Earl Ofari Hutchinson's take on the politics of the day
He discussed how serious is the terrorism threat to airport passengers and steps the Obama Administration can take to insure passenger safety and to protect passenger’s privacy rights.
The Hutchinson Report: A great deal of controversy about the screening, the TSA. Number 1, do we really need these full body scanners we’re talking about. Number 2, privacy issues. Number 3, how effective is it?
Erroll G. Southers: These machines, this technology, are necessary. Let me just start with saying that we’ve had about 55 attacks on civil aviation in the United States. 76% of those attacks involved explosives. So the jest of this technology is to detect explosives. The missing component here is the human element. And that’s where the Israeli’s are leaps and bounds ahead of us. They understand that it’s the human element, both on the security side and the terrorist side that has to be focused on. On the terrorist side, it’s about knowing your enemy. It’s about understanding why they do certain things. What they might do, how they would do it, what’s important to them. On the security side, it’s about knowing your workforce.
The Hutchinson Report: The Israeli model, I’m not sure how that would go over here. I could see a storm, right away, of protests. You’re racially profiling, you’re ethnically profiling. How dare you do that? It’s unconstitutional, even beyond privacy. So that would be an issue here.
Erroll G. Southers: It would be an issue here, and the way that we address it is taken one of the most important components that the Israeli use which is behavior. And they look at avoidance and deception of people as they approach the airport, as they’re standing in line, as they’re being questioned. Again, technology in Israel is used to enhance their work force. We seem to have a very bad habit, historically in the United States, of using technology to replace our work force. So I think if we had a stronger human element on the security side, looking at behaviors, looking at certain actions by the persons who are traveling, we‘d be better off. We wouldn’t have to call it profiling, we could call it “Behaviors”, or “Suspicious Activity”.
The Hutchinson Report: The Department of Homeland Security, in this case, the Inspector General, about a week ago, issued a report. Senator Grassley from Iowa has demanded, release the full report, the Obama administration has said “no.” They tested eight (8) airports. They used Federal Agents disguised as passengers, to see basically if these items actually worked. And what they did was, it was troubling, just from the unclassified report, they found a number of vulnerabilities using these machines.
Erroll G. Southers: I think that what they probably found, and they have a very extensive covert testing program, obviously much of which I can’t speak about publically, but I will say, they were probably alarmed at the rate that they were able to get prohibited items through the screening process. Anywhere from weapons or sharp edge objects, to perhaps, unfortunately, a fake explosive. So that would be the cause for some concern, because, once again, we’re looking at the technology efficiency and the effectiveness of the security staffing and what they’re doing in terms of their protocols.
The Hutchinson Report: One of the scanner makers, manufacturers, in this case, said the technology probably would not have detected the Christmas Day underwear bomber, neither would the scanners have caught the explosives from the 2006 airliner, liquid bomb plot, nor the explosives used in the 2005 London Tube bombing, so.
Erroll G. Southers: I have too read that there is some doubt about the ability for these machines to do that. So it’s … what’s interesting now as you’ve asked, is, is this investment worthwhile, and what I’m often asked, since this has already happened and since we’ve seen PETN and TATP and other hydrogen peroxide base explosive, are we chasing yesterday’s threat, instead of looking at tomorrows vulnerability?
The Hutchinson Report The European Union said that they’re not going to use the full body scanners precisely because of that.
Erroll G. Southers: Well, it’s interesting you started with the European Union and what people may not recall, because before all this furor started over the scanners, about a month or so ago, it was the Europeans that said they are not going to “cow-tow to the United States security policies and procedures.” I think you speak to the heart of this issue. This is a global trans-national threat.
The Hutchinson Report: The American Civil Liberties Union, if you go on line, they have a website, stop invasive privacy, stop invasive use of security for our privacy.
Erroll G. Southers: I do want to say is that it appears that there is enough intelligence to suggest that this kind of action, meaning pat downs, was necessary. I think a golden opportunity was missed here. If this is in fact, the solution, to engage the public, to engender their trust by telling them, here’s what the threat is, here’s why we’re doing it, here’s how we ‘re going to do it, here’s what’s going to happen to you and here are your options. That wasn’t done and so now instead of having an educated and aware and participative and cooperative .
The Hutchinson Report: Do you think that this could have some blow-back fall out effect on the Obama administration?
Erroll G. Southers: I think that it could hurt if in fact, to be honest with you, if we have a successful attack. That’s going to hurt. So what at least is being done is every effort to mitigate and detect and deter that from happening. The President of the United States, President Obama, is at the NATO Summit in Lisbon. He’s asked the question about pat-downs. So it shows you the sensitivity our international partners have.
The Hutchinson Report: What would you recommend to the President if the President was sitting right across from you, and also the officials too at TSA, and also those in Congress too that are that should be changed or should be done to make this better and more effective.
Erroll G. Southers: I’m going to repeat the things that I said a year ago as a nominee. First there is a human factor, and quite often as we are talking about that, we forget on both sides of the equation there are terrorists and there is everyone else. And so there is a human factor through intelligence that we have to get to learn our advisory better. Second, we’ve got to get better at looking for the bomber instead of the bomb. We find a bomb at the airport, that’s one of the last lines of defense. It is too late. TSA has a wonderful opportunity here to leverage an existing trusted travel program that people will pay for, and by the way, Global Entry is $100 for 5 years. Other countries have the same system.