Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Ring in the New Year, Not the Walk Through Metal Detector

As 2008 closes, so does the first year of the blog. We’ve published 121 posts (not counting this one) and have had over half a million visits to our blog along with over 16,000 comments. (The hits just keep on coming)

It’s been great to read comments from all of our different personalities on the blog over the last year. While some of our readers agree with us and some agree to disagree, it’s these types of personalities all melted and mixed in a fondue pot that help make blogs a little more interesting to dip into. We’ve had the opportunity to open some eyes as to why we do the things we do. We’ve also had our eyes opened a few times.

The TSA EoS Blog Team would like to thank everybody who’s helped out with the blog this year. There are so many folks behind the scenes that you just don’t see. You’ve got the IT folks, legal, our officers and other TSA folks in various positions in the field, several HQ departments that help us with research from time to time, and of course, all of our readers and commenters.

Have fun ringing in the New Year, but if you’re traveling through an airport, please remember to divest all metal objects, or you’ll be ringing in the walkthrough metal detector. Oh, and yes… champagne is a liquid.

The Blog Team would like to wish everyone a safe and happy New Year and we’ll see you in 2009!



EoS Blog Team

Monday, December 22, 2008

TSA on 60 Minutes

TSA and aviation security was featured in a 60 Minutes segment with Lesley Stahl last night. Transportation Security Officers LaDonta Edwards (BWI airport) and Gary Wilkes (DCA airport) were interviewed along with TSA Administrator Kip Hawley.

We gave CBS an inside look at TSA’s new training for all officers designed to calm the checkpoint, better identify threats and improve security by changes in how officers engage passengers. Our officers appreciated the time spent talking with Ms. Stahl, and she was certainly surprised to learn that one of the strangest things officers had seen come through the X-ray machine was a baby in an infant carrier. (Seems some people take the “Never wake a sleeping baby” mantra a little too seriously.)

Ms. Stahl had access to the TSA Operations Center, also known as the Freedom Center. This is our main information center, where analysts monitor the entire transportation network and connect TSA with the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Aviation Administration, FBI, and other law enforcement and security agencies. It is the kind of place you would hope exists in the post 9/11 world.

During an airport visit, Ms. Stahl and Kip Hawley operated the multi-view X-ray machines at BWI and saw how the improved technology helps officers find suspect items by highlighting areas of concern on the screen. While in the remote viewing location for the whole body imager, Ms. Stahl was surprised to see that it was not the “pornographic” image she thought it would be.

The piece also includes Bruce Schneier, security expert (and blogger) who calls some of TSA’s measures “security theater.” We agree with Bruce’s comments in the piece about terrorists being able to change their tactics every time something is banned or receives added scrutiny (guns, box cutters, liquids, shoes, etc.). That’s why we’re using new officer training and technology to be more proactive and going after hostile intent through the use of Behavior Detection Officers. These officers are trained to look for involuntary behaviors people trying to evade security display and can distinguish them from the behaviors of the average frazzled passenger late for a flight.

We understand that some checkpoint security measures annoy many Americans, but because of the intelligence information gathered from around the world, TSA deems these measures are necessary. We appreciate any opportunity to highlight our officers, enhance public understanding about why we do what we do, and show what motivates us every day in order to keep air travel safe.

To see the 60 Minutes segment, click here.

Ellen Howe
Guest EoS Blogger

Friday, December 19, 2008

TSA Outside of the Airport

Next month I will celebrate my 7th anniversary with TSA and the one constant over these past years has been the added elements of responsibility. What started as concentration on aviation security after the attacks of 9/11 has evolved into a web of security tools and partnerships that span all modes of transportation, local and state governments and stakeholders near and far.

While this may be seen as a “puppy post” by some, I thought it would be helpful and informative to let you all know that we are about more than just the TSOs and the FAMS you always hear about.

For instance, we get lots of questions about why this or why that in a foreign country. The fact is, TSA is responsible for implementing and enforcing security standards in domestic airports, that’s about 450 airports in our country. We work with our foreign partners to harmonize measures. For instance, approximately 80 countries are on the same regime for liquids. Flights from foreign countries to the United States must adhere to our security standards. TSA has security representatives in 19 countries around the globe. These individuals are responsible for working with local governments and carriers, US and foreign, that fly to, from or over the US to ensure they're complying with regulations.

The agency is working aggressively with our U.S. Coast Guard colleagues to complete the enrollment of all USCG-credentialed mariners and all personnel requiring unescorted access to secure areas of Maritime Transportation Security Act regulated vessels and facilities into the Transportation Worker Identification Card program. With an estimated 1.2 million people to enroll, TSA has already signed up more than 700,000 mariners and is well on the well to meet the nationwide compliance date of April 15.

The original compliance date of September 15 was extended to April 15 as a direct result of collaboration with port officials and industry, and realigns the enrollment period with the original intent of the TWIC final rule. The original compliance date was based on an 18 month enrollment period scheduled to begin March of 2007. The beginning of enrollment was suspended and the first port (Wilmington, DE) began enrolling workers in October 2007. This allowed for less than one year to enroll more than 1.2 million workers.

While nationwide enforcement is being realigned to April 2009, several ports have already complied and several more will become compliant in the coming months.

In Transportation Sector Network Management or TSNM, we lead the unified national effort to protect and secure a wide range of our nation’s transportation systems. TSNM covers highway and motor carriers, maritime, mass transit, pipelines, freight rail and general aviation.

As our Web site states, “every day, the transportation network connects cities, manufacturers, and retailers, moving large volumes of goods and individuals through a complex network of approximately 4 million miles of roads and highways, more than 100,000 miles of rail, 600,000 bridges, more than 300 tunnels and numerous sea ports, 2 million miles of pipeline, 500,000 train stations, and 500 public-use airports.”

How do we help? Well, essentially through grants and other supporting programs. Unlike aviation security, TSA is not charged with providing the physical security itself but with coordinating and regulating it. So we work with our industry partners and develop tools and exercises that help each “Sector” become more secure and therefore more safe.

For instance, recently TSA worked with local authorities by funding an exercise with a goal of being able to safely and predictably stop a transit bus remotely. Why would we want to stop a bus? Transit buses could be appealing to terrorists because of their unprecedented access to large population centers, critical infrastructures, etc., so stopping a bus might occur if the bus was hijacked by terrorists or was stolen for use as a Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED).

The system, developed in coordination with TSA and industry, uses cellular communications and patches into the existing safety controls on the bus to restrict speed and activate the brake system on the bus to bring it to a safe stop and opens the doors for unobstructed access by law enforcement. The commands are received at the speed of texting, giving law enforcement a way to predict, and therefore choose, a location to stop the bus. This is just one example of things TSNM is doing to make all modes of transportation more safe.

Of course one blog post is not enough space to write about the dozens of proprietary K9 teams now charged with screening cargo, the hundreds of rail inspectors working with industry to enhance the secure infrastructure of that system, the men and women of TSA working to shore up general aviation or pipelines or subways or on and on.

I just thought that while so many bicker and argue about shoes or coats or laptops, thousands of folks at TSA are doing good work that keeps Americans safe each and every day.
So I hope you are as intrigued as I am about the work this agency does, because I would almost bet, you never even knew we did some of the things we do. I know I didn’t.


EoS Blog Team

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Artful Concealment?

So, what exactly is artful concealment? Prior to working for TSA, I had never heard the term before. I used the term in a blog post a couple of months ago and based on the responses I got, many of our readers didn't seem to be too familiar with the term either.

So what does it mean? Does it mean to artfully conceal something you need to have Bob Ross paint a happy little tree on it so we won’t see it? Nope…

Let me give you a few examples, and then I’ll give you a definition.

A sword in a cane. A gun umbrella. A derringer belt buckle. A cell phone stun gun. A crucifix knife. A hollowed out bible with a gun inside. A gun taped to the bottom of a steel plate. I could give many more examples, but I don’t really want to give folks any ideas.

