John S. Pistole, Administrator, Transportation Security Administration
n December 21, 2011, I joined a number of law enforcement and national security leaders at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia for a memorial honoring the 270 lives lost when a bomb exploded onboard Pan Am flight 103 above the small Scottish town of Lockerbie. The bombing took place just three years after Air India flight 182 was blown from the sky by a terrorist bomb killing 329 innocent people. It happened just four days before Christmas 1988, more than a decade before 19 hijackers boarded four airplanes on 9/11; used the aircraft as missiles; and killed nearly 3,000 men, women, and children in a series of deliberate and coordinated attacks that would fundamentally change transportation security in the
Just a month before that powerful memorial service at Arlington, we marked the 10th anniversary of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, passed by the U.S. Congress as an important part of our country’s response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Through that legislation, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was created, and we were staffed and operational in less than one year. It was the largest, most complex mobilization of the federal workforce since World War II.
I have been privileged to serve as TSA administrator for a year and a half now, and I am encouraged by the progress we continue to make. A look back at transportation security before 9/11 reveals a system that bears little resemblance to the robust and multilayered system in place today. Before 9/11, there was no cohesive system in place to check passenger names against terrorist watch lists in advance of flying—only limited technologies were in place for uncovering a wide array of threats to passengers or aircraft; no comprehensive federal requirements to screen checked or carry-on baggage; in-flight security on only a very few number of flights; and a lack of timely intelligence sharing in both directions—from the federal level down to the individual airports and from individual airports up to the national level.
In its first 10 years, TSA has reached a number of significant milestones and met key 9/11 Commission recommendations. First, TSA officials now match 100 percent of passengers flying into, out of, and within the United States against government watch lists through the Secure Flight Program, in which each passenger must provide a name, a date of birth, and gender when making a reservation. Second, TSA ensures all air cargo transported on passenger planes domestically is screened for explosives, and we are working with our international partners every day to screen 100 percent of high-risk inbound cargo on passenger planes. Third, we have improved aviation security through technology that provides advanced baggage screening for explosives.
A vital component of TSA’s multilayered approach to transportation security is about to mark its 50th year of dedicated service. The men and women of the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) are highly trained law enforcement professionals committed to keeping our nation’s travelers safe and secure. In addition to its primary mission of protecting air passengers and crews, the FAMS is entrusted with a significant role within TSA and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on surface transportation security issues. The FAMS works closely with other U.S. and international law enforcement agencies to safeguard local, national, and international transportation systems.
Innovation keeps us ahead of an adaptive, determined enemy, and TSA is committed to collaborating with our partners in both the public and the private sectors—including law enforcement at the local, state, and national levels—to develop, evaluate, and deploy tools so that TSA can provide the American people with the most effective security in the most efficient way.
Intelligence, and our ability to use it in real time, also plays a critical role in keeping transportation safe. TSA works closely with our partners in the intelligence and law enforcement communities to detect, deter, and disrupt terrorist plots before they ever get to the airport. We begin every day with a classified intelligence briefing and work to share critical information with key stakeholders and frontline officers.
So what do the next 10 years hold for aviation security? I believe it begins with TSA’s commitment to risk-based, intelligence-driven policies and procedures. This includes moving away from a one-size-fits-all construct and establishing TSA as a high-performing counterterrorism agency. It means focusing our resources and using intelligence in ways to better inform the screening process.
TSA Pre✓™ is a key component to this effort. This initiative tests our ability to further enhance security through passenger prescreening and expedite the screening process for lower-risk travelers who voluntarily share information with us before they travel.
Doing so allows our officers to better focus their efforts on passengers we know the least about and, of course, those on terrorist watch lists. Efficiencies gained by implementing risk-based security methods allow us to make the best use of our resources.
Currently at several airports nationwide, we have experienced operational success and public support for this initiative. In response to that success, we are encouraged about opportunities to expand TSA Pre✓™ to additional airlines and airports as soon as they are ready.
Of course, nothing will ever guarantee that a passenger receives expedited screening. All travelers need to understand that, to remain effective, TSA must retain the ability to employ random and unpredictable security measures at any point in the process.
In November, we launched a proof of concept to read military-issued identification cards in Monterey, California. We are coordinating our efforts with the U.S. Department of Defense to identify a timeline and airport locations for testing expedited screening based on a badge-reading model for the military population. Pilot programs are expected to begin within the first quarter of 2012. We also are exploring options for a long-term solution, similar to the process U.S. Customs and Border Protection uses with Global Entry participants, which may allow us to move away from card readers. All of these measures are consistent with the recent legislation regarding screening members of the U.S. Armed Forces.
We also are testing an initiative to expedite screening for commercial flight crews beginning with airline pilots at seven U.S. airports. And we recently made nationwide changes to the security screening process for passengers age 12 and under. Both of these concepts reflect the core principles of risk-based security.
Finally, we are continuing to strengthen training to help our officers identify people exhibiting signs that may indicate a potential threat to security. Developed by adapting global best practices, TSA is testing an expanded behavior detection effort at Boston Logan International Airport and Detroit Metro Wayne County Airport.
With more than 1.7 million people traveling every day, we are continuing to look for ways to enhance security through state-of-the-art technologies and expanded use of existing technologies, better passenger identification techniques, and other tools to strengthen our capability to keep terrorists off commercial aircraft. We do this not only to keep you and your loved ones safe when you travel, but also to ensure that the transportation link in the global supply chain remains strong. It is a responsibility we bear with pride, conviction, and resolve. ■
Please cite as:
By John S. Pistole, "From the Administrator," The Police Chief 79 (February 2012): 16.