Sunday, March 30, 2008

Checkpoint Changes Coming

In TSA's checkpoint of the future, passengers will approach the security kiosk, carry-on in hand, and put a biometric on the scanner. While the scanning system clears you after it confirms your identity and flight information, the technology in the kiosk will verify that there are no truly dangerous items on you or in your bag. Total elapsed time: about 1.75 seconds. Version Two will add a Teleporter so that you will not need to get on an airplane.

Your grandchildren will love it.

Technology is a wonderful thing but it's not an overnight process - it must be invented, funded, built, tested, bought, and deployed. Unfortunately, the security technology field has not sufficiently fired the imagination of scientists or the private capital markets to the point where truly breakthrough technology will soon transform the checkpoint experience. Yet the current security threat environment requires that we get smarter and more nimble, now.

We have some significant changes in store for the checkpoint starting this spring. I would like your thoughts and I hope TSA will earn your support in our common mission. Please take a look at our Checkpoint Evolution micro-site.

TSA has taken a fresh look at our checkpoint operations to see if we can improve security and the passenger experience with what we have today. We took what we know from the intelligence and security communities, we listened to our employees, we learned from passengers (including on this blog), we evaluated readily deployable technology, and have come up with changes that we have begun piloting.

There are three elements to what we are calling Checkpoint Evolution: people, process, and technology.

People. The threat environment makes it clear that we need to add layers of security to be effective against adaptive terrorists. This means adding a capability to detect a potential problem even if they are not carrying anything prohibited - in other words, more focus on people, not just things. That means deploying more officers specially trained in behavior detection and document checking to identify people that intend to do harm, not just waiting to find their prohibited item in a carry-on bag.

Process. We're making improvements to the checkpoint process, including better signs to tell you what's going on at the checkpoint and why, and what you need to do at various stages. There will be areas to divest - or prepare - for screening and also an area to get everything back together after you're done. You have seen some pilots with our Diamond Select and Family lanes and we will continue to make improvements.

Technology. We don't have the end-all-be-all machine yet, but there are some technologies we will be installing in many airports throughout the year that are an improvement to what currently exists, including multi-view x-ray for carry-on bags and whole body imaging for passengers. The deployment of these machines will represent the first significant addition to the checkpoint since metal detectors and X-ray machines were introduced in the 1970s.

Our enemies have the advantage of picking their time, place, and method of attack. Those advantages are more pronounced if our defenses are rigid and predictable - they could use our standard operating procedures and technology against us.

We do have some advantages. First, airports are our turf; we have the home field advantage and can set the rules. Keeping an element of randomness and calming the checkpoint are critical.

Second, TSA's officers have experienced more passengers and bags than anyone else on earth and that knowledge is priceless. They know what doesn't seem right. In a calmer checkpoint environment, hostile intent stands out from the behavior of regular passengers just trying to navigate the system. Behavior detection officers and document checkers will use their training and skills to identify people and things that stand out from the norm and give them added scrutiny.

Third, the advantage we need to bolster most is the fact that the numbers are overwhelmingly in our favor - two million people a day fly, every one of them with a vested interest in assuring the safety of our system. We know the overwhelming majority of passengers pose no threat, so we want to improve your checkpoint experience and get your help in making those who do pose a threat stand out.

In short, we are seeking to reduce our weaknesses while improving our strengths until the futuristic checkpoint with seamless security screening becomes a reality.

Please visit our Checkpoint Evolution Web site to find out more, and share your feedback. If we partner together, we can make flying safer and a lot easier - right now. Thank you for your participation and partnership with TSA in keeping travel safe.


Friday, March 28, 2008

TSA and Piercings

Your questions and comments on the incident in Lubbock, Texas have not gone unnoticed. Yesterday, as soon as TSA became aware of the situation, people in our Security Operations office looked into it. They interviewed the four Security Officers who at one point or another, screened or spoke to the passenger - two men and two women (if a passenger requests private screening, they must get an officer of the same sex to screen them there). TSA has also been in touch with the passenger’s lawyer on several occasions.

The bottom line: the security officers followed the procedures for when someone alarms the metal detector and did nothing wrong. But, after looking at the procedure the officers followed, it was determined that the procedures should be modified. An official statement has been posted on our website here.


TSA EoS Blog Team

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Rumor Alert- Shortage Of Federal Air Marshals?


