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foiled plot

New bill would allow private screeners to replace TSOs, despite Pistole's stance

Monday, April 18, 2011

On April 15, three U.S. representatives introduced a bill to the House Committee on Homeland Security that would allow airport operators to replace TSA screeners with private security companies. The bill, H.R. 1586: “Security Enhancement and Jobs Act of 2011” requires that the TSA act on applications within 120 days of receiving them and to approve them if such a request would not compromise security or the effectiveness of screening or adversely affect TSA’s mission, according to the press release.

Airport operators operating under the Screening Partnership Program, had the option of replacing TSA screeners with private officers until January 2011, when TSA administrator John Pistole announced that TSA would not expand SPP beyond its current 16 airports “unless there are clear and substantial advantages to doing so.”

The legislation also requires TSA to reconsider any applications pending at the time of Pistole’s announcement.

“The private sector includes invaluable partners in national and homeland security, and we need to make sure that the Department of Homeland Security is working to encourage participation of private companies providing security services, not hinder it. This legislation brings necessary transparency to the TSA’s decisions to approve or deny opt-out applications by airports. As long as security is not compromised, airport operators should have the flexibility of determining whether to employ all-federal screeners or private screeners,” said Rep. Peter King (R-NY), chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, in the statement.

Private companies would still have to abide by all federal regulations, just like the TSA. Is there really an argument that private companies could be more efficient and effective than federal screeners? If so, why weren't more than 16 airports taking advantage of the SPP program?

What you were reading: Top 10 blogs of 2010

Monday, December 27, 2010

The end of the year is a good time to step back and review what made the news this year. I wrote a series of articles for last week’s Newswire that focused on some of the biggest issues of the year. You can check out the Top 10 stories here. I also broke it down into sectors and wrote a small synopsis and listed the Top 5 stories for each sector. Check out what was hot in educational security, retail security/loss prevention, aviation security, and municipal security/port security/public transportation.

So to go along with that theme, I decided to post the Top 10 blogs from this year. Below is a list that I think you’ll find quite interesting:

1. Good to great: How to get three times the productivity from your security personnel

2. ASIS International undergoes layoffs, cites economy

3. Looking for a career after law enforcement? Perhaps you should consider this occupation

4. List of most dangerous colleges and universities causes quite a stir

5. Police chief moonlights as casino security director. Is this a conflict of interest?

6. Stadium decides Tasers ‘aren’t appropriate’ after fan incident

7. Former Chicago aviation chief says 15,000 badges missing

8. Has the TSA gone too far with frisks?

9. The tragic state of loss prevention

10. Hotel security system fails, alarm co. sued, but how much blame should security dept. have?

An inside look at Logan Airport's security strategy

Thursday, November 18, 2010

For as much as I write about aviation security, I’ve never had a chance to see these technologies firsthand, other than what I can observe as an average flying passenger. Well, that all changed yesterday when I was invited to Boston Logan International Airport to check out some of the initiatives they’ve taken to ensure security is the best it can be. As you might recall, I wrote a story not long ago about Logan and some of the challenges they face in terms of integrating and adding technology (and I’ll be posting a detailed story about their consolidated camera surveillance system program on our Tuesday Newswire), but the message I walked away with from my tour was the importance of partnerships.

Now, I’m not new to this reporter gig, I know people tend to only tell me the good, glowing stuff about how everyone gets along and works together and blah blah, but it was very apparent during my time at Logan that good working relationships are the foundation of their security program. Don’t forget. People here take security personal:

“When we found out the 9/11 terrorists left from here, it hasn’t been the same place since,” Tom Domenico, director of IT operations at the Massachusetts Port Authority, told me for that story. Domenico, who was my host for this tour, started out by driving me around the perimeter of the airfield. First of all, I didn’t realize the airfield was surrounded by water, which is obviously confining in terms of expansion, but there are also concerns because of the close proximity to the Port of Boston (also a Massport property). There are white buoys that surround the airfield, which are off limits to boats. During our airfield tour, I also got to see, up close (but not too close), a plane take off and, frankly, that was cool.

Next I had the opportunity to attend the airport’s 8:30am security meeting. This meeting happens every single day, and has since Sept. 12, 2001. Basically, it’s an opportunity for stakeholders to share important information about what’s happening at the airport. This particular meeting was largely about the upcoming holiday travel days and reminding everyone numbers were going to be way up for Thanksgiving. There was also mention about the media attention received by the TSA’s enhanced pat-down procedures (and lots of groans). But, it wasn’t even what was said that was significant, it was about who was there. The roll call included everyone from Logan’s corporate security folks and operations people to the FBI, Customs and Border Protection, TSA, Massachusetts Police as well as a representative from every airline carrier. I counted at least 50 people in the room.

