In The News

TSA Mission Left Muddy After Backtrack on Pocket Knives

Posted on Jun 13, 2013

Source: Bloomberg
Author: Jeff Plungis

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration’s plans to loosen rules in place since 2001 appear stalled even as lawmakers, airlines and the public want changes in an approach the agency calls one-size-fits-all.

Administrator John Pistole’s decision last week to reverse himself and continue screening for pocketknives signals the agency’s difficulty in shifting to more risk-based screening from a system put in place after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The Department of Homeland Security's inspector general said the U.S. Transportation Security Administration hasn't been able to prove the behavior detection program's effectiveness. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general said the U.S. Transportation Security Administration hasn’t been able to prove the behavior detection program’s effectiveness. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general said the U.S. Transportation Security Administration hasn’t been able to prove the behavior detection program’s effectiveness.

U.S. Transportation Security Administration Administrator John Pistole’s background as a former FBI official gave him strong law-enforcement and anti-terrorism credentials, while policy-making is new.

Even after the Transportation Security Administration reversed itself on knives, the House voted as part of the Department of Homeland Security’s budget, 280-146, blocking funding just in case the TSA’s administrator changes his mind.

The knives decision followed an inspector general’s report questioning the effectiveness of TSA’s behavior-detection program, which tries to spot threats by observing mannerisms in airports and led to accusations of racial profiling.

“How is TSA going to be allowed to make risk-based decisions if every time they do, either Congress or special-interest groups build up enough pressure to reverse the decision?” said Jeffrey Sural, a TSA assistant administrator under President George W. Bush. “That’s a serious concern.”

Pistole has said the TSA needs to spend less effort scrutinizing people who aren’t terrorism risks. Patdowns of senior citizens and young children have been persistent themes in a series of hearings in Congress.

In announcing in March that he would end the pocketknives ban, Pistole said the TSA’s mission was to prevent a catastrophic downing of an airplane, not confiscate items at checkpoints that experts didn’t consider threatening.

U.S. Transportation Security Administration Administrator John Pistole's background as a former FBI official gave him strong law-enforcement and anti-terrorism credentials, while policy-making is new. Photographer: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg

U.S. Transportation Security Administration Administrator John Pistole’s background as a former FBI official gave him strong law-enforcement and anti-terrorism credentials, while policy-making is new. Photographer: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg

‘Screwed Up’

Sural said that was consistent with the agency’s stated purpose during his tenure. Still, Pistole’s pronouncement didn’t sit well with airline executives, lawmakers, the agency’s screeners and air marshals, and especially flight attendants. Some reminded him that the Sept. 11 hijackers were armed with box cutters.

Opposition grew to the point that the U.S. House voted, as part of the Homeland Security Department’s budget, to block funding to end the knife ban — after Pistole had already backtracked. The intent was to prevent Pistole from changing his mind again.

“He screwed up on that one,” Republican Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee and initially a supporter of Pistole’s move, said after the reversal was announced. “The flight attendants have a legitimate complaint.”

By picking an item associated with the Sept. 11 attacks, Pistole may have “picked the wrong fight,” said Jeff Price, an aviation security consultant and instructor at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

Different Mission

The agency at first consulted few outside people before making its March announcement. More extensive discussions with its Aviation Security Advisory Committee — which includes representatives of flight attendants, air marshals, airlines and consumers — came after opposition began to mount.

The TSA has tended to use the group to communicate final decisions rather than to seek input before they’re made, said Paul Hudson, a former panel member.

Pistole’s explanations “smacked of arrogance,” Hudson said.

Pistole’s background as a former FBI official gave him strong law-enforcement and anti-terrorism credentials when he came to the TSA in 2010. The TSA works with the public more directly than the FBI does, making its message critical, and the agency’s stance on knives came across as uncaring, said Sural, now a lawyer with Alston & Bird LLP in Washington.

“At the FBI, you’re out front chasing down the bad guys,” Sural said. “At TSA, you’re literally manhandling innocent people before they get on airplanes. That’s a little different interface with the government.”

Expanding PreCheck

The agency “strongly values the input of our partners and the traveling public, and appreciates the varying points of view shared throughout the review process,” TSA spokesman David Castelveter said in an e-mailed statement in response to written questions.

The agency will continue to expand efforts “to implement a layered, risk-based security approach to passenger screening while maximizing resources,” Castelveter said. That means focusing more on people the agency knows the least about, he said.

With changes to its prohibited-items list made politically difficult, the TSA’s efforts to lessen scrutiny of low-risk people may revolve around expanding PreCheck, its less intrusive screening process for ultra-frequent fliers and selected others who pass background checks.

