to you today, is our expansion of secret-level security clearances to a greater number of TSA employees.

TSA's explosive specialists already receive these clearances, but TSA is now providing behavior detection officers, supervisory transportation security officers and transportation security managers with a secret security clearance.

This will impact approximately 10,000 employees and significantly enhances TSA's ability to leverage the best intelligence and elevate our security practices across the board.

We're also working hard to get our employees the cutting-edge technologies they need to protect our aviation system.

Of the $1 billion allocated to TSA under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act or ARRA for aviation security projects-with approximately $741 million dedicated to screening checked baggage and $259 million allocated for airport checkpoint screening and closed circuit surveillance technologies-I am pleased to report today that we have allotted all of that 1 billion.

The investment includes 452 Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) units that will be deployed to the nation's busiest airports - all of which we plan to deploy this year.

Also included are 600 advanced technology (AT) X-ray units for carry-on baggage screening, 500 bottled liquid scanners, over 1,600 new explosive trace detection units and 200 reduced-size explosive detection systems for checked baggage screening, just to name a few.

All this technology is important, but equally important, perhaps more important, are TSA'S partnerships with you and the traveling public.

The security initiatives and standards that TSA currently employs are united by a common factor-they all require the cooperation and partnership of airlines and airports, as well as the American people.

If anyone knows how critical smart security is to the aviation industry, it's you.

So I want your input and your expertise. Security practices are only effective when they are workable for the industry stakeholders that implement them.

This is a dialogue-a partnership.

Over the past several years, TSA has focused on transforming our working relationships with our key aviation stakeholders into strategic partnerships-allowing us to work together on security solutions to help mitigate a dynamic and changing threat landscape.

This collaborative model yields a better, faster security response with reduced impact on our operators. And as TSA's Administrator, I want to continue and expand the valuable partnerships that have been one of the trademarks of our successes over the past nine years.

For example, in July I joined my boss, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, to attend the EAA AirVenture air show and meet with leaders from the general aviation industry, many of whom are here today.

We also made two important announcements underscoring our shared commitment to engaging with the general aviation community.

The first was the launch of the general aviation component of the "If You See Something, Say Something" campaign-which gives general aviation passengers and crew the tools they need to better recognize and report suspicious behaviors and indicators.

We also announced our streamlined process for pre-screening passengers and crews entering and exiting the United States on general aviation aircraft.

We now allow pilots and operators of general aviation flights to submit a single manifest to the Electronic Advance Passenger Information System or eAPIS-U.S. Customs and Border Protection's online tool for submitting general aviation data.

This program fulfills both CBP reporting and TSA international waiver requirements, and is an example of ways we are leveraging the latest technology to make security smarter-eliminating redundancies and making life a little easier for our industry partners, without compromising security.

We are all partners in protecting our aviation system and must remain vigilant as we face a diversity of threats.

This means recognizing that these plots not only originate overseas, but on our own shores.

We all know the threats are out there, and our enemies won't publish the how, when and where of the next attack.

So it is on us to work together-to leverage all our resources and continue an open dialogue about how we can enhance security around the world.

We must also better engage our passengers-and the American public-in our security processes.

By utilizing initiatives such as TSA's "Why" campaign, we are actively educating the public about the reasons behind many of our current security policies.

This helps us create a safer and more positive travel experience for everyone, which in turn improves security.

As you know, Secretary Napolitano and I will be attending the ICAO Assembly in Montreal next week with Department of Transportation Secretary LaHood and Federal Aviation Administrator Babbitt, and we look forward to working with the member countries in our joint efforts to strengthen our global aviation system.

I've been pleased to learn that we in TSA have more than 100 personnel stationed in key locations around the world, addressing these global aviation issues.

The world has changed considerably since the Wright Brothers took those first flights, and this audience is well aware of the rapidly evolving threats that we face today-threats that we never imagined years ago.

Thank you again for having me. I look forward to working with you.