Remarks at the DHS Aviation Security Summit

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Administrator John S. Pistole
Arlington, VA
Monday, December 10, 2012
As Prepared for Delivery

Good morning.  Thank you, Chip (Barclay, AAAE president), for that kind introduction, and thank you for inviting me, once again, to meet and talk with so many colleagues actively working to improve and strengthen the aviation industry.  That is an objective we share, and taking time to brainstorm and collaborate with each other at meetings such as this is valuable to the process.

At TSA, we begin each day with an intelligence briefing, where sensitive information, often classified information, collected by the global intelligence community is shared and reviewed.  It reminds us that the threat of terrorism remains very much an operational consideration, and the consequences of being unprepared to prevent another attack would be devastating.

We should never forget that citizens from 115 countries were killed in the September 11, 2001 attacks.  This sort of indiscriminate destruction and the resulting economic instability could have dire and long-lasting consequences for all of us.  Because of this, efforts aimed at strengthening global aviation security by implementing policies and procedures that mitigate, or manage, risk is one of TSA’s highest priorities.

Today I will briefly discuss the current operational status of various risk-based security efforts, providing updates and inviting your thoughts and discussion on where we should go from here.

So, to get things started, let me spend a few minutes sharing with you some of the progress we have made this year in modifying and enhancing some of the critical aviation security procedures in place throughout this sector of our national transportation network.  These changes are occurring primarily in the airport security screening operations, and they demonstrate our commitment to adopting some of the same risk-based security principles that have been successful in other transportation sectors.

Of course, as we gain greater understanding of how best to apply a risk-based approach across all transportation sectors, we will reevaluate our current approach wherever it is beneficial to do so, and then work with partners such as all of you to implement any changes deemed appropriate.

As most of you know, examples of the risk-based security, or RBS, initiatives which we have been implementing during the past year and a half include modified security screening for passengers in two distinct age groups; those 12 and younger as well as those 75 and older. As a result of the added efficiency these changes have brought to the security screening process, by reducing the size of the haystack, we believe everyone else requiring security screening also benefits.

Perhaps the most visible components of the RBS initiative is TSA Pre✓™. This innovative and efficient passenger prescreening effort is operational in 32 of our busiest airports, with plans to continue expanding as both airports and airlines become ready.  Tomorrow, in fact, Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport becomes the 33rd airport to offer expedited security screening to those passengers who have opted into the program, and I will be visiting California next week when TSA Pre✓™ operations get underway in Orange County, where we will reach our goal of expanding to 35 of our busiest airports this year.

Last month, the number of passengers screened through TSA Pre✓™ surpassed four million, and we expect to reach the five-million mark right around Christmas Day.  With a base of 35 TSA Pre✓™ airports heading into 2013, we expect this number to continue growing at a rate of 1 million or more passengers each month as new airports are added, and as more passengers opt-in to the program.

Participating airlines will continue reaching out to their frequent flyers, and I encourage anyone contacted by the airlines to give this initiative a try.  Others can apply for membership with the existing U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Trusted Traveler programs, such as Global Entry, which qualifies them for inclusion in the TSA Pre✓™ initiative.   If you are not already enrolled in Global Entry, I strongly encourage each of you to consider applying to that program.

The TSA Pre✓™ initiative is enabling us to focus our resources on those passengers who could pose a higher risk, while providing expedited screening to those we consider low-risk, trusted travelers.

You may be interested to hear that one of the key objectives we have for RBS in 2013 and beyond is to expand many of these efforts beyond our own borders – though the details of how and when and where we can do these things are still being discussed.  We began this process just recently by including Canadian citizens who are member of the Nexus trusted traveler program into the TSA Pre✓™ population when flying domestically here in the United States.  

In addition, we understand that active-duty members of the United States military comprise another passenger population that should receive expedited security screening at the airport and we are moving in this direction. We have identified four airports that a large number of active duty military members currently use for travel and have modified our security screening protocols accordingly.

Those airports include both Reagan National and Dulles in the Washington DC area, as well as Charlotte-Douglas and Seattle-Tacoma International Airports where more than 100,000 members of our Armed Forces have been screened using these new protocols.

TSA is also partnering more closely than ever with many of you inside the airline industry, supporting the known crew member initiative that offers expedited security screening for airline pilots and flight attendants.  With each departing flight, these highly trained and vetted men and women are trusted with the lives of everyone onboard.  We believe it makes sense to screen them accordingly.

Risk based security initiatives underscore our belief, as I mentioned in the beginning of my remarks, that risk can be managed but not eliminated.  Security experts around the world agree that the only way to eliminate all risk associated with transportation is to stop traveling, and we all know that’s not about to happen.  In fact, we are confident the opposite is true, and passenger volume will only increase over time.  Focusing security resources where they can do the most good is the most efficient way to provide effective security for everyone.

Now, I think most of us will agree that commerce is one of the most essential drivers of the global economy.  It is also reasonable to believe that growth and prosperity, whether on a local, national or international scale are incumbent on the ability to conduct business securely. When there is uncertainty, especially with regard to something as fundamental as security, the global supply chain is slowed, which is often counterproductive to the trade environment needed to promote the economic expansion we all would like to see.

At TSA we are taking an approach that seeks to strengthen the global supply chain through process improvement, as opposed to increasing the regulatory burden already on our foreign government and foreign industry partners.  We believe this, in turn, helps eliminate uncertainty and as a result has the potential to support and stimulate economic growth.

One of the key elements of our strategy for securing the inbound movement of cargo to the United States is the National Cargo Security Program (NCSP) process because it enables industry to follow a single program, and provides TSA with compliance visibility. The ability to have visibility to compliance is as important overseas as it is here in the U.S. 

I’m sure some of you recall that this initiative began several years ago, but response within the industry was a little slow, and there didn’t seem to be a pressing need to take things to the next level – until the Yemen cargo plot in October 2010, a little more than two years ago.

Attempted air cargo attacks such as this illustrate the reality of the threat, and are a clear indication that disrupting the flow of commerce by any means necessary is a goal of terror organizations.  And because just about all air traffic includes some level of cargo, this threat impacts passenger carriers as well as all-cargo carriers.

Through the NCSP TSA “recognizes” an individual country’s cargo security program and allows carriers to follow it when sending cargo to the United States IF we deem it to be commensurate with TSA requirements via a system-to-system comparison.  Doing this reduces the need for industry to apply duplicative requirements under two security programs, those of both the origin and destination countries, for cargo moving inbound to the United States.  It’s good for business.

As far as what’s ahead for TSA, I expect we will continue to see a combination of both technological advancement and process improvement as contributing factors in our success as a 21st century counterterrorism organization.  Our adversaries have made it clear they have the desire to attack us again, and they have also shown an ability to adapt their methods in an attempt to overcome the layers of security we’ve put in place over the last ten-plus years.

A key element of our RBS initiatives is shifting the focus of security efforts from primarily a search for objects to identifying individuals who pose an elevated risk to commercial aviation.  We know that very few of the passengers who fly each day pose a higher level of risk, and the challenge is how we can separate out those we can identify as posing a lower risk and allowing them to proceed through an expedited physical screening process.

From an international perspective, the work we are doing to harmonize both passenger and cargo security with our partners around the world will continue, and I believe information sharing and developing a common set of transportation security best practices will continue to be a priority for working to ensure the security of the aviation industry, both here and abroad.

Thank you, once again, for the invitation to join you here this morning.

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