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Nov. 20, 2017

TSA determined to thwart terror attacks

Last year alone, Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) screened more than 760 million passengers and more than 2 billion carry-ons and checked bags at approximately 440 airports nationwide.

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By David P. Pekoske

I am honored by the opportunity to serve as Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration. TSA's mission to protect America's transportation systems is vital to our Nation's security. Tthough I have only been on the job a short time, I am impressed with the dedication and commitment of the men and women of TSA, from those who work behind the scenes and out of public view, to those whose presence at our airport security checkpoints, onboard aircraft, and in our surface transportation venues provide protection to millions of people every day.

In September, we solemnly reflected on the 9/11 attacks. Aviation security operations have come a long way in 16 years, but we still face a determined adversary. The current threat environment is complex, diverse, and persistent; the threat to international aviation is high, and multiple terrorist groups remain intent on attacking civil aviation. Additionally, we must not ignore the real threat to surface transportation.

These terrorist groups are using technology and social media to inspire, direct, and facilitate attacks. We also know they are doing their homework on our countermeasures. They are "crowd-sourcing" terrorism by publishing instructions to build bombs and devices designed to evade airport security or to derail trains; laying out roadmaps for soft target and public area attacks; and calling for their aspirants to hit targets of opportunity, whether at an airport, a passenger railroad station, or an inner city mass transit station.
Certainly, we must adapt to evolving challenges. I believe this adaptation should include three key components: first, we need to continue to raise the global aviation security baseline around the world and surface transportation security domestically in collaboration with our industry and international partners; second, we need to continuously innovate; and third, we need to invest in our most valuable resource, our people.

We continue to work with our partners across the global aviation community to collaborate, innovate, and implement new security practices in the face of evolving threats. To raise the baseline of international aviation security, TSA issued a Security Directive and Emergency Amendment in June to enhance security measures for all commercial flights to the United States. These measures - some of which are noticeable to passengers and some of which are not - include enhanced screening of passengers and electronic devices, and heightened security standards for all direct flights to the United States from overseas airports.

All of these measures are necessary, given the gravity of current threats. TSA continues to work closely with U.S. aircraft operators, foreign air carriers, as well as host governments as they implement these measures. Also, in September we initiated new measures to address specific threats to cargo aircraft inbound to the United States. These measures require certain carriers to provide additional data to allow TSA, in partnership with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, to better assess the risk of shipments prior to loading. We continue to review ways to address threats and raise the baseline of cargo security screening overseas.

Our industry and government partners know the importance of adapting and innovating to stay ahead of our adversaries and have been critical in the effort to raise the global aviation security baseline.

TSA continues to engage with our domestic and international stakeholders to share best practices and align security with evolving and emerging threats. We work with industry operators through the Intermodal Security Training and Exercise Program to exercise their security and response plans to prevent and respond to active shooter events or improvised explosive devices, similar to the one recently planted at the airport in Asheville, North Carolina.

TSA has also been working with our partners in efforts to increase public area security. Events such as the terror attacks in Brussels and Istanbul, and the January 2017 lone-shooter rampage at Fort Lauderdale Airport, highlight the need for vigilance in the public areas of our Nation's airports, as well as surface transportation venues. It is critical that we learn the lessons of these attacks and use that knowledge to improve security.

Another key element in raising the global aviation security baseline is investing in and leveraging new and emerging technologies for screening purposes. As just one example, TSA is exploring the use of 3D-imaging Computed Tomography systems to meet emerging and evolving threats at airport checkpoints. These systems offer a more enhanced imaging platform over legacy AT x-ray systems and are a proven technology that has been used for screening checked baggage. I believe that Computed Tomography will enhance carry-on screening for the current threats and improve overall checkpoint security effectiveness and efficiency.

Identity verification and vetting are central underpinnings of the passenger security process. To address this capability need, we are actively working multiple paths to evaluate technology for potential future deployment. We have started testing credential authentication technologies at a number of airports. We have also assessed biometric fingerprint reading technology through the Innovation Task Force (ITF). The intent of these efforts is to move TSA forward in the ability to verify passengers' identity, ticketing, and vetting status.

Our workforce carries out a difficult and demanding mission every day. TSA employees vet a daily average of 2.3 million air passengers against the Terrorist Screening Database before they arrive at airports for screening, and routinely prevent known or suspected terrorists from boarding aircraft. Last year alone, our Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) screened more than 760 million passengers and more than 2 billion carry-ons and checked bags at approximately 440 airports nationwide. They prevented countless dangerous prohibited items from being carried onto planes, including over 3,000 firearms.

In addition, TSA's Federal Air Marshals deployed on more than 250,000 domestic and international flights last year. Over 1,000 canine teams patrolled more than 100 aviation, mass transit, and maritime transportation locations across the Nation. Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams augmented transportation security nationwide. Last year, TSA's international inspectors completed more than 1,880 aircraft operator inspections and 135 foreign airport assessments to ensure compliance with international standards and TSA security requirements.

I believe that successfully meeting the ever-changing threat to aviation rests on our own evolution, both in TSA and in the global aviation sector. We must raise the security baseline by staying abreast of threats and quickly implementing effective countermeasures. We must innovate so we can detect more complex threats and prohibited items ever more quickly, consistently, and efficiently. We must ensure that our workforce receives the best training available and is as connected to the TSA enterprise as it is to its mission.

I believe a reinvigorated strategy is an essential foundation for success in our mission, and I have engaged my executive staff, with their years of experience, to reexamine and, if appropriate, to re-envision TSA's strategy. I have also recently engaged many private sector industry partners to improve strategic partnerships and promote effective collaboration, and I look forward to ongoing engagement with Congress as we develop our strategic path forward for TSA.

David P. Pekoske is Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration. His remarks are excerpted from his testimony this month before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security.


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