PreCheck is popular with the public and Congress, said Stewart Verdery, a former assistant secretary for policy at the Homeland Security Department.

Even after the Transportation Security Administration reversed itself on knives, the House voted as part of the Department of Homeland Security’s budget, 280-146, blocking funding just in case the TSA's administrator changes his mind. Photographer: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Even after the Transportation Security Administration reversed itself on knives, the House voted as part of the Department of Homeland Security’s budget, 280-146, blocking funding just in case the TSA’s administrator changes his mind. Photographer: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Pilot Program

Since last year, the agency has been identifying groups of travelers, such as active-duty service members, who are deemed safe. It’s testing whether to employ companies such as Alclear LLC, which operates an expedited screening program called Clear at five U.S. airports, to increase PreCheck membership by conducting security checks on travelers willing to pay a fee.

Pistole has also touted a pilot program at the Indianapolis and Tampa airports, known as managed inclusion, that uses trained dogs and behavior-detection officers to divert travelers from the normal screening lines into underused PreCheck lanes.

Flight attendants are pushing for a law that will force the TSA to keep knives out of airplane cabins, said Sara Nelson, international vice president of the Association of Flight Attendants.

“We should be able to do both,” Nelson said. “We should be able to protect people in the cabin and protect against a catastrophic failure.”

Body Scanners

The agency recently finished removing body scanners made by OSI Systems Inc. (OSIS)’s Rapiscan unit after concluding they couldn’t be altered to make images less revealing, as Congress had demanded.

Whatever changes it tries in the future, the agency won’t be able to implement them based solely on its own view of security needs, Verdery said.

“You have to have a buy-in,” said Verdery, now a principal with the Monument Policy Group LLC in Washington. “You have to have people beside you when you’re announcing these kinds of things. It can’t be TSA alone.”

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T.S.A. Drops an Effort to Allow Some Knives on Planes

Posted on Jun 10, 2013

Source: New York Times
Author:
Flight attendants outside Los Angeles International Airport said knives posed a danger in the air.  (Frederic J. Brown/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)

Flight attendants outside Los Angeles International Airport said knives posed a danger in the air. (Frederic J. Brown/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)

Facing strong opposition from flight attendants and lawmakers, the Transportation Security Administration said Wednesday that it was abandoning a plan to allow passengers to carry small knives on board.

The proposal would have loosened some of the restrictions created after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. John S. Pistole, the agency’s administrator, argued that the plan would allow airport security agents to focus on “higher threat” items. Looking for small pocketknives that pose little threat to an airliner, he said, was time-consuming and potentially distracting to agents looking for explosives that can bring down a plane, for instance.

But as soon as it was proposed, the plan stirred an outcry among flight attendants, who saw it as a danger to crew and passengers. Since the terror attacks more than a decade ago, airplane cockpits have been reinforced, and they remain locked during flight.

Other items that will remain banned in the airline cabin include sports equipment like lacrosse and hockey sticks, pool cues and ski poles, as well as golf clubs.

The T.S.A.’s proposal, first outlined in March, was supposed to take effect on April 25 but had been delayed in the face of vocal criticism and legal challenges. Lawmakers in Congress said they would introduce legislation banning small knives if the rule went into effect.

The Coalition of Flight Attendant Unions, which had pressed the agency to change course, welcomed the decision.

“The result is better security policy and the assurance that our nation’s aviation security system continues to be vigilant for knives that could be used in a terrorist attack or criminal act against passengers or crew,” the union said in a statement.

The T.S.A. has said that its agents confiscate about 2,000 small folding knives a day. The agency wanted to let passengers keep pocketknives with foldable blades shorter than 2.36 inches long and 0.5 inches wide. Knives with a locking or fixed blade, or those with a molded grip, would still have been prohibited.

The agency has introduced new programs that allow some frequent fliers to go through special safety lines at designated airports if they have been cleared in advance. Some of its policies have been criticized over opening the door to racial profiling, which is prohibited by law.

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Flight Attendants vs. Knives: Anatomy of a Regulatory Win

Posted on Jun 6, 2013

Source: AssociationsNow.com
Author: Ernie Smith
Airport Screening (iStockphoto/Thinkstock)

Airport Screening (iStockphoto/Thinkstock)

After months of negative feedback from associations and airline-industry unions, the Transportation Security Administration announced it was abandoning a plan to loosen restrictions banning knives on planes. Here’s how they won.

It was a move that drew a strong reaction right out of the gate, and with a long period of sustained opposition, the airline industry largely got what it wanted on Wednesday: a move against allowing knives to be brought aboard commercial flights.