During my tour of the facility I also had a chance to speak with many of the people in the room, too. I got to see, firsthand, how the new advanced imaging technology machines work. While I opted out of seeing my own image (I’m shy, people, really), I got to take a peak into the room where the TSA officer views the images and what the images look like. I also learned from George Naccara, federal security director for the airport, that by April, he expects to have software that replaces actual images of people with generic stick figures that highlight areas of concern.

He also showed me the airport’s inline cargo screening equipment. First of all, I had never seen so many conveyer belts in one place, but the system in the back room was even cooler. Basically, any bag that sets off sensors from the initial screening equipment are displayed for a TSA officer who can then determine if the bag needs to be physically screened.

I also got to tour the airport’s emergency operations center. I spoke with Major Michael Concannon of the Massachusetts State Police who told me the airport recently ran an active shooter exercise in the EOC. While he couldn’t give me too many details about the exercise, he said there were certainly lessons learned in terms of communication and operations from such an exercise. In addition to the EOC room, which has several rows of desks equipped with telephones and laptop hook ups and at least six big-screen televisions mounted on the walls, there is a separate room just down the hall where decision makers go to discuss whatever information the EOC is producing. One of the problems, however, is that the decision makers didn’t know exactly what was happening in the EOC, so they installed a 180-degree camera, called a scallop camera, that I was told isn’t even in production yet. The camera is divided into several segments that can be zoomed into separately and people seemed pretty excited about it.

I’m still going through all my notes and will include more details about some of the security measures and technology in place in my story on Tuesday, so stay tuned. Oh, and if you’ve never seen Boston and the surrounding area from the 16th floor of the control tower at Logan, well, you’re missing out (sorry, I had to brag a little).

Book reveals the 'real' reason we don't have full-body scanners

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Full-body scanners supposedly make people nervous. And that makes sense. Individuals don't tend to like having their bodies exposed, in any form, especially to strangers. However, a new book, Skating on Stilts: Why We Aren't Stopping Tomorrow's Terrorism, tackles the "real" reason the TSA hasn't been able to deploy full-body scanners, despite the fact that the technology has been fully developed and found to effectively detect explosives and anomalies on the body.

The author, Stewart Baker, a former Homeland Security policy chief from 2005-2009, writes that civil-liberty advocates are the reason this technology still isn't in place and why our aviation system remains vulnerable. Baker blames privacy advocates on both the Left and Right for convincing the House of Representatives to pass a resolution in June 2009 forbidding the government from using the body imagers for primary screening. Which, by the way, I didn't know. And, apparently I'm not the only one. Baker addresses the public's misperceptions of how the government reacted after the attacks of 9/11:

"There's a well-established civil libertarian mythology about the nation's response to 9/11," Baker writes. "In the myth, a frightened U.S. government throws civil liberties out the window within weeks of the attacks, launching a seven-year attack on our privacy that a new administration is only now slowly … beginning to moderate. In real life, privacy groups mobilized within weeks of 9/11, and they won victory after victory, right from the start."

But Baker doesn't just discuss the issue of whole-body imaging technology, he also argues that these civil liberty groups worked to minimize the amount of information the TSA could gather in order to determine what passengers warranted additional screening. The original program was replaced with a system that only allows TSA to gather passengers name, gender and birthdate.

"If you've wondered why, eight years after 9/11, we're still looking for weapons and not for terrorists, now you know. Privacy advocates turned the use of even ordinary data like travel reservations into the policy equivalent of a toxic waste site," Baker said.

It'll be interesting to see how John Pistole changes the TSA's approach to intelligence gathering, especially considering that's his first order of business as the head of the TSA.

Former Chicago aviation chief says 15,000 badges missing

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Aviation will never be 100 percent secure. It's just not possible. “Those threatening us are finding better ways to compromise the system and our goals are that we can achieve better use of security through technology,” said Doug Laird, president of aviation consulting firm Laird & Associates and former security director for Northwest Airlines during a panel discussion at ISC West this year.

While technology plays an important role, it is equally important to have effective policies and procedures in place to make sure those using the technology are doing so in the most efficient and accurate way.

