The federal Transportation Security Administration came into being as a response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when four commercial airliners were hijacked with the goal of crashing each into different prominent buildings in the United States.
“We were born after what happened on Sept. 11, but it doesn’t define who we are,” said Daniel D. Velez, TSA spokesperson for the New England region.
The TSA is tasked with staying ahead of emerging threats, Velez said.
“TSA has a lot of procedures that are both seen and unseen, you know, behind the scenes that people don’t know about either,” he said. “It’s all part of making sure that something like 9/11 doesn’t happen again.”
Since 9/11, Velez said, the TSA has implemented “a robust series of security procedures” that include having a well trained workforce and technology to screen passengers and cargo.
In Vermont, Gov. Phil Scott said law enforcement and homeland security efforts have been improved since the attacks.
“But it’s an ongoing effort,” he said at his weekly news conference Wednesday. “And with the sum of the new technology that we’ve seen and that we’re utilizing, again it’s keeping up to date and it’s constant monitoring of the chattering that’s happening on a global scale.”
Scott called changes in airport security and other areas since the attacks “here to stay.”
Velez said one of the first things people will encounter when going to airports are credential authentication technology machines, which validate an individual’s identity and flight reservation. More than 1,100 of these machines are in airports across the United States. Burlington International Airport has two.
Searching bags with high tech
Another technology introduced post-9/11 is the computing tomography machine, which can be described as a 3D-scanning machine that allows TSA officers a better view inside bags without having to physically go through them. Burlington International has one at the checkpoint and five more throughout the facility.
Also new after 9/11 are advanced imaging technology, or AIT, machines, which are body scanners that detect nonmetallic weapons, explosives and other weapons people might conceal, and explosive trace detection, or ETD, machines that look for explosives. Sixteen of them can be found at Burlington International Airport, which also has three canine units designed to search for explosives.
If any weapons are detected, local law enforcement is immediately contacted.
“Our transportation security offers are not law enforcement officers,” Velez said. “We’re just there to ensure any type of threat doesn’t get onto an aircraft.”
Velez said of the approximately 65,000 TSA employees across the country, about 50,000 are transportation security officers.
“They’re screening, nowadays, anywhere from 1.4 million to 2 million passengers every day across 440 federalized airports, including Burlington,” he said, noting that TSA doesn’t have a presence at private airports.
A lot of transportation security officers are trained in behavior detection. They can “identify potentially high-risk individuals or suspicious activities,” Velez said.
“We also have officers who have advanced training in screening for improvised explosive devices,” he said. “They’re trained on how to look for artfully concealed items.”
Training is nonstop during a career with the TSA, Velez said, as new equipment requires new knowledge to be gained.
The TSA had some staffing challenges during the summer that affected Burlington. Velez said the group is coming to the end of a campaign to hire 6,000 transportation security officers around the U.S. and nearly 5,550 have been hired.
The goal is to reach 6,000 before Sept. 30.
“Pretty much every federalized airport is in need of transportation officers,” Velez said. “Due to marketing and social media campaigns, we’ve done pretty well.”
Customs and Border Protection is new, too
Before Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection also did not exist as an agency.
“The agency’s law enforcement components were scattered throughout different agencies,” a customs spokesperson said. “Customs officers were part of the Department of Treasury, while immigration inspectors and the U.S. Border Patrol were part of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. These different agencies with different, and limited, information and resources created challenges in the coordination and sharing of information and intelligence.”
The customs spokesperson added: “After September 11, 2001, CBP was created, and its unified command has paid huge dividends. Today, CBP boasts 60,000 dedicated employees to protect the homeland 24/7, 365 days a year at 327 ports of entry and thousands of border miles.”