TSA Administrator John Pistole on the Future of Airport Security

There's a lot here that's worth watching. He talks about expanding behavioral detection. He talks about less screening for "trusted travelers."

So, what do the next 10 years hold for transportation security? I believe it begins with TSA's continued movement toward developing and implementing a more risk-based security system, a phrase you may have heard the last few months. When I talk about risk-based, intelligence-driven security it's important to note that this is not about a specific program per se, or a limited initiative being evaluated at a handful of airports.

On the contrary, risk-based security is much more comprehensive. It 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 our risk-based, intelligence-driven security system is the trusted traveler proof-of-concept that will begin this fall. 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.

[...]

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.

Finally, we are also evaluating the value of expanding TSA's behavior detection program, to help our 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.

Posted on September 14, 2011 at 6:55 AM • 34 Comments

Comments

BuckingTrendsSeptember 14, 2011 8:23 AM

"...considering that airline pilots are among our country's most trusted travelers..."

I don't know, they look pretty suspicious to me!

Calvin VelanderSeptember 14, 2011 8:28 AM

"...expanding TSA's behavior detection program...includes additional, specialized training for our organization's Behavior Detection Officers..."

Doesn't an organization need to have an cadre of somewhat intelligent people in order to make this effective? TSA certainly fails in this respect

sebastianSeptember 14, 2011 9:21 AM

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

So the choice is between giving up your privacy voluntarily or having your privacy violated.

NobodySpecialSeptember 14, 2011 10:11 AM

"Doesn't an organization need to have an cadre of somewhat intelligent people in order to make this effective? TSA certainly fails in this respect"

To be fair - TSA does have a cadre of highly trained and intelligent operatives with very special unique skills, available at almost all airports. The are easily identified by the yellow TSA bib-jacket they wear along with their collar and lead.

MuellerSeptember 14, 2011 10:26 AM

The TSA is absolutely perfect now... so why tinker with perfection (??)

As proof, note that the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 just passed without the slightest hint of terrorist action, despite all sorts of dire cautions, warnings and predictions of danger.

Either the TSA is now incredibly effective in their mission... or the entire transportation-terrorist-threat is hugely overstated.

Stupid Security QuestionsSeptember 14, 2011 11:04 AM

@NobodySpecial: I see what you did there.

My first thought is: "if I were a terrorist how would I exploit this?" The answer is basically to have a 'sleeper cell' with U.S. citizens who keep their noses clean and do nothing to arouse suspicion. Then they use their trusted status to sneak some minor contraband (liquids >3oz? Maybe a small pair of scissors?) past the expedited screening. Given this recent post, the risk of that is a lot smaller than it seems on first blush. A terrorist could sneak contraband into somebody else's baggage, but then they couldn't access it during the flight unless they stole it out of the victim's suitcase.

All that plus the fact that minor contraband that the expedited screening might let through still isn't likely to pose much risk to the airplane or passengers, after all we survived for decades checking baggage for bombs and weapons only and allowing almost everything else.

SavikSeptember 14, 2011 11:28 AM

I know this is crazy - but how about killing the terrorists?

"We are doing that!" you say - ur, no we are not. Until we utilize our full power, and take some lessons from Genghis Khan in how to do that, we will not ever be free from terrorist and therefore never really "free".

EHSeptember 14, 2011 12:02 PM

Savik: Are you saying that a terrorist can be someone who has not yet committed a terroristic act?

DanielSeptember 14, 2011 12:07 PM

All the sarcasm in this thread is well aimed. The fundamental flaw is the assumption that "intelligence" is actually intelligent. Mostly, it's not. It's rumor and innuendo and prejudice. Taking risks sounds swell until you lose. "So sorry, it was just your son's turn to get blown sky high" is not exactly what a grieving mother wants to hear.

If we are going to talk about risk based security we need to defund the TSA entirely. It's a much better social risk in the long run to spend that money on education and welfare. The best way to combat terrorism is to remove the motivation for it. You'll never stop terrorism either way but at least with education you are producing a net public good as opposed to the TSA which is a net public loss.

Khan Noonien SinghSeptember 14, 2011 12:17 PM

Savik, "I know this is crazy - but how about killing the terrorists?... take some lessons from Genghis Khan"

No, no, definitely not crazy, but Genghis Khan was extremely low tech. I think we can do better. Since terrorist love planes, they must use airport. We obviously should nuke all the airports. It's the only way to be sure.

Or we could try to measure the actual risk of terrorism, compare it to the effectiveness of measures to mitigate the risk, and compare that to the to the cost both in money and in civil rights of those measures. But that would really be crazy.

NobodySpecialSeptember 14, 2011 12:33 PM

For the approved list to make any difference it has to be a significant number of passengers. Exempting only past presidents and congressional medal of honor holders from security checks isn't going to make any difference. Give it 5years and everyone will be on either the approved list or the no-fly list.

