Remarks at the U.S. – India Aviation Summit

Administrator John S. Pistole
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
As Prepared for Delivery

Good morning and thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to join Director Zak, Administrator Huerta and Minister Singh on this morning’s panel. As we have seen in the dozen years the September 11, 2001 attacks, aviation security is a global concern, and one of the most effective tools we have in this fight is the cooperation among nations determined to protect the freedom of their citizens to travel, and to ensure the free flow of commerce that drives the world economy. Conferences such as this and the discussions we are having today are an important piece of those collaborative efforts.

For my part, I want to discuss, briefly, the state of aviation security and how we can continue working together to strengthen it in the most efficient way possible.  I will also talk a little bit about what we see as the current threat environment in commercial aviation, and provide updates regarding the programs and initiatives we are implementing to address those threats and mitigate the risks they represent.

As one of the fastest growing markets in the world, strengthening the security of India’s aviation networks – including air traffic and airline operators, as well as passenger and baggage screening operations – is critical to continued prosperity for all of us.  I’m hopeful that many of the technologies, security protocols and best practices we’ve put in place throughout the United States can be useful to our friends in India as commercial aviation continues to play an increasing role in your nation’s growth. 

With respect to the security challenges we all face today, one of the principal concerns we have is with the continued migration to non-metallic threats. Because of this, we need to be as agile and adept as possible, especially in the ways we screen people, baggage and cargo. We 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.

Attempted attacks in the 12 years since 9/11 have all originated overseas; From Richard Reid in December 2001 to the August 2006 liquids plot to the Christmas Day 2009 attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to detonate a non-metallic improvised explosive device concealed in his underwear. These were followed by a plot out of Yemen in October 2010 to destroy a cargo aircraft over the United States. This attempt 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.

Thanks to outstanding international intelligence coordination, the United States and its allies detected AQAP’s intentions and the planned attack was stopped. As a result of these exceptional counterterrorism efforts, we learned a great deal about our adversaries’ capabilities. Clearly, our adversaries are studying 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 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 sense to apply the same security screening protocols to every passenger.

Since then our agency’s ability 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 as well as those age 75 and older. To date, we have expedited the screening of more than 74 million passengers using age-based screening methods.

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, we believe 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 passengers at nearly 100 airports, and 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. To date, more than 18 million passengers have experienced TSA Pre✓™ screening.

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.

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.

          We are also 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 next generation x-ray equipment, explosives trace detection, canine teams, behavior detection officers, checked baggage technology, 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 strength and security of the network.

Another effort to expand RBS and offer more opportunities for expedited security screening involves using our Secure Flight program as a way to increase TSA Pre✓™ eligibility.

Using the Secure Flight data passengers provide today when making a reservation, TSA is proactively prescreening passengers traveling on a participating TSA Pre✓™ airline, out of a participating airport to possibly pre-clear them to use the TSA Pre✓™ lane.

These passengers are not required to “opt-in” via their airlines’ frequent flier program or enroll in TSA Pre✓™ directly. TSA is instead providing some of these travelers the opportunity for expedited screening on a flight-by-flight basis.

There are also possibilities for some airports to employ the Managed Inclusion process, 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 airports currently using MI, 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.

And finally, other efforts going forward include expanding the TSA Pre✓™ population globally, 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.