So basically, artful concealment is when you disguise an object by modifying its natural form to the form of something that will conceal it. This can be done by modifying the object to look like a permissible object, or it can be done by hiding the object in a belt, or shoe, bag lining etc. An artfully concealed item can also be an item that has been intentionally shielded by another object to hide its view from the x-ray.

In many cases, folks go through a lot of trouble concealing something with an item our x-rays can see right through. It’s sometimes comical to see the things that people think will fool an x-ray.

Here are some of the artfully concealed items that came through various checkpoints around the country just yesterday.

• A passenger was arrested after an officer found 19 rounds of .38 caliber ammunition hidden in their carry-on bag. The ammunition was taped together, wrapped in aluminum foil, and placed inside the handle of his carry-on bag.

• An artfully concealed 3-inch bladed belt buckle knife was detected in the carry-on bag of a passenger. The passenger surrendered the knife and was allowed to continue on their flight.

• A 2-inch pocketknife was hidden inside a laptop. The knife was located between the keyboard and the laptop screen. The passenger stated he knew the knife was in the laptop and that it was a prohibited item. Law enforcement officers issued a summons to appear in court and allowed the passenger to continue on the flight.

• A cane with an 18-inch sword blade was found during checkpoint screening. The police responded, confiscated the cane and interviewed the passenger who stated she did not know the cane (which was given to her by her husband) contained a sword. Law enforcement officers allowed the passenger to continue on the flight.

• A passenger was arrested after an artfully concealed 4½-inch knife was found inside a Santa Claus ornament. Police responded, confiscated the knife, and interviewed the passenger who stated she received the item as a gift and did not know there was a knife inside.

• A concealed pocketknife was detected during checkpoint screening. The passenger alarmed the metal detector and said that he had metal implants in his left hip. The passenger again alarmed the metal detectors and was referred to secondary screening. During hand wanding procedures, the passenger alarmed on his right side. The passenger produced a utility knife with a 2½-inch blade and wooden handle from his right pocket. State Police responded, confiscated the knife and arrested the passenger on the state charge of attempting to circumvent security screening.

• A 2½-inch knife was found inside a passenger’s belt buckle. The County Sheriff’s Department responded, took possession of the knife, and interviewed the passenger. Law enforcement officers allowed the passenger to surrender the prohibited item to a non-traveling family member and continue on the flight.

There are also a few blasts from the past I’d like to mention. We’ve had a gun in a teddy bear and a diaper bag, a knife in a baby carrier, and too many cane-swords to mention. Many of these canes are hand-me-downs or were purchased at an antique store or yard sale and the passenger had no idea whatsoever that there was a sword inside.

So what’s the moral of this story? It’s not worth getting arrested or delayed in your travels to sneak a small knife on a plane. And before you leave for the airport, double check your bags, belt and pocket for items that could cause you trouble at a checkpoint.


EoS Blog Team

Update 12/17/08 1846: This happened after our blog post went live, but we wanted to share it with you anyway. After noticing a piece of metal in a shoe on the x-ray monitor, a passenger was caught artfully concealing a crack pipe under their shoe insert.


EoS Blog Team

Update 12/26/08 1500: Five rounds of .38 caliber ammunition were detected artfully concealed in a deck of cards in the carry-on bag of a passenger. The deck of cards were glued together and had five individual bore holes drilled out in order to hold the five rounds. Police responded and interviewed the passenger, who stated he “wanted to keep the bullets out of the reach of his kids.” Police arrested the passenger on the State Charge of Unlawful Possession of Ammunition.


EoS Blog Team

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

In-Line Baggage Screening: Increased Security and Convenience

Most Americans know that all checked luggage is required to go through screening before it goes onto the plane, but what happens behind the scenes? One of two types of screening systems are being used at airports across the country. “Stand-alone” inspection systems can often be found in the public lobby of an airport terminal near the airline check-in counters—although they are sometimes installed in locations outside of public view. These labor-intensive systems are typically used in small airports or in specific zones with low baggage volumes.

“Stand-Alone” Baggage Screening System Schematic

“In-Line” inspection systems, unlike their stand-alone counterparts, use heavily automated networks of Explosive Detection Systems (EDS) able to handle thousands of bags each hour at busy airports. More than half of the 2 million people that fly each day go through airports with in-line baggage screening systems.

These systems use conveyor belts to automatically screen, sort, and track baggage. Multiple EDS machines are linked to a centralized control room and several “resolution rooms.” When a bag triggers an alarm, the bag’s image is transmitted to the resolution room where trained officers determine whether a physical inspection is warranted.

If a physical inspection is required, the bag is routed via conveyor belt to an inspection area where TSA officers screen the contents of the bag while under constant supervision by closed circuit TV. A notice is placed inside each bag that is physically examined indicating an inspection took place. If there’s a problem afterward, the CCTV footage can be used to determine if a particular bag was indeed hand-searched and by whom. Once an alarm is resolved, the bag is placed back on the conveyor belt and sent on its way to the plane.

Other benefits of this technology: since the in-line system is heavily automated, the number of physical injuries sustained by officers due to lifting baggage is reduced, TSA can track each and every bag throughout the process.

“In-Line” Baggage Screening System Schematic
To learn more about how in-line baggage systems work, check out this link.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Frequent Traveler's Experience on the Other Side of the Line

My name is Christine, and I've worked for TSA for about 3 years now working on the Web team at Headquarters. I spend most of my time doing technical stuff, but I also dabble in some writing. I'm an avid traveler (it's a passion of mine) and I've had the pleasure of going through airport security in 22 countries across 6 continents. More on those experiences in later blog posts 'cause today's is about being on the other side of the security line....

I spent 4 hours volunteering at DCA's Terminal 'A' checkpoint on Monday. It was pretty busy and after a quick briefing with the Supervisory Transportation Security Officer, I was given the title of "bag loader"and jumped right in there to assist passengers with placing their carry-ons through the X-ray, and answer questions like, "Can I bring this through?" or "Do I have to take this off?"

I encountered many friendly passengers during the first half of my shift, and I have to hand it to the elderly, they were just so laid back and had a pretty good sense of humor about the whole thing. One elderly gentleman, sitting in a wheelchair no less, joked to his wife about having to get down to his "skivvies." After that, came the extra friendly passenger who winked at me...twice. Okay, maybe that will work in the grocery store checkout line but it's not going to get you too far in this scenario, buddy. Another female passenger asked whether or not she had to remove her "bling." I told her it would probably be a good idea.

Speaking of the metal detector - it's called that for a reason. Much to my surprise, many of the passengers did not check their pockets before going through it and guess what? They beeped. Repeatedly, I watched passengers get back in line for another bin and go through the metal detector again. In my opinion, this is the easiest part of security (metal=beep) yet it continued to be a sticky point for passengers throughout the day and probably cost them the most time.

Now for the second part of my shift. First up was a passenger who presented an expired airport ID to the travel document checker. A few minutes were added to his security experience to verify his identity and then he was cleared to go. Next up I encountered the stereotypical late, rushed passenger stressed out about having to make his flight (he was sweating and saying things under his breath). He got to the metal detector and X-ray with his with jacket, shoes, and tons of stuff in his pockets. I watched as he made not one, not two, but three trips to the metal detector to get it right. His last trip through was the kicker, though: he took his belt off it and swung it down on the conveyer belt so hard that it bounced up and almost hit me in the face.

By the end of the day I needed a break (I'm used to sitting at a desk all day, after all) so I took 15 minutes. On my way back to my post, I got in line to go through the metal detector in front of a woman holding her dog. I stepped through and the metal detector alarmed. Not sure why, but I might have brushed the side of the detector by accident. The woman with the dog rolled her eyes and sarcastically asked me if I spoke English. Clearly she wasn't in the holiday spirit with fellow passengers (she thought I was one). I wanted to say that I spoke English and Spanish but I smiled politely instead and went back to my post.

My experience on Monday made me acutely aware of just how fast everything happens at the checkpoint, even though, as a passenger, I feel that I go through at a normal pace. It was difficult for me to focus sometimes because of the chaos in the background. The most challenging part was placing the seemingly never-ending load of bags through the X-ray and watching passengers walk through the metal detector and back, over and over again. It's monotonous but also must be mentally challenging to officers who have to do their jobs while also looking for threats. Kudos to all the TSOs out there who do this every day.

