Remarks at the 6th Annual SARMA Conference

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Deputy Administrator John W. Halinski
Arlington, VA
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
As Prepared for Delivery

Good morning.  Thank you, Phil (Lacombe), for the kind introduction, and thank you all for inviting me to help open the conference.  Given the delay caused by last month’s devastating storm, I am pleased to see so many of you were able to adjust your schedules to be here today.  Before I get started I would also like to thank Kerry Thomas and everyone at SARMA for helping build the strong relationship our two organizations enjoy. When it comes to advancing matters of national security, cooperation and collaboration are vital. And finally, thanks to our friends and colleagues here at George Mason University for hosting all of us.

I appreciate the opportunity to engage with so many dedicated security professionals, and I look forward to sharing some thoughts with all of you this morning. Considering the theme you have chosen for this year’s agenda – “Professionalizing Security Risk Management” – I believe the story of what is happening inside TSA is a great example of this. As many of you know, we at the Transportation Security Administration recently began focusing our efforts toward developing and implementing a series of risk-based, intelligence-driven initiatives.

Of course, this is not a new idea. Following the successful conclusion of the recent Summer Olympic Games in London, in an article published in the Harvard Business Review titled “The Olympics as a Story of Risk Management,” the author included the following observation, and I quote; “Risk mitigation is now integrated into decision making and operations, and no longer treated as just an input into the calculation of insurance premiums.”

Designed to strengthen security throughout our nation’s transportation networks, this operational shift at TSA began a little more than a year ago, with plans to continue or expand many of the changes going forward. This morning, I would like to spend a little time talking about three distinct aspects of TSA’s risk-based security, or RBS, efforts.

First – why are we doing it? What made us believe the theory and principles behind risk-management were a good fit for TSA and its national security mission? Second – I will take a few moments to share some of the operational challenges we have faced, as well as some of the important successes and accomplishments we have realized after just one year of RBS. And third – I believe it is important to talk about the essential role of intelligence in our ability to successfully mitigate risk and move the entire effort forward. After that, and time-permitting, I look forward to any questions you might have.

So, why have we started an RBS approach to security? The short answer is that we understand that a one-size-fits-all approach to transportation security is not the best way to reach our goal of providing the most effective security in the most efficient way. It’s important to remember how rapidly TSA was stood-up in the weeks and months following the 9/11 attacks. It was a massive undertaking, representing the largest mobilization of federal employees since World War II.  Our mission was, and still is, broad and challenging – to ensure the security of a vast and diverse national transportation system.

For example, federalizing the security operations for passengers and cargo at more than 450 airports required processing nearly two million job applications in less than one year.  TSA grew from 13 employees in January 2002 to 60,000 by November of that same year.

Throughout our first decade of service to the traveling public, the men and women of TSA focused on a layered approach to security. We trained pilots and flight crews in self-defense, hardened all cockpit doors against unauthorized entry, worked toward 100% screening of all checked bags and air cargo, and matched every passenger against government watch lists. From curbside to cockpit, our officers, working in collaboration with our airline and airport partners, have multiple opportunities to deter, detect or disrupt any would-be terrorist’s attempt to carry our another attack against the United States.

At the same time, we were always looking for ways to do things better, ways to strengthen the effectiveness of our efforts while also gaining efficiencies. We understood that the overwhelming majority of travelers were not terrorists, and we began to use that premise to modify some of our screening procedures and security protocols to reflect the fact that most people simply wanted to get from point A to point B. I will talk more about these efforts in a few minutes.

Our decision to move the agency away from a one-size-fits-all model and toward one that is based on risk and driven by intelligence demonstrates an understanding that risk can be managed, or mitigated, but not eliminated.

In the aviation sector, where our work is most visible, I think the majority of passengers understand that the only way to eliminate all risk is to stop flying. Considering we perform approximately 1.8 million passenger screenings and 4.5 million bag screenings every day, we also know the likelihood of that happening is practically zero.

The fact that air travel is going to continue to grow, means there will always be a haystack in which that single terrorist we’re looking for will try to hide. The risk-based security initiatives we’re implementing help us reduce the size of that haystack by helping our officers focus their attention on passengers we think present a higher risk, while expediting the security screening for those at the lower end of the risk-assessment spectrum.

Which brings me to a third point with respect to “why a risk-based security,” approach and that is resources.  Basic economics tells us that without an unlimited supply of resources – whether that means money, personnel, expertise, or technology – the fact that we need to accomplish our mission within the framework of a budget requires us to make the best possible choices regarding resource allocation. This is the efficiency side of the equation I mentioned earlier – to provide the traveling public with the most effective security in the most efficient way.

The second aspect of RBS I want to touch upon today is to share with you some of the operational challenges and achievements we have realized just one year after beginning the shift to a risk-based, intelligence driven security system. One of the first challenges we faced can best be described by an old line that many of you might know; “if you seen one airport, well, you’ve seen one airport.”  The unique characteristics of our nation’s 450 federalized airports can make implementing across-the-board operational changes challenging.
In addition, whether we are modifying an existing standard operating procedure, implementing a new process or introducing a new technology under the RBS umbrella, our workforce of approximately 50,000 transportation security officers are tasked with making these changes without missing a beat.