3/26/08, 5:35 p.m.
Christopher Said:

Yesterday I mistakenly wrote and subsequently reiterated last night in a comment that the percent of flights covered by air marshals is in the “double digits.” Frankly, this was a result of my haste to provide information and to get the truth out quickly about our federal air marshal program. It is simply not appropriate to discuss percentage of flights covered.

In no way was I trying to provide information that is inappropriate for release or to mislead the public in any way. The definitive numbers that we can provide about the program are; the number of marshals we currently have is in the thousands, our true attrition rate (that is any air marshal leaving the agency for any reason) is approximately 6.5 percent since the expansion of the program in the Fall of 2001 and that we deploy air marshals based on intelligence and risk.

Since launching this blog 60 days ago, our only goal has been direct, honest, personal communications with the traveling public. I sincerely apologize for this error and hope that it has not degraded or devalued the important dialogue that has been started on this forum.

I have edited the post below to reflect the facts of the matter. Again, I apologize for any confusion this may have caused.

EOS Blog Team

CNN aired a story on Anderson Cooper 360 from investigative reporter Drew Griffin on the federal air marshal service. In the piece, anonymous air marshals, pilots and other "experts" discuss "staggering" attrition rates and make assertions that less than 1 percent of flights are actually covered by air marshals. Below are the facts on how we deploy air marshals, air marshal attrition rates, and the reality behind this highly successful program.


"Of the 28,000 commercial airline flights per day in the U.S., less than 1 percent are protected by federal air marshals."

"I would have to guess it's fewer than 1 percent of all my flights," the pilot said. "I'm guessing by coverage of when I go to those cities, fewer than 1 percent."

"That means that a terrorist or other criminal bent on taking over an aircraft would be confronted by a trained air marshal on as few as 280 daily flights."

"One pilot who crisscrosses the country and flies internationally told CNN he hasn't seen an air marshal on board one of his flights in six months. A federal law enforcement officer with is not affiliated with the air marshal service...has gone months without seeing a marshal on board."


While the exact number of flights that air marshals protect is classified because we don't want terrorists to play a mathematical guessing game based on percentages, the actual number of air marshals employed by the agency is in the thousands.

Beyond the number of flights that air marshals physically cover, the more important question to ask is which flights are air marshals flying on. Using our intelligence-driven, risk-based approach, we deploy marshals on the highest risk flights. That means a team of air marshals might be on one flight based on intel and none may be on the next.

Simply parroting a sound bite from an anonymous expert or a pilot that flies to New York once a day with no knowledge of scheduling or intel isn't accurately portraying the situation. Random "experts" hardly encompass a qualified opinion on air marshal deployments. The bottom line is that there are thousands of hard-working, dedicated marshals flying day in and day out to protect the traveling public both domestically and abroad. We clearly told CNN their numbers were inaccurate and they chose to report these numbers anyway.


"Air marshals who spoke with CNN anonymously...are especially troubled by the lack of coverage on flight in and out of Washington and New York."


Flying air marshals speaking on condition of anonymity simply do not have access to global scheduling information. Every single day of the year, air marshal schedules are altered to cover specific, high-threat flights. That means on one day, many flights into and out of New York and D.C. may be covered and on other days, less flights may be covered.

The role of not releasing specific numbers of marshals or flights carrying marshals is an important one. We should not tip our hand to terrorists and let them know the mathematical probability of air marshals being on flights they may be interested in taking over or otherwise disrupting.

We fully desire terrorists to not know for sure if marshals will be on board their flight so that they will have to factor them into any plots involving aircraft.


"Air marshals told CNN that while the TSA tells the public it cannot divulge numbers...the agency tells its own agents that at least 5 percent of all flights are covered."

"One marshal said that while security is certainly one reason the numbers are kept secret, he believes the agency simply doesn't want taxpayers to know the truth."

"...the average taxpayer understands there's no physical way to protect every single flight everywhere," the air marshal said. "But it's such a small percentage. It's just very aggravating for us"


Today, the number of air marshals TSA employs is in the thousands. We know this because we build the schedule and we assign these air marshals to flights all over the world each and every day.


"Sources inside the air marshal field offices told CNN that the program has been unable to stem the losses of trained air marshals since the program's numbers peaked in 2003."


Federal air marshal service attrition rates have been approximately 6.5 percent since the program expanded after 9/11. This isn't an exodus by any means and is comparable to other federal law enforcement agencies. The job does require extensive travel, a high level of alertness for hours on end and one of the highest firearms qualifications standards in government.

