In Security Debrief’s fourth annual April Fools coverage, we’ve collected some stories the rest of the media somehow missed.
Aviation and airport security
April 1st, 2013 -
March 18th, 2013 - by Jeffrey Sural
The Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) most recent decision regarding the prohibited items list has drawn the ire of some in the Congress, as well as the flying public. Critics argue any vulnerability is unacceptable, but from TSA’s risk-based perspective, there are other aviation stakeholders who shoulder the safety responsibility. Recognizing that most people, even those with knives, do not run around stabbing others, from whom does non-explosive threat largely stem? In short, drunks on planes.
March 1st, 2013 - by Justin Hienz
The sequester has nearly arrived with little sign officials in Washington will reach an agreement to amend the billions in spending cuts. While both sides of the aisle have speculated on how these cuts will impact the U.S. economy, TSA Administrator John Pistole recently testified about how the sequester will impact airport security, echoing a warning from DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano that security lines at airports will grow longer post-sequester. Yet, the length of airport security lines are a result of TSA’s screening methodology, not its budget and staff.
In the old adage, “the only constant is change,” the word “change” could very easily be substituted with: “Congressional excoriation of TSA.” As the 112th Congress drew to a close, I imagine some at the Transportation Security Administration – those who have been there since the beginning – anticipated an end. Not of the Mayan variety, but of the Mica variety. Congressman John Mica may have finished his term as Chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, but sorry TSA, this may only be the beginning again.
December 3rd, 2012 - by Stephen Heifetz
In the logistics business, there is little tolerance for uncertainty. The supply chain, from the producer to the consumer, must be finely tuned so goods arrive at the right destination within tight time frames. TSA rules, particularly security procedures for processing cargo transported by air, can dramatically affect supply chain performance. Yet, there are no TSA enforcement guidelines detailing the agency’s discretion in enforcing noncompliance with air cargo security rules.
November 19th, 2012 - by David Olive
Congratulations are in order for the amazing success recently achieved by CBP’s Office of Air and Marine. CBP plans to award a sole source contract to General Atomics to buy up to 14 Predator UAVs, at a potential cost of $443,090,000 over a 60-month period. So, congratulations to CBP. While the rest of the DHS mission will be subject to budget cuts amid the sequestration debate, and seemingly without concern for those personnel who will be laid off, CBP is telling the rest of us we can be comfortable knowing that giant drones will be patrolling the skies above the U.S. borders for up to 20 hours at a time at the mere cost of $3,500 per hour.
Like most Americans, I found the news this weekend of the passing of Neil Armstrong saddening. An immensely private man, Armstrong’s accomplishments are the stuff of jaw-dropping legends. Yet, I was disappointed as I drove into Washington this morning, noticing that none of the U.S. flags were at half-staff. Here’s a guy who took our flag and planted it on the surface of the Moon, and now we’ve forgotten him by ignoring the very simple honor of flying the flag at half staff.
The Aspen Institute’s Security Forum, held at the end of July, proved why it has become, in only three years, a “must-attend” event for those of us working in the homeland and national security space. The four-day program was packed with insight from leading thinkers and past and present policy makers and influencers on the subject of national and homeland security. There was not a single bad panel, but three sessions stood out in my mind as being a slight cut above the rest.
I’ve been writing about the use Predator UAVs and their exorbitant cost for some time. It would seem there are many far better (and far cheaper) ways to patrol U.S. borders and other areas from above. The Center for Investigative Reporting has taken note and recently cited one of my posts in their article, “At U.S. border, expensive drones generate lots of buzz, few results.”
In 2007, Congress passed a mandate to screen all cargo on passenger planes. It was an enormous demand of industry and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), one that shows a clear lack of understanding for real-world issues like business models and a functioning supply chain. Five years later, TSA and industry are still working to meet an unrealistic mandate. Put bluntly, 100 percent screening was a stupid idea that has not made America more secure.
The House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security held a hearing today: “TSA’s Efforts to Fix Its Poor Customer Service Reputation and Become a Leaner, Smarter Agency.” The sole witness was TSA Administrator John Pistole. Subcommittee Chairman Rogers lectured Administrator Pistole – yes, lectured him – about TSA’s terrible public image. Since when does Congress have the temerity to lecture anyone, much less an agency that Congress itself created on how to improve its poor reputation?
