Remarks at AVSEC World 2010

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Administrator John S. Pistole
Frankfurt, Germany
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
As Prepared for Delivery

Good morning!

Thank you Guenther for that very kind introduction.

I also want to thank IATA, in particular Director General Bisignani and Lufthansa for sponsoring this conference in this beautiful and historic city, and for giving me the opportunity to talk about my vision for United States aviation security as we move forward in an era of worldwide engagement to make our skies safe and protect our freedoms.

As we are all no doubt aware, that freedom came under threat last week when individuals with ties to al Qaida in Yemen attempted to conceal and ship explosive devices in cargo on board aircraft, transiting through several nations represented here today and ultimately bound for the U.S.

Now, I’ve been planning to speak here for a while and have a speech in store for you, but I first I want to talk a little about what has happened over the last several days.


Last Thursday evening, I received a phone call from the President’s top counterterrorism advisor, John Brennan, informing me of a credible terrorist threat of a plot seeking to exploit a challenge we all know we have: securing the huge volume of cargo shipped on airplanes every year.

That evening the President directed U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies, and the Department of Homeland Security to take steps to ensure the safety and security of the American people, and to determine whether these threats were part of any additional terrorist plot.

We worked through the night, staying in close contact both within the U.S. government and with our international partners and key allies.

With constant communication and sharing of information, we were able to identify this threat and disrupt it before it did any harm.

Since Thursday, at the direction of the President and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, we have taken additional measures to enhance cargo screening, including temporarily grounding all packages originating from Yemen destined for the United States and deploying a team of inspectors to assist the Government of Yemen with their cargo screening procedures.

Our team will work closely with Yemen, offering expertise and guidance, as they take steps improve security.

This latest disrupted plot highlights both that we face a determined and creative enemy, and that we have a critical need for global interdependence in aviation security.

We have a delicate balance to strike. The flow of global commerce is key to economic recovery. Security cannot bring business to a standstill.

But we must strike the balance.

I assure you that the United States government understands this well.

Protecting freedom of movement is at the heart of our mission.

Priorities for TSA:

I came to TSA after 26 years at the FBI – a time that included playing a role in the United States’ investigation and response to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. I bring with me a view of aviation security through that lens, and that experience has informed the priorities in my new role.

My job, as I see it, is to lead TSA through the next stage in its development as our young agency matures into a high-performance, world-class organization.

Now we have to do our job better and smarter. We can’t just look for prohibited items because there’s a list that says we have to and we shouldn’t spend time trying to decipher between 3 ounces and 100 milliliters.

We have to reshape our security approach so everyone recognizes what it is: one part of a continuum that comprises the national security mission of the United States.

To make that happen, I have three basic priorities.

I want to:

Improve TSA’s counterterrorism focus through intelligence and cutting edge technology;

Support the TSA workforce; and

Strengthen the agency’s relationships with stakeholders and the traveling public.

All of these priorities are interconnected and are vital to TSA’s mission – and, I would say, all of our collective mission.

International Aviation Security:

I’m happy to talk at length about each of these priorities, but today I want to concentrate on the third and discuss where we’re headed – both the “we” in the United States and the “we” comprising all of us involved in aviation security around the world.

The theme of AVSEC this year is “Intelligent Security Through Collaboration” – a topic that couldn’t be more timely.

The attempted terrorist attack on Northwest Flight 253 on Dec. 25, 2009, in which Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried and failed to detonate concealed explosives, drove home the continuing importance of aviation security to people around the world and emphasized the international character of the threat.

This attack was undertaken by the privileged son of a wealthy Nigerian banker who attended school in the United Kingdom, received terrorist training in Yemen, purchased his ticket on a U.S. carrier in Ghana, and flew from Nigeria to Amsterdam to Detroit.

This plot also underscored the reality that, despite decades of advances in screening and significant reforms following 9/11, our global security network still faces an ever-evolving threat.

We all have a responsibility in sharing this network – governments, airlines, airports, industry, and the public.

The threat we face moves across borders with ease – divisions of nationality or geography are of no consequence.

To meet this threat, we have to ensure that while we respect these boundaries, our security efforts cannot be bound by them.

Following the attempted Dec. 25 terrorist attack, at the President’s direction and led by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, the United States engaged governments around the world at five regional summits on five continents, in a renewed effort to strengthen international aviation security.

