Remarks at the Airports Security International Conference and Exhibition

Administrator John S. Pistole
Monday, May 27, 2013
As Prepared for Delivery

Good day. Before I begin, I wish to thank His Highness Prince Fahd Bin Abdullah Bin Mohammed Al Saud and the staff of the General Authority of Civil Aviation for their work in organizing this conference, and for the gracious hospitality you have extended. I am particularly pleased to take part in an event such as this, because it underscores the importance of international collaboration and engagement to the ultimate success of our global aviation security efforts.

This morning I want to share some thoughts with all of you regarding the state of international transportation security, including an update of where we stand in our effort to continue implementing additional risk-based security procedures, as well as efforts to extend and promote the adoption of risk-based and intelligence- driven security strategies internationally.

Threats today transcend national borders and affect the security and economic prosperity of the entire international community. As a result, collaboration with international partners is critical to securing civil aviation networks in an efficient and cost-effective way. We are united in our desire to accomplish this goal around the globe – and to do so in a cooperative and mutually beneficial way.

Though the Transportation Security Administration’s mission includes all modes of transportation, there’s no doubt we are most often associated with our work throughout our nation’s airports. For the better part of the last two years, the men and women of TSA have been hard at work transforming the organization from one that screened every passenger the same – the “one-size-fits-all” approach – to one that employs a more thoughtful and effective, risk-based, intelligence-driven model.

Around the world, our workforce is engaged and our officers are using the latest technology, analyzing and sharing intelligence in real time, and applying the principles of risk-mitigation and risk-management to carry out TSA’s mission – safeguarding the free movement of people and commerce across all modes of transportation.

From an international perspective, TSA has made a serious commitment to working with our partners and allies around the world. TSA currently has 30 TSA Representatives stationed at U.S. embassies and consulates across the globe. The mission of these men and women is to share TSA’s best practices in the field of aviation security and to promote the achievement of international standards with host government aviation security representatives.

Just last year we opened an office in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. By opening this office and continuing to conduct engagement out of our office in Amman, Jordan, this has allowed us to coordinate closely with our many partners in the Gulf Region. In fact, we at TSA have been actively engaged in strengthening global aviation security for nearly twelve years, evolving our approach and making operational changes designed to improve both the efficiency and the effectiveness of our security model.

Over that time there have been lessons learned that may help you in your efforts. Sharing best practices is one of the key aspects of a cooperative security strategy.

In large part, many of the operational changes I’m referring to can already be seen at many of the United States’ busiest airports.  In the latter half of 2011, we began looking at additional information to help us determine if there were certain age-based decisions we could make.  In other words, did current intelligence indicate the possibility of modifying our security screening protocols to expedite the movement of some passengers through the checkpoint based solely on their age? We believe the answer to that was, and is, yes.

The first group of passengers to receive some form of modified and expedited checkpoint security screening were children 12 years of age or younger. We began a pilot program at a small number of airports in early 2012, and the feedback from the traveling public was immediate and positive, leading us to expand this initiative to all 450-plus airports across the United States. Since then, more than 40 million children have made their way through airport security a little quicker and perhaps a little easier, without compromising security.

Similar changes were then tested for passengers age 75 and older. We followed the model established for young travelers and tested the concept in a handful of airports, analyzed the results and rolled it out across the country in the first half of 2012.

Recent data indicate this change has allowed another 17 million passengers to experience modified security screening since we implemented the new protocols.  In both cases – whether a passenger is 12 and younger or 75 and older – the changes to the way they are screened are the same; that is, they are permitted to wear a belt, their shoes, and a light jacket throughout the screening process. In addition, children may be permitted a second pass through Advanced Imaging Technology to resolve a blurred scan in an effort to greatly reduce the need for any sort of pat down.

Perhaps the most impactful initiative begun under the broad umbrella of risk-based security is TSA Pre✓™, a known and trusted traveler type of program built on the understanding that most passengers pose no risk to aviation security.

In addition to the screening modifications in place for passengers 12 and younger or 75 and older, TSA Pre✓™ passengers are screened in dedicated lanes and are not required to remove their laptops or their 3-1-1 compliant liquids from their carry-on bags. Our goal was to roll out this program to 35 of the nation’s busiest airports in 2012, and we succeeded in doing so. Early in 2013 we added another five airports, bringing that total to 40, and as of last week more than 10  million passengers have been safely screened through TSA Pre✓™.

We believe there are measurable benefits associated with such an approach to aviation security. Increasing throughput at our nation’s busiest airports provides significant value to frequent, trusted travelers.

At the same time, reducing the amount of time our officers devote to screening low-risk travelers increases the resources available to deter and detect the next attack. This is a fundamental principle on which risk-mitigation strategies such as TSA Pre✓™ are built.

The ongoing success of several other risk-based security initiatives at airports around the country comes as a result of enhanced cooperation between TSA, the airline industry, and the traveling public. As many of you know, one example of this is a known crew member program through which commercial airline pilots and flight crews receive expedited security screening from Transportation Security Officers.

Airline pilots are entrusted with the security of the aircraft and the lives of every passenger onboard each time they fly.  Flight crew members all undergo similar background checks as a condition of their employment. These individuals are known and, if they are in good standing with their employers, they do not pose a security risk and should be screened accordingly. To date, more than 6 million crew members have been screened using a risk-based methodology.

