If on December 24th, one had asked the various consultants, academic/think-tank types, and security experts what the biggest homeland security issue would be in 2010, one could expect answers relating to border security, international security, and maybe, cybersecurity. Two weeks later and only a week into the new Year, 2010 is quickly turning into the “year of aviation security.”
The December 25th underwear bombing incident refocused attention on the vulnerabilities to our aviation system. In his speech yesterday, President Obama did not specifically identify aviation security as part of the systematic failure resulting in the incident – most of that attention was given to failures across intelligence agencies. That said, he did, as part of his directive on corrective actions, state that the Department of Homeland Security should:
- Aggressively pursue enhanced screening technology, protocols, and procedures, especially in regard to aviation and other transportation sectors, consistent with privacy rights and civil liberties; strengthen international partnerships and coordination on aviation security issues.
- Develop recommendations on long-term law enforcement requirements for aviation security in coordination with the Department of Justice.
While the Department bear the brunt of criticism for the underwear bomber, the same will likely not be the case for the incident at the Newark incident on Sunday. In that incident, Newark Liberty International Airport was shut down for seven-hours after a passenger observed a man enter the airport’s “sterile area” without clearing security. Unable to find the man, the concourse had to be emptied and a multi-hour security sweep endured. The failures there have pointed to:
- The TSA officer responsible for keeping people from entering through the exit area leaving his post for two minutes. That officer has been put on administrative leave.
- The failures of Port Authority of New York and New Jersey cameras (purchased with TSA money) to record the incident, as the recording function of the cameras had been turned off. It is unclear whether the proper functioning of the cameras, as well as recognizing the cameras were not working, falls to TSA or the Port Authority.
While the underwear bomber and the Newark incident gained a lot of national attention, we started to see, as expected from a press with aviation security on its mind, a few other stories the past two weeks on the aviation front. For example, last week in Philadelphia, a local ABC station featured Congressman Robert Brady raising concerns regarding the de-certification of TSA bomb sniffing dogs at the Philadelphia airport, after the failed two tests. The dogs, as far as I can tell from reports, remained on duty (or maybe replaced with certified dogs?) USA Today also covered the incident and pointed to a few other locations where dogs either failed to identify or misidentified explosives. I would expect that we will see more aviation security stories in the coming weeks.
So what does all this renewed attention on aviation security mean?
Pundits say we can expect some changes in our screening processes – though it is unclear what those changes (putting aside technology) might be.
Expect an increase on the international diplomacy side.
On the technology side, we know already that in fulfillment of President Obama’s directive on screening, the U.S. government is using $25 million in stimulus money to buy and install 150 more whole body image scanners in airports this year. This is in addition to the 40 scanners already in use. Indeed, if you are to believe Jim Cramer of Mad Money, homeland security/counterterrorism companies will be one of the top investments of 2010. He predicts more spending and more attention for companies selling screening, biometrics, and air cargo (among other technologies) solutions.