Still Shaking My Head

I fly a lot of miles every year, perhaps even as many as you. We work in an industry that requires personal contact, getting out of the office and understanding what physical security is all about. I have a favorite airline—American Airlines—largely because their headquarters are in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area; but also because, I appreciate their services.

No matter what airline you fly, at home or overseas, there is one thing all airports have in common. Airline passengers must pass through security, which means a careful examination by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers, and depending upon the airport, the number of agents range from a handful to hundreds.

TSA agents have had their share of troubles and missteps, but what organization hasn’t? The one thing they don’t deserve is another person shooting at them as they work on the front lines of airport security.

In late October, 23-year-old Paul Anthony Ciancia pulled a semiautomatic rifle from a bag and began a rampage of shooting at a security checkpoint at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

As you may already know, TSA official Gerardo I. Hernandez, age 39, was killed. Hernandez is the first casualty in the line of duty since TSA was formed about 12 years ago, and he was honored by his comrades on Nov. 12. Two other agents and an airline passenger were wounded as a result of the barrage of bullets.

When is this kind of activity going to stop? What is it that causes one human being to kill another?

In the wake of this horrifying attack, security at the nation’s airports will be under review. Attorney General Eric Holder said, “The responsibility for protecting airports’ security is not a TSA function, but it’s something that we need to examine, given what happened in Los Angeles.”

The function of TSA is to ensure that people can board planes and take flights safely.

Security at the nation’s airports was already a nightmare, and now, that will likely change because one person’s selfish interests places a burden on all other passengers and security staff alike.

Ciancia was shot by airport police, but only a coward takes aim at an unarmed person. In a note found within his belongings, Ciancia wrote that he was gunning for TSA agents as part of a suicide mission. In part, his note read, “I’m going to kill people, and I don’t want to kill civilians.” That same handwritten letter, which was signed by Ciancia, included the threat to “instill fear in your traitorous minds.”

People aren’t afraid of Ciancia, and he does not instill fear in anyone’s mind. The general public continues to board planes, travel and take care of business on a daily basis. It is entirely unfortunate that one person had to die because another person thought his agenda was more important than a life.

On Nov. 7, TSA administrator John S. Pistole met with more than 20 security organizations to hear their input on airport security for TSA employees, airport and law enforcement officials, and the more than 1.8 million passengers who travel each day.

TSA understands that threats to aviation security continue to evolve. They are more sophisticated and more complex than ever before. Agency officials must use every tool at their disposal to address those threats and develop methods for combating them. The use of new and innovative technology helps them stay ahead of those intent on harming our nation.

Pistole expressed his commitment to working with other leaders in the airport security community to ensure everything is done to keep airports safe and secure for employees and the traveling public alike. He reinforced TSA’s ongoing commitment to working collaboratively to stay ahead of evolving threats.

In the world that we now know, there are threats each and every day. Most are unexpected and come with a surprise.

I used to take for granted the work performed by TSA agents—until now. Sure, they have become a fixture at every airport in the nation, and their work goes unheralded. It’s a shame something like this has to happen to remind the traveling public that these are people trying to do a good job at keeping everyone safe.

As TSA constantly moves forward with its technology usage, I am sure they know there’s no silverbullet technology, no cure all, no end-all-be-all; but, when used by its highly-trained workforce and combined with the other layers of security, technology helps close down vulnerabilities.

Their strategy involves more than just screening all carry-on and checked baggage. At their disposal, TSA agents use careful analysis of intelligence to determine where best to deploy its technology resources at airports, in subways, at ports and on rail. Daily vetting of passengers and airport employees against watch lists helps protect airports. And, biometrics helps prevent unauthorized access at our nations’ ports. That is only the beginning.

I pledge to be more appreciative of the work responsibilities of TSA agents. I hope you will join me in respecting the work of TSA agents by offering them a “job well done” and a “thank you.”

This article originally appeared in the December 2013 issue of Security Today.

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