Since the no-fly list has proved to be a complete joke eg. 5year olds with the same name as long dead journalists on Nixon's enemies list. We can assume the yes-fly list is going to be about as effective = anyone with a US passport and a major credit card is ok.

anonSeptember 14, 2011 12:37 PM

"...the preponderance of intelligence indicates that children 12-and-under pose little risk to aviation security."

Attention shoe-bombers: This fact, along with the announcement that children under 12 will no longer be required to remove their shoes while going through airport security may be a vulnerability you can exploit.

Somebody AnonSeptember 14, 2011 1:44 PM

With regard to the above subject, the following conclusions may be drawn:

1) Commonsense is not very common.

2) Security theater is more desirable than real security.

3) The US of A is fast becoming the country that George Orwell so eloquently described in the book 1984.

Somebody AnonSeptember 14, 2011 1:52 PM

To follow up on my previous comment, here is some additional info about TSA.

One of the politicians instrumental in creating the TSA, Rep. John Mica, who wrote the legislation that established the TSA, has apparently decided that the whole thing has been a failure and should be dismantled. He notes that "the whole program has been hijacked by bureaucrats."

http://www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=46114

GeorgeSeptember 14, 2011 1:54 PM

"....we are also evaluating the value of expanding TSA's behavior detection program, to help our officers identify people exhibiting signs that may indicate a potential threat. This reflects an expansion of the agency's existing SPOT program...."

Last year the GAO found the SPOT program an enormous waste of money with no valid scientific basis. So it's inevitable that Generalissimo Pistole wants to expand it!

Given the fear and loathing the TSA has so successfully instilled in the traveling public, the expansion of SPOT will most likely only expand the number of false positives. The more intrusive the TSA makes security, the more reason perfectly innocent passengers will have to appear nervous and fearful-- because of a well-justified concern about having their belongings rifled and arbitrarily confiscated (or perhaps stolen), and about being irradiated, groped, interrogated, and possibly detained by the TSA.

Even if they somehow found a way to train their "officers" to reliably "identify people exhibiting signs that may indicate a potential threat," the high amount of noise the TSA themselves cause from a decade of antagonizing the public will certainly swamp any signal the officers might detect.

I rather doubt that any such concerns have entered the Generalissimo's infallible mind, narrowly focused as it is on neutralizing the threat of the millions of enemies who daily present themselves at his airport checkpoints to request the privilege of air travel.

WimpieSeptember 14, 2011 8:45 PM

"The TSA is in a losing battle. So here's a brighter idea. The government could recognize that it's impossible to screen passengers (and cargo) for every type of banned material. If a terrorist plot has gone undiscovered by the world's intelligence agencies, by the U.S. military, by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and by local law enforcement, the chance is high that the plotters are also more sophisticated than the TSA. It's better to accept some level of risk, minimize the TSA's ever more intrusive disruptions to American life, and redirect some of its enormous budget to agencies that can eliminate terrorist plots before they mature to the point that conspirators are boarding planes."

--Jeffrey Goldberg, "TSA's Forced Indignities Don't Make Us Safer," Bloomberg View, July 11, 2011

Christian KochSeptember 15, 2011 4:16 AM

...considering that airline pilots are among our country's most trusted travelers...

Too bad it was a couple pilots who redirected a plane into the World Trade Center. I'm certain "airline pilots" in this case actually signifies "white, male, veteran airline pilots with U.S. citizenship."

The TSA is also making the assumption that pilots are just as trustworthy in any passenger seat as they are in the cockpit. It just so happens that pilots can perform the most damage while they're in the cockpit.

...the preponderance of intelligence indicates that children 12-and-under pose little risk to aviation security.

Alright, then a terrorist could hire a 12-year-old accomplice. (Strange and difficult, perhaps, but not impossible.)

OmriSeptember 15, 2011 7:42 AM

So nice that our TSA is formalizing a system for distinguishing first class and second class citizens.

mooSeptember 15, 2011 8:54 AM

@Christian Koch:

"Airline pilots" means "pilots who are employed by the airline and are scheduled to pilot that flight".

Hijackers aren't "airline pilots" even if they happen to know how to fly a plane.

scpSeptember 15, 2011 10:17 AM

As an ex-lifeguard, I was fascinated by the lifeguard's activities at Great Wolf Lodge (http://www.greatwolf.com/sandusky/safety).

I know first hand how boring it can be to sit and wait for something to happen that's never going to happen (except when it does). These folks regularly use, "Vigilance Awareness Training using under water mannequins and live actors to simulate emergency situations" in order to help the lifeguards maintain their attention; while the pools are open and occupied.