Their training is ongoing and they interact with the traveling public nearly two million times every day.  Considering the challenges they face, I believe our security operations team performs at an exceptionally high level. When it comes to aviation security in particular, we have to get it right every time.

Examples of TSA’s RBS initiative implemented during the past year 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 helping us reduce the size of the haystack, we believe everyone else also benefits from these changes.

One of the most visible components of the RBS initiative is TSA Pre✓™. This innovative and efficient passenger prescreening effort is currently in 33 of our busiest airports, with plans to continue expanding as both airports and airlines become operationally ready.  Feedback from passengers who have opted into TSA Pre✓™ and experienced the associated expedited security screening has been consistently positive, and we hope participation continues to grow as more and more people become aware of the opportunity.

Last month, the number of passengers screened through TSA Pre✓™ surpassed the four million mark, and we fully expect this number to continue growing as new airports are added, and as more passengers opt-in to the program. There are a couple of ways travelers can be included in TSA Pre✓™ . 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.

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. Administrator Pistole recently joined Canadian Transport Minister Steven Fletcher in Ottawa to announce that Canadian citizens who are members of the NEXUS trusted traveler program will soon receive TSA Pre✓™ benefits when flying within the United States.

In addition, we believe active-duty members of the United States military comprise another passenger population that should receive expedited security screening at the airport.  Currently, all military members in uniform and on orders receive expedited screening.  Additionally, 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, even when not traveling in uniform.

Those airports include both Reagan National and Dulles here 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 the airline industry, supporting an effective known crew member initiative that offers expedited security screening for airline pilots and flight attendants.  With each departing flight, these men and women are trusted with the lives of everyone onboard.  We believe it makes sense to screen them accordingly.

In total, more than 46 million passengers have experienced some form of modified security screening since we began implementing these risk-based security initiatives, a little more than one year ago.

The third facet of RBS I want to briefly discuss is the role of intelligence. At TSA, our day begins – every day begins – with a classified intelligence briefing.  Information sharing across the intelligence community strengthens our awareness of the changing shape of the threat landscape and helps drive some of the operational decisions we will make with respect to security screening policies, procedures and protocols. 

Perhaps some of you remember, just about four or five months ago, we learned of the second attempt by AQAP – al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula – to carry out an attack on a passenger aircraft by using an improvised explosive device, or IED, that was completely non-metallic.

It featured an innovative design and concealment technique that was similar to the Christmas Day, 2009 attempted attack.  This device, however, involved a different explosive, as well as a more sophisticated initiation and detonation system than the device that failed in 2009.  This new device also had a new level of redundancy, or a back-up, in the event the primary system failed.

Clearly, this is evidence that these groups are going to school on what they believe are the limits of our detection capabilities, and it shows that their intentions to replicate the death and destruction of 9/11 has not wavered.

Through the extraordinary work and remarkable cooperation of four intel services, this improvised explosive device was handed over to an undercover operative, and not to a potential suicide bomber.

Working with the intelligence community, we proactively recalibrated our explosive trace detection equipment across the United States, increasing our capabilities and further strengthening our ability to detect and disrupt attempted attacks using this new explosive.  And we encouraged our international partners to do the same.

Consider the steady string of attempted attacks in the eleven years since 9/11; Richard Reid, the so-called shoe bomber in December 2001, the August 2006 liquids plot to bring down multiple aircraft between the UK and the United States, the Christmas Day, 2009 failed bombing by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and the October 2010 Yemen cargo plot in which sophisticated IEDs were placed inside  toner cartridges and placed on cargo flights coming to the United States.

Add to that list the most recent attempt and it is abundantly clear that our enemies still consider the destruction of passenger or cargo aircraft either inside or flying into the United States as their number one priority.

I can also say that, currently, there is no known or credible intelligence indicating an attack is imminent.  But as Administrator Pistole has recently pointed out, our greatest concern is not necessarily with those on a no-fly list, those with some known affiliation or association with terrorist organizations.  We know they warrant greater scrutiny and screening when and if they attempt to fly.

Instead, it’s the radicalized individual who has somehow acquired the skill and ability to build an improvised explosive device and try to bring it onboard an aircraft, whether in checked or carry-on baggage.

That’s why intelligence is critical, and why our role as one piece of a broad national security spectrum must continue working in partnership inside and outside the United States intelligence community. We know the stakes are too high to fail.

Throughout our first ten years of service, the security professionals at TSA helped the agency make big, important strides toward achieving the national security mandate to which we are committed. Embracing risk-based methodologies will continue to play an important role going forward, as we work even harder to earn and keep the public’s trust as a modern, high-performing counterterrorism organization. Thank you once again for inviting me to share some thoughts with all of you, and I am happy to open the floor to your questions at this time.

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