12th Annual AAAE Aviation Security Summit – TSA Leadership Roundtable

12th Annual AAAE Aviation Security Summit

(Blogging live – paraphrasing as necessary)

December 10, 2012
Hyatt Regency Crystal City
Alexandria, VA

General Session I
TSA Leadership Roundtable
Carter Morris, AAAE, Moderator
John Sammon, Asst., Administrator, Security, Policy and Industry Engagement, TSA
Christopher McLaughlin, Asst., Administrator, Security Operations, TSA
Stephen Sadler, Asst., Administrator, Intelligence & Analysis, TSA

The fiscal cliff continued to be a theme of the conference. Carter Morris kicked off with questions to McLaughlin who noted that if you’re not concerned about the current budget crisis you’re concerned about the next budget crisis.

“We practice risk based security everyday,” said Sadler. “We have a 24 hour cycle…we get together everyday and make decisions everyday on what we take action on…for us RBS has been built into the agency all along, it’s just become more visible with PreCheck.”

Morris asked about how airport operators can get more information on what’s happening in terms of threat so that stakeholders can better understand what’s driving the policy. Sadler recommended that the threats of the past still exist today and it’s important to keep a close relationship with the local Federal Security Director.

“We try to get as much information as we possibly can to our stakeholders, but we can’t always send out actionable information. Sometimes we send out information to build a foundation, so when you do get something (subsequently) you can take action,” said Sadler – who also noted that you should have someone on your staff with a Secret clearance.

McLaughlin expanded on the concept of “managed inclusion,” which is part of the PreCheck program. Pistole mentioned it earlier in his presentation, where the canine and BDO teams are integrated into the PreCheck experience. “We did this in a way in which we’ve ‘done the math,’ (in security), to select individuals who haven’t signed up for PreCheck, but based on an increased level of real time threat detection… to bring in individuals and give them an opportunity to experience PreCheck.” TSA also gets an operational benefit with managed inclusion.

McLaughlin also spoke about the passenger screening canines, formerly called “vapor wake,” which is a trademarked term. He defended both the BDO and the passenger screening canines as not being widely understood. Both programs are designed to focus on looking at people, rather than things, but also it’s about moving towards “our ability to touch you less.”

Morris asked about TSA’s ability to NOT stay out of the news. Sammons’ noted that TSA touches nearly 2/3 of a billion people a year, “that’s a large audience.” The goal (of RBS) is to make it the norm, it’s just not for a few people – the challenge is to change the paradigm. If 2/3 of a billion people have a good experience, then they don’t care that much about reading lousy stuff about TSA. When you shift the travel experience, you shift the focus.

Sammons’ related PreCheck to toll booths – the goal is to have one staffed toll booth on the side and 10 automated lanes, rather than 10 staffed booths and one automated lane, which is a good analogy of PreCheck today.

Morris joked if there was any truth to the rumor that TSA’s new slogan will be, “TSA, we touch you less.”

McLaughlin noted that of the 650,000,000 passengers that go through screening every year, TSA personnel actually, physically, touch individuals very infrequently, and the good news of TSA personnel doing good things don’t make the news – like a recent story where a TSA person recovered a passenger’s wallet that was stolen by another airport employee. “That story didn’t make the news,” McLaughlin said.

Sadler noted that, “we know why we go to work everyday…we go to work everyday to keep the traveling public safe.”

The 100% all-inbound-cargo screening deadline was on December 3rd. TSA met earlier domestic security cargo screening deadlines, and presently, 60-65% of the air cargo is being screened up the supply chain, under the certified cargo security program. “What was trickier, was how do you get cargo from around the world screened?”

“We can’t require other countries to do things, so we worked with the carriers and the countries overseas, and put into place a number of protocols, trusted shipments and shippers, and because of the differential of security, the level of trust – airlines and cargo handlers were able to do this around the world,” said Sammons. We also wanted to look at other cargo security (systems) around the world. It’s hard to train people to different standards on what to look for, (depending on different countries and different standards) throughout the world.”

Morris asked about latest “modernization effort.” Sadler said that modernization is focused on allowing a person to enroll once and use many – an attempt to bring together the trucking, maritime and aviation background checks. “Right now we’re going to start with the maritime capability, (but we are looking at aviation down the road). Morris confirmed that Sadler is talking about TWIC, the Transportation Worker Identification Credential program.


Unidentified individual asked about whether TSO’s are risk based focused.

McLaughlin said he is working more and more on pushing out TSO’s using more discretion rather than being focused on a standard operating procedure. “SOP will always be a large part of the procedure in such a organization where we can’t afford to make a mistake,” said McLaughlin.

Thomas Anthony, University of Southern California – is there a method to track technology deployments to ensure that individuals are not acquiring explosive detection systems or trace detectors to ensure (bad operators) are not acquiring these systems and studying them.

Sammons’ answered: “People are constantly on the Internet attempting to analyze the technologies. We’ve been attacked by box cutters, shoes, soft drinks, underwear – they are definitely aware of our capabilities and they try to get around (our systems). They do educate themselves.”

Irish Flynn, former aviation security director, FAA: what confidence do you have that Secure Flight will select the terrorist?

Sadler: as long as the records are accurate, then I’m confident we’ll be able to (detect) the individual or ensure they are selected for additional screening. With respect to the insider threat, (we need accurate information).

Flynn noted that it’s been his experience that there are a low number of selectees and they tend to be the same people over and over. They are not terrorists, but they are on the watch list.

Sadler responded that what (we) do everyday is that we go through the data and the watch list to identify people for advanced screening.


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