Being an air marshal isn't for everyone but that should not detract from the thousands of dedicated public servants out flying today and every day to protect the traveling public.


"They are whistling past the graveyard, hoping against hope that this house of cards that they call airline security doesn't come crashing down around them," said David Mackett, president of the Airline Pilots Security Alliance.


This insulting little sound bite discounts the dedicated service thousands of air marshals provide every day. While air marshals are an important layer of security, they are hardly the only thing stopping a terrorist from taking over an airplane. There are a full 20 layers of security, each vulnerable by itself but combined providing the highest level of security in the history of this nation.


"CNN was told staffing in Dallas, Texas for instance is down 44 percent from its high, while Seattle, Washington, has 40 percent fewer agents. Las Vegas, Nevada, which had as many as 245 air marshals, this past February had only 47."


Staffing in specific offices like Dallas, Seattle and Las Vegas has changed over the six years of the program BUT these air marshals have been shifted to other offices, not eliminated and not replaced.


Monday, March 24, 2008

Layers of Security

By this time, most of you are getting pretty familiar with what TSA does on a daily basis. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ve likely heard us mention layers of security. It’s a term we use a lot but it’s a lot more than just a catch phrase, it really is what we do.

Throughout my time at TSA, many analogies, metaphors and comparisons have been used to describe the layers. Some stick, some fall by the wayside. One way of describing it is like the combination to a lock. One correct number won’t get you access, all have to be correct. Today, I thought I’d take you inside the “layered security approach” for a closer look at what we do.

Each time a passenger boards a flight they’re subject to up to 20 of these layers. I know what you’re thinking…we’ve got the checkpoint, metal detector, screening process, etc but what else?

Before you ever step foot on an airplane, TSA intelligence officials have worked with their counterparts throughout the federal government and its international partners to determine any threats to aviation security. Concurrently, TSA collaborates with CBP and the Joint Terrorism Task Force on threats and security issues. TSA also leans heavily on relationships with local law enforcement. Their work around the airport is vital to successful security.

In addition, passengers are checked against no-fly lists and crews vetted. All of this occurs before the passenger ever reaches the airport.

Once at the airport the other layers of security begin to take shape. Each airport with commercial flights is required to have a TSA-approved security program. This program covers everything from the type of fencing required around the perimeter of the airport to how many police officers are needed to make sure vehicles don’t park too close to the curb. In addition to this plan, VIPR teams consisting of federal air marshals, local law enforcement, canine teams and behavior detection officers may be patrolling the area. This can occur before or beyond the checkpoint, anywhere at an airport.

Passengers entering the security checkpoint are subject to noninvasive screening by TSA’s behavior detection officers. BDOs are trained to detect involuntary physical and physiological reactions exhibited by those looking to avoid being discovered.

The passenger also hands their boarding pass and ID to a TSA travel document checker. This layer of security is relatively new, beginning in June 2007. Checking the validity of documents and the person holding them provides a significant security upgrade. Individuals with phony or suspicious documents are referred to local law enforcement for additional scrutiny.

TSA canine teams also patrol the airports perimeter and interior. These teams, composed of a local law enforcement officer and TSA provided canine, are one of the quickest, most efficient means of detecting possible explosive substances. TSA has trained and certified more than 500 teams in partnership with state and local law enforcement agencies. They’re working in 70 airports and 14 mass transit systems. TSA will certify more than 400 additional canine teams over the next two years, including teams led by TSA canine handlers that will focus on air cargo.

As previously mentioned, the checkpoint is one of 20 layers of security. Great work is done by TSOs there at over 450 airports nationwide, That said, not a whole lot of ink will be spilled here about it, we’ve done a lot of that already.

TSA also screens every piece of luggage that you’ve checked. Modern inline systems streamline the process in many airports (As demonstrated by this post). Stand alone systems are used in other airports.

The planes themselves are screened as well. Transportation Security Inspectors randomly screen planes and are also involved in VIPR teams and employee screening.

That leads us onto our next layer, which is employee screening. Those with access to the airport’s secure areas including gate workers and food service employees are subject to random screening in addition to going through thorough background checks and being checked everyday against terror watch lists.

TSA’s Bomb Appraisal Officers (BAOs) are also working to increase the strength of our security approach. BAOs were trained at one of two specialized schools and have extensive operational experience in the field as members of military Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) units or accredited law enforcement/public safety bomb squads. They perform advanced alarm resolution at the checkpoint as well as expert training. Their presence in the airport environment helps security while increasing the abilities of those working with them.