Read on below to learn more about the steps that led to a coalition’s victory:

The decision: Back in March, the Transportation Security Administration announced an effort to allow a number of items with small blades aboard airline flights—items which had been banned from flights since the  terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001,  in which hijackers used box cutters to take over four commercial jets. Since the ban, some have criticized the TSA’s confiscation of items such as pocket knives. The  announcement of the change drew strong negative reaction from many associations. The Air Line Pilots Association International (ALPA) didn’t take a stance but initially argued that it would help bring U.S. regulations in line with international standards.

The opposition builds: In the wake of the TSA’s decision to modify the ban on knives, a number of associations and unions in the airline industry—most notably the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), along with  the Association of Professional Flight Attendants , the International Association of Machinists, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and the Transport Workers Union—spoke out against the move. “After September 11, the policy changed, and it changed for a reason,” AFA international vice president Sara Nelson said on NBC’s Today Show in the wake of the March announcement. As time went on, opposition built outside of the association world, including among a number of airline executives and members of Congress. In the House, Reps.  Edward Markey (D-MA) and Michael Grimm (R-NY) offered an amendment to a homeland security bill that would have cut funding to implement the change to the blade ban, Bloomberg reported.

The rollback: In April, the policy change on small knives was postponed, due in part due to the Boston Marathon bombings that month. This week, the TSA scrapped the change to the ban entirely, announcing the decision in a statement  Wednesday. “After extensive engagement with the Aviation Security Administration, law enforcement officials, passenger advocates, and other important stakeholders, TSA will continue to enforce the current prohibited items list,” the agency said.

The reaction: After the decision to retain the ban on small, bladed items was announced, the AFA’s Nelson applauded the coalition that  opposed the loosening of restrictions. “Thirty-eight minutes after the TSA administration announced this on March 5, we announced our vehement opposition and we haven’t stopped for one moment,” she told Forbes. “The coalition worked with congressional leaders, put together a legal team and [arranged] demonstrations at airports.” The Coalition of Flight Attendant Unions, a group that includes a number of associations and flight unions and represents 90,000 flight attendants, wrote on its advocacy site, No Knives on Planes, that TSA’s decision to keep the ban intact was welcome and had come after input from the coalition’s members. “Terrorists armed only with knives killed thousands of Americans on 9/11/2001,” the coalition said in the statement. “As the women and men on the front lines in the air, we vowed to do everything in our power to protect passengers and flight crews from harm and prevent that type of atrocity from happening ever again.”

While TSA’s reversal had strong support among airline groups overall, ALPA was softer in its response to the decision, arguing that the industry should eventually move to risk-based security, rather than blanket bans of objects.

“While there is still a role for object screening,” the association noted in a statement, ”it is imperative that the security in this country provides screening that also includes detection of harmful intent and makes the most efficient and effective use of our security resources resulting in safer, more secure, flights.”

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U.S. security agency scraps plan to allow small knives on planes

Posted on Jun 5, 2013

Source: Reuters
Author: Deborah Charles
A line of passengers wait to enter the security checkpoint before boarding their aircraft at Reagan National Airport in Washington, April 25, 2013. REUTERS/Larry Downing

A line of passengers wait to enter the security checkpoint before boarding their aircraft at Reagan National Airport in Washington, April 25, 2013. REUTERS/Larry Downing

WASHINGTON | Wed Jun 5, 2013 7:35pm EDT

(Reuters) – The top U.S. transportation security official said on Wednesday that he had decided not to permit passengers to carry small knives on airplanes, after receiving a drumbeat of criticism from flight attendants and the public that easing restrictions would increase flight dangers.

Transportation Security Administration head John Pistole, who had proposed to loosen rules put in place in the wake of the September 11 hijackings, told Reuters he had decided to scrap the changes.

“After extensive engagement with the Aviation Security Advisory Committee, law enforcement officials, passenger advocates, and other important stakeholders, TSA will continue to enforce the current prohibited items list,” Pistole said.

Hijackers in the September 11 attacks used small knives to attack crew members and gain control of aircraft. Cockpits on commercial planes have since been required to have locked doors during flights.

In March, the TSA said that effective April 25, it would allow knives with blades that are 2.36 inches or less to be carried onto airplanes. The proposed rules would also have allowed passengers to carry on hockey sticks, golf clubs or billiard cues.

Just days before the rules were due to go into effect, the TSA delayed the change. Now, six weeks later, Pistole announced he would scrap the proposed rules altogether.

Flight attendants, who had mobilized a massive campaign and started a legal battle to keep the knives off airplanes, applauded Pistole for reversing course and for taking time to hear their concerns.

