Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) chief John Pistole are traveling to Montreal, Canada, this week to seek a global aviation security resolution from the civil aviation agency of the United Nations.
Since the attempted Christmas Day bombing of an airliner bound for Detroit, Mich., last year, Napolitano has traveled the globe in cooperation with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to secure five regional agreements to boost aviation security in Africa, Asian-Pacific nations, Europe, the Middle East, and the Western Hemisphere.
Pistole confirmed during a House hearing on Sept. 23 that Napolitano and he would seek a resolution from the 190 member nations of ICAO during the organization’s 37th General Assembly meeting Sept. 28-Oct. 8. Indeed, US and international leaders are tentatively scheduled to sign an agreement Tuesday, according to reports.
The five regional agreements share a common framework of boosting information sharing for threat information; increasing cooperation on technical development; strengthening aviation security standards; and coordinating international technical assistance.
At the heart of technological efforts in aviation security presently lie the advanced imaging technology (AIT) devices being adopted by many nations as primary or secondary screening measures.
The United States has taken the lead international in deploying the devices at its airports. TSA has deployed 224 AIT devices to 56 US airports with a goal of deploying 1,000 by the end of 2011, Pistole told a panel of the House Homeland Security Committee. TSA has done so while addressing safety, privacy, and training concerns related to the devices, Pistole assured the committee.
But the United States also has been working to improve its own information-sharing capabilities domestically as well, Pistole said.
A key lesson of 9/11 was the need to speed information to field agents who can act on it, Pistole stressed.
"A key lesson I took from that day and from my career at the FBI is that one of the best tools to combat terrorism is accurate and timely intelligence. And so my day and that of the senior leadership team at TSA begins with an intelligence briefing," he commented. "We’re continually honing our counter-terrorism focus by working with our law enforcement and intelligence committee partners to better operationalize that intelligence. And we do that through a number of different ways including the Watch Listing and the Secured Flight Program."
To put more threat information into the hands of more TSA employees, Pistole is pushing for 10,000 of the agency’s roughly 60,000people to receive secret clearances, he revealed.
Pistole officially took office as the fifth confirmed head of TSA July 1 at New York City’s Penn Station. Since that time, TSA has placed a heightened public emphasis on surface transportation security for passenger rail and bus but without significant new spending in that area.
In testimony before the Sept. 23 House hearing, Pistole said the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) continues to spread a new campaign, titled "If You See Something, Say Something," throughout US rail and bus stations.
For example, DHS debuted a public service announcement on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) subway system last week with Secretary Napolitano warning rail passengers to be vigilant and to contact metro transit police if they spot anything suspicious.
But TSA is working to improve other areas of surface transportation security, Pistole acknowledged. Pistole is conducting a review of the agency’s lagging Surface Security Program for inspecting the effectiveness of mass transit security measures.
TSA has explored two different operational structures for surface transportation security reporting, Pistole noted, including a dedicated centralized inspection office and decentralized assistant federal security directors in US urban areas. Pistole told the House Homeland Security Committee that he hoped to resolve which structure made the best sense for the agency in the near future.
A recent trip to Houston underscored how valuable TSA could be in providing assistance to local agencies in setting security standards for both rail and bus, Pistole said in response to questioning from Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), who chaired the hearing.
Still, the hearing revealed how surface transportation often takes a back seat to aviation in security matters (even if justified by an intelligence-driven TSA). Jackson Lee further inquired about the status of surface transportation security rules mandated by the Implementing the Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 (Public Law 110-53).
The 9/11 Act tasked TSA with producing a consolidated federal regulation for employees of rail, transit, and intercity buses as well as a regulation that would provide governance for those three modes of transportation.
Pistole responded, "I will have to defer on the specifics in terms of each rule. I know that, and it is a concern to me, that as it relates to the 9/11 recommendations that many have been completed, but many have not for various reasons. And I have appointed an accountable executive within my leadership team to focus on those recommendations that have not been completed and the reasons why on a weekly basis."
Pistole vowed that he would get back to Jackson Lee on the exact status of the regulations TSA is obligated to deliver but he had no timetable for them.