TSA Chief Details Evolution of Aviation Security Since 9/11

What’s ahead for airline security? Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Administrator John S. Pistole offered his perspective on the Evolution of Aviation Security Since 9/11 recently at the Center for Strategic and International Security (CSIS) in Washington, D.C., citing the TSA’s risk-based approach to security.

“We will continue to refine and enhance aviation security throughout the country, while also improving the passenger experience whenever we can. Our goal is to provide the traveling public with the most effective security in the most efficient way possible,” Pistole said. Among the TSA’s plans are tests of trusted traveler programs.

“As we approach the tenth anniversary of 9/11, America is more secure than we were a decade ago. We have made progress on every front, and we are more prepared to confront persistent and evolving threats against our transportation systems. In fact, our country’s aviation security system before 9/11 bears little resemblance to the robust and multi-layered system in place today,” Pistole said.

“Consider that before September 11, 2001, there was no cohesive system in place to vet passengers in advance of flying; only limited technologies in place for uncovering a wide array of threats to passengers or aircraft; no comprehensive federal requirements to screen checked or carry-on baggage; and only minimal in-flight security on most flights.”

TSA has grown rapidly, Pistole notes. In March 2002, TSA’s first cadre of federal screeners included 80 individuals; today more than 52,000 Transportation Security Officers (TSOs), Transportation Security Inspectors, and Behavior Detection Officers serve at more than 450 U.S. airports. “We’ve achieved significant milestones over the past decade -- including meeting key 9/11 Commission recommendations.”

In the next ten years, Pistole sees TSA’s continued movement toward developing and implementing a more risk-based security system. Risk-based security means moving further away from what may have seemed like a one-size-fits-all approach to security. “It means focusing our agency’s resources on those we know the least about, and using intelligence in better ways to inform the screening process.”

Another aspect of the TSA’s risk-based, intelligence-driven security system is the trusted traveler proof-of-concept that will begin this fall, Pistole said. “As part of this proof-of-concept, we are looking at how to expedite the screening process for travelers we know and trust the most, and travelers who are willing to voluntarily share more information with us before they travel. Doing so will then allow our officers to more effectively prioritize screening and focus our resources on those passengers we know the least about and those of course on watch lists.”

“To make it happen, we are partnering with U.S. Customs and Border Protection utilizing their Global Entry, SENTRY and NEXIS programs as well as working with U.S. air carriers and airports. The bottom line goal is to provide the most effective security while improving the screening experience whenever possible. Of course, nothing will ever guarantee expedited screening. Passengers will always be subject to random, unpredictable measures,” Pistole said.

“We’re also working with airlines already testing a known-crewmember concept, and we are evaluating changes to the security screening process for children 12-and-under. Both of these concepts reflect the principles of risk-based security, considering that airline pilots are among our country’s most trusted travelers and the preponderance of intelligence indicates that children 12-and-under pose little risk to aviation security,” Pistole said.

TSA is also evaluating the value of expanding TSA’s behavior detection program, Pistole said, a move that will help TSA officers identify people exhibiting signs that may indicate a potential threat. “This reflects an expansion of the agency’s existing SPOT program, which was developed by adapting global best practices. This effort also includes additional, specialized training for our organization’s Behavior Detection Officers and is currently being tested at Boston’s Logan International airport, where the SPOT program was first introduced.” 

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