Remarks at the United States Conference of Mayors

Administrator John S. Pistole
Friday, January 18, 2013
As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Mayor Parker for those kind words of introduction, and thank you all for inviting me to join you here today.  As Administrator for the Transportation Security Administration, I appreciate being able to meet with so many others who are dedicated to serving the American people, and I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of your conversation.

We at TSA are dedicated to engaging the American people in an open and frank discussion on the nature of the threats we face and what we are doing to not only strengthen transportation security, but also improve the travel experience whenever possible.

Perhaps some of you remember, less than one year 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 intelligence services, this improvised explosive device was handed over to an undercover operative, and not to a potential suicide bomber.

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 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, why collaboration at every level of government is essential, and why our role as one piece of a broader national security spectrum must remain strong. We know the stakes are too high to fail.

I would like to use some of my time with you today discussing a few 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 leaders of the cities and towns in which we all work, you see the men and women of TSA proudly serving on the front lines of transportation security; in airports, at train stations, at seaports and across the highways that connect us.

We work in your communities and our mandate requires an uncommon level of commitment, a constant focus, and a dedication that can only be sustained with pride in a job well done and a firm belief in the importance of our mission.  And that mission involves some pretty big numbers. 

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.   

Early on, 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.

Across the country, throughout all modes of our vast transportation network, we use layers of security to ensure the safety of the traveling public and the national infrastructure that supports our movement from point A to point B. 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. With more than a decade of experience, we understand that there is no single solution to transportation security – no one method that will work in every city, every day.

Over the last year and a half, we began modifying some of our procedures, and changing the way we think about security.  These changes demonstrate a fundamental shift away from a “one-size-fits-all” method of screening and sought to replace that with procedures based on managing, or mitigating, risk.

We’re maximizing resources and focusing our efforts on those passengers who may present a greater risk – and by and large the traveling public supports these initiatives.  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.  I hope that includes at least a few of you.

We are encouraged by the feedback we receive from passengers who have opted into TSA Pre✓™ and experienced the associated expedited security screening.  Throughout 2013 we expect participation in this trusted-traveler initiative will continue to grow as more and more people become aware of the opportunity. We are also considering other ways to increase the trusted traveler population and hope to have more details on that soon.

In addition, we 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.

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.

This includes our efforts to educate the traveling public.  A good example of this is our commitment to ensuring that all passengers understand the proper procedures for traveling with a declared firearm. Other examples include public awareness campaigns to advise travelers that a particular process has been modified, as they were last year for children 12-and-younger and adults 75-and-older.   

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.