Remarks at the 24th AVSEC World Conference

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Administrator Peter Neffenger
Dublin, Ireland
Monday, October 26, 2015
As Delivered

Good morning, and thank you, Carolina for your kind introduction. It is a real pleasure to be here today to address this group of security professionals here in this beautiful venue in Dublin and to have the opportunity to meet many of TSA’s international partners.

I would also like to thank the International Civil Aviation Organization, Airports Council International and the International Air Transport Association for the generous invitation to participate in this important event.

We’re in this together; we have the same security goals in mind. We have different parts to play, and different motivations, but we know that security is best achieved when we work together to identify and close gaps and seams that can make us vulnerable and can be exploited.

Achieving our common goal calls for a shared approach, one that begins with a serious commitment to understanding security threats and how they evolve, managing the risk associated with these threats and then collaborating with one another to reduce vulnerabilities across the many discrete elements of the aviation system.

Each of you has a high vested interest in the safety and security of the aviation system: as professionals you know your businesses best and your businesses depend on your judgment. TSA exists because you exist, and my part in this shared approach is to articulate the threat and ensure the collective security of our system. So I need your help -­ TSA needs your help -­ to understand the impact of the threat and how best to mitigate the risk. My vision is that anything TSA requires in the aviation security system is done with full understanding of how it affects you and how it improves security – that means we have to talk about outcomes and solutions.

At TSA, we are committed to collaboration, to healthy and frank dialogue on global issues, and to managing risk in a system where risk frankly cannot be eliminated.

The current threat environment is perhaps the most complex and diverse we have seen over the past decade, with multiple groups intent on attacking civil aviation. Further complicating this is that terror groups are competing with each other for influence and control and they remain focused on aviation. They have new and more sophisticated tools, such as social media, at their disposal to inspire, direct and facilitate attacks. They have published their manuals online and have invited their aspirants to use this information – effectively crowd-­sourcing terrorism. We have seen the timelines of intent to operation compressing – the so-called flash to bang. It is more critical than ever that we share information, but more importantly get the right information to people like you from agencies like mine to reduce risk as soon as possible and as effectively as possible.

Intelligence and timely information sharing is key to ensuring our ability to secure aviation. I’m pleased to see there are panels on this topic and that TSA will be part of those panels. But we can’t stop there: to remain ahead of evolving threats, we must embrace innovation and work together to adapt and evolve our collective security systems. The day we stop evolving is the day we can be defeated.

So how do we get there?

One of our challenges is ensuring consistently high standards for global security. Clear definitions of threat and risk to systems, along with a clear and mutual understanding of objectives and outcomes we seek are important first steps. We need a collaborative approach to achieve the outcomes we want, and this may present opportunities for mutual recognition of programs of equivalence. Collaboration also prepares us for the possibility of unilateral action in the face of exigent circumstances. All of this becomes easier when we talk to each other.

Some examples of this include the work we’ve done with National Cargo Security Programs and explosive detection canines. We have been able to eliminate some duplicative requirements and reduce the burden on industry, while ensuring a high level of security.

There may be additional opportunities as we evolve and develop the checkpoint experience for travelers. I’m interested in learning more about how others approach passenger screening. During my recent trip to the UK, France, and The Netherlands, I had the opportunity to meet with my counterparts and I was impressed by some of their approaches to airport security, including even checkpoint aesthetics and configuration. I want to continue to work with our international partners to look for opportunities to share best practices and to incorporate best ideas.

In the traveler environment, trusted travelers programs such as Global Entry, Nexus, Sentri, and TSAPre✓® – and other similar programs – provide expedited screening to passengers who have chosen to be identified as trusted travelers. I am a strong supporter of these programs as they help us to understand our populations better. The more we know about travelers and the people interacting within the system – employees, shippers, other insiders – ahead of time, the easier it is to focus on the unknown or less well-known.

But the aviation system is more than the passenger checkpoint. It part of a dynamic, complex, diverse global supply chain, and we must ensure security in all elements of the system. Aviation security requires a collaborative, cooperative effort among private, public, government, and industry partners. That means I am open to hearing from you and working with you.

Let me close with a few thoughts on the effectiveness of TSA’s screening program. As you may know, the classified results of recent covert testing were publicly leaked to the media earlier this year. The leak was unfortunate, but the information we learned in the process of reexamining our system was invaluable.

At TSA, we constantly test our capabilities and evaluate the effectiveness of our systems including passenger checkpoints.  Such testing is an important element in the continual evolution of aviation security. We repeatedly test and attempt to defeat our system before those who would harm us can defeat our system. We have identified and fielded extensive improvements as a result of this rigorous self-­assessment and we have developed and validated new procedures and capabilities to incorporate lessons learned.

We have refocused the organization on its primary mission, retrained our entire workforce, corrected certain processes and procedures, improved our technology, and looked at systemic issues to ensure this doesn’t happen again. I’m confident that we have corrected the recent problems and are fully able to deter, detect and disrupt terrorist plots.

I am optimistic for the future of TSA and I know that if we all work together we will continue to succeed.

Thank you again for the opportunity to speak to you today and I look forward to working with you in the days ahead.