12th Annual AAAE Aviation Security Summit – TSA Administrator John Pistole

12th Annual AAAE Aviation Security Summit

(Blogging live – paraphrasing as necessary)

December 10, 2012

Hyatt Regency Crystal City

Alexandria, VA

General Session I

TSA Priorities and Perspectives

Chip Barclay, A.A.E., CEO

The Honorable John Pistole, Administrator, TSA

As they have done every year since 9/11, leaders in the aviation security industry are gathered for the annual pilgrimage to Washington DC, so discuss the key issues.

Pistole kicked off as many TSA personnel have done this year, by asking the audience how many people are enrolled in TSA’s PreCheck program. Only about half of the audience raised their hands.

“Everyone in this room should be in PreCheck, we’ll have people at the back of the room with some cards and maybe we’ll do a mobile enrollment here,” said Pistole. “We’re excited by the expansion of that.”

PreCheck is a cornerstone of the TSA’s risk based security (RBS) approach.

Pistole said that PreCheck is also being used in queue management. “When the PreCheck line is empty, and passenger screening canines or behavior detection officers are available, we’ll pull passengers over to the PreCheck line, get them screened and also give them a card (advertising) the benefits of PreCheck.”

In addition to frequent flyers, and members of CBP’s Global Entry, PreCheck has expanded to its first international location with certain Canadian citizens, now being eligible.

Barclay then moved the discussion into the upcoming fiscal cliff, noting that there are multiple cliffs, which also includes the debt limit and the continuing legislation next spring. Barclay asked how TSA will deal with these issues that are beyond TSA’s control.

Pistole: what concerns us is the uncertainty, but we’re prepared to be fully staffed in January, but by February and March, we’ll have to get into managing leave schedules and taking people who are in support policy positions, and put them on front line at the checkpoint to maintain passenger flow.

Pistole also plans on using RBS as part of managing the fiscal cliff, or sequestration, or other upcoming challenges, that are essentially beyond TSA’s control.

“Congress does not give us a line item for RBS or PreCheck and if we were waiting (on Congress) we’d still be talking about it (rather than doing it),” said Pistole. Congress did however recently allow funding to continue to update Secure Flight so that TSA can continue to conduct the name checks.

Barclay then moved the discussion into the upcoming threats, the change in the CIA director and the threat environment.

“We’re starting with a classified intel brief every morning about what the terrorists are thinking, what devices they are acquiring or might use,” said Pistole. “The concern is that the bomb maker (of the second underwear bomber) is still out there and he’s trained others to his craft.”

Pistole noted that the bomb was a ‘second generation,’ of equipment that had two detonators and used a type of explosive that are technology could not detect or that the dogs had not been trained on. Equipment then had to be recalibrated and the dogs had to be trained on the new explosive.

Pistole also said that he’s concerned about the homegrown violent extremist. The FBI has interrupted much of this, and so far the threat has not been aviation oriented, but it remains a concern – how they are doing it and where they might do it.

“As we approach the holiday season, that’s always a heightened concern…I believe we’re as prepared as we can be to detect and deter…let’s hope that a possible terrorist can be identified before they get to an airport,” said Pistole.

Pistole next addressed the new collective bargaining agreement signed with the TSO’s. There are 11 items that could be subject to collective bargaining – more administrative in nature – but nothing dealing with the type of security technology we use. “Congress gave us great discretion and authority over what would be the terms of a collective bargaining agreement.” He believes that the general public won’t see a difference, but that internally there will be some changes.

Two years ago, Pistole created the Office of Professional Responsibility, to adjudicate performance or disciplinary issues. Pistole also defended the TSO workforce by noting that while there are individual cases of TSO misconduct, such as theft, but there are plenty of other stories where TSO’s have performed very well and went above and beyond expectations.

Another issue is the harmonization of U.S. aviation security regulations with security requirements from other countries. Pistole recently met with members of certain Latin America and Caribbean countries, to promote a sort of pre clearance program. TSA has also been working with the European Union and other countries.


Mark Crosby, A.A.E., Chief of Public Safety and Security at Portland International Airport, asked about the publicity around PreCheck, noting that the program needs to continue to grow as some of his airport directors have asked to opt-out of PreCheck, in order to free up staff to manage the checkpoints.

Pistole said he’s open to assessing the situation and if an airport isn’t ready for PreCheck yet, then perhaps pull it and reassess later, but he would rather get more people signed up for the program and using it.

Lori Beckman, president of ASC (airport security consulting) asked if part of RBS is bringing it to the airport security program, instead of a one-size fits all program.

Pistole said that first they want to get the national templates right, like PreCheck, screening for passengers over 75, military personnel, etc., but we are looking at that and having some initial discussions along those lines. “Part of my job is to underpromise and over deliver, which is tough to do in this town and still keep your job,” said Pistole.

Barclay closed by wishing Pistole good luck with his cliff diving.


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