And sometimes it's not even sophisticated policies that are so crucial to aviation security. I just read this article from CBS about serious security gaps at O'Hare International Airport.

And it's not just an average traveler or some reporter saying there's a problem. The former Chicago Department of Aviation Police Chief Jim Maurer has come out blasting the airport for egregious security practices and claiming he was fired for trying to close these oversights.

He claims that thousands of people have had access to the back entrance of the airport and to security badges that allow them through that back gate while bypassing airport security.

Maurer says he tried for years to get the back gate and parking lot shut down.

"We don't patrol those lots," Maurer said. "We don't patrol the airfield itself."

The article demonstrated how those who entered through the back gate didn't get screened for weapons, could board employee busses, go onto airport runways and walk right onto the tarmac and into a terminal without getting screened.

This article also discusses issues with the access control system at the airport.

In 2007, CBS 2 also found 3,807 of the badges required to get past the back gate were missing. Maurer said he then launched an investigation and found the number was greater.

"After your story, we started looking into it," he said. "We had like 10,000 (or) 15,000 people that either had been issued badges and we never got them back, or were still getting activated badges."

Wait a minute. Back up for a second.

10,000 to 15,000 badges are unaccounted for!?
Holy moly, that's ridiculous, right? Just wait, it gets worse:

Maurer says he even found some badges were given to officials who had no business at O'Hare but used the badges for free parking. Maurer says the Transportation Security Administration got nervous and also sent letters to the city saying the back gate should be shut down.

This seems like some common sense security practices to me. I know there's been lots of debate about how well tarmacs and airfields are patrolled and secured and issues with people hopping fences and such, but not putting stronger security measures in place at the actual entrance to the airfield? I mean come on, people, that's just ridiculous. Especially at a huge airport like O'Hare. If this was your average rinky-dink regional airport (like the Portland Jetport, for example), then that's one thing MAYBE, but O'Hare? They should be one of the leaders of aviation security...

Airport security: Up close and personal

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

In recent months I've spent a lot of time reading, talking, thinking and writing about aviation security. But, there's nothing like seeing some of these processes in real life. In case you missed my series of live blogs, I was in Florida this week attending TechSec Solutions. As usual, I flew out of the Portland Jetport in all of its 11-gate glory.

Unless you're flying out at 6am, getting through security in Portland is a breeze. I noticed, first of all, that there seemed to be an unusually large number of TSA workers on duty. I counted six behind one of two baggage screening stations, most of whom were sitting around the back, well, chatting. On my way through security there were also two Portland police officers stationed at the end of the security line observing passengers coming through the screening process.

THEN, as I was boarding my plane, I got pulled aside for secondary bomb-detection screening. While, I was slightly excited to experience this screening measure firsthand, I still had that slight moment of panic, because, well authority can be intimidating. (I tried to get Sam, who was also on the same flight, to take a picture to share with my loyal blog readers, but he balked saying it was illegal or some weak excuse like that.)

Anyway, while I certainly understand the nature of these additional security measures, I couldn't help but think that these various resources could perhaps be better used somewhere else? Did I mention Portland only has 11 gates? That's right, 11. In about a 200-yard space. Here I am in JFK on my way back to Maine and, comparatively, there's much less security. I did watch two Port Authority police officers escorting a Garda security officer restock an ATM, but other than that, security has been much less prominent. Perhaps they're just better at being discreet here in the big city.

More full-body scanner controversy

Monday, January 25, 2010

There's no let up to this debate about whether or not full-body scanners should be more widely adapted in aviation security. An article in the Huffington Post claims that during a test of the technology on a German television show, the scanner was unable to detect some of the components on a person's body.

Schneir on Security concludes, "Full-body scanners: they're not just a dumb idea, they don't actually work."

But there are a lot of people in the industry saying that this technology is far more effective than what is currently being deployed. There are obvious limitations to metal detectors and basically nothing in place (other than pat downs) to identify objects on people's bodies. But, I think the most important thing to keep in mind is that there is no silver bullet for improving security in airports. While improved technology certainly plays a part, better training of employees is equally critical, as is improved communication and intelligence gathering.

According to this press release, Secretary Napolitano met with with members of the International Air Transport Association—which represents approximately 230 airlines and more than 90 percent of the world’s air traffic—in Geneva in an effort to work with the airline industry to meet both international and U.S. Transportation Security Administration security standards.

