TSA Administrator David Pekoske: AVSEC World 2019

Administrator David P. Pekoske
Wednesday, February 27, 2019
As Delivered


Thank you Jim for that introduction and I have to tell you, you’ve got to love the music from the speakers coming from the stage. But as I mentioned, it’s good for the soul to be here in Miami. And it’s good for the soul to be together. This is a group that works very close together. We consult with each other, we collaborate each and every day, and for me it’s good for my soul to be with all of you this morning. I also think it’s important from the very beginning to lend our support for Atlas Airlines and the entire Atlas Airlines family and the families of the crews that unfortunately were lost on Atlas 3591 that crashed this past Saturday.

Things like that affect all of us in the aviation family and our thoughts are with Atlas Airlines certainly today and into the future. I last spoke to the AVSEC World in 2017. I had just recently arrived into this position –  I think I was in this job for about 90 days when I spoke in Abu Dhabi – and I’m really thankful to be here with you today to give you an update on what we’ve been up to and where we see the future in aviation security – now being at the point where I’ve been about 16 months in this position. Your conference theme is “No Vulnerabilities Left Behind” and I hope to share with you our perspective on that theme. I don’t think our perspective is going to be a surprise at all for anybody in this room because of that collaboration, that robust communication and that exchange in perspectives that we’ve had over the past 16 months.

I’d also like to begin my remarks to acknowledge my many TSA colleagues who are participating in this conference. And the thing I’d ask you all to take away from this is that we are very committed to IATA, we’re very committed to this AVSEC forum, and we very much appreciate American Airlines being the first airline in our partnership with all of you and certainly with us in this conference. I’d highlight that we have Mariely Loperena, who is our regional director for the western hemisphere and for Asia. The Asia piece is while we bring on a new regional director for that part of the world.

Also with us today is Alexis Long who is the Chief Innovation Officer for the Transportation Security Administration. Alexis comes to us from London, Heathrow by way of the Department for Transport in the United Kingdom. We are very happy that Alexis has joined our team as a <inaudible> from the U.K. government. He brings a perspective, that I particularly value and it’s a different perspective that we don’t typically get in the U.S. government agencies. So I suspect that he will be able to move our innovation process forward ever more deliberately with Alexis’s leadership over the next couple of years; I hope at least one or maybe two.

Also here today to serve is Serge Potapov – one of our federal air marshals. As you all know, the federal air marshal service is a part of TSA that is not especially visible to the public, but it is very visible to all of you. Serge has done some outstanding work on the insider threat. He’s also done some outstanding work on vulnerabilities and the operational responses that we are considering with the respect to unmanned aerial systems. I think that session will be particularly beneficial and insightful for all of you. Nick Bianchini is here. Nick is a part of our Requirements, Capabilities and Analysis organization, which we have re-bolstered up over the past 16 months. Nick has done some great work – Jim talked about the computed tomography process – Nick is key and critical to that effort and I’ll talk more about that a little bit more in a second. And then with you over the next couple of days are our international industry representatives. These are individuals that represent TSA to corporations around the world and they are a very important conduit of information and communications amongst us and I am very glad that they were able to be here today and over the next couple of days. And also I think that it is important at the beginning of my remarks that I recognize all of our employees. 


Earlier we were talking about strategies, ways forward, and what the future brings; the day to day is done expertly by all of our employees, whether they work for a government agency, whether they work for the airlines or an airport and as Jim mentioned in the U.S. government with the 35-day shutdown just recently. And I will tell you I’m extremely proud of all the employees in the Transportation Security Administration; employees that you see most often are Transportation Security Officers and they do a superb job. They were going into five weeks without receiving pay, and I am really in awe of the TSOs and the rest of the workforce; and I say the rest of our workforce because I think it’s important that all of our employees that work vetting processes who do inspections that provide inflight security, with respect to federal air marshals who also worked the 35-day shutdown without pay and what’s not mentioned often are those employees that are shutout during the shutdown.

We had probably between 8-10,000 employees who were not excepted, which means they had to work, during the shutdown, had to stay home. I can tell you we had a great celebration when we opened the doors and the impact of the shutdown was over to recognize that the whole operator of employees not just in the Transportation Security Administration but also in CBP and the Federal Aviation Administration, that were very eager to get back to work because they don’t like to be on the sidelines and we need to recognize that the shutdown certainly impacted them as well.

