U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, will convene a hearing titled “Transportation Security: Protecting Passengers and Freight” on Wednesday, April 6, at 10:00 a.m.
While airport security is a major and highly visible function of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), by law the agency is designated as responsible for all transportation security matters including trains, subways, buses, and ports. Recent attacks by ISIS, including those in Belgium on March 22, have underscored that terrorists can inflict significant casualties at transportation targets without attempting to board airplanes or subjecting themselves to security screenings. TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger, who was in Brussels on March 22, will deliver testimony about TSA efforts to prevent attacks on passenger and freight targets that could lead to mass casualties.
- The Honorable Peter Neffenger, TSA Administrator and Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security
* Witness list subject to change
Wednesday, April 6, 2016
Full Committee hearing
This hearing will take place in Senate Russell Office Building, Room 253. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.
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Chairman John Thune
"On March 22nd, terrorists associated with ISIS detonated three bombs in Brussels, two at an airport, and one in a busy metro car. Thirty-five people, including four Americans, were killed in this cowardly attack.
"The victims of these attacks remain in our thoughts and prayers.
"The threat from ISIS, al-Qaeda and their sympathizers is real, and we must ensure sound policies are in place to enhance security and prevent these deadly attacks.
"This hearing will focus on the efforts of the Transportation Security Administration to secure surface transportation modes. In light of the attacks in Brussels, however, we will also address the related challenge of safeguarding the areas of airports outside passenger screening checkpoints.
"Administrator Neffenger, I understand that you were, by chance, in the Brussels airport at the time of the attacks.
"I hope you will share your thoughts on the horrific events there, and how we can prevent and prepare for similar threats. I understand your written testimony focuses on rail, transit, and pipeline security, but I hope you will also share with us additional information on how we can improve airport security.
"The TSA must learn from past attacks and also look forward to new and emerging threats. Sadly, it is clear that terrorists associated with al-Qaeda and ISIS have identified passenger rail and transit systems as soft targets.
"It is critical that we not neglect these vital parts of our transportation system as we look for ways to improve security.
"Understandably, these open systems cannot be secured in the same way as our aviation network. Nevertheless, some of the techniques we utilize in the aviation network apply to surface assets, as well areas of the airport on the street side of the checkpoint.
"While our best tool in combating terrorist attacks continues to be good intelligence, TSA has adopted a multi-layer process to identify threats and mitigate security concerns.
"Former Administrator John Pistole strongly promoted the risk-based allocation of TSA’s resources. I look forward to hearing from the Administrator today about his views on the risk-based analysis of threats. TSA cannot and should not be at every bus stop, or every train station.
"The agency must leverage its relationships with state and local officials and address the most significant threats with its limited resources.
"Visible security efforts can also make a difference. Explosives Detection Canines and police presence can deter both terrorist threats and criminal activity. TSA’s support of these programs is invaluable. I’d like to hear more about how these teams are allocated among airports and other transportation systems.
"TSA is also charged with protecting freight transportation networks including ports, freight railroads, and pipeline infrastructure. These critical infrastructure networks are crucial components of our nation’s economy.
"TSA receives high marks from railroad and pipeline operators who work with the agency to identify and mitigate threats. Public-private security partnerships between the agency and operators have been valuable in hardening these networks.
"On the aviation front, Ranking Member Nelson and I have been leading oversight at the Commerce Committee of problems some airports have had in successfully managing security credentials.
"This oversight led the Committee to approve bipartisan legislation, S. 2361, the Airport Security Enhancement and Oversight Act, to tighten vetting of airport workers, so that those with ties to terrorists and histories of serious criminal behavior do not access sensitive airport areas.
"Unfortunately, in the current system, such individuals are not always captured.
"Some of the perpetrators in the deadly attacks in Brussels were previously known to authorities as criminals, and U.S. terrorism experts believe that ISIS is recruiting criminals to join its ranks in Europe.
"As we work to address the threat of an aviation insider helping terrorists, criminals who break laws for financial gain and those with histories of violence are a good place to start.
"Ensuring that airport workers with security credentials are trustworthy is especially important considering that an ISIS affiliate is believed to have killed 224 people on a Russian passenger plane leaving Egypt with, experts suspect, the help of an airport employee.
"The Committee has also approved legislation, H.R. 2843, the TSA PreCheck Expansion Act, which would help expand participation in the TSA PreCheck application program by developing private-sector partnerships and capabilities to vet and enroll more individuals.
"As a result, more vetted passengers would receive expedited airport screening, which would get passengers through security checkpoints more quickly and ensure that they do not pose the kind of easy target that ISIS suicide bombers exploited at the Brussels airport.
"I believe both of these important measures can and should advance in the full Senate this week.
"Administrator Neffenger, thank you for being here today. We need strong leadership and decisive action to address this terrorist threat. You are faced with a great challenge of getting it right every time, when a terrorist just needs one opportunity. I look forward to hearing from you about how TSA is working to meet that challenge.
"I’d like to recognize Ranking Member Nelson for his opening statement."
I want to thank Chairman Thune for calling this hearing.
The coordinated attacks on a Brussels metro station and airport two weeks ago are a grim reminder that both aviation and surface transportation networks remain attractive targets for terrorists.
The list of terrorist attacks on transportation networks globally is long and distressing.
In the 10 years after 9/11, more than 1,900 attacks were carried out against transit systems around the world, resulting in close to 4,000 deaths and 14,000 injuries.
In aviation, almost 15 years after 9/11, terrorists are still finding vulnerabilities to exploit.
For example, in November 2015, ISIS attacked a Russian passenger jet over Egypt, killing 224 civilians.
And we should all remember that in 2014, an airline worker in Atlanta used his access credentials to smuggle firearms around the passenger checkpoint and hand them off to a passenger bound for New York.
In total, the employee was charged with smuggling 153 firearms on 17 flights in 2014.
So last December, this committee took an important step to improve aviation security by moving the Airport Security Enhancement and Oversight Act of 2015.
This bill takes common sense steps to prevent an insider threat to our aviation system by improving the background checks for aviation workers.
The bill also increases random physical screenings, and covert, red-team testing of airport worker security.
Additionally, the legislation creates a pilot program for airports to conduct 100 percent employee screening, as they have done for years in Miami and Orlando.
And while these steps are essential, I am concerned that our current strategy does not sufficiently address the vulnerabilities exposed in Brussels to surface transportation networks.
In 2016, less than 2 percent of the TSA’s total budget and full-time employees are dedicated to protecting surface transportation networks.
And while we have yet to suffer a recent attack on a mass transit system in the U.S. on the same scale as the Brussels attack, we cannot wait for one to occur before we act.
TSA can take immediate action by completing the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, which were enacted into law in 2007.
Additionally, we have an opportunity to improve our transportation security through the FAA bill.
So it’s time to reexamine our transportation security strategy and refocus our efforts. I want to thank Administrator Neffenger for coming today.
I look forward to hearing from you on these issues to ensure TSA has the resources and strategy it needs to address transportation security risks.
The Honorable Peter NeffengerTSA Administrator and Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security