“Terrorists armed only with knives killed thousands of Americans on 9/11/2001. As the women and men on the front lines in the air, we vowed to do everything in our power to protect passengers and flight crews from harm and prevent that type of atrocity from happening ever again,” the 90,000-member Flight Attendants Union Coalition said in a statement.

“The TSA was created because of small blades and blades have no place on the airplane. Now we’ll make sure that those weapons are never allowed on our airplanes,” said Sara Nelson, international vice president of the Association of Flight Attendants.

During a congressional hearing in March, Pistole had defended the rule changes, saying the TSA was facing budget cuts and needed to prioritize threats. He said the agency finds about 2,000 small pocket knives at checkpoints each day and each one takes about two to three minutes to find and confiscate – time that could be used looking for more lethal weapons like non-metallic explosives devices.

But lawmakers expressed outrage at the plan to ease up on the rules, saying small knives and items like hockey sticks and golf clubs could cause serious harm in confined areas like airplane cabins.

The House of Representatives will vote as soon as late Wednesday on an amendment to the 2014 Homeland Security spending bill that would prohibit the TSA from using its funds to implement the proposed knives rule.

The amendment, which will still be voted on in spite of the TSA’s decision to scrap the rule, had strong bipartisan support and was not to pass, a congressional aide said.

One of the lawmakers who sponsored the amendment, Democratic Representative Ed Markey of Massachusetts, praised Pistole for listening to the dissent and “for having the courage to change course.”

(Reporting by Deborah Charles; Editing by Philip Barbara)

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Flight Attendant Unions Score With ‘No Knives’ Campaign

Posted on Jun 5, 2013

Source: Forbes
Author: Ted Reed, Contributor
A passenger is patted down by a Transportation Security Administration(TSA) agent May 2, 2001 at Orlando International Airport in Orlando, Florida. (STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

A passenger is patted down by a Transportation Security Administration(TSA) agent May 2, 2001 at Orlando International Airport in Orlando, Florida. (STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

The Transportation Security Administration, acknowledging pressure from a bevy of interest group led by flight attendants unions, has abandoned its efforts to allow small knives on airplanes.  The plan had been set for implementation this month.

“After extensive engagement with the Aviation Security Administration, law enforcement officials, passenger advocates and other important stakeholders, TSA will continue to enforce the current prohibited items list,” the agency said Wednesday, in a prepared statement.

By the time the plan was eliminated, it had accumulated an extremely long list of opponents, including members of Congress, Sept. 11th victim advocates, the airline industry, and five unions representing flight attendants. They include the Association of Flight Attendants, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, the International Association of Machinists, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Transport Workers Union were early movers in the opposition.

“Thirty-eight minutes after the TSA administration announced this on March 5, we announced our vehement opposition and we haven’t stopped for one moment,” said Sara Nelson, AFA international vice president. “The coalition worked with congressional leaders, put together a legal team and (arranged) demonstrations at airports.

“It was a group effort, with pressure from all sides,” Nelson said.

Originally, implementation of the policy was set for April 25, but the plan encountered unanticipated opposition from flight attendants and from airlines including Delta and US Airways, whose CEOs spoke out early.

The proposed change in TSA policy reflects a risk-based approach, which has included efforts to enable quicker screening for those least likely to be terrorists as well as a focus on non-metallic bombs, which Administrator John Pistole views as the greatest threat to aviation security. Pistole has said that airport screeners will have more time to look for non-metallic bombs if they spend less time looking for objects that will no longer be banned: small knives that don’t lock as well as other sports items including toy baseball bats, billiard cues, ski poles, hockey sticks, lacrosse sticks and golf clubs.

“All the intelligence chatter is terrorists are committed to blowing up either a U.S.-bound plane or get on a plane here at one of 450 airports and say, ‘You can’t stop us,’ ” Pistole told The Philadelphia Inquirer  in May.  ”It comes down to making sure we find explosives and not be distracted by other things.” The TSA confiscates 2,000 knives a day at airports.

Pistole briefed various stakeholders on the plan in November. He received the benefit of the doubt because he has built good will in trying to overcome the TSA’s principal problem, which is that of the 800 million U.S passengers who fly annually, only a tiny fraction of 1% are potential terrorists.  But intense opposition to allowing small knives, which was not initially clear, grew rapidly.

APFA President Laura Glading praised Pistole in a prepared statement Wednesday, noting “On behalf of the 16,000 members of the APFA, I thank John Pistole for his thoughtful decision.  Passenger safety is every flight attendant’s top priority and we are pleased to learn that TSA agrees with our approach.”

Glading noted the broad engagement in the coalition opposed to allowing knives. “Today’s announcement proves what we can accomplish when we work together,” she said.

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