Written testimony of TSA for a House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation and Protective Security hearing titled “Raising the Standard: DHS’s Efforts to Improve Aviation Security Around the Globe”

Release Date: 
September 26, 2017

210 House Capitol Visitor Center

Chairman Katko, Ranking Member Watson Coleman, and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for inviting us here today to discuss the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) efforts to address global aviation security risks to the United States. The timing of this hearing is particularly welcome, as TSA has a newly-appointed Administrator, David Pekoske. This gives TSA a chance today not only to provide an overview of our ongoing international activities, but also to present Administrator Pekoske’s priority for raising global security effectiveness.

The numerous attempted attacks and evolving, complex threat streams over the past decade clearly demonstrate terrorists’ persistent focus on targeting the aviation sector. In pursuit of this goal, our adversaries study us avidly and constantly strive to develop new tactics and methods to harm the U.S. as well as global aviation.

As threats continue to evolve, TSA and its partners around the world, must continue to work together to improve intelligence sharing, adopt best practices, and pursue technological advancements to counter the global threat against aviation. We must invest in new technologies, processes, and training to make sure we stay ahead of our enemies. We also know that we will be more successful when we work with our partners abroad and maintain strong collaborative relationships with foreign governments, international organizations, and private industry stakeholders.

Raising the Baseline

International inbound aviation represents a significant share of the total aviation security risk to the U.S. Since 9/11, the U.S. has experienced Richard Reid’s attempted shoe bomb attack, the disrupted Transatlantic Plot of 2006, Farouk Abdulmutallab’s underwear bomb attack in December 2009, the attempted printer cartridge bomb plot in October 2010, and the 2014 Khorasan Group threat to commercial aviation. More recent attacks overseas, including the crash of Metrojet 9268 in the Sinai Peninsula (October 2015), the attack on Daallo Flight 159 in Somalia (February 2016), the airport and mass transit attacks in Brussels (March 2016), the attack on Istanbul Airport (June 2016), and the foiled bomb plot in Australia against aviation (July 2017) all reinforce the need for consistent engagement and international action to address the evolving threat to international aviation security.

In recent months, TSA has taken significant steps to address these threats and to raise the global aviation security baseline. In March 2017, TSA issued an Emergency Amendment (EA) affecting 10 Last Point of Departure (LPD) airports in the Middle East and North Africa. This amendment required air carriers to ban personal electronic devices larger than a smartphone from being transported in the cabin of the aircraft. In June, TSA followed with enhanced security measures for all commercial flights to the U.S. Those air carriers affected by the prohibition against electronics larger than cell phones that were able to implement the enhanced measures were subsequently removed from the prohibition. These measures, both seen and unseen, included enhanced screening of passengers and electronic devices, as well as heightened security standards for all LPDs. Most recently, on September 7, 2017, TSA issued a Security Directive (SD) and EA that added security measures for some international cargo flying to the U.S.

The June 2017 global directives sought to significantly raise the aviation security global baseline in a very short period of time. This was done because of the seriousness of the threat. TSA worked closely with aircraft operators and foreign air carriers, which did and are doing a commendable job instituting these measures. Given the importance of adapting and innovating to stay ahead of our adversaries, TSA engages with all of our stakeholders, including our international stakeholder communities, to share best practices and align our responses to evolving and emerging threats.

International Operations

As part of TSA’s international strategy, we have six Regional Operations Centers with international inspection teams based in the United States, Singapore, and Frankfurt. TSA also has 29 Transportation Security Administration Representatives (TSARs) who serve as the onsite TSA attachés at U.S. embassies and consulates abroad. TSARs are charged with building and maintaining strong security partnerships around the world to advance TSA security policies and initiatives. TSARs serve as the primary points of contact between the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. embassies, foreign governments, and foreign airport officials. They help secure access for our inspectors as well as address any vulnerabilities found at LPD airports. TSA inspections teams also provide on-the-spot corrections and aviation security capacity development assistance to help our international partners close security gaps. In Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, TSA conducted 47 capacity development activities, including training on how to screen female passengers, in several countries in Africa and the Middle East.

In addition to the TSARs, TSA International Industry Representatives (IIRs) serve as the primary points of contact between TSA and air carriers (foreign and domestic) with service to the U.S. IIRs receive and coordinate the sharing of aviation security-related requirements, intelligence, incident information, and/or threat information affecting passengers, air carriers, and the homeland. Also, Federal Air Marshals (FAMs) secure numerous flights departing from international airports.

