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ASAC’s Final Report Makes Airport Access Control Recommendations

In response to the Aviation Security Advisory Committee’s (ASAC) Working Group (WG) on Airport Access Control’s final report on options for improving airport employee access control, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh C. Johnson said Monday “the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will take additional steps to address the potential insider threat vulnerability at US airports."

"These steps," he said, "follow a 90-day Aviation Security Advisory Committee comprehensive review conducted at my request in January 2015. I also asked the ASAC to identify other trends to determine if additional risk-based security measures, resource reallocations, new investments or policy changes are necessary.”

Johnson said, “I made this request after an incident in Atlanta that occurred in December 2014 which raised questions about potential vulnerabilities regarding the screening and vetting of all airport-based employees. Immediately following the incident in December 2014, TSA increased the random and unpredictable screening of aviation workers at various airport access points to mitigate potential security vulnerabilities.”

On January 8, 2015, TSA’s acting administrator asked ASAC to identify new security measures for industry employees to address potential vulnerabilities related to the sterile areas of US airports.

The catalyst for this request was the news that an employee gun-smuggling ring had been uncovered at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. ASAC convened a broad cross section of leading experts from airports, airlines, law enforcement, labor and airport users to create the Working Group on Airport Access and Control (WG) for the purposes of this tasking.

The WG was given 90 days to study how vulnerabilities are addressed through existing TSA security programs, industry best practices, methods of employee screening within and outside the US, and visit a few US airports. The WG developed recommendations to address concerns prompted by the discovery of a gun smuggling ring operating, but they also go well beyond that concern.

“At the beginning of this process,” the ASAC report stated, “the WG explored the practicalityof performing 100 percent physical screening of employees, which was called for by some in the wake of the gun-smuggling incident. The WG concluded that such a measure would not be a ‘silver bullet’ solution and that there were other, more effective and less costly methods of securing the sterile areas of airports.”

ASAC further said, “The WG also concluded that the provision of so-called ‘100 percent measures’ as a layer of airport security does not appreciably increase the overall level of systemwide protection, nor does it lower over-all risk. In this context, the WG agreed with the congressionally mandated report of the 2008 Homeland Security Studies and Analysis Institute’s (HSSAI’s) report titled, Airport Employee Screening Pilot Program Analysis, which concluded that ‘a random screening strategy is the more cost-effective solution’ for airports.”

ASAC said its “recommendations were developed within the context of Risk-Based Security (RBS), a holistic approach to aviation security endorsed throughout every level of DHS. This approach acknowledges the globally interconnected aspects of the US air transport system, the varied infrastructures supporting it, the availability of robust employee pre-screening systems, and the need to apply finite aviation security resources efficiently and effectively. The recommendations also acknowledge the view that there are significant differences in the threats posed by criminal activity and terrorism and that the risks and proposed mitigation efforts must recognize this difference.”

The WG used an analytical model that followed the flow of typical airport employment and credentialing practices, i.e., pre-employment vetting, badging, arriving at work and entering secure areas, performing daily activities and leaving work. The WG segmented the model into five areas of analysis and generated recommendations in each of them, as follows:

  • Security screening and inspection;
  • Vetting of employees and security threat assessment;
  • Internal controls and auditing of airport issued credentials;
  • Risk-based security for higher risk populations and intelligence; and
  • Security awareness and vigilance

“As a result of the recommendations contained in the ASAC report, I have directed the TSA to take the following immediate actions,” Johnson said Monday:

  • Until TSA establishes a system for ‘real time recurrent’ criminal history background checks for all aviation workers, require fingerprint-based Criminal History Records Checks every two years for all airport employee SIDA badge holders.
  • Require airport and airline employees traveling as passengers to be screened by TSA prior to travel.
  • Require airports to reduce the number of access points to secured areas to an operational minimum.
  • Increase aviation employee screening, to include additional randomization screening throughout the workday.
  • Re-emphasize and leverage DHS’s “If You See Something, Say Something” initiative to improve situational awareness and encourage detection and reporting of threat activity.

“I have also directed TSA to continue analyzing the recommendations of the ASAC report, and identify additional mitigating measures for future implementation,” Johnson said.

“Furthermore,” he stated, “the ASAC concluded that 100 percent physical employee screening would not completely eliminate potential risks, but would divert critical resources from other critical security functions to mitigate other risks.”

“Today, after a comprehensive review, the Aviation Security Advisory Committee released its 90-day report on the potential weaknesses for access control security issues for our nation’s airports,” said Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security. “I look forward to reviewing the recommendations in the report, and continue to believe that the collaboration between the ASAC and the Transportation Security Administration is critical to aviation security.”

ASAC was created in 1989 in the wake of the terrorist bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland to provide advice and recommendations for improving aviation security measures to the TSA administrator. Its mission is to examine areas of civil aviation security and develop recommendations for the improvement of civil aviation security methods, equipment and procedures.

ASAC enhances TSA’s security posture through consultation with key partners concerning potential risks to infrastructure, passengers and cargo. In addition, ASAC gathers input from stakeholders on the effectiveness of security procedures and develops recommendations for possible improvements.

Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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