EoS Guest Blogger

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving Holiday Airport Traffic Decreased Nationwide

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is usually a very busy day at the nation’s airports, and traditionally, the second busiest travel day of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. As we noted in an earlier post, the Air Transport Association forecasted a 10 percent drop in the number of passengers traveling on U.S. airlines during that time.

TSA data collected from airports nationwide proved the forecast right. Based on data collected from this past Wednesday, the number of passengers going through TSA checkpoints decreased 16 percent nationwide - and 14 percent at the nation’s 40 busiest airports - compared to last year.

Of the top 40 U.S. airports, the biggest decreases in passenger volume through security checkpoints on Wednesday were at Honolulu International Airport (35 percent); John Wayne Airport in Orange County, CA (32 percent); Tampa International Airport (27 percent) and Newark International Airport (22 percent).

Airports with the smallest drop in passenger volume were San Francisco International Airport (5 percent), Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (5 percent), Boston Logan International Airport (6 percent), Denver International Airport (9 percent) and Indianapolis International Airport (8 percent).

Update: The above data reflects the number of people screened by TSA at security checkpoints, not the total number of enplanements at airports. TSA data doesn't include people who had connecting flights through airports who do not go through the checkpoint. The post has been updated above to reflect this clarification.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Just Back from BWI - A Thanksgiving Checkpoint Report

I just spent five hours working alongside Transportation Security Officers at Baltimore Washington International's Southwest Terminal A to help out with the traditional Wednesday-before-Thanksgiving-rush. Thing is, no rush ever occurred. Sure, there was a steady flow of traffic through the checkpoint without much of a break, but the queue never really grew beyond 30 people.

Officers were out in full force manning five separate lanes-including the Family Lane that rolled out November 20. While families and those with special needs certainly appreciated Family Lane availability, the checkpoint was moving so smoothly, that all lanes were readily able to handle all types of passengers regardless of their particular situation.

Like many of my fellow headquarters colleagues who volunteered for the Thanksgiving weekend, I helped officers with bin removal and replacement in the lanes. I also helped spread traffic around to each of the five lanes to expedite the entire process. As I stood behind the Travel Document Checker podium, a frazzled mother approached me and asked:

"Is that the Family Lane over there?"

I replied, "Yes it is."

"Should we go over there?"

"Do you have any medical liquids over 3.4 ounces?"

"Nope. We're traveling pretty light here."

"Then you're good to go right where you are [which happened to be lane 2-the shortest line at the moment]."

Another good thing I noticed during my time at BWI: pies, cakes, and other holiday food items went through checkpoints without incident-though some items were subjected to additional screening.

The holiday spirit was on display as another passenger approached "TSO Dave" while he was helping bags through the X-ray machine and said: "You guys are doing a heck of a job today." Little things like that mean a lot.

While things went smoothly for the most part, there was one interesting moment around noon. As I was chatting with passengers and helping them with their bins, I noticed an Evian bottle with less than three ounces of red liquid in it under one of the metal tables situated in front of the X-ray conveyor belt. I picked it up, and let an officer know where I found it. He quickly placed the bottle into a little bowl and sent it through the X-ray machine. Based on the image displayed on our end, the officers was able to verify that the liquid was not in fact dangerous and disposed of it.* I love technology.

There's been plenty of articles out there about the decrease in traffic over the 2008 holiday season, but it was very clear from my first hand experience at BWI that TSA's officers, expeditious security features, and prepared travelers certainly helped the flow of traffic today.

It was an awesome experience to work with the BWI team and experience firsthand what they do every day.

Hopefully my experience at the checkpoint will continue through Sunday and Monday. Look for another post from my colleague Christine, who will be volunteering at Washington DC-Reagan National Airport on Monday.

Quick update: Traffic has just started to pick up (2:45pm), but all five lanes are still running smoothly. Family Lane is being used primarily by families. Special needs individuals (wheelchairs, etc.) are still being taken care of in all lanes.

Happy Thanksgiving and safe travels to all.

- Poster Paul

* Clarification: While X-ray can detect many things, it cannot detect all types of liquid explosives. That's why the 3-1-1 liquids rule was put in place in September 2006 and will remain in place until a technology solution is tested and deployed. In this case, when an abandoned item was found at a checkpoint, officers used available technology to screen it to ensure passengers' safety and then disposed of it.

Easy as Pie

I spoke with the TSA Contact center today to see what the number one travel question was so far this holiday season. Drum roll please…

Can I take my pie with me on the plane?

The answer is yes! Just send it through the X-ray and you’ll be one step closer to enjoying your delicious pie. We do suggest you take it as a carry-on so it doesn’t get squashed in your checked luggage.

Mmmm. I like pie. I dig Pecan, Rhubarb and Sesame Seed pie. Mmmmm!

Have a great Thanksgiving!

Follow @TSA on Twitter and Instagram! 
Bob Burns
TSA Social Media Team

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Blogger Roundtable at TSA HQ with Secretary Chertoff and Administrator Hawley

On November 17, several bloggers gathered together at TSA Headquarters for a roundtable chat with DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff and TSA Administrator Kip Hawley.

The following bloggers accepted the invitation and participated in the roundtable:

Rich Cooper – Security Debrief

Jonah Czerwinski – Homeland Security Watch

Barbara Peterson – Conde Nast Traveler & Daily Traveler

Matt Phillips – Wall Street Journal & The Middle Seat Terminal

Tom Smith - ACI-NA

Benet Wilson – Aviation Week & Towers and Tarmacs

Chad Wolf – Security Debrief

You can read the entire transcript of the roundtable by clicking here.



EoS Blog Team

Monday, November 24, 2008

Thanksgiving Travel Projected to Decrease this Year

This Thanksgiving season will be the first time that the Air Transport Association of America (ATA) has projected a decrease in holiday passenger traffic since 2001. Higher fuel prices combined with reduced consumer spending have led to a projected 10% drop in the number of passengers and flights in the 12-day period spanning November 21 (Friday before) through December 2 (Tuesday after), as compared to the same period in 2007. (Click here and here)

Even though passenger traffic is expected to drop, as always, TSA has ramped up holiday staffing at the checkpoints to ensure passengers get through smoothly. It always helps to come prepared so you can help keep lines moving. Check out the Travelers Page (click here) for special holiday information regarding food and gift items, tips on how to pack, and a list of things you shouldn’t bring on a plane.

While wait times may vary from airport to airport, last year, the average wait at peak flying times was less than 13 minutes during the holiday weekend. The busiest travel days are usually the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday/Monday after.

Here are projections for busy airports this Thanksgiving, courtesy of Orbitz.

Orbitz chart showing the top 10 busiest airports, click here for more

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Starting today, the Ad Council will launch the “Why?” campaign. The campaign will explain the reasons behind some of TSA’s most controversial security procedures. The goal of this public awareness effort is to reach the largest audience possible explaining to the traveling public what TSA does and why we do it.

Launching just before the take off of the busy Thanksgiving holiday travel season, videos and Web banners will be posted online and complemented by national radio messages. Travelers will find bits and pieces of the campaign when they visit major travel and airline Web pages. They will also see “Why?” at

More than 23 million passengers were screened at our checkpoints last year during the holiday season, and many of those passengers travel infrequently. Those are the travelers we’d most like to reach. Passenger feedback has shown us that people are more willing to comply with security procedures if they understand the “why” behind the measure. It’s true that for every security protocol there is a relevant security concern. TSA uses its partnerships with law enforcement, global allies and with other federal agencies to review and update security measures based on current information.

As a former Transportation Security Officer, I can attest to the fact that the novice or infrequent travelers slow down the lines a great deal. So by combining the “Why?” effort with the expanded Family/Medical Liquids lanes, TSA is working to increase security while improving the passenger experience. The family lanes will enable families, first time travelers to go through a line where they won’t be rushed or pressured. We are also encouraging people with larger medical liquids in tow to use this lane as well so we can inspect these larger liquids.