And I’d take this opportunity to reflect from my perspective, the federal team in the United States Air Force and the federal team internationally which is primarily composed of Customs and Border Protection, the Federal Aviation Administration and TSA; We all work very well together and Angela Stubblefield is here, to be a keynote in just a few minutes. She and the entire FAA are great partners of ours and we work very closely together to make sure that we coordinate our actions together and we are happy with that partnership.

I’d also like to mention in terms of things that have happened over the past 16 months and are available for all of you to take a look at. Are a number of very, very important documents. We talk about where is the future going. We are endeavoring to be as transparent as we possibly can, not just as an agency, but also as a component of the Department of Homeland Security and as a government, as the overall United States government. So, I look for you, that the president signed in December of 2018, so just recently, a national strategy for aviation security. That’s available on the whitehouse.gov website, you can catch a link to it on the TSA website. This provides national level perspective across all the capital components in the United States government, as to how we are going to move forward in aviation security issues. It’s a great document and I would like to bring all that to your attention.

Supporting that national strategy, which has been in development for some time, is the TSA strategy. And many of you in this room contributed substantially to the development of that strategy. As you know, I think it is appropriate for us to develop a strategy for TSA internally. And so we asked for all of your help and helped we received, which was really appreciated. You can see your input in this strategy published about a year ago. Also, supporting the strategy is a document called the Administrator’s Intent, which is my document that basically says, you know that strategy? What am I going to do as the Administrator of TSA during my tenure in this position to advance the strategic objectives that we have all agreed to. And that Administrator’s Intent and many, many, many items in that Intent, are a direct result of the contributions of people in this room. So I appreciate that. And you should know that I hold my senior executives accountable for completion of each of those administrative intents. I came from the business world and I believe in incentivizing senior leadership to accomplish those objectives that we are all here to accomplish.  Additionally, on our own website, two relatively recent documents are called roadmaps, because they are not strategies per se, but they do provide a view of where you see things going from this point in time. And there is a biometrics roadmap in cyber security. These are some very important topics. Not to mention the biometrics piece, I’ll talk about that in a second. You see these topics give you a pretty good idea of our near term direction with respect to the strategy, our direction out to TSA 25th anniversary, and we’re now just 17 years old, so it looks a bit over the horizon, it gives you a sense of where we see things going.

Technology & Procedures

Before we end our discussion this morning, I thought I would talk about the more visible things that all of you have participated in and all of you will see at our security checkpoints in the not-too-distant future. First regarding the mission is the computed tomography X-ray, basically creating X-rays for all of our carry-on baggage at our security checkpoints. Computed tomography technology is night and day compared to the technology we have currently. We are very, very happy with the prototype results. We can see things in a carry-on bag, much, much better – orders of magnitude better than we can see with our current technology. Additionally, there’s a passenger experience piece of computed tomography, because as we continue to develop it, passenger will have to take fewer things out of their carry-on bags. They won’t have to take out laptops, for example. They won’t have to take out liquids, aerosols and gels, and some powders and food items. So this has a very significate dual purpose of allowing a much better security and much better passenger experience. It should be deployed at – as you know we operate at about 440 airports around the domestic U.S. – and we’re going to deploy that technology not just at big airports but in every airport we can possibly deploy it in our nation. The other thing I would like to highlight for you is we are looking at solutions to improve our ability to detect items that a person may have on their body. Our technology is and was good at the time it was purchased, but fortunately, technology has advanced and we are looking at some solutions that will make that experience much better for us from a security effectiveness perspective which is my first priority but it will also make it better from a passenger experience perspective.

And we are updating our verification technology. When you approach the TSA at a screening checkpoint and you hand your driver’s license or passport to an officer and they physically and visually examine it, we have technology that will validate for us the authenticity of the credentials and automatically pull data off the credentials and while the passenger is standing in front of the officer it will query our Secure Flight database, which is our database that allows us to do risk assessment for passengers. So that’s real-time risk information, at a security checkpoint. That should speed the process and eventually we will get to the point where, for TSA purposes, we won’t require a boarding pass for passengers because we received valuable information right up on the screen. So that, as you can imagine, would be a game changer for passengers’ convenience perspective, and also a significant improvement in our security effectiveness.