Another vital layer of security is the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS). FAMs are TSA’s law enforcement arm. They are specifically trained to work within the aircraft but their role is ever expanding. They participate in VIPR missions and are on duty throughout the airport environment.

Through the Federal Flight Deck Officer program, TSA trains and authorizes pilots and other approved flight crew members to carry a firearm aboard the plane. TSA also offers course to train other members of the flight crew to defend themselves inside an aircraft. The program, known as Crew Member Self Defense, adds an additional layer to the security system.

The hardening of cockpit doors occurred after 9/11 and provides yet another layer preventing possible attack. The vigilance of the flying public in-flight and on the ground is an important piece of aviation security. Passengers’ willingness to work with TSA and local law enforcement is crucial to enhancing security.

Check this out for a clearer, more graphically appealing view of TSA’s layers of security.

TSA EoS Blog Team

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Got Feedback? (Commenting Disabled)

Due to the new Got Feedback? program, we have disabled commenting on this page. This page was part of a pilot program that has evolved and this page is no longer needed. You are still welcome to leave general feedback on our blog, or you can visit our Got Feedback? page and leave specific feedback with a Customer Service Manager from any one of our 450+ airports.


EoS Blog Team

Update: Bob Screens the Apple MacBook Air

We were able to get our hands on a MacBook Air and run it through the X-ray in our lab. My suspicions were correct. The MacBook does look completely different than your typical laptop or DVD player. I can't get into specifics of course, but there were a couple of areas on the X-ray that could pique some interest for TSOs.

I think this is a very unique experience and a good example of how this blog can be used. I simply came into work one day, browsed the blogosphere and read about the MacBook Air having problems at a checkpoint. No more had I started researching the MacBook Air before a post popped up on our blog. I have since been in contact with Training and we're going to get an image out to our workforce (45,000).

I hope you enjoy my acting debut on the blog.

Legal Note: TSA and DHS do not endorse any product referenced in this video and associated blog post and any reference to a specific product is provided for the information and convenience of the public. Please visit our comment policy for more information.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Diamonds Are a Passenger’s Best Friend (Diamond Lane Program Expands to 3 More Airports)

The Diamond Lane Self Select Program is spreading like snow on the hills of the ski resorts of Salt Lake City and Denver where the program first originated. The program rolled out yesterday in Spokane, Washington and rolls out today in Boston and Orlando.

We've all been there. You've got your jacket and shoes off, laptop out, liquids and gels in a baggie… You're ready to roll, but you have to wait behind a large family or group of inexperienced travelers. It's frustrating. It's also frustrating for the inexperienced passengers as well because they are feeling the pressure and hearing the obvious sighs of frustration and the foot tapping from the frequent flyers in line behind them.

It's almost like when you're at a grocery store and you only want to buy a pack of gum. You find yourself in line behind somebody with an overflowing cart of groceries and they aren't making any offerings of letting you jump ahead. That's exactly why grocery stores implemented the express lanes and that's what we're doing with the Diamond Lane Self Select program.

I know what you're thinking… Some folks who consider themselves to be experts most likely aren't. Kind of like the person who jumps into the express lane at the grocery store with 28 items instead of 12. How do you remedy that? There are a couple of ways. Part of the program requires an officer as a guide working in the front of the queue lines to help direct passengers and answer questions. Also, just as in the express lanes at grocery stores, anybody who jumps in the wrong line is likely to experience unhappy passengers who will greet them with comments and sighs. Self policing if you will…

What have we learned so far since our last update on the blog? Throughput has increased up to 35 percent during our busiest peak times in the expert lanes at the pilot airports. In fact, in Salt Lake City, a news crew covering the program had to wait several hours to experience a 5 minute wait time.

Also, now that inexperienced travelers aren't feeling the heat from road warriors, they're doing a much better job preparing for screening. We're seeing a dramatic drop in the number of banned items we're discovering in the family lane. All this adds up to a more satisfied passenger, a very good thing in itself but not the only benefit. By allowing passengers to self-select, the checkpoint as a whole is a less stressful place.

