TSA official says airport security is too predictable
Agency is working on a program to train screeners in behavior recognition techniques.
Additional levels of security must be built into what has become the nation's "overly rigid, static and predictable airline passenger system," a top federal official testified Tuesday at a Senate hearing.
"Terrorists can more easily 'engineer around' these highly structured defenses," Kip Hawley, director of the Transportation Security Administration, told the Senate Commerce Committee. "If we follow the same procedures everywhere, every time, we make it easier for terrorists to break the security code," Hawley said.
Senate Commerce Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, inquired about reports that GAO investigators had penetrated two levels of security and got bomb materials through screening. Cathleen Berrick, director for homeland security and justice for GAO, confirmed tests occurred but said the report on them is classified.
Hawley said his agency now focuses more on finding improvised explosive devices and continues to install bomb testing devices at airports.
TSA also has begun developing a plan to train screeners to use behavior recognition techniques and have assigned employees trained in those techniques at 10 high-risk airports, Hawley said. In a recent pilot program, if a passenger was identified as exhibiting behaviors indicative of fear, stress, and or deception, they were either referred to additional screening, or referred for selective screening or an evaluation interview.
Berrick also cited other issues with baggage screeners including training problems and a high turnover rate, reaching 50 percent for the system's part-time workers, likely a result of low pay and work-related injuries.
Berrick said the TSA "must focus on deploying enhanced explosive detection systems, including larger or smaller models depending on the needs of a particular airport."
But Hawley said that the cost of in-line baggage checking systems, which link the bomb testing equipment with baggage conveyor belts, make them practical only at large airports.
Stevens and other committee members complained about inconveniences for frequent fliers -- some citing their own experiences. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., asked Hawley if a system could be devised to let occasional groups go through security without a check on a random basis.
Hawley said a program to expedite screening of frequent fliers called Registered Traveler is on schedule to begin this year.
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