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DHS Announcement on Metrojet 9268

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson just released at statement on aviation security enhancements in light of the recent crash of a Russian airliner. The statement is posted here, followed up by my commentary.

STATEMENT BY SECRETARY JEH C. JOHNSON CONCERNING AVIATION SECURITY ENHANCEMENTS PENDING INVESTIGATION OF THE CRASH OF METROJET FLIGHT 9268 

While the facts and circumstances surrounding the tragic October 31 crash of Metrojet Flight 9268 on the Sinai Peninsula are still under investigation, Transportation Security Administrator (TSA) Peter Neffenger and I, out of an abundance of caution, have identified a series of interim, precautionary enhancements to aviation security with respect to commercial flights bound for the United States from certain foreign airports in the region.  While there are no direct commercial air flights from Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt to the United States, these enhancements are designed to provide an additional layer of security for the traveling public, and will be undertaken in consultation with relevant foreign governments and relevant passenger and cargo airlines.  

These enhancements will supplement U.S. aviation security requirements currently in place at all of foreign last-point-of-departure airports, as well as the additional security enhancements I directed last summer at certain foreign locations. Many of those enhancements have also been adopted by our European allies.

The enhancements include (i) expanded screening applied to items on aircraft, (ii) airport assessments in conjunction with our international partners, and (iii) offers of other assistance to certain foreign airports related to aviation and airport security, as well as additional measures, both seen and unseen.  At this time these security enhancements are intended only for certain foreign airports in the region.

While we cannot discuss the full details of our aviation security measures, or the enhancements noted today, I want to assure the traveling public that the Department of Homeland Security is working closely with our domestic and international partners to evaluate the cause of the crash of Flight 9268, and will continue to take appropriate precautionary security measures. 

As the investigation and our own review of the crash proceeds, we will continually assess our aviation security enhancements, and consider whether additional changes are appropriate.  At all times, we strive to ensure the safety and security of the public, and the ability of the public to travel without unnecessary burden or delay.

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It is never my intent to share any sensitive security information nor reveal vulnerabilities or information that is not already in the public domain. Therefore, these are my perspectives on the announcement without explaining the exact procedures that may be in effect, or going into effect.

(i) expanded screening applied to items on aircraft,
Most of the world does not screen their checked bags with the same level of technology that we do in the United States. Nor do many of them use the advanced technology x-ray machines at the screening checkpoint. ICAO encourages the use of x-ray technology to screen bags, but also allows other forms of screening such as physical inspection, explosive trace, bag match (ensuring the checked bag has a person on board to match) and canine. Expanded screening may include applying more technologies or more advanced technologies to the screening process, and expanding the screening of goods brought on board the aircraft such as catering.

(ii) airport assessments in conjunction with our international partners

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has a standard security audit process that airports can use to assess their security effectiveness. Additionally, TSA has security inspectors that specialize in foreign airport and air carrier security procedures. This measure likely indicates that those TSA personnel will be working with foreign airport security personnel to assess security procedures (likely using both ICAO and TSA standards) and recommend improvements. At the end of the day, we really can’t tell a foreign country what to do when it comes to aviation security, we can only restrict US flagged air carriers from flying to those airports if we feel their security is inadequate. We can also allow US flagged carriers to fly to those airports provided the air carrier conducts additional security procedures that are satisfactory to US standards.

(iii) offers of other assistance to certain foreign airports related to aviation and airport security, as well as additional measures, both seen and unseen.  

 his basically means we will extend a hand to foreign airports to help them implement additional security measures. While TSA gets a bad rap most of the time, what most people don’t realize is post-9/11 we have taken aviation security far above that of most countries, with a few notable exceptions such as Israel.

The Challenge

There’s been a lot of talk that this was an insider act, i.e. an airport or airline employee placing a bomb on the plane. That said, we’re still not sure if it was a bomb but let’s say for the sake of argument it was and it was placed by an insider. The fact is, even though the insider threat is significant, here in the United States we know far more about the people that work at our airports than most any other country knows about the people that work at their airports throughout the world. Our background and credentialing checks are not perfect, but they are extraordinary when you start comparing them to most other nations.
If this was truly an insider attack, there will likely be things going on behind the scenes at US airports to possibly increase employee security levels. This of course expands into the greater issue of employee screening, but the real threat is, is if this was an ISIS inspired attack, then they will likely spread the word about how it was carried out in order to try to encourage others throughout the world to do the same thing. Both ISIS and al-Qaeda, Are known for publicizing how they perform their attacks in order to encourage and educate others to try their own hand at it.

Whether this was a bomb or an accident, perhaps it will at least serve the purpose of increasing aviation security throughout the world
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