Remarks at the American Association of Airport Executives, 11th Annual AAAE/TSA/DHS Aviation Security Summit

Archived Content

Please note that older content is archived for public record. This page may contain information that is outdated and may not reflect current policy or programs.

If you have questions about policies or procedures, please contact the TSA Contact Center.

Members of the news media may contact TSA Public Affairs.

Administrator John S. Pistole
Crystal Gateway Marriott, Crystal City, VA
Monday, December 12, 2011
As Prepared for Delivery

Good morning. Thank you, Chip, for that kind introduction, and for inviting me to share some thoughts with all of you regarding both the current state of transportation security, and what we at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) are doing, in partnership with organizations such as AAAE, to strengthen it for all American travelers.

Last month we marked the 10th anniversary of ATSA – the Aviation and Transportation Security Act passed by the United States Congress as an important part of our country’s response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Through that legislation, the Transportation Security Administration was created, and it’s been a privilege, these last few months, to help tell the story of how TSA was staffed and operational in less than one year. Many Americans never knew that building TSA required the largest, most complex mobilization of the federal workforce since World War II.

Tens of thousands of Americans answered the call to service – we received hundreds of applications for every vacancy we needed to fill – including numerous military veterans and first responders. Many of these dedicated men and women are still serving their country today.

As for me, some of you know that I was in upstate New York on 9/11 working as an inspector for the FBI. Like many others, the trajectory of my career was impacted by those attacks against our country and I became much more involved in the Bureau’s rapidly expanding counterterrorism operations. Within a year and a half, I was serving as the Assistant Director for Counterterrorism, and in 2004 I was named as the Bureau’s Deputy Director.

I only mention my background because I believe it prepared me to help lead the Transportation Security Administration at an important time in the agency’s history – a time when TSA’s evolution and growth as a high-performing counterterrorism organization is reflected in the risk-based security model we are building.

As TSA Administrator for nearly a year and a half now, I can confidently say that our agency continues to make great progress in all areas of its critical, national security mission. My goal has been to build on TSA’s accomplishments over the last ten years while moving the agency further away from a one-size-fits-all approach to transportation security and toward a system of risk-based and intelligence-driven methods and practices more closely aligned with countering the evolving threats we face.

With the measures we are taking – which I will discuss more fully in just a few minutes – we are trying to reduce the size of the haystack in which a terrorist might be hiding. We recognize that the vast majority of travelers do not pose a threat to our freedom to travel, nor do they threaten our ability to conduct business and move our goods from one place to another, whether that business is carried out in a local, national, or even international marketplace.

Today, I want to begin by briefly highlighting some of our accomplishments now that the book is closed on our first decade of service. I will share some of the successes we’ve seen as a result of deploying state-of-the-art technologies and layers of security, and then I will wrap up my remarks by talking about where we hope to take the organization during its next 10 years and beyond as we approach the busy holiday travel season.

To understand where we are now, it helps to take a brief look back and recall that transportation security before the September 11th terrorist attacks bears little resemblance to the multi-layered system in place today. This is especially true with respect to aviation security, where weaknesses were exploited and thousands were killed.

Remember that before September 11, 2001, there was:
No cohesive system in place to check passenger names against terrorist watch lists 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;
Minimal in-flight security on most flights; and,
A lack of timely intelligence-sharing, in both directions – from the federal level down to the individual airports, as well as from an individual airport up to the national level.

Then our nation was attacked on 9/11, and everything changed. Americans came to understand what those of you in the industry knew instantly – that air travel would never be the same.

Thanks to the effective partnerships we’ve forged, over time, with organizations like AAAE, TSA has achieved a number of significant milestones over the past decade – including meeting key 9/11 Commission recommendations.

These include matching 100 percent of all passengers flying into, out of, and within the United States against government watch lists through the Secure Flight program. It includes screening 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.

And it also includes improving aviation security through technology that provides advanced baggage screening for explosives.

We are seeing the benefits of how these important steps – combined with our multiple layers of security including cutting-edge technology – keep America safe every day. Since TSA was established nearly ten years ago, we have screened more than five billion passengers and detected thousands of firearms among countless prohibited items discovered and prevented those weapons from entering the cabin of an aircraft.

In fact, TSA officers detect, on-average, nearly four firearms every day in carry-on bags at security checkpoints around the country.

Deploying advanced, state-of-the-art technologies continues to factor significantly into our multi-layered approach to transportation security going forward. In particular, we continue to see the efficacy of Advanced Imaging Technology, or “AIT,” machines at hundreds of passenger security checkpoints around the United States. While there is still no perfect technology, AIT gives our officers the best opportunity to detect both metallic and non-metallic threats including improvised explosive devices such as the device Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to detonate on Christmas Day, 2009.

Since January of last year, this technology has helped our officers detect hundreds of prohibited, dangerous, or illegal items on passengers. In addition, as manufacturers continue enhancing the detection capability of their machines, we can upgrade the software used on them accordingly to stay ahead of the rapidly shifting threat landscape.

It’s important to note that, while working hard to deploy the latest technological advancements to secure transportation, we have also taken significant steps to strengthen privacy protections for Advanced Imaging Technology.

This fall, we upgraded all of our millimeter wave units nationwide with new privacy protection software called automated target recognition. This software upgrade further enhances privacy protections by eliminating passenger-specific images and displaying instead a generic outline of a person.

