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.