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Will the government revamp aviation security? Tom Ridge and other experts make recommendations in new report

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Complaints about aviation security will never end. Whether it's pissed off pilots or alleged high-doses of radiation from screening devices (certainly worthy of double-checking, don't get me wrong), there's always some sort of drama unfolding in the aviation security space.

Many security professionals would tell you (and have told me, as a matter of fact) that enhanced security measures in airports was a knee-jerk reaction to the events of 9/11. Was it an overreaction? Yeah, probably. But 9/11 was an event that changed the risk landscape in our country forever and made us all realize our gaping vulnerabilities. There are ongoing accusations that aviation security is just "security theater," but I strongly disagree, as I suspect most security professionals would. No one would ever say the Transportation Security Administration is perfect or that it's capable of stopping every person with ill intent. That's an impossible task. The TSA has admittedly gone through some serious trial and error to make the system work, and fails regularly in a very public way. Heck, the agency was so embattled it took a year and five months just to find someone who was willing to run it.

I just read a very interesting announcement that there could be some HUGE security changes coming down the pike. The U.S. Travel Association just finished up a year-long analysis of ways to improve air travel security and screening procedures. In case you're not familiar with this organization, they're a 2,100-member organization that "leverages the collective strength of those who benefit from travel to grow their business beyond what they can do individually" (which would mean pretty much any company, right?).

Recommendations based on this study were released in a report titled “A Better Way: Building a World Class System for Aviation Security.” An important recommendation to Congress was the need to authorize TSA to implement a new, voluntary, government-run trusted traveler program that utilizes a risk-based approach to checkpoint screening, with the goal of refocusing resources on the highest risk passengers. I think that would be smart and a lot of businesses would support bringing back a trusted traveler program for frequent travelers.

Also, an extremely important measure was in regards to the procurement of technology. With the ongoing debacle of whole-body imaging, the panel suggested that the TSA should develop a comprehensive strategy for implementing necessary checkpoint technology capabilities and that Congress should provide multi-year funding plans for TSA to execute this strategy. This kinda seems like a no-brainer, but apparently it isn't.

I thought the mention of developing risk-management methods and tools, while a very vague statement, could be critical as well. To me, this means adopting more of an Israeli approach to security. Pretty much every aviation security expert I've ever spoken to has acknowledged that the Israeli's have superior security measures, but such a system just isn't feasible due to the amount of air travelers in the U.S., especially if the goal is to IMPROVE efficiency for passengers. I understand and agree with that, but think the TSA could stand to improve its behavior detection training and other methods to identify travelers who may pose a risk (it's not profiling people, so just stop saying it).

Anyway, just to put an exclamation point on the report, here's what former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, who was also a chair of this panel had to say: “A strong aviation security screening system must feature several characteristics, including efficient methods of deterring and interdicting terrorists and criminals; tailored security based upon risk assessment; frequent, clear communication with the traveling public; and cost-effective use of resources.”

Will anything come from this report? Hard to say not knowing.

Senators upset about body scanning blunder

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I blogged not long ago about the possible implications for the Transportation Security Administration's effort to install body scanning technology in airports after the U.S. Marshals admitted to storing more than 35,000 images from such machines in a Florida courthouse.

Nobody is happy about this situation and now Senators from the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee are demanding answers. Chairman Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins sent a letter last week to John Clark, the director of the U.S. Marshals Service, asking for a full explanation about why the service has been storing images produced from whole body scanning machines, reported The Hill.

"This is a troubling response that suggests the U.S. Marshals Service has failed to fully appreciate the seriousness of the issue. The perception of whole body imaging scans differs greatly from that of security camera footage, and therefore demands a higher level of sensitivity to the legitimate privacy concerns of those being scanned."

Apparently, the US Marshals weren't storing the images for any specific purpose, which of course makes one wonder why they would store them at all (especially since it's well known how controversial this technology has been for the government).

The Senators also noted that the TSA has adopted strict protocols regarding the retention of such images and requests the U.S. Marshals Service should do the same.

TSA makes a big boo-boo

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Transportation Security Administration gets a lot of flack on a regular basis, but this time they've apparently done it to themselves. They're being accused of posting an operating procedures manual for its airport screeners online recently, which included sensitive security information.

The TSA removed the information and in its blog wrote:

The version of the document that was posted was neither implemented nor issued to the workforce. In fact, there have been six newer versions of the document since this version was drafted. Standard Operating Procedures change regularly as intelligence provides information on new threats and we find better ways improve security.

However, everyone is all over TSA for this posting, although it's not clear what exactly was in this manual and the types of security procedures that might have been jeopardized. I tried to look for the document online, but I think you have to be a little more tech savvy than me to find such things. Anyway, Congress is especially up in arms about the situation, according to this article:

Reps. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas) wrote to acting TSA chief Gale Rossides to demand a third-party review of the exposure of the sensitive security information. "We are deeply concerned by this incident, as it appears to demonstrate some challenges TSA faces in the handling of SSI," the lawmakers wrote. "Undoubtedly, this raises potential security concerns across our transportation system."

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Tuesday declared the release of the manual "is an embarrassing mistake that calls into question the judgment of agency managers."

Agency managers? What agency managers? Maybe these Congresspeople don't realize that they're actually the ones who are currently keeping this agency from having official leadership (need I repeat we're going on a year now!). If they're all so worried about proper security measures and protocols being in place, maybe they should stop talking smack to the press and instead talk to some of their colleagues about confirming this Southers fella - or just outright reject him - but whatever it is, do something to get TSA back together! Jeez, at least that way you'd have someone to fully blame.

House approves national office for campus security

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Yesterday, the House approved the creation of a national office to help university security forces train for and prevent violent incidents. The National Center for Campus Public Safety, which would be run through the Justice Department's Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, would issue grants to campus safety agencies and encourage research into college safety and conduct training, according to this article by the Associated Press.

The bill, H.R. 748, had also cleared the House in the last session of Congress but was not taken up by the Senate. No word on when or if the Senate make take up this issue (I hear they have some important stuff going on at the moment). Look for more about this in our March issue.