By creating this calmer environment, suspicious behavior stands out better, allowing our behavior detection officers to do their jobs more effectively. Where are we going? The TSA plans to roll out the Diamond Lane Self Select program at a minimum of 3 more airports by the end of April. Stay tuned…

TSA EoS Blog Team

Monday, March 17, 2008

How We Do What We Do: Baggage Screening

Click here to view the How we do what we do: Baggage Screening video
Click Here to watch how TSA does baggage screening (wmv, streaming).
The Aviation and Transportation Security Act, which created TSA, mandated 100 percent electronic screening of checked baggage. To meet this mandate, TSA installed minivan-sized explosive detection machines in airports across the country, typically in already crowded lobby areas.

Today, TSA is increasingly relying on advanced baggage screening technology. More than half of the 2 million people that fly each day use airports with automated, in-line baggage screening systems. The systems allow passengers to “drop-and-go” curbside or at the ticket counter instead of having to take bags to TSA after checking in with their airline.

This means pre-9/11 convenience for passengers and post-9/11 security for TSA, airports and airlines. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International is one of many airports where an in-line system is used. Click here to view a short video of the in-line system in use.


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Rumor Alert: Conflict of Interest at TSA?

Blogger and pundit Annie Jacobsen published a piece titled, "Top TSA Officials in Cheating Scandal Also Ran Private Consulting Firm" on Saturday, March 15. This piece has been linked to from several blogs and other sites in the past day.

Below is a topic by topic comparison of suppositions and the truth. At the end of this post is an e-mail I personally sent to Jacobsen on Thursday, March 13th, three full days before the piece appeared, clearly answering her questions and explaining the rules concerning outside employment. Full e-mail addresses have been omitted.

"...the TSA was caught encouraging colleagues to cheat on covert bomb detection tests being performed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)."

Anyone remotely familiar with post 9/11 security knows that the FAA does not conduct covert security tests anymore and hasn't for several years. The Department of Homeland Security Inspector General, Government Accountability Office and TSA Office of Inspection do. The message in question was an attempt to notify federal security directors of the possibility of someone masquerading as a Department of Transportation official and was recalled 13 minutes after being sent. The individual that sent the e-mail was not familiar with covert testing at all.

"Consulting in the private sector simultaneously is in direct conflict with federal policy and specifically prohibited by two statutes of Department of Homeland Security employment contracts..."

As was written (see e-mail below) to Jacobsen three days before the article appeared, government ethics rules do not prohibit Federal employees from owning or operating a private business as long as it does not create any conflicts of interest for them. In other words, employees cannot participate in any government matter that could affect the financial interests of their own business. The law that restricts this type of conflict of interest is 18 USC § 208. TSA is not aware of any government matter that would affect the financial interests of the consulting company McGowan and Restovich operated.

Jacobsen also referenced a regulation titled, ADM 3700. After checking with our attorneys, that regulation pertains only to federal air marshal personnel, not regular TSA employees. This was also clearly communicated to Jacobsen in the e-mail below.

Additionally, looking at the very document she references in the piece, it clearly states, "TSA employees may not engage in outside employment or an outside activity that conflicts with their official duties..." TSA has looked into this activity and is not aware of any government matter that would affect the financial interests of Group 2M. (as is written in the e-mail below).

"Morris "Mo" McGowan took Restovich's place as security operations chief after the cheating scandal broke."

While chronologically correct, these events are completely unrelated. Mr. Restovich left the top post in security operations to become a senior field executive.

"Restovich did not show up and was instead dispatched overseas. TSA would neither confirm nor deny if in his new role as DHS attaché, Mike Restovich is a government employee receiving a salary and benefits, or if he is a paid consultant."

Mr. Restovich was never "dispatched" overseas. He was selected to fill the position of DHS attaché to the United Kingdom. This was in no way related to any scheduled hearing.

During conversations and e-mail correspondences with the reporter, the question, "is Mr. Restovich a government employee receiving salary and benefits?" was never asked. If it had been asked, we certainly would have provided this information. As the e-mail below shows, we did answer all questions pertaining to Mr. Restovich's assignment in England and his predecessor in the position.

"TSA's Office of Public Affairs declined to provide further information on Mike Restovich, Morris "Mo" McGowan, or the security consulting company the two men formed while working as TSA officials."

As the e-mail below clearly shows, all the questions asked were answered in a very clear, straight-forward manner.
----- Original Message -----
From: White, Christopher
To: 'annie jacobsen'
Sent: Thu Mar 13 17:39:56 2008Subject:

RE: Two Questions

Annie, Below are answers to your questions. Also, going forward, you will be given the same access to information as other private citizens via our Freedom of Information Act office. They may be contacted at:

1) Did anyone hold the position, "DHS Attaché to the United Kingdom" before Mike Restovich? And if so, who.