TSA is responsible for assessing foreign airports with direct flights to the U.S. and there are approximately 280 LPD airports in 105 countries. During FY 2016, TSA conducted 1,880 air carrier inspections and completed 135 foreign airport assessments. These assessments occur annually or semi-annually depending on the vulnerabilities identified. TSA also inspects all U.S. air carriers with flights in any foreign location, regardless of whether the operation is an LPD location. Assessment and inspection information allows us to identify specific vulnerabilities overseas and develop mitigation plans to address them. For example, with the latest enhanced measures, TSA has been conducting site visits to all of the last point of departure airports that serve the U.S. to determine compliance with those enhanced measures.

In addition to our overseas presence, TSA conducts vetting of passengers and flight crew of all foreign air carriers and U.S aircraft operators flying within, to, or over the U.S. Aircraft operators and foreign air carriers are required to submit their Master Crew Lists to TSA to vet the crew members against the Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB). If this vetting indicates cause for concern, TSA will direct air carriers and aircraft operators to remove the crewmember from their Master Crew List.

In the event of an emerging threat, or if an international airport is unable or unwilling to address a vulnerability, TSA issues SDs to U.S. air carriers and EAs to foreign air carriers. These prescribe security measures for the air carriers to implement. For example, in some locations, the infrastructure and government authorities may not adequately secure the airport perimeter or separate screened and unscreened passengers. In such a case, TSA will require the aircraft operator or foreign air carrier to guard U.S.-bound aircraft on the ground and rescreen passengers at the gate. Through follow up inspections, TSA verifies that these measures are being properly implemented.

Since receiving new international authority through P.L. 114-190, the FAA Extension Safety and Security Act of 2016, TSA has further developed programs to address vulnerabilities overseas. TSA has entered into joint projects with the Department of State in Mexico and Southeast Asia to reduce vulnerabilities there, address evolving threats, improve quality control systems, and build aviation security sustainability. We also invite select foreign government aviation security personnel to participate in some of our own training programs such as FAMs training. TSA has donated equipment to locations overseas to improve the security screening on inbound international flights.

Collaboration with CBP

TSA works closely with our colleagues at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), who have joined us here today, through CBP’s Preclearance program. This program screens passengers who are traveling from 15 LPD airports overseas. One of the ways that aviation security benefits from CBP’s preclearance program is that each passenger is subject to both CBP preclearance and passenger checkpoint screening that is commensurate with the screening conducted at U.S. airports. TSA coordinates with CBP on advanced passenger data and other information for vetting passengers arriving from overseas, which TSA checks against the TSDB through its Secure Flight vetting system.

TSA also works closely with CBP on Air Cargo Advance Screening for cargo bound for the U.S. This initiative is voluntarily supported by multiple aircraft operators and gives us an opportunity to understand more about the cargo that may be transported by air to the U.S. Under the pilot program, certain cargo receives additional screening. Any cargo that appears to pose a threat is prevented from being placed on the aircraft.

International Security Coordination

International organizations also play a vital role in TSA’s work to strengthen global transportation security. The Chicago Convention established the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which works with 191 member states and has developed Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) to address the safety and security of international air travel. The ICAO Member States use these SARPs and policies to ensure their national civil aviation operations and regulations conform to global norms. This in turn permits more than 100,000 daily flights to operate safely and reliably in every region of the world. Bolstering ICAO’s mission is the recently-adopted United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2309, which welcomes and supports the work of ICAO and calls upon states to have effective risk-based measures in place that accord with ICAO standards and recommended practices.

As the U.S. lead on aviation security issues within ICAO, TSA works to establish and enhance baseline international standards for aviation security. Administrator Pekoske recently spoke at the ICAO symposium, where he emphasized the importance of advancing global aviation security. His message was echoed by our partners from the European Commission, the International Civil Aviation Organization, as well as other foreign civil aviation authorities throughout the ICAO symposium.

These engagements provide excellent venues to continue messaging our international partners and industry about the continued threat to civil aviation worldwide and to drive sustained and rigorous implementation of global standards.

Conclusion

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss ways to advance global aviation security. As I have noted previously, terrorist groups continue to target global aviation, and we have seen a variety of threats to commercial aviation as terrorists pursue new attack methods. We must stay ahead of these evolving threats and we will continue to work with domestic and global aviation stakeholders to expand global security measures. This is a huge undertaking by airlines, airports, and governments around the world. I look forward to answering your questions.