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


Hutchinson: Well, your premise is correct, that we have to first guard against those who have an affiliation with terrorists and a connection, and so we have watch lists and systems that can make that connection. But as you said, there are going to be those that have no record and cannot be detected in that capacity so that is why you have to have other layers of security. Just because we confirm someone's identity we don't let them bypass the screen checkpoint before they get on the plane, they still go through the baggage and passenger screening, so we have those systems in place so it is critical for the reasons you stated to have layers of protection built in and not rely upon one technique to secure our country.

Q: On screening staff employed at airport terminals

Hutchinson: We do hope that technology will help us to keep at a reasonable level the human resource investment that has to be made. US Congress has our screening workforce capped at 45,000 (people) at present and technology will help, for example, right now we have our baggage screening equipment in the airport lobbies and we want to develop systems behind the counters, in the belly of the airport. We've done that in a number of airports and it improves the efficiency and reduces the manpower that is required. It reduces work related injuries and so technology is a very helpful solution, but it is still a manpower intensive environment but technology will help us.

Q: On the introduction of private screening companies

Hutchinson: We have tested this in five airports and the findings are [that] they provide the same security benefit as public sector screeners. I think an important part of the equation is to have a TSA overseer to make sure the private screeners meet the requirements of security. By 19 November 2004, airports will have an opportunity to request moving to a private screening company, so it is built into our law that an airport can make that request. I suspect there will be a few airports that might decide to try that but it is important they measure up to strong standards of security.

Q: On security checks for cargo leaving the United States

Hutchinson: We do targeted outbound inspections, we look for shipments that would be illegal and we are concerned with that part of the supply chain as well. We would certainly welcome the recipient nation to put their inspectors on our shores, if they wanted to make that investment to help protect that shipment that is outgoing. We recognize that it is not only inbound but also outbound (cargo) that can pose a risk as well. We are looking at the whole comprehensive supply chain going in both directions. Terrorists can utilize any vulnerability in the system and that would include outbound shipments.

Q: On the Container Security Initiative (operating in 32 international ports)

Hutchinson: We are in phase two, so we will continue until we get the highest percentage possible of the containers coming into our country, I think we are up around seventy per cent coverage through the CSI. There are many ports that are second tier in terms of volume of shipment but they are very important in the supply chain so we will continue to expand it one port at a time, based on our resources.

Q: On port compliance

Hutchinson: It is a requirement of the (US) Coastguard and the international community to verify compliance. Whenever you have a submission of 1000 different vessels and security plans the first enforcement is when they come into our ports, we check the compliance and there have been instances where we have denied entry because they have either been through an insecure port or a port that is out of compliance. But, it has to expand broader than that and we hope the host countries will make sure there is compliance for those international requirements in their own individual port. The Coastguard will review these as well.

Q: On the use of CCTV in public areas

Hutchinson: We recognize the security benefit for surveillance and sophisticated software that would use that surveillance. The City of Chicago has invested in enhanced cameras and surveillance equipment around the city, particularly at the airports and train stations. I think our approach will be more targeted. It is a very useful tool for our transit systems. I think that requirement will enhance that investment but it will be different from Europe because it will probably be on a targeted basis.

Q: On the proposal of a pilot scheme for an international travel register between Britain and the United States