Remarks at Airports Council International – North America

Administrator John S. Pistole
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
As Prepared for Delivery

Good morning, thank you Deborah for the introduction, and thank you all for the gracious reception. I appreciate the opportunity to be with you this morning, and today I want to use my time to share some thoughts regarding the state of aviation security in North America and how we can continue working together to strengthen it in the most efficient way. In doing so, I will talk a little bit about what we at TSA see as the current threat environment in commercial aviation, and the programs and initiatives we are implementing to address those threats and mitigate the risks they represent.

Before we begin, I also wish to thank ACI/NA – especially those of you involved in planning and hosting this year’s conference here in Toronto. TSA values its relationship with ACI/NA, and throughout our organizations there is an understanding that collaborative partnerships such as the one we share are helping strengthen aviation security for all of us.

With respect to the evolving security challenges we all face today, one of the principal concerns we have is the continued migration to more non-metallic threats such as liquid and plastic explosives. Because of this, we need to be agile and adept. We also need to have the flexibility to modify our procedures and the technical expertise to recalibrate the equipment our officers use to detect the latest threats. In addition, it is essential to strengthen and increase collaborative efforts across the global intelligence community.

Attempted attacks in the 12 years since 9/11 have all originated overseas; First there was Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, in December 2001. Then, in August 2006 there was the liquids plot, a failed attempt to coordinate the destruction of multiple aircraft between the UK and the United States. Three years later, on Christmas Day, 2009, terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab failed in his attempt to detonate a non-metallic improvised explosive device concealed in his underwear. Less than one year after that, in October, 2010, a plot out of Yemen to destroy a cargo aircraft over the United States was thwarted when security officials in the UK discovered sophisticated IEDs hidden inside printer toner cartridges.

And most recently, in the spring of 2012, there was a second attempt by Al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula, AQAP, to attack western interests and specifically the commercial aviation industry. Like the Christmas Day 2009 bombing, this attempt also involved a concealed, completely nonmetallic IED. Linked to the terrorist organization’s leading bomb-maker, Ibrahim al-Asiri, this latest device featured more effective concealment and an innovative design.

Thanks to outstanding international intelligence coordination, the United States and its allies detected AQAP’s intentions and the planned attack was stopped in its tracks. This device also involved a new type of explosive, as well as a more sophisticated initiation and detonation system and a new level of redundancy if the primary system failed. Clearly, our adversaries are going to school on our detection capabilities and adjusting their efforts in an attempt to circumvent the defenses and protections we have put in place. One thing we can be sure of – their intention to attack U.S. and western interests has not wavered over time.

To effectively counter or mitigate those intentions, the focus of our security officers at the checkpoint must be detecting improvised explosive devices and the various components that could be used to construct IEDs.

I have a brief video clip that demonstrates the destructive power of such a device. The FBI staged this demonstration to simulate the damage that could be done to the skin of an aircraft if a device like this is ever successfully detonated onboard an aircraft.

When we see something like that, it strengthens our resolve. When we see the damage that a relatively small amount of explosives can do, we know there is no room for error and we must make every effort prevent these materials from ever entering the cabin of an aircraft.

A little more than two years ago, TSA began to conceptualize and implement policies and procedures designed to shift the focus of our agency’s efforts away from the "one-size-fits-all" security approach that was put in place in the weeks and months immediately following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Given the unprecedented scope of those attacks, combined with the relatively little we knew about our adversary and their capabilities at the time, it made a certain amount of sense to apply the same security screening protocols to every passenger.

Over the course of its first decade and now well into its second, the ability of our agency to gather and analyze the most current and salient intelligence has evolved. More and more, our security officers, and those we work with around the world, are using the latest technology to analyze and share intelligence in real time. Throughout TSA, this information is shaping our ability to apply effective and efficient risk-mitigation principles to security screening operations.

It is likely that many of you have witnessed some fundamental changes to the way we carry out our mission, changes that can be seen in many of our nation’s busiest airports. The components of TSA’s suite of risk-based security initiatives, or RBS for short, began with a pair of well-received and sensible age-based screening modifications; for children 12 years of age or younger (more than 45 million) and for passengers age 75 and older (more than 20 million).