TSA’s partnership with the Ad Council will cover a variety of measures. During Thanksgiving the focus is on some of the common pain points: why must I take off my shoes?, why limited liquids in a baggie?.

The bottom line is TSA wants passengers to know that we are on your side and you play a role in security by being ready and cooperative at the checkpoint.

Check out the Videos:

The videos feature one of our very own Transportation Security Officers.
EoS Blog Team

Thursday, November 13, 2008

FAMS Director Comments on USA Today Story

A story in USA Today does a great disservice to the Federal Air Marshal Service. Like any law enforcement agency, a small percentage of bad apples always garner more media attention than the overwhelming number of outstanding professionals. While sensationalizing the regrettable acts of a very few may make for good front page news, it doesn’t tell anywhere near the whole story of an organization.

Since coming to the Federal Air Marshal Service more than five years ago and becoming Director in July, I have had the honor of serving alongside air marshals from all over the country. These are fine men and women who proudly carry out their mission of keeping air travel safe. One law enforcement officer joined the Federal Air Marshal Service after some of his family members were killed on one of the planes on 9/11. Another joined after helping to evacuate people from the Pentagon on 9/11, where his focus was so much on helping people that he didn’t notice the burns on his own body until later that day. In the last two years, more than 30 percent of our new hires were veterans.

While air marshals work behind the scenes, we cannot underestimate the value they add to aviation security throughout the country and the world. They put their lives on the line every day to keep passengers and flight crews safe. Among our ranks are military veterans, law enforcement officers, and other dedicated professionals from varied and accomplished backgrounds. All who join the ranks of the air marshal service have met the most stringent suitability standards and have successfully completed a rigorous 15-week training program.

That being said, there have been incidents of criminal misconduct with air marshals over the years. We take every allegation seriously, we investigate them thoroughly and if the allegations are true, we work to quickly remove the individual from our ranks while assuring them due process. Although the actual number of FAMs cannot be discussed publicly, the number of offenders is exceedingly small compared to the total members of our workforce.

As an organization that was quickly enlarged in the wake of 9/11, growing pains are expected. To understand the needs and concerns of our workforce, FAMS leadership has been engaging with our frontline workforce and maintaining regular dialogues with air marshals both in person and in other methods. We have held formal listening sessions with significant numbers of air marshals, and established communications networks to ensure we’re aware of field concerns that could affect our work.

I am proud of the men and women of the Federal Air Marshal Service, and I don’t want the public to think that the vast majority of federal air marshals are represented by the acts of a few who chose to misuse their position. Our workforce is highly trained, sincerely dedicated to their security mission and they work without personal credit for their successes.

Bob Bray
Director, Federal Air Marshal Service

Monday, November 10, 2008

Family/Special Needs Lanes Coming to All Airports in Time for Thanksgiving Travel

The Diamond Self Select Program [link] started back in February 2008 at Salt Lake City International Airport and is now operating in 48 airports. The program allows passengers to proceed through the security checkpoint at their own pace by selecting one of three lanes: Black Diamond (for Expert Travelers), Blue Square (for Casual Travelers), and Green Circle (for Families, those with special needs, and those unfamiliar with TSA procedures.)

Today, TSA announced that the Family/Special Needs Lane (Green Circle) will be implemented at every security checkpoint across the nation by November 20, 2008—just in time for the busy Thanksgiving travel season.

While many frequent travelers appreciate the Black Diamond Lane, we’ve also seen a great deal of success with the Family Lanes. Families and those with special needs appreciate the extra time and assistance, and our officers have seen the number of prohibited items in these lanes drop significantly because passengers have more time to divest.

From a risk management standpoint, directing all medically necessary liquids that exceed the 3-1-1 limits to a dedicated lane makes sense. This move is the first step in the path forward on liquids that Kip Hawley wrote about last month [link].

What do passengers need to know about this development? If you’re flying after November 20th and carrying medically necessary liquids in containers larger than 3 ounces, you should use the Family Lane. Medically necessary liquids include: baby formula, breast milk, insulin, cough syrup, contact lens solution, and prescription medications. These liquids must be presented to a TSA Officer for additional screening, which should usually take less than 2 minutes.
If you don’t have any exempt liquids, proceed with your baggie to any other security lane. Remember, you can pack any amount of liquid in your checked luggage.

Poster Paul

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Paperless Boarding Pass Testimonial

While scouring the internet for TSA related information, I came across an interesting testimonial regarding paperless boarding passes from a passenger who travelled through the Detroit Metro Airport. (DTW)

“Checked in online for my flight today and saw a new option show up for an E-Boarding pass at DTW (note: only for direct flights). I had to try it, clicked and within 20 seconds a SMS message showed up on my phone with a link to the E-Boarding pass with a barcode on my cell phone (PDA). Not wanting to risk missing my flight, I also went back in and printed a boarding pass as a backup, that I never had to use.

I had a lot of questions on how it would really work, especially with having to show your boarding pass when you walk under the TSA metal detector and have to show your boarding pass and you are not allowed to bring your cell phone through. So he is how it went today:

TSA Boarding Pass Check - they have a new bar code reader that you hold your phone up to and it reads the bar code and you show them your ID to match the name that shows up on the screen. They then give you a Tuit (a Poker Chip with TSA on it).TSA Screening - Just like normal, except you hand them the Tuit instead of showing them your Boarding Pass with the TSA checkers initials on it. Sorry, they have to keep the Tuit, I was hoping to start a new game to see who could collect the most Tuits in 1 year.WorldClub - I use the Amex Plat. Card, so I have to show a Boarding Pass, ID and the Amex Card. They also have the same bar code reader and I put my phone in front of it and it scanned. Good to go. Gate - I held my phone on top of the normal reader the GA's use and it read it and I boarded without any problems. The only comment from the GA was the the last guy who tried it, didn't work. I'm sold, will be using the new E-Boarding Pass from now on. Didn't slow me down; however, I did get a lot of stares/attention from fellow pax's as I pulled out my PDA at screening, WorldClubs, Gate. “

I’d be interested to see if any of our other readers have tried this yet. So, if you've used this, please tell us about it.

Also, for your viewing pleasure, check out this MSNBC clip.


TSA EoS Blog Team

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Blogger Paul's Intro

It is with great pleasure that I begin my first official blog post at the TSA. I arrived at HQ last week with aspirations common to most recent college graduates. Pumped full of “unique” ideas that could potentially change the entire world, I decided to start with the TSA. My plan was simple and straight forward. I just needed someone in a position of authority to lend me their ear.

While my “unique” ideas are certain to be called into question from time to time, as a recent college graduate, my writing will attempt to synthesize an outsider’s perspective with insider knowledge. Having monitored the ongoing debate between TSA authorities and the public, I’ve discovered that both sides are (believe it or not) in agreement more often than they realize.

Since I don’t have the frontline experience like my colleague Bob, I’ll be spending the next few weeks meeting people here at TSA, spending time at local airports, and monitoring the blogosphere to see what other folks are talking about to come up with blog topics to cover.

Since I’ve come on board, I’ve spent some time at Baltimore Washington International Airport’s Southwest Airlines’ Terminal B learning about Checkpoint Evolution [link]. Like many travelers, the first thing I noticed was a wall of holograms and a faint blue glow from the lights lining the perimeter. As I wound my way through the line, I was greeted every so often by portraits of security officers (sometimes out of uniform) with brief bios below their pictures. Clearly, the intent behind these signs is to remind us that Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) are people just like the rest of us, and dedicated to their security mission. It was interesting to see that some are veterans or former law enforcement officers.

So here’s the overarching theory: when the checkpoint environment is calm and the majority of passengers lined up at a security checkpoint are relaxed (or as relaxed as anyone can reasonably be when trying to catch a flight), a suspicious person will oftentimes stand out in stark contrast from the rest of the crowd. Also, encouraging clear communication between security officers and passengers helps passengers understand the “why” behind the rules, and facilitates the flow of traffic through the security checkpoint.

