Remarks at the International Aviation Club

Administrator John S. Pistole
Thursday, January 17, 2013
As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Natalie, for that gracious introduction and thank you all for inviting me to join you here today. As Administrator for the Transportation Security Administration, I appreciate the opportunity to meet with industry members and stakeholders to discuss TSA’s mission.

I would like to use my time with you today to discuss some of the day-to-day, operational initiatives that we are developing and implementing to strengthen security and improve the travel experience for everyone. Working with a broad range of public and private partners these efforts are helping us ensure the freedom of movement for people and goods from coast to coast.

As members of the global aviation community, you know better than most that the men and women of TSA proudly serve on the front lines of transportation security. Our mandate requires an uncommon level of commitment, a constant focus, and a dedication to the work that can only be sustained with pride in a job well done and a firm belief in the importance of our mission.

One point eight million passengers and more than four million checked and carry-on bags. That’s the scope of who and what our workforce screened yesterday, and it represents an average day for our screening workforce.

When you consider the significance of transportation, and in particular aviation, to the strength and vitality of the global economy, the importance of securing every passenger, every bag and every piece of cargo cannot be overstated.

With more than a decade of experience, 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. On average, our Transportation Security Officers, or TSOs, carry with them an average of five years’ experience, and throughout the organization nearly 25 percent of our workforce are veterans, still proudly serving their country.

Throughout our first decade of service we focused on building and strengthening a layered approach to transportation security. We trained pilots and flight crews in self-defense, hardened all cockpit doors against unauthorized entry, and now screen 100 percent of domestic air cargo.

With respect to global aviation, President Obama signed the “No-Hassle Flying Act” into law last month. For those who may not know, this legislation gives TSA the authority to waive the rescreening requirement for checked baggage arriving in the United States from a number of pre-clearance LPDs, including airports in Canada, Ireland and the Caribbean.

Measures such as this demonstrate our commitment to finding common-sense solutions to security challenges. Checked baggage that has already been screened at a level commensurate to our own procedures domestically, should not require additional screening upon arrival. We believe passengers connecting on to other destinations will welcome this enhancement most of all.

Across the country, in airports, mass transit stations, at seaports and on the highways, we use layers of security to ensure the safety of the traveling public and the nation's transportation system. Because of their visibility to the public, we are most often associated with the airport checkpoints that are operated by our Transportation Security Officers.

These checkpoints, however, constitute only one security layer of the many TSA has put in place to protect aviation. Others include intelligence gathering and analysis, checking passenger manifests against watch lists, random canine team searches at airports, federal air marshals, federal flight deck officers and more security measures both visible and invisible to the public.

Each one of these layers is capable of stopping a terrorist attack. In combination their security value is multiplied, creating a much stronger, formidable system.  A terrorist who must overcome multiple security layers to successfully carry out an attack is more likely to be pre-empted, discovered, or to fail during the attempt.

From day one we have continuously been refining and evolving our security approach by examining the procedures and technologies we use, as well as evaluating how specific security procedures are carried out, and how individual passenger screening is conducted.

Throughout the transportation system our officers, working in collaboration with our airline and airport partners, have multiple opportunities to effectively prevent any would-be terrorist’s attempt to carry out another attack. Intelligence continues to suggest that aviation remains a favored target for terror networks around the world.

In terms of measurable results, we reached several key goals in our first 10 years, including screening 100 percent of all passengers flying into, out of, and within the United States for terrorism through the Secure Flight program.

This is a behind-the-scenes program that enhances the security of domestic and international commercial air travel through improved watch-list matching. Collecting additional passenger data improves the travel experience for all airline passengers, including those who have been misidentified in the past.

When passengers travel, they are required to provide the following information to the airline; their name, as it appears on the government-issued ID; their date of birth; and their gender.

The airline submits this information to the TSA Secure Flight team, which uses it to perform watch-list matching. This serves to prevent individuals on the No Fly List from boarding an aircraft and to identify other individuals who may present a greater risk for enhanced screening. After matching passenger information against government watch lists, Secure Flight transmits the matching results back to airlines so they can issue passenger boarding passes.

Going forward, we will continue employing risk-based, intelligence-driven operations to prevent terrorist attacks and to reduce the vulnerability of the nation’s transportation system to terrorism.

Risk-Based Security, or RBS, in the passenger screening context allows our dedicated Transportation Security Officers to focus attention on travelers we believe are more likely to pose a risk to our transportation network, while providing expedited screening, and perhaps a better travel experience, to those we consider to pose less risk.

One of the most visible components of the RBS initiative is TSA Pre✓™. This innovative and efficient passenger prescreening effort is currently in dozens of our busiest airports, with plans to continue expanding as both airports and airlines become operationally ready. To date, more than 5 million passengers have gone through the TSA Pre✓™ process.

Feedback from passengers who have opted into TSA Pre✓™ and experienced the associated expedited security screening has been positive, and we expect participation in this trusted-traveler initiative will continue to grow as more and more people become aware of the opportunity.

In addition, we currently provide active-duty members of the United States military with expedited security screening at the airport by allowing those in uniform to keep their boots on unless they alarm the technology. We are also working with the Department of Defense to improve their experience by including military personnel into TSA Pre✓™.

We are also partnering more closely than ever with the airline industry, supporting a 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.

Ongoing efforts to integrate the latest advances in security technologies into our layered approach are also strengthening our ability to remain at least one step ahead of our adversaries.

Advanced Imaging Technology, or AIT, is one example of our commitment to deploying the best available equipment to do the job. AIT safely screens passengers for metallic and nonmetallic threats including weapons, explosives and other objects concealed under layers of clothing without physical contact to help us keep the traveling public safe.

Since making the commitment to AIT, this technology has led to the detection of hundreds of prohibited, illegal or dangerous items at checkpoints nationwide – items that would not be detected by a traditional walk-through metal detector.

In September 2012, we announced a limited procurement for next generation AIT units for the purposes of testing in a laboratory environment. The outcome of that testing will determine if the new technology will be tested in an airport environment. TSA anticipates that next generation AIT units will have enhanced detection capabilities, faster passenger throughput and a smaller footprint.

TSA also makes every effort to protect passenger privacy when deploying new technology, including Advanced Imaging Technology. Between July and September 2011, we installed software upgrades designed to enhance privacy by eliminating passenger-specific images. This Automated Target Recognition, or ATR, software is in place on all millimeter wave units. In addition to strengthening passenger privacy, the new software is a more efficient solution as it eliminates the need for an image operator and remotely located viewing room.

We are looking at other ways to screen smarter and use our resources in a fiscally responsible way to provide the most effective security as efficiently as possible, to strengthen security and measurably improve the travel experience for everyone.

Being an effective partner in the communities we serve requires not only an efficient use of taxpayer resources, but also that we conduct ourselves, every day, according to the highest professional standards.

One of our latest customer service efforts is the presence of passenger support specialists at every airport where TSA provides security screening. These are specially trained employees dedicated to providing on-the-spot assistance to travelers on a wide range of issues.

In addition to the national TSA Cares helpline, these passenger support specialists will be available to help travelers with special needs. In addition, we are hopeful they will demonstrate the ability to ease distressed travelers’ concerns by being experts in screening protocols and able to communicate effectively with all of our customers.

Earning the respect of the traveling public through our actions at the checkpoint is critical to our success. As we have seen in recent years, there’s no question that alert, aware, and informed passengers add great value to our ability to continue strengthening transportation security not only in aviation, but across all modes.

Thank you again for allowing me to speak with you today. At this time, I am happy to open the floor to any of your questions, or if there’s a topic you would like to discuss a little further.