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.