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airport screening

Hey TSA, don't mess with Texas.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Texas is taking matters into its own hands when it comes to the Transportation Security Administration's enhanced pat down procedures - and it wants hands off.

The state's House passed HB 1937 that would make it a misdemeanor offense for a federal Transportation Security Administration agent to “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly [touch] the anus, sexual organ, buttocks, or breast” of a person going through airport security, according to this article in The Texas Tribune.

The bill is currently stalled in the Senate after the U.S. Department of Justice sent a letter to legislators on May 3 saying the bill would be in direct conflict with federal law and could lead to a shut down of Texas airports.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Dan Patrick, withdrew the legislation from consideration after a visit from TSA officials, which led to several Senators withdrawing their support for the legislation. So for now, Texans will have to endure the same enhanced screening as the rest of us.

TSA covert test leaves police in the dark, but there's a bright side

Monday, May 23, 2011

I traveled overseas last week on a much needed vacation to Grand Cayman. Whenever I travel, I can't help but take note of the security measures in place, which apparently makes me a suspicious passenger. While I dislike the inconvenience of undergoing secondary screening, I must say, I'm always sort of excited to experience these enhanced measures, first hand.

On this particular trip, it wasn't until I tried returning to the U.S. that I ran into any security issues. While in the Grand Cayman Airport (in all its five-gate glory), I was pulled aside and told that I had been selected for secondary screening. They took me into a windowless room in the back and a security officer rifled through my checked luggage. Other than a bottle of Grand Cayman's fine Tortuga Rum, there was nothing but clothes in my luggage. Then, as I was about to board my plane, I was pulled aside AGAIN and another officer looked through my carry-on. Earlier, I had joked with my friend, who had to undergo explosive-detection screening on her way to Grand Cayman, that I always get selected for secondary screening and saw her laughing at me as she waited on the tarmac making sure the plane didn't take off without us (although, frankly, it wouldn't be the worst place to get stranded, that's for sure).

But, I can't fault security, of course, they're only doing their job. And, apparently they are constantly being tested, too. I read this story with interest about a covert security test recently conducted at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

On May 12, federal authorities sent a man of Middle Eastern or south Asian descent through security screening with a "device" hidden in a shaving kit. When the cylinder attached by wires to a watch was discovered by screeners, the police immediately handcuffed the man and started evacuating the area. However, before the airport was evacuated, TSA personnel intervened and informed the police that it was only part of a test.

TSA spokeswoman Carrie Harmon said the agency routinely conducts thousands of covert tests each year at airports across the country. The one at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport ended up being a little too real because of "miscommunication" between the TSA and police, she said.

Yes, obviously communication here failed, but isn't it good to know that all these security measures that air travelers are being subjected to (some more than others) are actually working? Right?

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?

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.

TSA investigates 27 officers accused of not screening checked baggage


HONOLULU—Twenty-seven Transportation Security Administration officers at the Honolulu International Airport are under investigation for major security failures, reported KITV 4 News on March 2.

Contract security no longer in the running to screen airline passengers


WASHINGTON—On Jan. 28, the head of the Transportation Security Administration changed his tune and announced that private security contractors will no longer be hired to screen airline passengers.

Tom Ridge on airport security: ‘We’re not doing a very good job’


NEW YORK—Even the former head of the Department of Homeland Security doesn’t think airport security is adequate.

You too could have saved $200

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

I was, somewhat, surprised to hear the news that Verified Identity Pass had shuttered its doors. As many in the industry, I knew the program and the vendors managing it were struggling but I had just been hounded by a VIP representative at the airport the week before who promised me that the program was going to be expanded to other top tier airports including Chicago. I was momentarily tempted by the idea of having a shiny new Clear card in my wallet. In the end, common sense won out. I can buy two pairs of shoes for $200.

This article from USA Today highlights many of the problems associated with the initiative.

This was one of those good on paper, bad in the implementation phase ideas.

The rest of The Netherlands trip

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I'm back on U.S. soil but not after falling ill in Amsterdam (just my luck) with the flu and now, a double ear infection. I think this is partially due to the very hectic schedule that we were subjected to that included bus and boat rides, two different hotels and nearly 30 presentations over three days. I'm still digesting all the information.