I imagine it would be much easier to stay focused when you know for sure that something is going to happen, but don't know what. It would be interesting to see how techniques like this could be used with a private airport security force.

Seems to me, it would accomplish two things. 1.) Keep the guards more alert and 2.) reduce the negative impact on the victims of false-positives, since they might well be coworkers of the security agent who notices the anomaly.

Possible draw-back, would the agent assume that a real situation was a staged one?

HJohnSeptember 15, 2011 11:42 AM

@Christian Koch: Alright, then a terrorist could hire a 12-year-old accomplice. (Strange and difficult, perhaps, but not impossible.)
___________

They would more likely use a 12 year old, or a 80 year old in a wheelchair, to smuggle something by security than they would try to recruit one. The shoe scanning is silly, but you have to apply any procedures consistently otherwise you create an easy path.

NobodySpecialSeptember 15, 2011 5:33 PM

@moo "Airline pilots" means "pilots who are employed by the airline and are scheduled to pilot that flight".

SilkAir Flight 185
FedEx Express Flight 705
EgyptAir Flight 990

Dirk PraetSeptember 15, 2011 7:01 PM

Mr. Pistole's musings bear a remarkable resemblance to those of our nation's fine politicians who after 458 days of negociations (!!!!) still haven't been able to form a new Belgian government.

They should be read as "we are totally clueless and have created an absolute abomination, but we'll continue to throw things at the wall to find out what sticks as long as we can keep our really well-paid jobs". I'm with Jeffrey Goldberg and John Mica all the way.

Clive RobinsonSeptember 16, 2011 12:55 AM

@ Dirk Praet,

"Mr. Pistole's musings bear a remarkable resemblance to those of our nation's fine politicians who after 458 days of negociations still haven't been able to form a new Belgian government"

Don't "knock it" Belgium is running a very very interesting socialogical experiment put simply as

"Do we need politicians?"

And on balance after well over a year the answer. appears to be no....

Have a look at how Belgium is responding to the "Euro Crisis" compared to both it's nearest neighbours and the rest of Europe as an example.

Then look at other areas such as law making...

The list goes on Belgium appears to be quite happily going about it's business without the "totally clueless" politicians...

Thus the secondary more complex question arises from the simple follow on question "how long can this go on?" which is,

"Is the functions of state like a machine on auto pilot or an autonomous creature going about it's ordinary business of day to day living?"

If the latter then there is no reason why Belgium should not consider the "Swiss Canton" model of democracy and get shot of a needless waste of near criminals and their cohorts who form the Political/Lobbying system of purchasing "privilege".

Belgium is currently an example of why we should limit the power of legislation from politicians, one way of which I've indicated before is to give them other more important work to do like actually "usefully" revise existing legislation by the use of "sunset clauses" in ALL legislation.

Oh and my other recomendation has always been a box at the bottom of the ballot paper with "none of the above" beside it (which Belgium has unintentionaly ticked ;)

tensorSeptember 20, 2011 12:52 AM

"Another aspect of our risk-based, intelligence-driven security system is the trusted traveler proof-of-concept that will begin this fall. 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."

Other commenters have focused on the "voluntary" aspect of this shake-down; as a scientist I focus on the "trusted traveler" part of the fallacy.

As Mr. Schneier likes to remind us, this merely increases the cost of terrorism -- and, I'd bet, only by a little. Whatever resources the terrorists need expend to become "trusted" simply becomes part of their budget.

In "Cryptonomicon", Neal Stephenson (with Mr. Schneier's help?) reminds us that security relies upon a "completely random" process. "Mostly random is not good enough!" declares cryptoanalyst supreme Dr. Rudolph Hackelheber. Unless we use a completely random process to select travelers to screen, we can get played by the terrorists. Criminals willing to attend flight school -- not an inexpensive endeavor, BTW -- will absorb this little extra cost as well.

AlexSeptember 24, 2011 10:29 AM

The only "future" I see for the TSA is disbandment. This has been an extremely costly experiment in personal dignities, freedoms we've previously enjoyed, and the financial expense. $8 BILLION a year!?!?! Give me a break.

If the pre-9/11 screening rules were followed, 9/11 wouldn't have happened. The only positive security change which has been made since was the installation of reinforced cockpit doors. Otherwise the rest has been a complete sham.

Bring back the pre-9/11 rules. They worked fine for nearly 30 years until some lazy screeners (TSA surely doesn't have any of these, right?) didn't follow the well-tested procedures.

Anyone here remember flying in the years shortly after deregulation? Flying was enjoyable, truly enjoyable. You didn't need to get to the airport hours ahead of time, you and your family walked through metal detectors and tossed your carry-ons on the x-ray machine. Your family could come all the way to the gate with you, even if they weren't flying. And everyone (including security & airline staff) was pleasant. Quite sad that my children won't know any of that other than stories older people would tell.

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