A decision was made to allow these passengers to continue wearing a belt, their shoes and a light jacket during the screening process, as they moved through the security checkpoint. For our younger passengers, multiple passes through TSA’s Advanced Imaging technology is now permitted in an effort to resolve anomalies. These risk-based decisions eventually changed the standard operating procedures at more than 450 airports. At the same time, throughput and efficiency was increased with no loss of security. In addition, screening resources could now be better focused on lesser-known passengers, their behaviors, and what they might be attempting to carry onto an aircraft.

To date, I think most of you would agree that the most impactful RBS initiative continues to be TSA Pre✓™. In addition to shoes, belts and light jackets, TSA Pre✓™ eligible 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. Currently, TSA Pre✓™ is available to passenger at 40 airports on with the recent addition of Hawaiian Airlines and Virgin America there are seven airlines offering the expedited screening benefits of TSA Pre✓™ to their passengers. In terms of volume, as of August 1, more than 13 million passengers have experienced TSA Pre✓™ screening.

Last month I had the good fortune to speak in Aspen, Colorado, at the highly respected Aspen Security Forum and for those of you here who may not have heard, I made a little news there. A careful review of TSA Pre✓™ operations convinced us of the validity of two important concepts; the first is that RBS in general – TSA Pre✓™ in particular – helps focus valuable security resources on the task of detecting and deterring the next attempted attack. Secondly we learned, from passenger, airline and airport feedback, that increasing throughput by implementing security initiatives such as TSA Pre✓™ provides consistent and measurable value to trusted travelers.

Today travelers must belong to a frequent flier program or be enrolled in one of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Trusted Traveler programs, including Global Entry, NEXUS or SENTRI to be considered for TSA Pre✓™ eligibility.

As I announced in Aspen, TSA is getting ready to launch a new enrollment and prescreening process similar to Global Entry to greatly expand the number of travelers eligible for TSA Pre✓™ screening.

We will begin accepting TSA Pre✓™ applications at two enrollment locations later this fall and we anticipate growing that number as high as 300 once the program is fully deployed. The first two enrollment centers will be at Washington Dulles International Airport and at Indianapolis International Airport. Similar to CBP’s Global Entry program, TSA’s new application process for TSA Pre✓™ will leverage existing TSA enrollment and vetting processes used to conduct Security Threat Assessments to offer U.S. citizens the opportunity to apply for expedited screening benefits without the need of a passport — currently required for Global Entry application.

The TSA Pre✓™ application program will provide approved travelers with a Known Traveler Number and the opportunity to go through TSA Pre✓™ lanes at airport security checkpoints without having to remove belts, shoes, light outerwear, 3-1-1 compliant bags, or remove laptops from cases.

To complete enrollment, travelers will need to initiate an online application and follow that up by visiting a physical enrollment site to provide identification and fingerprints. After visiting the enrollment center to provide fingerprint identification, we anticipate the process will take between two and three weeks to complete. There will a small fee collected to offset the cost of processing the application and if approved, the Known Traveler Number issued will be valid for five years.

Since making this announcement less than a month ago, we have received positive feedback across the board.

Of course, we need to continue working closely with all of you to make the expansion a success. Airport operators play a vital role anytime there is a significant change to TSA’s operating procedures. The initial roll-out of TSA Pre✓™ and its expansion to the 40 airports that currently offer it required similar coordination to ensure its success.

In addition, TSA will seek to further expand its partnership with the business community by investing in a third-party vetting process to help facilitate the agency’s decision to greatly expand the TSA Pre✓™ population. By continuing to work hand-in-hand with trusted partners in the aviation industry, TSA is able to maintain essential security standards at a high level while ensuring as many travelers as possible experience the benefit of expedited screening through the TSA Pre✓™ lanes.