Coupled with that identification technology would be biometrics. We are working very carefully on that. What we’ve already decided with respect to biometrics is to not duplicate the great work that U.S. Customs and Border Protection has done. From my perspective and from Commissioner McAleenan’s perspective, it is important for the federal government to be consistent from agency to agency, particularly agencies in the same cabinet department.  And so the technology that the international passengers see at the federal inspection area, they will see at the secure checkpoint for TSA. And we’ve done some really good prototype testing at LAX and also Atlanta airport where we can do biometric exit and TSA identity verification and we can make what were two steps into one step and that improves our process speed and certainly makes it more convenient for passengers.

I’d also like to highlight as well the work of the International Civil Aviation Organization. I’ve spent a good deal of my personal time meeting with ICAO members and going to Montreal and participating in ICAO processes.

Aviation Security

I think we as a global community have made excellent progress in implementing the GASP – or global aviation security plan. It’s three years old. We are going to review it over the course of the spring and summer with some security panels and then we have the ICAO summit coming up this fall.

I also strongly support the principle that no country should be left behind. And our goal is that security in the overall scheme of things should be on par with safety and facilitation. As I look at it, and as our colleagues around the world and I believe industry looks at it, improvements we make in safety will have a beneficial effect on security and improvements made in security often times have a beneficial impact on safety and they both result in better facilitation of the movement of both passengers and cargo and what we are hoping for is that we have both the structure and resources dedicated to security at the global and ICAO level going forward.


As many of you know, I traveled extensively already during my tenure as Administrator and I would just like to take this opportunity while I’m here to thank you all for the warm reception that I have received as I have traveled around the globe and thank you for educating me on your perspective on your processes and I think overall we are much better for it.

I value the relationships with all of you and in that regard, and based on your input, we are modifying the TSA organization slightly to embed international aspects of things in our core business. As we develop policy for example, the policy organization of TSA will be a policy organization that looks at both domestic policy as well as international policy.

As we conduct our operations, our screening operations, our inspection operations, that those will all be housed in the same organization, because as I look forward, we are looking to have more recognition of each other’s systems – either modular recognition or more whole system recognition. Because I would really like to be at the point where the security directives and emergency amendments that we issue to carriers with last points of departure airports leaving for the U.S. that those checks are now required to be conducted at the gate and can more routinely be conducted at security checkpoints in other nations.

Threat Environment

Our goal is to raise the baseline of global aviation security. That’s been the goal since the creation of TSA and took on an extra emphasis in the beginning of 2017 and it still has that special emphasis today. I think with the GASP and with the process of recognition, we will get further and further towards that path of continuing to raise that global baseline. This is better for everyone. It’s better for every single passenger who travels in the global aviation system.

A couple areas of emphasis that I would like to highlight for you – I don’t think they are going to be news to anybody in this audience, but I think they bear a little bit of focus. First is the insider threat.
As you know, I think we need to take a fresh look at the Insider Threat issue. I’m not alone in that regard. We are working very hard on doing that within TSA with our industry partners – both on the airline side and the airport side – and certainly with our global partners. This is an area where we just need to go back and take a fresh look at how we are dealing with the insider threat issue.

The other area is unmanned aerial systems. We are seeing a growing concern. We have seen instances around the world most recently in the U.K. at both Gatwick and Heathrow and also at airports here, and we have other instances of UAS incursions on a fairly routine basis that don’t really get attention, but causes concern from both a safety and security perspective. We are looking at this very, very seriously from a federal government perspective. We will continue to be very collaborative with all of you as we proceed forward on this and I know it will be a topic in the international forum over the next several months.

Cyber. I mentioned earlier that we have a cyber roadmap. We need to continue to increase our resilience towards this ever-present threat. And, just simply, any organization that isn’t worried about cyber is not paying attention. If you think you’ve got cyber taken care of, I’d beg to differ. I think we need to constantly stare at this issue.

