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