Yes, David Tiedge

2) Do you have any updates you would like to share with the public regarding the Congressional investigation into the matter involving Mike Restovich last fall?

Congress would be a more appropriate source for updates on a congressional investigation. Suggest you contact the relevant committee.

Group 2M:

Government ethics rules do not prohibit Federal employees from owning or operating a private business as long as it does not create any conflicts of interest for them. In other words, employees at the Transportation Senior Executive Service (TSES) level and below cannot participate in any government matter that could affect the financial interests of their own business. The law that restricts this type of conflict of interest is 18 USC § 208. TSA is not aware of any government matter that would affect the financial interests of Group 2M. In response to your question regarding ADM 3700, that policy refers to Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) personnel only and neither Mr. McGowan nor Mr. Restovich are FAMS personnel.


Friday, March 14, 2008

Some of the Hardest Working Dogs in the Nation

So here we are in the year 2008, we have laptops as thin as a potato chip, cars that run on electricity or hydrogen and 400 channels of satellite TV beamed right to your living room…yet the best way we have to detect explosives in many environments is that 4-legged friend, the dog. That’s right, TSA uses all kinds of tools to ensure the safety of passengers; things like minivan-sized explosive detection systems How We Do What We Do: Baggage Screening, handheld liquid explosives scanners and many, many other devices but nothing out there today is as flexible or mobile as man’s best friend. None of these tools can search a plane in minutes or sniff a pallet of cargo without removing each individual box.

Today we announced that for the first time we will be training and deploying TSA employee-led canine teams to complement the 496 TSA trained and certified law enforcement teams stationed at 70 airports and 14 mass transit systems. These teams (one handler and one dog) go through the same exact training as our law enforcement teams but will focus on air cargo screening and be one part of our answer to screen all air cargo on passenger-carrying aircraft by August 2010. The handlers are all trained cargo security inspectors so they can cover both the explosive detection and screening side with their dog as well as making sure our partners are meeting their obligations from the regulatory side of the house.

Speaking of air cargo, some of you may not realize just how immense an operation it is to ship air cargo around the world. Commerce and customers have come to expect that millions of packages will fly around the world, arriving at their destination with amazing efficiency and accuracy. The volume is so large that, in addition to the cargo company’s trains, planes and automobiles, many packages often fly with your luggage in the belly of commercial passenger aircraft. Care packages sent to Billy in his dorm room or fruitcakes from your grandmother are sometimes stored below passenger’s feet, right next to suitcases. This is an important source of revenue for the airlines as well as a means for customers to get their packages on-time. Some less popular commercial flight routes survive solely as a result of the money brought in by transporting cargo.

Screening the large volume of cargo passing through the airports is a great challenge that TSA has been addressing since its inception. When the Baja Men so eloquently asked “Who Let the Dogs Out,” TSA answered the call by saying, “we did, we sir, let the dogs out.”

Since joining TSA in 2002 from the FAA, the expansion of the canine program has been huge but we are not stopping there. We plan to deploy 400 more specially trained bomb dogs in the next two years, 85 of which will be TSA teams (non-law enforcement teams) whose main duty will be to search cargo bound for passenger aircraft. The first 12 TSA teams graduated today and will be deployed in the coming months to Dulles International, John F. Kennedy International, Los Angeles International and Miami International Airports. So, by the end of 2009, we will have a force of about 800 bomb sniffing dogs from coast to coast.

While most of us are lucky if our family dog knows how to sit and stay, TSA’s specially trained dogs and handlers enhance the safety of the traveling public, one sniff at a time.

Make sure you read the canine article on the TSA web page.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Apple MacBook Airs are Cleared for Takeoff

Photo of a MacBook Air laptop
Photo Courtesy
So I was looking through my Google Alerts yesterday morning and something caught my eye. From a cursory glance of the day's blog entries, it looked as if the TSA was denying travel to Apple owners. I've never taken part in the war between Mac & PC users... I've used both and I enjoy using both, but I thought surely the TSA wasn't diving into the digital trenches and waging war against Apple. I know we're a versatile agency, but I would have to admit this would definitely be mission creep.

