Hawley says the ongoing trial of eight British men who plotted to blow up multiple US-bound aircraft in August 2006 shows that US aviation security must be agile and must evolve to stay ahead of terrorists. The men are accused of planning to use liquid bombs assembled from components sneaked past security in sports drinks bottles. That plot led to the ban on water bottles and other containers of shampoo and toiletries in carry-on baggage.
"They are building attack plans to get around our systems," Hawley told reporters. "We must be able to stop attacks that are designed to get around what we have in place."
To guard against such attacks, the TSA is in the midst of a top-to-bottom retooling of its training regimen for all of its employees. In the new 12-hour training course, employees will learn about intelligence, bomb detection, terrorist tradecraft, including how to spot diversionary tactics, and how to stay focused on the mission at all times.
A lot of what the TSA is doing is based on monitoring passenger behavior. Specially trained TSA officers watch for "data points" to identify suspicious persons. Hawley says that behavior of a suspect with hostile intent is different from that of a stressed-out traveler. A recent example was the case of the man recently detained in Orlando heading for Jamaica. "He was exhibiting a number of factors" that spurred a TSA officer to "take another look," says Hawley. In the man's luggage, police found components for an improvised explosive device. Hawley also said that looking for behavior is the best approach to protecting the US aviation system and not any sort of profiling. "You have to get out of your head what you are looking for and let it come to you," he said.
Many of the changes coming to an airport near you are designed to make the American traveler more comfortable so that terrorists will stand out even more. A pilot program starting next month in Baltimore changes the way the security checkpoint looks and feels. Using music, softer colors, even new TSA screener uniforms, the agency hopes to take some of the stress out of flying.
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