The next is Air Cargo. Under the lead of Customs and Border Protection, we have an inter-fundable program called Air Cargo Advanced Screening and we expect full implementation within the next couple of months. This really does the vetting of cargo similar to the vetting we do of passengers before they board an aircraft. It’s very important for our overall security envelope and I am looking forward to having it fully implemented. In that regard, in very close coordination with our U.S. Congress, we are establishing an air cargo division within TSA that will be led by a member of the senior executive service and we are in the active process of recruiting for that position and we are looking forward to that big step and we have also made pretty good progress in air cargo. I have mentioned recognition security systems, we already have recognition of cargo systems, it’s called the national cargo security plan.

I will continue to ask ASAC to look over the horizon at issue that are emerging so I get their good advice and counsel. ASAC membership is also posted on our website. It’s a good avenue. If you know someone who is an ASAC member, give them your perspective because I think it will result in much better decisions overall.


I’ll begin to wrap up with some overall observations. I think we need to improve systems resilience by increasing member-state accountability for addressing vulnerabilities. Member states are responsible for assuring the effective implementation of aviation security measures. UN security resolution 2309 highlights the obligation of all states to take necessary steps to ensure the security measures are effectively implemented on a continuing and sustainable basis. And in fulfilling this obligation, we need to ensure that security measures are first and foremost threat-relevant. Secondly, deployed often enough to achieve detection and deterrence norms. Third, supported by a rigorous process of training and education. And fourth, monitored through robust oversight regimes.

Additionally, the aviation community, which is all of us, needs to foster a culture of security through accountability. We are well past the stage where we can say we are secure without being held accountable and without testing ourselves to make sure we are secure. As you may know, the U.S. governs a robust systems of tests, audits and assessments to evaluate our security performance. These audits can be very sobering and that’s a good thing. When audits identify for you vulnerabilities that you may not have seen or that you may not have paid attention to that’s a good thing. Because audits identity for you before it becomes an acted-on vulnerability. We need to continue to push forward a process where we look at threats not just from a – it’s actually quite a simple process for a good system to say how can I design my system, let me test my system to see if it’s performing as designed, it’s a good thing to do and we do that.

But I think it’s also a good thing to do look at the threats and then test your system with those threats in mind and see how your system works. That will ensure we keep our systems current. And that will also by the way – very consistent with the theme of this conference – ensure that no vulnerability is left alone. I want to know where the vulnerabilities are and I want an aggressive plan to be able to address those vulnerabilities.

So in conclusion, thank you for your work in raising the global baseline of aviation security. The security directives and emergency amendments I’ve issued have accomplished this for the last points of departure airports for the U.S., but we need to safeguard the entire global aviation system. Unilateral action is not an ideal approach. I want the U.S. to actively engage with all of you as we have done and we need to continue to make that process even stronger and more inclusive. And I have prioritized information sharing and increasing cooperation since becoming the Administrator so rest assured that we will become conversational as partners. Share as much as we can and work closely with you in today’s complex and dynamic threat environment. With our closest partners we will pursue recognition of commensurate security outcomes.

We are also looking to expand recognition into operability in other areas.  TSA’s motto when I first came into this position it was a very appropriate one given the 9/11 roots of this agency. It was in very simple words, “not on my watch.” It was a credo for all our employees and agency to ensure that another 9/11 would not occur on their watch. We changed that slogan as a part of our strategy based on input from you and based on perspective from Congress that it’s really “our watch,” including all people into the security system.

It’s critical that we perceive it that way. And the “not on our watch” also applies to all of the passengers, to all the business that use our systems to transport themselves or cargo through a very robust global transportation system. So, my friends, when we say, “not on our watch” this is “our watch.” So let’s collectively put every ounce of energy into securing aviation. We are all into this together and TSA will do all we can to advance our shared interest in the safety and security of the global aviation security.
The final comment for me is I have very much appreciated the outreach, the help, the advice, the financial support in terms of gifting equipment, the willingness to prototype different things that we are considering to advance aviation security. We would be nowhere near where we are today without all your help – my team would feel nowhere near as appreciated without all of your help and your recognizing the work that they do. So on behalf of them I would like to thank all of you for your great partnership with us and I pledge to you that we will continue to be great partners with all of you.

Thank you.