After digging into the articles, it turns out that a gentleman was traveling with his new MacBook Air. To make a long story short, it turns out the Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) gave some special attention to his new MacBook. Mac fans would tell you the TSOs simply couldn't resist getting a closer look at a fine piece of machinery. PC fans would tell you the TSOs are all PC fans and flagged the computer just to hassle the Mac guy. As a security fan, I can tell you that TSOs are trained to look for anomalies. Each TSO X-ray operator sees hundreds of laptops a day and some have been doing this for 6 years. They know what laptops are supposed to look like.

Here is my theory. Along comes the new MacBook Air. The thing is as thin as a potato chip, and looks completely different than any other laptop the TSOs have ever seen. They are seldom seen at TSA checkpoints due to their newness and the fact that they can be hard to find sometimes.

To help prove my theory, I've contacted Apple to see if I can process a MacBook Air through an X-ray and see how it looks. If it does indeed look odd, I'm going to take a picture and send it to TSA Training to help avoid future issues with MacBooks. The jury is out for now, but I'll post an update as soon as I can get my hands on the MacBook Air.

Click here to see my MacBook Air screening results (and, I've put together a movie).

One thing is for sure though. This was just a case of diligent TSOs paying special attention to something that caught their eye. Exactly what they are trained to do.

TSA Evolution Blog Team
*********** Update 3/12/08 ************
Still checking with Apple, but I wanted to highlight a post we received from Mr. Nygard. He’s the gentleman who posted about the experience he had while traveling with his MacBook Air. I’d like to thank Mr. Nygard for taking the time to comment on our blog. Here’s what he had to say:

It was my experience and blog post that got all this attention recently.

One of my purposes in writing this piece was to point out something I thought was interesting: namely that the x-ray screeners are trained to look for certain things--"landmarks", if you will--in the images they review.

Before last week, I had never given a moment's thought to the training or procedures behind the ubiquitous screening. Like many people, I supposed that they were just looking for obvious problems: suspicious outlines, coils of wires, etc.

I found it interesting that there might be a similar checklist of things that should be present: battery, hard drive, optical drive, and so on. I don't think most people would realize that.

Some people have interpreted me as variously "blasting", "vilifying", or "insulting" the TSA agents in question. This was not my intention. It appears to come mainly from people reacting to second-hand information, instead of reading the original post. ~ Michael Nygard


TSA Evolution Blog Team

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

How Intelligence Drives Operations at TSA

Bloggers Note: Keith Kauffman heads up TSA’s Office of Intelligence. He is a 20-plus year veteran of the National Security Agency (NSA) and is a well-established and respected member of the Intelligence Community. He joined TSA in May 2007. Click here for his full bio.

The Office of Intelligence (OI), which I lead, is part of the larger Department of Homeland Security Intelligence Enterprise and is responsible for integrating timely and actionable information into TSA's daily operations. We also use intelligence to educate and inform the TSA workforce, our partners in airports, airlines, mass transit, etc., and law enforcement on terrorist threats and the tactics, techniques and procedures used by our adversaries.

My office staffs a 24/7 watch operation, which receives intelligence information around the clock from a variety of sources. We have analytic personnel integrated into Intelligence Community organizations, which also gives us insight into evolving threats to U.S. transportation systems. In addition, first thing every morning, Kip Hawley, Mo McGowan (who leads our Office of Security Operations) and I, attend a daily meeting led by the National Counterrorism Center and all the major players in counterterrorism activities, which enables us to discuss and track emerging and ongoing threats.

My office briefs the TSA senior leadership team every morning on the intelligence we obtain and analyze. It's after these briefings that we discuss and use the information presented to make operational decisions. Intelligence we provide routinely results in decisions, such as determining which flights will be covered by our Federal Air Marshals (FAMs). Intelligence also leads to the development of new operational policies at the checkpoints. One recent example has to do with remote control (RC) toys. Our adversaries have been observed using RC toy components to help build, or to detonate Improvised Explosive Devices. The policy developed to help counter this threat in the aviation domain did not mandate prohibiting passengers from carrying RC toys on commercial airplanes. Rather, it educated our Transportation Security Officers about the potential threat from these devices and directed them to use their judgment in selecting passengers with RC cars for additional screening. We also made this information public at the same time—a first for us.

We also routinely use intelligence to inform our government and industry partners about threats we receive to their respective transportation modes, so they can take appropriate actions. We focus on threats to the U.S., but track and report on threats abroad as well.

