Air Security TSA Strives to be Nimble: Ban on complacency
BY D.R. STEWART World Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
After the aircraft hijackings of
9/11, federal Transportation Security Officers focused on concealed weapons.
Shoe bombs were perceived
as the next threat.
Then it was liquids and gels
that could be mixed to form explosives.
Later, the target was airport
employees using security clearances to smuggle guns and
Or, it was illegal immigrants
using forged identification to
pass through security checkpoints.
"If there's a threat, everything
is subject to change," said Morris McGowan, assistant administrator of the office of security operations at the Transportation
Security Administration in
McGowan, who oversees
43,000 TSA officers at 450 U.S.
airports and an additional 4,000
TSA employees, is in Oklahoma
this week to review federal security operations at Tulsa International Airport and Will Rogers
World Airport in Oklahoma City.
McGowan's responsibilities include oversight of airport screening, regulatory compliance, budgetary and financial planning,
operational security for all transportation modes and development of TSA's strategic planning.
With the range of potential
threats arrayed against TSA, the
agency is adapting and evolving,
McGowan said, pointing to the
terrorist plot in London last August as an example.
In London, authorities arrested more than two dozen people
accused in a plot to detonate liquid explosives aboard 10 U.S.-bound commercial jets. TSA responded with an expanded list of
prohibited items that include liquids and gels in containers of
more than 3 ounces in carry-on
TSA also raised the threat level to orange, or high, where it remains.
"If you look at Aug. 10, in literally six hours we were able to
change the security paradigm,"
McGowan said. "So, we have to maintain flexibility, our ability to
remain nimble, so we have the
ability to change immediately to
meet the threat."
From the beginning, after
TSA's formation following congressional passage of the Aviation and Transportation Security
Act of 2001, agency critics said
security screening functions
should be shifted to each individual airport under TSA oversight.
Additionally, critics said,
screening and other airport security duties should be redesigned along risk-based lines to
better target resources on dangerous people, rather than dangerous objects.
McGowan concedes that the
critics may have valid points.
TSA is adapting and adopting, he
Privatization of security
screening programs is being
conducted at nine U.S. airports:
San Francisco; Rochester, N.Y.;
Tupelo, Miss.; Jackson, Wyo.;
Kansas City, Mo.; Key West and
Marathon, Fla.; Sioux Falls, S.D.;
and Santa Rosa, Calif.
"It's a personal choice on
the airport's part," McGowan said. "Once we set
them up, they tell us if they
want to opt out. They will
run (privately operated security screening) until they
X-ray imaging of passenger bags, laptop computers
and carry-on items also are
being supplemented by
SPOT, a TSA acronym for
Screening Passengers by
"SPOT focuses on the
hostile intent of an individual," he said, adding that
TSA can't institute Israel's
passenger profiling regime
because of concerns about
civil liberties as well as ethnic and religious discrimination.
"We're headed in that direction, but we have more
civil liberty and privacy issues," he said. "Our system
is based on behavior, not
ethnicity. We are specifically training security officers
to identify the behavior
characteristics of someone
with hostile intent."
Security officers also are
fanning out in airports to
randomly verify security
badges and identification of
airport and airline employees, he said.
"TSA can always do better," McGowan said. "I feel
we should always be
looking for ways to improve
security. The minute we
don't take that approach is
the minute we set ourselves
up for failure.
"Our adversaries aren't
going to give up. You have
to consider they're going to
use every opportunity to attack."
D.R. Stewart 581-8451
Morris McGowan, assistant administrator of the office of security operations at the Transportation
Security Administration, stands near a security checkpoint Monday at Tulsa International Airport.