The U.S. aviation security system is broken because of an “unhealthy” separation between the traveling public and the Transportation Security Administration, according to former TSA chief Kip Hawley. “There’s always been some separation and disconnect when the public looks at security measures,” he said. “Even though the TSA is working on new risk-management approaches, I don’t think the public is willing to listen, and that needs to be fixed.”
The introduction of invasive pat-downs at security checkpoints exacerbated that so-called disconnect, said Hawley, who co-authored the book Permanent Emergency: Inside the TSA and the Fight for the Future of American Security. “In the book, we released classified information that showed why we did what we did,” he said.
Hawley notes that when the TSA introduced millimeter-wave body scanners under his tenure in 2007, the agency did experience the same public resistance it now sees. “We worked with the ACLU and others to put in place privacy protections,” he said. “As for now, maybe it’s the radiation scare and a more detailed image that came with the pat-downs. But from a security standpoint, body scanners are a good idea and having them in primary screening areas is where they belong.”
Making a dramatic statement on prohibited items like knives and lighters is not effective, in Hawley's opinion. “If you allow knives past security and on the plane, you’re taking a risk that it will be used on the plane. But is it worth everything we go though at the checkpoint to protect travelers from a potential stabbing when you know that people will not allow a plane to be taken over?”
The old privately run registered-traveler program became a big issue during Hawley’s tenure, when he warned that the effort wouldn’t work because of “the effects of the so-called clean-skin terrorists” not known to the authorities and absent obvious risk factors.
Hawley lauded the TSA for creating the PreCheck registered-traveler program, however. “Now the TSA can look at passenger manifests in advance and put that information on boarding passes with what it knows about passengers. It’s a big step forward.” However, he advocates expanding the program to include all passengers, not just frequent travelers. “I understand the appeal to attract frequent fliers and get them in the system first, but from a risk perspective I’m not sure it holds,” he concluded.