May 18th, 2012 - by Robert Liscouski
While the United States successfully thwarted another attempted bombing of a domestic inbound aircraft by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the disrupted plot should tell Americans two important things: our intelligence and security agencies are doing excellent work, and continued vigilance is the price of security. We need every available tool to combat and protect against terrorists, and this means speeding up the rate at which America procures and implements counter-terrorism technology.
The CIA’s recent success in interrupting an al Qaeda-inspired plot to destroy an airplane bound for the United States with a non-metallic bomb is an important victory for American security. It is also a harsh reminder that while many of America’s terrorist enemies are dead, jailed or on the run, others remain committed to turning the aviation system against us. What does that mean for America’s ongoing aviation security efforts?
April 23rd, 2012 - by HSPI
The George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute welcomes you to join an HSPI Policy and Research Forum event featuring Kip Hawley, Former Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and author of “Permanent Emergency: Inside the TSA and the Fight for the Future of American Security.”
April 23rd, 2012 -
By Doug Doan
I previously criticized Kip Hawley for being too timid and for his rather late conversion to understanding TSA security is ineffective, expensive, and demeaning. My key point is that the problems that plague DHS/CBP/TSA are not so much policy driven, but leadership issues. Or, put more bluntly, a succession of poor and timid leaders that are unwilling to make difficult choices or align themselves with unpopular, but wiser, policies until they are safely out of office and pursuing consultant fees. This piece is in response to Jeff Sural’s recent post on Hawley and TSA.
April 18th, 2012 - by Jeffrey Sural
Complaints about the TSA are numerous and perpetual. Everyone from the Congressional committees who created TSA to self-described security experts to the most recently inconvenienced passenger has a story, and an opinion, about what needs to be changed. But when a thoughtful critique, and significant suggestions for reform, come from someone who led the agency for three-plus years, we may finally be getting somewhere. Former TSA Administrator Kip Hawley’s piece this weekend in the Wall Street Journal should have excited anyone who follows the travails of TSA. Mostly silent on the subject since he left in 2009 as the fourth TSA administrator, Kip unleashed a whopper of a critique.
April 17th, 2012 - by Janice Kephart
Since investigative reporter Josh Bernstein filed his story, “License to Terrorize: Failure to safeguard against sophisticated phony IDs leaves opening for bad guys to slip through air security,” the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has neither responded to nor acknowledged the report, and refused Bernstein an interview. But as much as TSA and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) want to hide from the shocking revelations of Bernstein’s investigation — that anyone with a good fake ID can make it through TSA security checkpoints as long as the name on the fake ID matches the name on the boarding pass — ignoring the problem will not make it go away.
April 16th, 2012 -
By Doug Doan
Former TSA Boss Kip Hawley has written an important, but flawed, new book, telling us that TSA is a broken agency in need of urgent reform. The book offers thoughtful recommendations for reform, which is why I find it all so sad. The one big issue that Hawley does not much discuss is why he never tried to implement any of these urgent reforms while he was in charge of the very agency that he now tells us, correctly, is broken. And every other DHS senior leader, from the former Secretaries at DHS, Commissioners of CBP, and TSA, has either started, or joined, a consulting company advocating urgent reforms to the very organization that they once led. Let’s also admit that every one of them had the opportunity to implement the reforms that they now advocate in exchange for huge consulting fees.
March 28th, 2012 - by David Olive
If Congress paid even one-tenth the amount of time trying to “fix” its own problems as it does in its petty meddling in the operations of TSA, the general public would have greater confidence in both organizations. Both entities could benefit from meaningful oversight and process improvement. But the joint hearing this week by the House Oversight and House Transportation committees was a one-sided effort, seemingly designed to point out problems without offering any serious solutions to those concerns – and it confirmed (yet again) for me why the Congressional labyrinth of DHS oversight needs to be addressed.
February 16th, 2012 - by Stephen Heifetz
Last week, U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett announced a $1 million fine against OHL Solutions for intentionally failing to screen cargo in accordance with TSA rules. The TSA investigation began in December 2010, and this fine was not a shock to many observers – even before that investigation began, several of us noted that serious TSA enforcement actions seemed just around the corner. But this enforcement action does give rise to a problem – since TSA security plans are so complex and unwieldy, how is it possible to comply with the letter of the law?