We know that this software also makes the process more efficient. Anytime a piece of new technology gives enhanced security, privacy and greater resource efficiency – that’s a winning formula for everyone. TSA plans to begin testing this software on backscatter AIT units in airports during the coming months.

As good as they are, technologies such as this one do not stand alone. That’s why we continue seeking to add new layers of security as often as we strive to strengthen existing measures, all in an effort to create a more secure transportation system that keeps the traveling public safe.

Today, we also deploy explosive-detection canine teams, behavior detection officers and explosives trace detection, among other layers of security to stay ahead of evolving threats.

And we will always retain random and unpredictable methods so that terrorists aren’t able to go 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, Federal Air Marshals and Federal Flight Deck Officers as well as crewmembers that have been trained in self-defense.

Intelligence – and our ability to use it in real-time – also 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. TSA’s senior leadership team begins every day with a classified intelligence briefing, and we work to share critical information with key industry stakeholders – through forums such as this one – as well as with our frontline officers, through daily shift briefings.

Innovation in technology is enabling us to stay ahead of an adaptive, determined enemy, and TSA is committed to collaborating with our partners in both the public and private sectors to develop, evaluate and deploy those tools that can provide the American people with the most effective security in the most efficient way.

Aviation security is stronger and more rigorous now than it was a decade ago, and one reason for this is that before 9/11, there were very few layers of aviation security, and today there is a robust system with multiple layers of security in place at more than 450 airports across the United States.

So, what do the next 10 years hold for aviation security? I believe it begins with something I mentioned toward the beginning of my remarks, and that is TSA’s commitment to implementing a more risk-based, intelligence-driven approach to aviation security.

In addition to moving away from the one-size-fits-all approach, this strategy is designed to help establish TSA as a high-performing counterterrorism agency. It means focusing our resources on those possible threats we know the least about – as little as name, DOB and gender – as well as those we know the most about – because of their presence on a government watch list. Combine that focus with a more comprehensive use of intelligence – often classified – and we are in a better position to inform the security screening process.

As I mentioned earlier, we are in the middle of a traditionally busy travel season, and with that, we expect to continue seeing higher-than-normal levels of passengers as families and friends come together to celebrate the holidays.

When traveling this holiday travel season, passengers may notice new procedures in place at airports. In addition to the privacy protection software I mentioned, we have begun implementing additional risk-based security measures at numerous airports.

Our recently launched “TSA Pre✓™” initiative is a key component to this effort. This initiative tests our ability 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 better focus their 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 provided 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. Passengers can apply to be eligible for consideration via CBP’s Global Entry program.

By opting into TSA Pre✓™, passengers may qualify for expedited screening at select checkpoints in Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International and Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County, as well as Dallas/Ft. Worth International and Miami International airports.

We are encouraged by the early results from this pre-screening concept with a small passenger population at limited airports. As a result, we are ready to begin expanding TSA Pre✓™ to a few more airports – specifically Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Minneapolis St-Paul in the coming months. Last week I shared the news that United Airlines is joining TSA Pre✓™, and we will continue looking for even more opportunities to expand this initiative to other airlines and airports as they become operationally ready.

If a passenger is selected for expedited screening through TSA Pre✓™, they are directed to a dedicated lane and may be allowed to keep their shoes on, keep laptops and 3-1-1 liquids in their carry-on bags, and also keep their belt and a light jacket on as they go through the checkpoint.

Another piece of our risk-based security initiative involves a partnership with the U.S. Armed Forces, including the Department of Defense, to test the feasibility of including service members in the TSA Pre✓™ expedited screening program.

Earlier this month we began conducting a proof-of-concept at Monterey Regional Airport where we are testing the ability to successfully read Common Access Cards (CAC) issued to service members, and I will be traveling to Monterey later this week to see the program firsthand.

U.S. service members are entrusted to protect citizens with their lives and as such, TSA is recognizing that these members pose very little risk to security. If successful, we will expand this piece of TSA Pre✓™ to even more airports, beginning with those already familiar with the new protocols.

Of course, nothing will ever guarantee that a passenger receives expedited 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.

In addition to TSA Pre✓™, we have also begun testing an initiative to expedite screening for Known Crewmembers, beginning with airline pilots at seven U.S. airports. This concept reflects the core principles of risk-based security: airline pilots are among our most trusted travelers- they’re responsible for the safety of millions of passengers daily.

Also as a part of the risk-based security initiative, we made nationwide changes to the security screening process for passengers 12-and-under. 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 have significantly reduced – though not eliminated – 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 look at strengthening ways to help our officers identify people exhibiting signs that may indicate a potential threat to security. Developed by adapting global best practices, TSA is testing an expanded behavior detection effort at Boston Logan and Detroit Metro Wayne County Airport.

With more than 1.7 million people traveling every day, these initiatives are being piloted at various airports as part of our layered security approach. We value the strong relationships we have with our airport partners around the country and appreciate your continued cooperation as we test and implement these new protocols to ensure the safety and security of the traveling public.

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 strengthening our ability to keep terrorists off commercial aircraft.

In summary, TSA is approaching 2012 with innovation, partnerships, and the pursuit of excellence as the watchwords guiding our organization ever forward. Aviation security in the United States today is more comprehensive, more responsive, and more effective than it has ever been. By continuing to employ more risk-based, intelligence-driven security principles, the men and women of TSA, in partnership with both the aviation industry and the traveling public are strengthening transportation security while also working to improve the overall experience for all of us, whenever and wherever we choose to travel.

Thank you, safe travels, and at this time I am happy to answer any questions you might have.