Asa Hutchinson Speaks out on Transportation Security

An Interview with DHS Under Secretary Asa Hutchinson from the Airport, Port and Terminal Security (APTS) conference in the UK


On Nov. 10-11, 2005, the Airport, Port and Terminal Security Conference was held in London to address issues of transportation security. U.S. Department of Homeland Security Under Secretary Asa Hutchinson spoke to the conference and media on the second day of the conference. Excerpts from Hutchinson's interview appear below, courtesy of APTS.

Q: In making passenger name checks before departure, does that mean that you are expecting in the future that we will have doors closed on the aircraft one hour ahead of their scheduled departure time?

Hutchinson: That is the challenge. If we had to have information whether it were 60 or 45 minutes, that means you have got to close-off the passengers that come at the last second. There is a behavioral adjustment that has to be made, so that is what we are trying to balance and work with industry. That is one of the topics we discussed with Niki Tompkinson (Director of Transport Security, Department for Transport) and Heathrow Airport and airline officials. They were very expressive about their concerns on this. We have not proposed a formal regulation, we recognize the need that you have to have the information in advance, in sufficient advance to check the names and to reconcile any conflict of names. So, 60 minutes is the time frame that has been put out there for discussion.

Q: On plans to introduce "smart" cargo containers

Hutchinson: We have an industry group called COAC, Commercial Operations Advisory Committee. We asked them to examine what steps should be taken. They have recommended a regulation mandate for a more secure lock and a report is under review. We support a move in that direction and it is a matter of when we can accomplish that.

Q: Will the U.S. government assist with the cost?

Hutchinson: That (cost) would be a responsibility of industry. That is why we have to be careful with the requirements we put down and work with industry to develop the right requirements but under our system we have an expectation that industry will protect the supply chain that will be part of that initiative.

Q: On the US-VISIT program -- These measures put a lot of emphasis on biometric technology. There is a criticism that if this is introduced across Europe it is going to be different technology, some of it flawed. Also, some of the check lists used are inaccurate and the situation you had with someone like Cat Stevens is going to be more pronounced as it is brought in. What is your response?

Hutchinson: Well firstly, that points certainly at the need for international standards on biometrics that would move in the same direction so that we can have the same technical requirements. What has been proven thus far is there is a high degree of accuracy in the biometric checks. We measure very carefully what the positives are and I think it is less than one tenth of one percent, so we are very pleased with the accuracy of our biometric checks and we continue to monitor that.

In reference to Cat Stevens, it is very, very important we have accurate information on our terrorist watch list and our no fly list and that you have a remedy. I believe that Government is not perfect and that is our system that we have checks and balances, so as we develop the coordination of a watch list we have to ensure there is a redress capability for a citizen who says: "I am mistakenly put on a watch list." So right now, any citizen can call TSA, part of Homeland Security, and submit information to try and have their name cleared if they believe they are wrongly on there, or that they have a name that is confusingly similar and they just want to get their name cleared, so they don't get hassle in the airport. We have that mechanism set up and want to make sure that it is very strong so anyone can avail themselves of it.

Q: Much of the defense you are putting in against terrorists assumes these people will already be on watch lists whereas many recruits to al Qaeda are clean, in the sense they have no criminal record. If that is the main thrust, how do you defend against them?

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