The nation’s aviation security forces must shift their focus away from checkpoints and toward public areas of airports to adapt to a changing threat exemplified by a spate of recent attacks, the agency’s new chief said.
David Pekoske, a former vice commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard who took control of the Transportation Security Administration seven months ago, also called for the agency to become more entrepreneurial and to adapt faster to the shifting risks from terrorists.
"We can no longer focus only on preventing the bad guys from getting into the secure area of an airport," Pekoske said in prepared remarks for what was billed as the first ever state-of-the-TSA address on Wednesday in Washington.
"More and more we must focus on both sides of the checkpoint and in the public areas where airport and surface transportation systems intersect."
Shifting checks to public areas
Since the TSA and other countries’ security agencies have beefed up airport screening following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, terrorists have increasingly turned to areas where people aren’t screened, such as baggage-collection zones or check-in areas.
Twin attacks in Brussels airport and train station locations in March 2016 using that tactic killed 32 people and three attackers.
"We face ambitious adversaries who are continuously looking for a point of attack and waiting for their opportunity," Pekoske said. "Our job is to make sure they never have that opportunity."
The administrator’s speech was short on specifics and contained no new screening protocols.
The TSA leader said the agency needed to "empower the public to see themselves as part of the security solution and as recipients of a secure system." He said he was trying to get TSA to assess threats and to alter security strategies faster.
While he stopped short of calling for what could be a multibillion-dollar investment in new X-ray devices that see bags in three dimensions, he said his goal was to get screeners better tools.
"Aviation and surface transportation hubs remain highly prized targets for terrorists," he said. "Their modes and methods of attack have evolved and become much more decentralized and opportunistic than ever before."