For example, if we receive intelligence about threat to a foreign airport used by U.S. carriers, we make sure all the carriers providing service to that airport are aware and might also use that information to increase FAM coverage at those locations. We also work with foreign governments to increase security as needed. We also use intelligence to assist with operational exercises and joint exercises. Along with the Federal Aviation Administration in December, we used intelligence to design 13 realistic terrorism scenarios. Those scenarios, which were played out during the exercise, helped us and our FAA partners review and refine contingency plans and determine how best to work together, in the event that any of those or similar scenarios occur in the future.

I spent 24 years as a member of the Intelligence Community before coming to the TSA. Often, intelligence agency personnel don’t see the results of their efforts. It’s been incredibly rewarding personally, to see how the work done by the dedicated men and women of our agencies involved with the counterterrorism mission, is put to great use at TSA each day.

I also travel with my family and talk to my friends, some of whom have been know to grumble from time to time (and you know who you are!) about taking off their shoes, etc. I wanted to join this blog effort, so I could relay the same message to you that I’ve discussed with my family and friends. There really is a robust and dedicated intelligence effort in place at the TSA, that is well connected to the larger Intelligence Community and which drives everything we do on a daily basis, to protect our Nation’s transportation systems and those who use them for travel and commerce.

Keith Kauffman

Why We Do What We Do: When Security Officers Find Illegal Items at the Checkpoint

A number of readers have raised questions about TSA's legal authority to make a referral to other law enforcement entities when evidence of a crime unrelated to aviation security is discovered during the screening process. This post explains that Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) are required to make such referrals. TSO referrals have led to the arrest and/or conviction of individuals for serious crimes such as illegally possessing narcotic drugs, transporting child pornography, and bulk cash smuggling.

As you know, the job of our security officers is to screen passengers and their belongings for weapons, explosives, and other prohibited items that pose a risk to transportation security. In the course of performing that responsibility, security officers sometimes come across illegal items that are not directly related to transportation security. For instance, last month in Guam, TSOs screening checked baggage discovered almost $900,000 in U.S. currency along with an undisclosed amount of crystal methamphetamine. Although anyone in the United States is free to travel with currency, the failure to make a currency report to Customs and Border Protection when leaving the country with more than $10,000 in cash is a violation of federal criminal law. 31 U.S.C. §§ 5316 and 5322. Attempting to smuggle bulk cash out of the country also violates 31 U.S.C. § 5332, a felony that carries a possible prison term of up to 5 years.

As a component of the Department of Homeland Security, TSA's standard operating procedures require Transportation Security Officers to report evidence of potential crimes to the appropriate local, state or federal law enforcement authorities. When a TSO opens a bag and discovers a large stash of ecstasy or obvious child pornography, he or she is not permitted to close the bag and turn a blind eye to these serious offenses. Instead, a TSO is required to call for law enforcement support. It is up to the responding law enforcement authorities—not our TSOs—to decide whether an arrest is warranted.

TSA's practice of referring evidence of criminality to other law enforcement entities is not only good public policy, it is fully supported by the court decisions. The courts have recognized that illegal items found during a warrantless “special needs” or administrative search, such as the search of an airline passeger's luggage for weapons or explosives, may be turned over to the police. See, for example, United States v. $557,993.89, More or Less, in U.S. Funds (pdf), 287 F.3d 66, 81-83 (2d Cir. 2002) (plain-view seizure of large number of money orders valid because airport security screeners permitted to search briefcase for weapons were not required to ignore evidence of crimes).

This case and others apply the principle of the plain-view doctrine, which allows a police officer to seize an unlawful item that he discovers in plain view, even if he comes across the item while carrying out unrelated duties. For instance, police who enter a residence in response to a call for medical assistance may seize contraband they see in plain view. See, for example, United States v. Quezada, 446 F.3d 1005, 1008 (8th Cir. 2006) (seizure of shotgun in plain view valid because officer entered apartment with reasonable belief that someone was inside but unable to answer).

The incidental discovery of illegal items in the screening of carry-on bags, is not, as one post suggested, akin to forcing a motorist to open his trunk at a sobriety checkpoint. Police officers conducting field sobriety tests at a vehicular checkpoint have no need to look in the trunk of a car to determine if the driver is impaired. By contrast, TSA screeners need to inspect every carry-on bag for weapons, explosives, and other prohibited items that pose a risk to transportation security. To do so, they must examine all compartments of the bag that are capable of concealing such items. If their task causes them to discover evidence of crime, they must ensure a prompt law enforcement referral.