Additionally, IATA and ACI engaged the world’s aviation industry to complement this significant effort.

This impressive showing of global cooperation reminded us that aviation security is a shared responsibility. We all face a similar threat environment that evolves as quickly as we can develop mitigation measures.

To improve security, we have to continue to work together.

It is through information sharing, development of best practices, and continual evaluation of risk that we will, together, as one community, continue to mitigate the threat.

Last month’s ICAO meeting in Montreal was a clear illustration of this shared commitment.

And the ratification of the historic Joint Declaration on Aviation Security reaffirmed that when we come together with a common purpose, important work can get done.

But we all acknowledge that there is room for us to build on this success.

In the wake of this declaration, I look forwarding to working with all of you to better identify new and emerging threats, to enhance ICAO standards and recommended practices, to increase information sharing, and to improve and deploy the best technology.


As I mentioned earlier, deploying cutting-edge technology is vital to our mission of improving aviation security. But technology is only useful if we can depend on its reliability.

And it will only be reliable if we all work together to implement the best technology in airports around the world.

Just one weak link could render all our collective efforts ineffective.

One piece of new technology that we’re focusing on in the United States, and that we believe has an important role in the future of aviation security, is Advanced Imaging Technology, or “body scanners,” some refer to it.

In the spirit of our commitment to engage the international community, the United States will host an “Advanced Imaging Technology Policy Summit” next week to continue the discussions around AIT.

Approximately 30 countries will be in attendance.

The summit will cover a wide range of policy questions including deployment strategy, safety, privacy, legal challenges, checkpoint configuration, and more.

We will also demonstrate the technology in both a controlled and live airport environment.

In the United States, we have deployed nearly 350 AIT units in nearly 70 U.S. airports. By the end of calendar year 2011, we plan to have deployed approximately 1,000 units.

As we rapidly deploy technology as it exists today, we are also exploring enhancements to it, such as Automated Target Recognition (ATR), or auto-detection software.

ATR is already in use at Schipol, the airport in Amsterdam, and is being tested elsewhere.

This capability would make screening more efficient and would eliminate most privacy concerns about the technology.

AIT has an important role in the future of aviation security, but the possibilities for new technology don’t stop there.

In the U.S., we’re also working on a long-term, technology-based solution for screening liquids, aerosols and gels, while recognizing that those of you who are part of the E.U. are also moving quickly to meet the April, 2013 deadline.

Restrictions on these items burden travelers and make air travel less efficient. But until an acceptable solution exists, they remain an important layer of security.

Part of the solution will include carry-on baggage X-ray units that use advanced technology to distinguish between liquids that present a threat and those that do not.

The solution will also rely on specialized bottled liquid scanners, advanced imaging technology, and explosives trace detection technology.

Additionally, worth noting given recent events, the U.S. currently has dozens of qualified technologies for use in air cargo screening and is working with industry to further develop new technologies.

We are making progress, and you can be assured that the United States is committed to this engagement on technology development and we look forward to working with all of you on this important effort.

Checkpoint of the Future:

As I wrap up, I’d just remind all of us that this new technology only adds up to part of the picture for the future of checkpoint screening.

It’s important that we continue to discuss what the future holds, but the outlines are clear:

New technologies must be developed that can rapidly identify and respond to emerging threats.

New hardware platforms should be developed that are “future proof” and can be upgraded with additional functionality as it's developed.

And screening equipment should be consolidated for better performance and a better screening experience for the public.

The bottom line is that the future must be focused on providing the best possible security for travelers in a way that provides greater scrutiny to those who need greater scrutiny, and not using a cookie cutter approach for everybody.


As I learned at the FBI, and as we’ve seen demonstrated over the last week, accurate and timely intelligence is the best tool we have in our fight against terrorism.

Our enemies are observant, patient, stealthy and ruthless. They constantly evolve their methods and tools – and it’s our job to stay ahead of them.

We were reminded of this yet again over the past several days.

Security depends on all of us here in this room working constructively to achieve it and protect our citizens’ freedom to travel and do business.

This has already been a landmark year for improving security through collaboration.

We can applaud what the AVSEC community has achieved, but we know that much work still lies ahead.

Only through interdependence and cooperation will we achieve our mission.

Events like those of last week cannot deter us – they must embolden us and motivate us to work diligently.

I look forward to working with you all in the days and years to come.

The threats are real and the stakes are high.

We must – and we will – prevail.

Thank you.