The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has made significant progress in closing vulnerabilities in the global aviation system since the Christmas Day bombing attempt, and it will do even more by the end of the year, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano asserted Tuesday night in remarks to a pilots’ union.
"This plot underscored the stark reality that despite decades of advancements in screening and significant reforms following 9/11, the global aviation network still faces vulnerabilities. It also reminds us that aviation security, much like other international security challenges, blurs the line between foreign and domestic," Napolitano stated.
Napolitano will seek a formal resolution from the general assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Sept. 28-Oct. 8 in Montreal, Canada, to build upon five regional security declarations obtained by the United States in the wake of the attempted bombing of Northwest Flight 253 by suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab last Dec. 25.
Speaking to the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) in Washington, DC, Napolitano recounted how the Obama administration has struck regional deals in Europe, the Western Hemisphere, the Asia/Pacific region, and the Middle East since January to bolster aviation security globally in summits that included participation from elected leaders, security ministers, and airline officials.
Each of the five meetings resulted in a security declaration focusing on vulnerabilities in the international aviation system in four key areas: developing and deploying new security technology, strengthening aviation security measures and standards, enhancing information collection and sharing, and coordinating international technical assistance
ICAO assisted in coordinating the five agreements, which Napolitano hopes to use as a springboard to obtain a declaration covering the international organizations 190 member states in the fall.
With regard to deploying new security technology, 12 nations have joined the United States in deploying advanced imaging technology (AIT). Among those nations are Nigeria, the nation where Abdulmutallab departed on his journey to the United States, and the Netherlands, where the terror suspect caught his connecting flight bound for Detroit, Mich.
AIT devices are objectively better at detecting threatening items concealed on air passengers than traditional technologies like magnetometers are, Napolitano contended. They are safe, fast, and efficient, and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) enforces strict privacy safeguards in their use, she said.
Presently, the United States has deployed more than 180 AIT devices at 45 airports nationwide. DHS plans to use funding from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act to purchase more of the devices and to deploy them in the coming months, Napolitano said.
The department also will use Recovery Act funds to buy 1,500 more next-generation explosive trade detection machines to screen for explosives at passenger checkpoints and checked luggage stations, she said.
Napolitano emphasized that world nations have a vested interest in adopting enhanced security standards to protect their citizens. Northwest Flight 253 carried individuals from at least 17 foreign countries. Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian, received a formal education in the United Kingdom and terrorist training in Yemen before buying an airline ticket in Ghana and flying from Nigeria to Amsterdam and then to the United States.
"That incident reminds us that almost nine years after the September 11 attack, we continue to face very real threats to our aviation system, including threats from individuals who will go to great lengths to defeat the extensive security measures that have been put in place since that tragic day," Napolitano commented.
"The December 25th attack has served as a reminder and it’s also served as a catalyst for us to take a renewed and hard look at gaps remaining in the aviation security system and to take swift action to address them. Over the past eight months, that’s precisely what we have done in the Obama administration, working closely with all of our partners in the aviation sector and in particular with foreign governments," she added.
Intelligence and information sharing
TSA recently assumed the process of vetting airline passenger manifests against terrorist watchlists for all domestic and international flights operated by US domestic carriers, Napolitano noted.
Furthermore, TSA plans to extend that capability to international carriers by the end of the year under its Secure Flight program, she said.
"This will lead to more thorough and timely watch list checks, while reducing the kind of misidentifications that sometimes cause unnecessary inconvenience for travelers and undue media attention," Napolitano stated.
In April, TSA initiated new risk-based protocols to apply real-time intelligence-based targeting to identify potentially threatening individuals before they board an aircraft, the secretary said. These measures are tailored to reflect the most current threat information available to the US intelligence community.
TSA also achieved 100 percent scanning of air cargo originating in the United States traveling onboard domestic passenger flights this summer. Napolitano thanked ALPA for its assistance in shaping and informing the cargo scanning requirements under that program.
The secretary also assisted ALPA in presenting its Aviation Security Award for Valor to the three pilots onboard Northwest Flight 253 during Abdulmutallab’s attack. The association recognized Captain Ray Miller, First Officer Steven Stewart, and First Officer Greg Fedele for their competence in handling their aircraft while it was under attack and getting their passengers to safety.
"The pilots of Flight 253 faced an extraordinarily complex situation and met it with a decisive, confident, and comprehensive response. While their actions under pressure were remarkable by every measure, they were typical of the decisions made by our pilots on a daily basis, decisions that result in safely transporting the millions of passengers we carry each year. Not only did Flight 253’s passengers arrive safely, but the attacker was swiftly delivered to the US justice system," Delta MEC Chairman Captain Lee Moak said in a statement on the award.