What is really striking about The Netherlands is its drive to have strong information sharing programs in place. I already talked about the cooperation between fire, security and safety at the Port of Rotterdam and the same initiative is apparent at the Netherlands Forensic Institute, which performs forensic examinations in a variety of disciplines that has a close working relationship with the Dutch police (they actually refer to them as a client). Because of this, and a host of new technology developments, the crime rate in the country is dropping. NFI also cooperates with other forensic institutes within and outside Europe to develop best practices and tackle issues such as research funding. Beirut and Lebanon are two areas that have requested forensic services from NFI. Officials from NFI are also in the middle of planning a trip to the United States to see how U.S. businesses can work with the Dutch agency.
NFI is also building a forensic field lab that will be used for education, instruction and practice and the development of investigation methods. It will include lecture rooms, a mock court, practice laboratories, a blood stain pattern analysis room and a room where it can imitate weather conditions for crime scene investigations.
By far my favorite part of the trip was the tour of security at Schiphol Airport that Miro Jerkovik, senior manager of security R&D; Gunther von Adrichem, project manager of security R&D; and Hans Geerlink, duty manager of security, facilitated. The program at Schiphol is incredible. It has 200 security checkpoints — the majority of those are located in the international terminal. Since the airport is located on one level, it has no way of differentiating incoming and outgoing passengers. International passengers are first check at customs and then are screened at the gate (Each international gate has its own screening checkpoint with metal detectors and profiling agents). Those flying within Europe are screened in a manner similar to the TSA's process and then enter into a centralized area where screening is not necessary at the gate.
As someone who has not flown out of Schiphol before, I was somewhat wary of this process but the day I left to head home I was more impressed than wary. Screening 300+ passengers at once is no easy task but you couldn't tell from the way the screeners were acting. They were professional, quick and focused on the job at hand. There were also five agents conducting behavior profiling interviews on each passenger. Even though I tried to look as sketchy as possible, my questions were limited to why I was in Amsterdam, how long, where did I stay, what portable electronic devices did I bring, did I pack my own bags and did anyone ask me to take anything on board the plane for them. As four agents spoke directly with passengers, and screened passports, another profiler oversaw the whole operation, mainly looking for suspicious behavior.
Even though this system seems to work well on the surface, Miro was quick to point out that "you never know what's coming next ... you make a strategy and then you have to change it."
Policies and procedures changing are part of life when it comes to airport security. From a traveler's perspective, this can be challenging (we've all seen it at U.S. airports). "Sometimes regulations are hard to handle and hard to make it reasonable from the passenger's [perspective] but it all makes sense," Gunther said. "There is a lot of effort and know-how into how to make it right."
To lessen confusion, Schiphol produces brochures for passengers when it makes changes to its program and distributes them accordingly. I think this is something we don't do enough of here in the states. Sure, there is signs outlining 3-1-1 but there are times screeners don't even talk to passengers to let them know details of the screening process and if you're like my Dad, who hasn't flown since the Reagan era, things can get a bit complicated.
There is a BIG focus on technology at Schiphol. The airport has 1,000 cameras in place and plans to increase that number to between 3,000 and 4,000 (a mixture of converted analog and IP cameras) over the next few years. The plan is to cover the airport with cameras and other sensors, such as video analytics, license plate recognition and facial recognition, for example. "The whole point is to use cameras, not people," Miro said.
Approximately, 15 locations in the airport have L3 millimeter wave scanning machines in use. Although the use of such machines have met with criticism in the United States, Gunther said it is rare that passengers opt out of being scanned with the machine.
"We can show that this type of security is superior to what we have today," Gunther said. "It can find smaller stuff than we used to."
Partnership is also a key initiative at Schiphol. When the airport was given responsibility for airport security in 2003, it contracted with contract security companies to help assist in the process. But the world of security has changed since then. In 2008, the airport began to focus on "partnering" with these companies instead of "contracting" them. But the goal is still the same: "Effective, efficient security at a realistic cost."
Touring the airport was a great way to end the trip (I could have done without the four-hour dinner afterwards). These press junkets are difficult to schedule as there are always a wide variety of journalists attending. On last week's trip, there were three physical security editors, one defense reporter, one IT security editor and a homeland security consultant to name six, so you can understand the programming challenge. Even so, my regret is that there was not more time during the trip to be able to bring real-time information back to our respective readers. I've always found that having an hour break before dinner or a little time after lunch to blog or write a story is very useful. And those breaks could have helped keep this tired little editor from falling ill or at least that is my theory.

More 'security theater'

Monday, December 22, 2008

For those of you who missed the 60 Minutes segment on airport security because you were shoveling your driveway for the fourth time, here it is:

Watch CBS Videos Online

Too bad they didn't mention that we are in the middle of one of the safest flying periods in U.S. history.

I agree that not all the programs TSA has implemented have worked, but I do think they are doing some things right — the behavior screening, for example, is an effective program. All around, the agency gets a really bad rap and so do the screeners (I wouldn't want that job). It may be 'security theater' but if it helps keep me safe, I'm happy to play a role.