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  6. Statement of Administrator John Pistole, Transportation Security Administration, before the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

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Statement of Administrator John Pistole, Transportation Security Administration, before the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

Release Date: November 8, 2011

Russell Senate Office Building


Good morning Chairman Rockefeller, Ranking Member Hutchison, and distinguished Members of the Committee. Thank you for the opportunity to testify today about the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) on-going efforts to develop and implement a more risk-based approach to secure our nation's transportation systems. When I last appeared before this Committee this past June, our plans to implement additional risk-based security (RBS) measures were still in their formative stages. I am pleased to report that we have now begun operational testing of several key aspects of risk-based security that I will describe.

TSA employs risk-based, intelligence-driven operations to prevent terrorist attacks and to reduce the vulnerability of the Nation’s transportation system to terrorism. Our goal at all times is to maximize transportation security to stay ahead of evolving terrorist threats while protecting privacy and facilitating the flow of legitimate commerce. TSA's security measures create a multi-layered system of transportation security that mitigates risk. We continue to evolve our security approach by examining the procedures and technologies we use, how specific security procedures are carried out, and how screening is conducted.

Since I became TSA Administrator, I have listened to ideas from people all over this country, including our key stakeholders and security professionals, and I have heard from our dedicated workforce and our counterparts abroad about how TSA can work better and smarter.

Based on this feedback, last fall, I directed the agency to begin developing a strategy for enhanced risk-based security (RBS), which is based on the simple premise of focusing our limited resources on the passengers we know least about. I am pleased to report to the Committee today that in the past few months we have taken concrete steps to implement key components of the agency's intelligence-driven, risk-based approach to security, advancing the agency toward the ultimate goal of providing the most effective security in the most efficient way possible.

TSA Pre™

This past October, TSA began testing a limited and voluntary passenger pre-screening initiative with a small known traveler population at four U.S. airports (Miami, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Detroit, and Atlanta). This pilot program will help assess measures designed to enhance security, by placing more focus on pre-screening individuals who volunteer information about themselves prior to flying in order to potentially expedite the travel experience. By learning more about travelers through information they voluntarily provide, and combining that information with our multi-layered system of aviation security, we can better focus our limited resources on higher-risk and unknown passengers. This new screening system holds great potential to strengthen security while significantly enhancing the travel experience, whenever possible, for passengers.

During this pilot, TSA is using pre-screening capabilities to make intelligence-based risk assessments for passengers who voluntarily participate in the TSA Pre™ program and are flying domestically from one of the four airport pilot sites. Eligible participants include certain frequent flyers from American Airlines and Delta Air Lines as well as existing members of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Trusted Traveler programs including Global Entry, SENTRI, and NEXUS who are U.S. citizens and are flying on participating airlines. The data collected from these pilot sites will inform our plans to expand the program to include additional airlines as well as other airports that participate in CBP’s Global Entry program, once they are operationally ready.

TSA pre-screens TSA Pre™ passengers each time they fly through participating airports. If the indicator embedded in their boarding pass reflects eligibility for expedited screening, the passenger is able to use TSA’s Pre™ lane. Because we know more about these passengers, TSA Pre™ travelers are able to divest fewer items, which may include leaving on their shoes, jacket, and light outerwear, as well as other modifications to the standard screening process. As always, TSA will continue to incorporate random and unpredictable security measures throughout the security process. At no point are TSA Pre™ travelers guaranteed expedited screening.

Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) in the four pilot airports are receiving very positive feedback from TSA Pre™ travelers while the two partner airlines have successfully demonstrated the technical capabilities required to participate in the program, thus paving the way for other airlines to follow. As we learn from these pilots, we are working closely with other airlines and airports to determine when they may be operationally ready to join. We are also working with CBP to ensure that individuals who want to apply for Trusted Traveler Programs are able to do so in an efficient manner.

Known Crewmember

We hold airline pilots responsible for the safety of the traveling public every time they fly a plane. It makes sense to treat them as our trusted partners. To build on our risk-based approach to security, we are currently supporting efforts to test another identity-based system to enable TSA security officers to positively verify the identity and employment status of airplane pilots. The Known Crewmember program is the result of a joint test between the airline industry (Air Transport Association) and pilots (International Airline Pilots Association), which allows uniformed pilots from 22 airlines to show two forms of identification that are checked against a database called the "Cockpit Access Security System," which confirms identity. After more than two months into the pilot program, and with deployments nearly complete at the seven participating airports, over 59,000 uniformed pilots have been cleared through the process with an average of nearly 1,900 approvals per day. Both Known Crewmember and TSA Pre™ are clear examples of TSA's commitment to focusing its attention and resources on those who present the greatest risk, thereby improving security and the travel experience for passengers across the country.

Expanded Behavior Detection

Beginning this fall, TSA took steps to expand its behavior detection program that builds on existing Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT), which has grown since 2003 to include over 160 airports. Under the pilot program, TSOs employ specialized behavioral analysis techniques to determine if a traveler should be referred for additional screening at the checkpoint. The vast majority of passengers at the pilot airport checkpoints experience a casual greeting conversation with a Behavior Detection Officer (BDO) as they pass through travel document verification. This additional interaction, used by security agencies worldwide, enables officers to better verify or dispel suspicious behavior and anomalies.

Preliminary analysis from Boston shows an increase in the rate of detection of high-risk passengers. However, additional data is required to understand if the trend seen in the Boston data is statistically significant and replicable at other airports. TSA is currently conducting analyses with the DHS Science and Technology Directorate to estimate the number of cases required for validation. In the meantime, we are expanding this pilot to Detroit in order to collect additional data on incorporating enhanced real-time risk assessments into our other layers of security.

Screening of Children 12 And Under

This past August, TSA modified its screening procedures to provide more options to resolve alarms that may occur during the screening process of passengers 12 and under.  With nationwide rollout complete as of late September, the data has demonstrated a reduction - though not elimination - of the need for a physical pat-down for children that would otherwise have been conducted to resolve alarms. We maintain our standard procedure that when a pat-down is required of any minor, a parent or guardian must be present and the screening may occur in private. TSA has also implemented additional measures to expedite the screening process where possible including allowing passengers 12 and under to leave their shoes on.

By streamlining procedures for these lower risk passengers through programs like these, TSA is better able to focus its finite resources on those who pose higher risks to transportation. We are continuously evaluating lessons learned from these modified procedures to determine our next steps as we consider future procedures to strengthen and streamline the security screening process for other low-risk populations.

New Document Assessment Technology

In addition to testing new procedures for low-risk populations, TSA is also employing technology to automatically verify passenger identification documents and boarding passes, providing TSA with a greater ability to identify altered or fraudulent documents. This technology, known as Credential Authentication Technology - Boarding Pass Scanning Systems (CAT-BPSS), will eventually replace the current procedure used by security officers to detect fraudulent or altered documents. CAT-BPSS enhances security and increases efficiency by automatically and concurrently comparing a passenger's ID and boarding pass to a set of security features to verify their authentication and ensure that the information on both match. The system also verifies the IDs of airline personnel and can screen a wide range of travel documents. TSA began testing the technology in July 2011, and has begun operational field testing at TSA Pre™ airports.


TSA will continue to enhance its layered security approach through state-of-the-art technologies, expanded use of existing and proven technology, better passenger identification techniques and other developments that will continue to strengthen aviation security. I thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today, and I look forward to answering your questions about the evolution of TSA's risk-based, intelligence-driven approach to security.

Last Updated: 09/21/2018
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