As men and women who put their lives on the line every day, United States active duty military members are also receiving expedited security screening at airport checkpoints around the country.

Of course, checkpoint security screening is only one layer of a multi-layered security system that stretches from curbside to cockpit, and while the capability to detect, deter or disrupt a potential attack exists in any single layer, the combined effect of all layers produces an even stronger aviation security system, and one that we hope can serve as a model for countries around the world.  Working with our international partners is a top priority for TSA; sharing best practices in a cooperative environment raises the bar and makes all of us more secure.

Along those same lines, I want to update all of you on changes we are proposing to the list of items currently prohibited from being carried into the cabin of an aircraft – most notably small, folding pocket knives.    

This news was met with both criticism and support by passengers, members of the United States Congress, the news media, and industry stakeholder groups. I have personally met with many of those who oppose my decision and I understand and appreciate their concerns. I went to Capitol Hill and answered lawmakers’ questions regarding these changes, including discussions in a classified setting to share with them some of the intelligence that helped form the basis for my decision.

While our original intention was to make these changes effective at the end of April, we are still gathering input from key stakeholders and have delayed implementation until that process is complete.

As most of you in this room are aware, back in August 2010, the International Civil Aviation Organization changed aviation security standards to permit knives with a blade length of 6 cm or less to be carried in the cabin of aircraft.

Since that global change, and excluding U.S. originating passengers, there have been more than 5 billion commercial airline passengers worldwide allowed to carry these knives.  We are unaware of any report of a security incident aboard any commercial aircraft worldwide involving these items.

With hardened cockpit doors, better identification of individual passengers against terrorist watch lists, and the demonstrated willingness of passengers to intervene to assist flight crew during a security incident, it is the judgment of many security experts worldwide, a judgment with which I agree, that a small pocket knife is simply not going to result in the catastrophic failure of an aircraft. An undetected and successfully detonated improvised explosive device will.

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 December 25, 2009, failed bombing by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab; the October 2010 air cargo plot in which sophisticated IEDs were placed inside toner cartridges and placed on cargo flights coming to the United States. In each instance, the attempt to bring down an aircraft began overseas, targeting flights originating elsewhere and flying into the United States.

Most recently, in the spring of 2012, due to outstanding international intelligence collection, operations and coordination, the United States and other governments thwarted a 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 a concealment technique that was similar to the December 25, 2009, attempted attack.  This device, however, involved a new type of 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 attack the aviation sector have not wavered.

This most recent attempt also underscores the fact that our enemies still consider the destruction of passenger or cargo aircraft as their number one priority. Inside TSA, one of our greatest concerns is not necessarily with those on a watch list or with some known affiliation or association with terrorist organizations. We know these individuals warrant and receive greater scrutiny and screening when and if they attempt to fly. Instead, it’s the unknown radicalized individual who has somehow acquired the skill and ability to build an improvised explosive device and tries to bring it onboard an aircraft, whether in checked or carry-on baggage.

Plots such as this affirm that our focus at the checkpoint must be detecting improvised explosive devices and the components that could be used to construct IEDs. It also underscores the fact that intelligence is critical, and that strong, timely collaboration, both domestically and internationally, is essential, and why our efforts as one piece of a global aviation security spectrum must remain focused.

So, what else is ahead for TSA? What can travelers at U.S. airports expect to see in the coming months and years?

Considering the success of TSA Pre✓™, from both a security perspective and the positive effect on passenger throughput, one of our primary objects in the near term is to continue growing the population of eligible travelers in locations where TSA Pre✓™ is already up and running.

As I mentioned earlier, there are now 40 airports offering expedited screening through TSA Pre✓™, with system-wide volumes expected to reach more than 1 million passengers each month.

We are also expanding the TSA Pre✓™ population through an initiative known as Managed Inclusion.  By combining other layers of security already in place – in this case Behavior Detection Officers and passenger screening canines – we are making real-time threat assessments to more fully utilize TSA Pre✓™ screening lanes in airports where they are not operating at their full capacity.

As with all of our risk-based security initiatives, there is an element of randomness to Managed Inclusion and not all passengers considered for TSA Pre✓™ screening are directed to those checkpoints every time they fly.

When it comes to strengthening aviation security, anything we can do to help focus our resources on potentially higher-risk individuals is beneficial for all of us, so we are looking at more opportunities to increase passenger awareness and more ways for passengers to use TSA Pre✓™, encouraging greater participation when we can.  

International travel also provides another way to continue expanding the TSA Pre✓™ population. We began doing this last year by including Canadian citizens who are members of the NEXUS trusted-traveler program and are flying domestically throughout the United States.

Earlier this month we began extending TSA Pre✓™ screening to international travel by including outbound flights from participating airports, as well as domestic connecting flights for TSA Pre✓™ passengers arriving into the United States from international origins. We feel strongly that there is a benefit to expanding TSA Pre✓™ and working closely with our international partners whose own trusted traveler programs can provide a commensurate level of security around the world. 

Taking the principles of risk-based security and applying them beyond our borders is a sensible approach to what is clearly a concern for the aviation industry worldwide.

Thank you once again for inviting my participation here today, and I look forward to working more collaboratively with our  international partners as we continue strengthening aviation security for all travelers.