Sure, lights and signs are nice, but they are not in and of themselves the main focus of Checkpoint Evolution. Aside from targeted technological improvements—such as Whole Body Imaging, advanced technology X-ray machines, and inter-officer communication via ear-piece—the greatest benefits to security and passengers’ experience come from one thing in particular: enhanced training. TSA officers I met at BWI have completed a 16-hour training course (although training is ongoing) that focuses on explosives detection, intelligence analysis, and techniques for improved passenger engagement, with the ultimate goal being threat detection. This training will be given to every frontline employee, and has already started in some airports.

I asked the BWI officers what they thought of Checkpoint Evolution and the response was very positive. “It has made our job a lot easier,” said one of the officers. “Striking up a casual conversation with passengers allows us to get a better feel for the situation—not to mention that it makes our day more pleasant.”

Next, I hope to attend some of the training sessions to see what they’re like and get more feedback. I’ll report on that later.

Now for the all important question: What do passengers think? I haven’t had the chance to chat with any Checkpoint Evolution veterans just yet, but if you’ve been through BWI’s Southwest Airlines’ Terminal B, let us know what you think by posting comments.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Path Forward on Liquids

When it comes to liquids, everybody involved with checkpoint operations -- passengers, airlines, airports, and TSA employees -- agrees that there has to be a better way. Here’s my take on the path forward.

For this discussion, I am using “liquids” as short-hand for liquids, aerosols, and gels and other novel types of explosives.

Intelligence shows that terrorists innovate in explosives formulas as well as the way they would bring them onboard an aircraft. That won’t change any time soon. If liquid restrictions are eased eventually it will be because of improved process and technology, not diminished threat.


TSA uses several technologies that are effective against liquid and other novel explosives.

Standard X-Ray is deployed everywhere and can effectively identify the presence of liquids and their containers. It is not reliable in differentiating all threat liquids from non-threat liquids. It is effective in the 3-1-1 environment by identifying whether there are liquids hidden in a bag – thus it is useful as a compliance tool.

Advanced Technology “AT” X-Ray is the next generation of X-ray equipment that has technology to examine the dimensions and density of objects within a carry-on bag. 500-600 (out of a total of about 2,000 lanes) will be deployed by the end of 2008. TSA will come close to doubling that number in 2009. AT X-Ray has two major advantages over standard X-Ray:

1) Better image resolution from the hardware side – it uses multiple view points; and

2) Smarter software. The image resolution benefit is immediate; the software will be improved over time.

More than 6,500 Trace Detection “ETD” units are deployed at both checkpoints and checked baggage areas to detect minute particles of explosives residue through the collection of trace samples. TSA has several hundred handheld ETD’s that are capable of detecting explosives particles as well as vapor.

Computed Tomography (CT) Scanners are checkpoint-sized versions of the large checked baggage scanners that have MRI-like capability that will detect anything – solids and liquids. They are large and expensive so TSA does not have many of them. We will be deploying them in smaller airports to screen both carry-on and checked baggage.

Several hundred bottle scanners - handheld or bench-top devices –are deployed throughout the country to provide TSA with the capability to differentiate liquid explosives from common, benign liquids. We use them to test exception liquids (medical needs above 3.4 ounces) and for spot checking passengers and bags.

Spectrometers, very advanced handheld units that can resolve any threat regardless of the chemistry involved, have been issued to TSA Bomb Appraisal Officers at major airports.

Hundreds of dropper-based or test strip-based chemical analyzers kits are deployed at smaller airports to resolve any concerns about individual exempt liquids larger than 3-1-1 in carry-ons.

About 40 Whole Body Imagers are deployed to larger airports around the country to date, and about 80 more will be deployed by spring-time. These are the walk-in portals that scan the body and can detect concealed items, including liquids.

And while they’re not actually a technology, it is important to note that about 2,000 TSA officers have been specially trained in Behavior Detection.

In addition, every officer in the country is receiving two days of specialized training – going on right now – to get at evolving threats, including liquids. To keep current, TSA runs IED drills every shift across the country, every day.

K-9 Teams (over 500) are another effective explosives detection capability and we use them in passenger areas, around the airport, and have several hundred additional teams just for air cargo.

Path Forward

We are deploying the best technology and training as fast as we can get it. The goal is to remove all the restrictions on liquids when we have automated systems that can accurately separate threat from non-threat liquids. Here’s the plan:

Now: We are pretty close to having a network of AT-X-Ray deployed so that nearly 70% of daily passengers will be using major airports with AT. TSA is getting the hardware installed so that when the software is ready in the next year or so, all we have to do is a software upgrade. We will be testing software versions in the coming months.

Fall-2009: Size restriction removed, but all liquids will have to be placed in a separate bin. AT X-Ray software will be advanced enough to tell the difference between threat and non-threat but not yet proven to tell the difference when it is hidden in a bag.

End of 2010: No restrictions. AT X-Ray will have upgraded software that is proven to detect threat liquids in any configuration and is deployed in enough places so that TSA can change the rules to meet one uniform standard for the country.

Next Steps

TSA is working with our partners around the world to share technology both ways and this has resulted in a faster development process and will mean that there could be common design standards with major partners like Canada, the EU, and Australia.

It is also likely that when the U.S. takes steps on liquid restrictions, we will do so in harmony with others, as we did with the 3-1-1 (three ounce container/one quart bag/one bag per person) liquids rule. It is fair to say that we and our global partners see the threat in the same way and know that a common, high level of security encompassing a large part of the world is in everybody’s best interests.

Right now at home, we’re looking at some short term options based on passenger feedback and input from airports and airlines. We think there is an opportunity to build on the Diamond Self-Select lanes systems that we have tried in 2008.

The Diamond Self-Select lanes system, where expert travelers and families choose the lane best suited for them, has worked well. The expert lanes are fast and the Family lanes are hassle-free and they are at 45 airports today. TSA, airports, and airlines can further develop that concept, and we’re looking at something along the following lines.

- Limit the Black Diamond (Expert) lanes more formally beyond self-select.
  • By number or size of carry-ons?
  • By 3-1-1 only, no exception liquids?
- Focus liquid detection technology at the Family/Special Needs lanes and ask those with exception liquids to go there – speeding up the other lanes in the process?

Liquids restrictions are with us for the better part of the next year but we all realize that a simple, hassle-free security process is good for passengers and security too. Thank you for coming to and I am looking forward to your feedback.
Kip Hawley

***Update 10/27/08***
3 oz or 3.4 oz? What gives???

OK, here’s the scoop. If the U.S. would have switched to the metrics system in the 70s, this wouldn’t be an issue.

When the TSA lifted the total liquid ban and implemented the 3-1-1 program, the permissible amount of liquids, aerosols and gels was 3oz. Press releases went out, WebPages were updated, and signs were printed and shipped out nationwide to 457 airports. A lot of work went into the 3-1-1 campaign.

When the TSA rolled this out, the European Union was not on board yet. When the EU decided to allow liquids to travel, the amount permitted was 100ml. Well, as we all know, 100ml = 3.4oz. not 3 oz.

In order to align with the EU, we decided to allow liquids in containers up to 3.4oz, but we decided to keep our signage the same. The 3-1-1 program was so successful, that it would have been a shame to change it to 3.4-1-1. J

TSOs nationwide should be allowing liquids up to 3.4oz. If they are not, you can ask for a supervisor or you can use our Got Feedback program.

EoS Blog Team

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

TSA’s Take on the Atlantic Article

Bruce Schneier and others have raised a number of good issues about TSA’s role in aviation security but veer off course when our work is described as ‘security theater.’ Some examples from a recent article in the Atlantic magazine are worth examining and I would put them in three categories as they represent three different layers of security: 1) items carried through checkpoints on the body; 2) watch-lists and boarding passes; and 3) behavior detection. The comments about TSA not hassling the reporter for carrying a Hezbollah flag or AQ T-shirt are more in the entertainment category along with the thought of splashing water on your face to simulate sweating as a demonstration that behavior detection doesn’t work.

