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Akaka questions TSA chief on APEC safety


U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Akaka questioned Transportation Security Administration leader John S. Pistole at a hearing Wednesday of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on “Ten Years After 9/11: The Next Wave in Aviation Security.”

The following is a transcript of the exchange:

AKAKA: Because Hawaii is located 2,500 miles from the mainland, we have of course unique transportation needs. Hawaii residents and our many visitors rely heavily on air transportation when traveling between islands and also to the mainland or even abroad. Although protecting the public is our primary goal, we must ensure that security procedures and technologies safeguard privacy rights and are not so burdensome that they discourage air travel.

I applaud the federal employees who have worked tirelessly to secure our commercial aviation system since September 11, 2001. As we approach the busy holiday travel season, I hope this hearing will allow us to review whether the workforce has the tools they need to meet today’s security challenges.

Administrator Pistole, your testimony mentioned that TSA is in the first phase of the Expedited Passenger Screening pilot. I understand that Honolulu Airport, Hawaiian Airlines are being considered for the second phase of the pilot. In Hawaii many people who take frequent short flights between our islands could benefit from the expedited security procedures.

My question to you is, how are the decisions being made about which additional airports and airlines will be selected for the second phase of the pilot. And when will those selections be announced?

PISTOLE: Well thank you Senator Akaka and thank you for your support for federal employees. Clearly the goal is to move out as quickly and efficiently as possible. There are a number of variables that we are working through. And those include things such as the airline’s capability. Their information technology systems. Because the way this Expedited Traveler if you want, TSA Pre-Check works is that we take information that is embedded on the barcode of the boarding pass, which the airlines of course produce.

And so it shows up in that barcode as the person is a known or trusted traveler if you will. Several airlines are going through mergers right now and so their systems, they are waiting until those systems are merged as opposed to having disparate systems that don’t talk and then trying to merge those into a new one. So those will be after the first of the year.

So that’s one criteria, is the airline ready, capable and all that? The second is the airports themselves and the configuration of the checkpoint is a key aspect. One of the goals of this is to have a dedicated lane for those known trusted frequent travelers such as in global entry or these elite tiers and others that we will look at down the road.

So they can go to a dedicated lane. They can be identified through that barcode on the boarding pass and then we can have a separate screening lane for them where they keep a light jacket on, the keep a belt on, they keep their shoes on, they keep the laptop in the briefcase. They keep their liquids, aerosol gels in their checked bag their carry-on bag.

And again keeping random and unpredictable as part of that. So to directly answer the question, there are a number of airports and airlines that we are working with to try to get to that point. So I wanted to manage expectations as best I can and say, there’s been no decisions made. I’m waiting on a presentation for that second round, if you will. I will say that I met with the CO of one of the major airlines going through a merger here, the week before last and they are committed to doing it in the first quarter of 2012.

And so we will use one of the very largest airports in the country as the basis for that airline, that merged airline probably in the February/March timeframe. So as soon as we get some additional information, we’ll get back with you on that.

AKAKA: Thank you so much. Administrator Pistole I applaud TSA’s increased use of automated target recognition software. APR so that whole body scanners no longer generate sensitive images of passenger’s bodies. However, I’m concerned that the back scatter machines, which are not currently compatible with ATR, are still used in many airports including some in Hawaii.

Does TSA plan to implement the privacy enhancing ATR feature for all whole body scanners? And what is the timeline for doing so?

PISTOLE: Yes, Senator in fact we just were approved to acquire 300 more additional AIT machines and all of those will have that Automatic Target Recognition so no new acquisitions will be without that privacy feature built in. Should know some time this month whether the manufacturer of the back scatter, whether their technology upgrades if you will, are successful in terms of the depiction through the ATR rather than through the traditional means.

But any new acquisition will have that privacy filter of the ATR as part of that.

AKAKA: As you know the Asia Pacific, the Economic Cooperation Summit will be held in Honolulu Hawaii next week. The high profile event will feature President Obama and his fellow APEC leaders from the Asian region. I recently met with the Security Steering Committee and two at the command center and event sites. I was very impressed by the planning.

My question to you is would you please discuss TSA’s role in securing the safe travel of the 20,000 dignitaries and guests flying — flying through Hawaii?

PISTOLE: Thank you Senator. Obviously the U.S. Secret Service and Diplomat Security Service and the State Department have the lead as far as the dignitaries themselves their entourage. It’s our responsibility honestly to ensure that everybody traveling to the summit, the other passengers, other attendees and things, have been thoroughly screened.

Whether the company is from the mainland or from those last points of departure to the U.S. that have to meet our standards. So that is our responsibility. And then of course, on the departure, all those people will go through the TSA security screening.

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