Before I move away from the topic of risk-based security initiatives, I want to briefly touch upon a few other efforts currently underway. One such procedure involves security screening for pilots and other flight crew members – these folks are known and trusted travelers and they all undergo similar background checks as a condition of their employment. And the fact of the matter is they are trusted with the lives of every passenger each time they fly. Currently 170,000 pilots and flight attendants are eligible for expedited screening each week and since we began offering it, more than 8 million have been screened this way.

In addition, we are proud to extend expedited security screening benefits to active duty military members, as well as to our country’s wounded warriors. Many of our employees are veterans themselves and many more remain on active duty as reservists. In total, this accounts for nearly 25% of TSA’s workforce. We are proud of this and we understand the debt that is owed to the brave men and women who choose to serve.

Of course, checkpoint screening is only one layer of a multi-layered aviation security system that extends throughout the airport environment and includes explosives trace detection, canine teams, behavior detection officers and the men and women who comprise the Federal Air Marshals Service, the primary law enforcement arm of the Transportation Security Administration. Each layer supports the others and all contribute to the overall security of the network.

As airport operators throughout North America, I can assure you TSA is constantly seeking new and innovative ways to strategically improve cooperation with a broad range of industry partners to help us achieve our mission to ensure the secure movement of people and goods. We do this while at the same time working to improve the travel experience for the nearly 2 million people who use our commercial aviation network each and every day.

One way we’re doing this is through an ongoing process we all know as the In-Depth Security Review, or IDSR. This highly collaborative effort is a good example of the day-to-day cooperation that exists between TSA and airport operators. The commitment we have made to ensure the success and utility of the IDSR is affirmed by the participation of thoughtful and experienced senior leadership from a range of offices throughout TSA. By design, the dedicated civil servants who represent TSA in this important review of security protocols are actively involved with and committed to advancing the IDSR process. They are experts from a broad cross-section of our operations and they understand the importance of this review to the success of your operations as well.

From TSA’s perspective, the primary driver for this or any other initiative has to be security. In other words, changes to security directives can only be considered and implemented if there is no adverse effect on security. At the same time, we appreciate that there can be operational benefits associated you’re your ability to reduce the burden of implementing effective security procedures.

Having addressed the "low hanging fruit" early in the IDSR process, it is important for all of us to continue working together to refine the security directives that ensure a high level of aviation security for all travelers.

Going forward, an important area of focus is bringing security directives up to 2013 standards. Through advances in technology, for example, there may be security directives that were drafted back in 2003 which may not hold up in our current operating environment. With issues such as those coming to the fore, the work of the IDSR is a little more difficult and progress may be more of a challenge to achieve. Nevertheless, our commitment to continuing the review process and strengthening the impact of the procedures and directives we ask all of you to carry out remains firm.

In addition to the new TSA Pre✓™ application and enrollment process, we are focused on other efforts to continue growing the population of eligible travelers in locations where TSA Pre✓™ is already up and running. This includes expanding implementation of the Managed Inclusion process, which is currently up and running in one form or another at 10 airports (SEA and BOS are the latest). Managed Inclusion is an innovative way for our highly trained security and behavior detection officers to increase the number of real time threat assessments and risk-based screenings we perform each day.

In some of the airports where we are piloting this concept, an initial screening is performed by Passenger Screening Canines and Behavior Detection Officers. After this, a TSA Officer will verify the traveler’s boarding pass and identification while the passenger steps onto an electronic mat with directional arrows. The mat randomly designates whether the passenger is to proceed to the TSA Pre✓™ lane or standard screening lanes. The TSA Officer then directs the passenger to the appropriate screening lane. In this scenario, the floor mat and directional arrows serve as a randomizer to help prevent any sort of profiling. Improve efficiency by better utilizing existing TSA Pre✓™ lanes.

Other efforts going forward include expanding the TSA Pre✓™ population, as we did with Canadian citizens who are members of the NEXUS trusted-traveler program, to additional qualifying international travel itineraries, including outbound flights from the United States and the connecting domestic leg on flights coming in from overseas.

Thank you once again for the invitation to join all of you this morning, and at this time I am happy to open the floor to any questions you may have.