Items carried on the person, be they a ‘beer belly’ or concealed objects in very private areas, are why we are buying over 100 whole body imagers in upcoming months and will deploy more over time. In the meantime, we use hand-held devices that detect hydrogen peroxide and other explosives compounds as well as targeted pat-downs that require private screening.

Watch-lists and identity checks are important and effective security measures. We identify dozens of terrorist-related individuals a week and stop No-Flys regularly with our watch-list process. Dozens more people with security concerns are identified through finding altered or forged documents, including boarding passes. Using stolen credit cards and false documents as a way to get around watch-lists makes the point that forcing terrorists to use increasingly risky tactics has its own security value. Boarding pass scanners and encryption are being tested in eight airports now and more will be coming.

Behavior detection works and we have 2,000 trained officers at airports today. They alert us to people who may pose a threat but who may also have items that could elude other layers of physical security.

The bigger point is that there are vulnerabilities everywhere and we use multiple layers of different security measures to protect us all from instances where one vulnerability can be exploited. The standard for TSA is not perfection, but material reduction of risk.

Clever terrorists can use innovative ways to exploit vulnerabilities. But don’t forget that most bombers are not, in fact, clever. Living bomb-makers are usually clever, but the person agreeing to carry it may not be super smart. Even if “all” we do is stop dumb terrorists, we are reducing risk.

Stopping the ‘James Bond’ terrorist is truly a team effort and I whole-heartedly agree that the best way to stop those attacks is with intelligence and law enforcement working together. Anyone who knows would tell you that TSA is, in fact, an intelligence-driven operation, working daily with our colleagues throughout the counter-terrorism community in that common effort.

Kip Hawley

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

From Obscurity to Oprah

A few weeks ago, I started what began as a normal day. I got up and got ready for work just as I would any other day. I'm a Behavior Detection Officer at TSA, working behind the scenes in airport security. Just before leaving my house, I noticed a message on my cell phone and checked it. Shortly thereafter, my day would be anything but normal. It was a call from TSA public affairs saying that they wanted me to fly to Chicago to tape a minute segment for the Oprah Winfrey Show. After a few moments of thinking "this must be some kind of joke," I called the office only to find out that it was very real. Six hours later, I was boarding a plane on my way to Chicago.

There were thunderstorms and traffic was horrible. We almost missed the meeting. Finally, discussions with the producers at Harpo studios made the trip worthwhile. Instead of a pre-recorded segment, they invited me to return to participate in taping the show with Oprah!

The issue of the episode: "Is America changing from the land of the free to the land of the rude?" Now granted, I am certain that we can all share some doozies - TSO's and passengers alike - but I can only speak for myself. Are we moving farther away from civility? Is rudeness the rule versus the exception? I had the opportunity to share my experiences as a uniformed transportation security and behavior detection officer. The episode will air tomorrow, Wednesday, October 15.

It was a wonderful experience that I will never forget. I hope the show sheds some light for people - it has certainly made me more aware of my actions and I hope it will do the same for others. As a result, I will try even harder to be kinder, gentler, and above all else, choose to be civil.

If you have the chance to watch the episode tomorrow - passengers and TSA officers - check back to the blog and share your thoughts. This could be an interesting dialogue to improve how we interact at the checkpoint.


Guest EoS Blogger

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Zero Tolerance

Transportation security officers nationwide are shaking their heads after hearing about a fellow officer’s sticky fingers in Newark. It’s a kick in the gut for each of the 43,000 officers who are honest, hardworking, and take pride in their mission of keeping passengers safe. We are well aware of how folks forget about the important role TSA's officers have in security and remember events such as this one.

As a former officer myself, I just want to be clear that the actions of this individual are absolutely unacceptable and his actions in no way represent the overwhelming majority of hard working officers in airports around the country.

Federal investigators have charged the officer with theft and he is scheduled to appear in federal court today. TSA's Office of Inspection worked closely with DHS investigators to bring charges against the officer and execute a search warrant for the officer’s home. He faces 10 years in prison if convicted. The officer will eventually be terminated. Zero tolerance!

As we have mentioned before, when airports receive claims reports for stolen items, TSA's local management monitors them to look for trends and anomalies. If they see anything repetitive or suspicious, they can call in TSA's Office of Inspection to conduct an investigation. The Office of Inspection then works with federal and local law enforcement to resolve the case.

TSA has zero tolerance for theft and has gone as far as to terminate an officer for stealing pocket change totaling less than a dollar. Since May 1, 2003, less than 500* officers have been terminated for theft, which represents less than 1/2 of one percent of all officers. Unfortunately, this tiny fraction of officers causes damage that is hard to repair.

* Edited to change number from less than 300 to less than 500.


EoS Blog Team

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Message In a Carry-On

As some of you might have seen on other blogs, Evan Roth is an artist who is designing personalized messages you can send to TSA security officers. He laser cuts the letters out of a sheet of stainless steel. The sheet is designed to be placed inside of a passenger’s bag so they can send personal messages to the officer. Have to give the guy credit, he’s creative. Even we got a laugh out of it.
This may seem like a clever gag, but actually the joke is on whoever decides to use one of these plates. Based on the preliminary examples shown on Mr. Roth’s web page, the metal plate will get the passenger’s bag searched every time. And no, it’s not because of what the plate says, it’s because the metal plate acts as a shield and conceals items below it. If an officer can’t get a good look at what’s in the bag, it’s “bag check” time. Fair warning: there are detailed procedures on how to search this type of bag and it’s not one of our quicker searches.

Mr. Roth goes on to explain that you can get your message across with his creation while also obscuring the contents you don’t want the TSA to see. After rubbing my goatee for a second, it was clear to me as to why Evan is an “artist” and not in the security business. Here’s the problem - many folks who might think it’s funny to “talk back” to TSA won’t be too happy when they find themselves spending extra time in the security line. Here’s the reality of what could happen:

1) You could be cited for interfering with the screening process by deliberately causing a distraction.

2) If there is a prohibited item concealed underneath the plate, you will be cited for artful concealment of a prohibited item.

3) If the message on the plate could be interpreted as a threat, you could be responsible for the closing of a checkpoint, not to mention the inconvenience you’ve just caused your fellow travelers.

4) Whoever is in line behind you will now have to wait even longer to get through the screening process.

So before you put your order in, please be aware of what could happen.

By the way, I thought this one was pretty funny.

Blogger Bob
TSA Blog Team

Friday, October 3, 2008

Technology Aims to Address Existing Liquid Threat

TSA is aware that the current liquid restrictions are a pain point for the public. That is one reason why the agency is working aggressively to deploy technology that can detect liquid explosives. The primary reason is: better security.

As the Middle Seat blog column stated yesterday, widespread deployment of new multi-view x-ray systems with an enhanced algorithm that detects specific liquids remains about a year away. But the multi-view x-ray itself is a significant improvement over the standard x-ray that’s been at the checkpoint since its inception in the 1970s.

It is worth emphasizing TSA’s checkpoint security operations are based on Intelligence and information sharing with partners here and around the world. Liquids are banned today in the U.S. and in 80 other countries not only because of the foiled August 2006 plot but because of continued interest by terrorists to use liquids and other novel explosives to make bombs.

Even the U.S. papers are picking up on open source information much more readily reported in Europe about active terror suspects with large amounts of explosive chemicals that are still traveling freely in Germany and other countries.

The bottom line is the threat hasn’t diminished on liquid explosives.

Ellen Howe

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Pilots for Pilots

One of the requirements of the 9/11 Bill asked TSA to look at ways to enhance security by identifying airline flight deck crew members (pilots) and giving them a faster way to get through security.

TSA is now piloting a couple of ways to meet this requirement, which will get pilots to their planes a little faster without compromising security.

The Airline Pilots Association (ALPA) is currently testing a system called CrewPass at Baltimore Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport (BWI), Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) and Columbia Metropolitan Airport (CAE) in South Carolina. At these three airports, pilots using specified exit lanes approach the Transportation Security Officer at the podium and present their airline badge. The officer enters the pilot’s badge number into a device. The pilot’s face appears on the screen allowing the officer to ensure that both faces match up.