She outlined four broad areas for international public-private collaboration that will help bolster efforts to protect the aviation system while facilitating legitimate travel: improving information collection and analysis; increasing information sharing and collaboration in passenger vetting; enhancing international security standards; and deploying new screening technology.

Since the Christmas day terrorist attempt, the TSA has issued new security directives, including enhanced screening for anyone holding a passport issued by "nations that are state sponsors of terrorism."

Security review under fire

Monday, January 18, 2010

The New York Times yesterday published a fairly in-depth article about additional warning signs the administration made that could have prevented the Christmas Day terrorist attack.

While the article notes that the intelligence community was very in tune with monitoring information coming out of Yemen, it was still unable to pull together and interpret the information it received in order to identify Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as a potential suspect.

They apparently also had intelligence information disclosing a December 25 date, but due to a shortage of intelligence analysts and a system that the Times describes just short of clunky, inhibited the intelligence community's ability to "connect the dots."

At the National Counterterrorism Center just outside Washington, where specialists can draw on streams of information from more than 80 databases across the government, two teams of intelligence analysts worked on different parts of the same problem. Yet they never collaborated to piece together clues about the Christmas Day attack that were coming in.

And, as a result, the Obama administration now says the counterterrorism center needs personnel assigned solely to follow up on all tips.

Apparently, all this finger pointing has caused heightened tensions among these different agencies. The one thing I think we can all agree on is that it's time to learn from these mistakes, improve the system to avoid such failures in the future and move forward. Because we know a little failure isn't going to stop those who wish us harm.

He's 8 and on the watchlist. The TSA just can't win

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The TSA just can't get a break lately. It's been made very clear to the public by the President and Secretary Napolitano that there needs to be some major improvements to the government's system of gathering intelligence. But the media just can't let it go. Now ABC News is reporting that an 8-year-old boy is on the government's watchlist. Of course, the boy is not really on the watchlist, but rather someone who shares his name, but according to the kid's mom, he has had to undergo secondary screening since he was two.

I agree with the mother (and probably the majority of the American public) that this is pretty ridiculous. This child obviously poses no threat to aviation security and there's really no need to pat the little guy down. However, keep in mind the TSA is only following procedure. Individual screeners don't get to decide whether or not it makes sense to pat down an infant, they just have to do it.

But the system obviously needs tweaking. A TSA spokesman said that the agency is working on cross-checking names with birth dates and gender. We need to keep in mind that the list is long and the database is enormous - there are going to be flaws. But this one, is frankly not that worrisome and is actually a demonstration that the system worked - sort of. I'm sure glad my parents chose to go with the unusual name...

Security review comes to a conclusion

Friday, January 8, 2010

Probably like you, I'm starting to get a little disenchanted with aviation security. While the attempted terrorist attack on Christmas Day was certainly a reminder that there needs to be serious improvements in the system, speculation on how to fix the various problems has just gotten ridiculous (yet entertaining?).

However, there are some legitimate aviation experts weighing in on the issue. The Association of Aviation Security Professionals, for example, has issued a paper on the improvements they think airports should make. Here's an excerpt:

While all travelers must be screened, they do not need to be screened to the same level. For watch-list and some normal passengers, one out of 3 or 4 checkpoint lanes should be converted to a High Security Lane, which uses intelligence and passenger data coupled with effectively selected, integrated technologies for primary- and especially, secondary search. Everyone else would be screened by baseline methods.

And, of course, there are the official changes made by Secretary Napolitano yesterday:

* Re-evaluate and modify the criteria and process used to create terrorist watch lists—including adjusting the process by which names are added to the “No-Fly” and “Selectee” lists.
* Establish a partnership on aviation security between DHS and the Department of Energy and its National Laboratories in order to develop new and more effective technologies to deter and disrupt known threats and proactively anticipate and protect against new ways by which terrorists could seek to board an aircraft.
* Accelerate deployment of advanced imaging technology to provide greater explosives detection capabilities—and encourage foreign aviation security authorities to do the same—in order to identify materials such as those used in the attempted Dec. 25 attack. The Transportation Security Administration currently has 40 machines deployed throughout the United States, and plans to deploy at least 300 additional units in 2010.
* Strengthen the presence and capacity of aviation law enforcement—by deploying law enforcement officers from across DHS to serve as Federal Air Marshals to increase security aboard U.S.-bound flights.
* Work with international partners to strengthen international security measures and standards for aviation security.