Concurrently, testing of another system is being done at BWI called Secure Screen. Developed with Southwest Airlines, this program is currently in use for participating Southwest Airline pilots only flying out of BWI. Similar to CrewPass, they arrive at a specified exit lane and approach the officer on duty. They present their pilot’s badge and at the same time enter a “clear key” - similar to a USB drive - into a reader. The reader displays the photo of the pilot and waits for the pilot to place their thumb or finger on the clear key. The system verifies that the biometric thumb print matches the fingerprint being placed on it. This system combines identification verification with a biometric component.

Commercial flight deck crew members are responsible for the safety of hundreds of passengers at any time and are trusted to operate million dollar aircraft on a daily basis. Allowing them to move more efficiently through the security process, while also being able to verify they are who they say they are, fits into our risk-based security approach.

EoS Blog Team

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Black Diamond Update

For those of you that have noticed TSA's Diamond Self-Select Lanes, you're not the only ones; Budget Travel magazine has rewarded TSA and the program with a 2008 Extra Mile Award for innovative efforts to make travel easier. For the past four years, Budget Travel has offered Extra Mile Awards as special recognition for notable ideas and advancements that make travel simpler, more enjoyable or more affordable across the travel industry. Thanks Budget Travel!

We also thank those who have commented on the Black Diamond blog posts (here and here) for your feedback.

Diamond Self-Select Lanes were first launched in Denver back in February and the program can now be found in 40 airports nationwide, from Honolulu and San Juan to Seattle and Manchester, N.H. The most recent addition was last week's roll-out in Omaha, Nebraska. Our goal is to try to provide travelers with dedicated screening lanes based on their needs, including "black diamond" lanes for frequent fliers who know the drill and "green" lanes for families and those with special needs who
need a little more time to go through security. To learn more about the program and to see which airports have self-select lanes, click here.

Guest EoS Blogger

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Bar-Coded Boarding Passes – Secure, Mobile, and On The Way

As we’ve talked about earlier on the blog, TSA has taken a lot of steps to confirm ID: TSA Travel Document Checkers with magnifying loupes and black lights, the revised ID rules that affect people with no ID and developing Secure Flight. All that considered, we’re not na├»ve enough to say the system is foolproof. We’ve seen the “boarding pass generator” websites and know how to use Photoshop. In fairness, between the marking of boarding passes by TSOs at the checkpoint and the use of barcode scanners at the gate for most flights, it’s neither easy nor predictable to board a flight with a fake boarding pass. But the broader point is accurate – we could be better on this issue.

Some months ago, a team of people at TSA went to work on it. They’re working very closely with our airline partners to incorporate a strong digital signature into the barcode on every boarding pass. The technique we’ve selected allows existing 2D barcode scanners to read the basic flight information, but scanners equipped with the appropriate security keys can authenticate the information and determine if the name, date, flight number or any other information has been changed. It’s simple but very effective. The net result will be a boarding pass that is extremely resistant to tampering or forgery.

We’re already testing this concept in the field. Thanks to terrific cooperation from our airline partners, we’ve launched eight test sites where passengers can receive boarding passes on their mobile phones or PDAs (wait until you try it – it’s pretty slick). Click here to learn more about participating airports and airlines.

These mobile boarding passes have digital signatures embedded in the barcodes. Officers who do the document checking are equipped with handheld barcode scanners (generously on loan from our partners) and can confirm the authenticity of the boarding pass instantly. This isn’t rocket science – the (2010 NL East Champion) Nationals use the same process at their new ballpark – and it’s working really well for both TSA and passengers.

Next up, we’ll work on expanding from mobile boarding passes at a few sites to all formats of boarding passes across our system. Looking back on the progress that we’ve made over the past several weeks, we greatly appreciate the cooperation and commitment of our partners on this effort. In the meantime, you can check back here or at for specifics on where you can try the new mobile boarding passes.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Seven Years Later

As many of us reflect on 9/11, I wanted to share the story about how I came to TSA and what it meant to wear the TSA uniform. In September 2001, I lived in Fairfield, Ohio and was living the rock and roll dream as a musician. My wife was working third shift. When I got out of bed on 9/11, my wife was still sound asleep.

I went through my normal morning routine, making coffee and reading the news on the internet. I pulled up CNN and read a developing story about a plane that had just hit the World Trade Center. The first thing I thought of was the B-25 Bomber Plane that hit the Empire State Building in 1945. I was sure it had to be a similar type of accident.

I turned on the television and saw the World Trade Center tower on fire with giant plumes of smoke pouring out. Nobody quite knew what to make of it, but it was all too apparent what was going on after the second plane hit the south tower. America was under attack.

As I watched the news, my wife slept peacefully. I couldn’t bring myself to wake her. The world she knew when she went to bed that night would never be the same again.

It was hard for me to believe that I was feeling the same things as I had more than ten years earlier when the first Gulf War ground effort began. In 1991, I wore the uniform of a soldier of the United States Army while serving in the Persian Gulf with the 3rd Armored Division.

Thinking back, I remember wishing I was still in the Army so I could do something. In my college political science class, we talked about terrorism coming to America. I knew this was just the beginning and we’d get hit again eventually. So when I read about the formation of TSA, I was intrigued. I jumped at the chance to serve my country again. I proudly wore a new uniform, this time the one of at Transportation Security Officer, and serving again on the frontline to prevent another attack. Many other former military folks joined TSA along with me - today 25 percent of our frontline officers are veterans. Others also jumped at the chance to serve their country. I actually met people that took a pay cut to come work for TSA because the mission and the job meant that much.

The uniforms we wore weren’t the greatest, but we were proud to wear them. They identified us as frontline officers serving in the war against terrorism. Today, at airports around the country, passengers will see the new TSA uniform. I think the blue shirts look better, but most importantly, they better represent the dedication and professionalism of our officers. They also represent the evolution of our agency. The training, experience and nature of an officer's work today are far different than the job of a pre-9/11 "screener."

The uniform and badge are part of a series of changes at TSA, both cultural and operational. Soon, every person on the frontline, both officers and managers, will undergo two full days of revolutionary new training that will continue to change the focus from looking for bad things to looking for bad people. Security isn't better when officers follow a static checklist mentality - it's better when officers use their experience, judgment and training to assess the whole situation and look for the people with intent to do harm - people who might use common, everyday items like drinks or remote control toys converted into IEDs. That's why looking at behavior and other anomalies are so important.

Thinking back to 9/11 and when I joined TSA, I remember how people often said hello and even shook our hands. For the traveling public, it's been seven years without an attack in the U.S., and to many, the rules are now burdensome and our checkpoints are a necessary evil. For officers, it's one day at a time, with some days when you find a gun, a knife, hollowed out shoes, or items in bags that look like plastic explosives or an IED. Things that make the hair on the back of your neck stand up, your heart stop, because it's a threat until you can prove it's not one. It happens far more than you think, so when an officer asks to get a better look at you or your bag, know that it's because they want to make sure everything's okay.

Today, at airports around the country, officers on duty at 8:46 a.m. participated in a moment of silence to mark 9/11. The new uniform also carries a reminder of 9/11. If you look closely at the patch on an officer's left shoulder, you’ll see nine stars and eleven stripes behind the eagle. If you look at the eagle’s wing, you will see the Twin Towers. We think about it all the time so passengers can get safely to their destination. Our personal creed is “not on my watch.”


EoS Blog Team

Monday, September 8, 2008

An Update on Checkpoint Friendly Laptop Bags

It’s been almost a month since we launched our new laptop bag procedures. As expected, there have been a few folks (including my Dad) who thought they could just leave their laptops in any old bag with cables and gadgets galore. We expected some confusion and just like any new procedure we’ve rolled out, we’re hopeful that the majority of folks will get the hang of it pretty quick. We put together a video that might help some of you out.

Click here to see a video on new laptop bag procedures.

Here are a couple of laptop bag related stories I found on the web.

USA Today: Flyers Cheer Laptop Policy Change

Jet with Kids: Airport Security and Laptops – Reporting Back (Lessons Learned)

But enough of my yackin’ – I wanted to share what others who have tried the new process had to say. Please remember that TSA does not endorse any of these bags specifically, we’re just sharing the insights and experiences of the travelers.

ZD Net: The Mobile Gadgeteer

PC World: Road Test: Checkpoint Friendly Laptop Bags

In case you missed it, check out our original blog post announcing the launch of the new laptop bag procedures.


EoS Blog Team

Friday, September 5, 2008

More on Passive Millimeter Wave Technology

Some folks are getting the wrong idea that the SPO-7 passive millimeter wave technology used at Denver and Minneapolis-St. Paul airports during the recent conventions is a mobile Millimeter Wave portal and can see through clothing. That’s not the case. These are two separate technologies that look for threats in different ways.

The Millimeter Wave portal - the booth you walk into at checkpoints in certain airports - penetrates garments and provides an image. The SPO-7, which uses passive millimeter wave technology to detect threats from a distance, produces an image, but it’s simply the type of image you would see on a video camera. Images are not stored.

The SPO-7 unit consists of two separate sensors and a monitoring location. By simultaneously comparing the illumination levels from two locations on an individual’s body, the SPO-7 detects potential threats such as suicide vests and other improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that are hidden under individuals’ clothing. On the screen, it produces a light, using a red-to-green scale, that suggests anomalies such as the presence of explosives. That's why the screen and the officer viewing the screen doesn't need to be in a remote location.

Security officers operating the SPO-7 will work closely with Behavior Detection Officers. The teams will be equipped with wireless headsets to communicate with each other about possible concerns. TSA also partners closely with local law enforcement who will respond if called.

Unlike the stationary (and large) millimeter wave portal, the SPO-7 is mobile and only requires a few hours of training for use. This comes in handy to provide an additional layer of security in specific areas, in both the aviation, mass transit and maritime environments.

In crowded public areas such as ferry terminals, mass transit stations and most recently, airports, the SPO-7 works without breaking passengers’ stride.

And lastly, to address safety and privacy concerns, the SPO-7 does not shoot X-rays or any other type of radiation at people. It merely measures energy that emanates from the human body. Signage is prominently displayed where the SPO-7 is used to notify the public. SPO-7 enables TSA to add an unpredictable security measure without adding inconvenience to passengers.

The SPO-7 pilots will continue at the Denver and Minneapolis-St. Paul airports for 60-90 days.

So, the two key things you should take away from this post are:

The SPO-7 cannot see through your clothing.

The SPO-7 does not project X-rays or any other types of radiation.

Here are some screen shots of what the operator sees:


TSA EoS Blog Team

Thursday, August 28, 2008

New Security Technologies Make Airport Debut

Blogging has been light this week, with some on the team out for end-of-summer vacations and Bob's out taking care of his new baby.

So this week, as one political convention comes to a close and another is about to start, we wanted to highlight a story on our website about two new technologies that have been deployed in the two convention city airports. Those traveling through Denver and Minneapolis-St. Paul might see these explosives and threat detection technologies that have previously been used in other modes of transportation and can be flexibly deployed to airports.

The technologies are passive millimeter wave, a mobile technology which has been used in maritime and mass transit to detect the characteristics of explosives hidden on the body. It is completely safe, non-invasive and does not store information. A hand-held spectrometer can penetrate sealed containers in seconds and identify a wide range of solid and liquid explosives using laser technology.

To learn about other ways TSA and other Department of Homeland Security components are working to keep convention travel and sites safe, check this out.

We'll get back into the regular swing of things next week, and we hope all of our readers enjoy a safe and fun Labor Day weekend.

EoS Blog Team

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Information on the Chicago Aircraft Inspections

There have been some questions on our blog and elsewhere about the Chicago aircraft inspections.

Also, I've noticed some confusion out there, so please note that this involved a Transportation Security Inspector, (TSI) not a Transportation Security Officer. (TSO)

Here's what we posted on our website.

On August 19 a Transportation Security Inspector (TSI) was conducting a routine compliance inspection on aircraft parked on the airfield at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport (ORD). The TSI inspected nine American Eagle aircraft to look for and test, among other things, access vulnerabilities or areas were someone with ill intent could gain access to the aircraft.

Aircraft operators are required to secure each aircraft when left unattended. The TSIs are encouraged to look for and follow through on vulnerabilities. During the inspection process at ORD the Inspector used a Total Air Temperature (TAT) probe – a probe that protrudes from the side of the aircraft that is used to measure outside air temperature – to pull himself up while investigating possible access vulnerabilities with the unattended aircraft.

The Inspector was following through on regulatory inspection activity. The Inspector was able to gain access to the interior of seven of the nine aircraft inspected, which is an apparent violation of the airline’s security program. TSA is reviewing the inspection results and depending on the conclusion, could take action with the airline, up to and including levying of civil penalties.

While the inspection process is a vital layer of aviation security, it is not TSA’s intent to cause delays or potential damage to aircraft as a result of our inspections. TSA took immediate steps to re-enforce education about sensitive equipment located on the exterior of a plane.

  • TSA has 1,465 Transportation Security Inspectors at almost 150 airports that can cover all modes of transportation.

    • 535 in air cargo (including 85 dedicated canine teams)
    • 755 in aviation
    • 175 in surface transportation modes)
TSIs undergo a 4-week basic training course that consists of security regulations overview, inspection procedures, and safety briefings. TSIs are also trained through a formal on-the-job training program and periodic formal recurrent training. Additionally, Inspectors receive local safety training at each airport when they receive their airport identification.

EoS Blog Team

Covert Testing Results Critical to Security

Recently, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on TSA’s covert testing program. We’ve written about the report and posted it on our website. Some media and blogs have covered the report and created some misperceptions along the way –headlines like: “TSA Doesn’t Look Into Airport Security Screener Failures don’t help. So we wanted to talk a bit about the covert testing process at TSA.

TSA undergoes covert testing by three entities: The GAO, the DHS Inspector General and TSA’s own Office of Inspection. The recent GAO report focused on TSA’s covert testing procedures. During the course of the year long GAO review, the auditors examined all TSA covert test reports and recommendations, and had access to new policy or Standard Operating Procedure changes derived from the covert test recommendations. Many of the changes are in place today to further enhance the safety and security of the traveling public.

The report validated TSA’s covert testing program and included some recommendations. The recommendation that is causing confusion deals with the way TSA records test failures.

GAO recommended that TSA include a line item in our database for "failures." One would assume “failure” means someone missed an IED, but in fact the failure could be in how a rule is applied, how a technology functions in a specific airport, or how a procedure requires follow-up on an alarm. Because of the vast amount of qualitative information recorded by testers, they write more detailed explanations of failures in a written report instead of a line item in a database. We did, however, concur with the GAO recommendation and have now added a category to the data base on failures in addition to the more detailed reports we’ll continue to do.

The specific misperception we wanted to clear up is what we do with the test results. In some of the blog coverage I’ve seen, including the link mentioned above, some think we don’t do anything with the test results, which is far from the truth. These results are critical to closing security gaps in individual airports and throughout the entire aviation system. As soon as a covert test is completed in an airport, the findings are shared with the TSA leadership there, noting areas for improvement, whether it be in the application of Standard Operating Procedures, use of technology or other areas. The testers also meet with Transportation Security Officers after the testing is completed to show them where mistakes were made and offer suggestions to immediately close any security gap.

After the airport staff is briefed, the testers conduct a briefing to TSA senior staff to show them the failures and recommendations. Information is shared with the Office of Security Operations, which oversees TSA operations at airports nationwide. This gives headquarters an opportunity to look at results at one airport to see if there are implications for the whole aviation network. As needed, Standard Operating Procedures and training could be changed, technology is tweaked, and processes can be changed at the national level based on covert tests.

Bottom line: we take these results – and the results of GAO and the DHS Inspector General - very seriously and TSA constantly uses them to improve security.


EoS Blog Team