TSA video reveals 'layers of security' at airports

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The Transportation Security Administration is giving travelers a 3 minute video primer in airport security tactics. (WLS)

An ABC7 I-Team Investigation
The federal agency that protects travelers from terror attacks, hijackings and other mid-air mayhem is eschewing the secrecy usually associated with security. TSA, the Transportation Security Administration, is giving travelers a 3 minute video primer in airport security tactics.


TSA is promoting "its 20 integrated components, that we call the 'Layers of Security,' working together to keep you secure. The newly released video claims to provide an inside look at how TSA protects travelers-usually a subject government agencies are shy about discussing.

From intelligence and various law enforcement personnel to crew vetting and behavior detection, TSA is using "both seen and unseen" resources that the agency says "work like a very complex combination safe designed to keep our adversaries at bay and our transportation systems safe."

While the so-called "layering" process of security has been used by TSA for nearly ten years, discussing and showing the list of layers it in such detail on a public video is new.

"When you looked at that list, while it was long and impressive there wasn't a lot of deep, highly scientific work happening behind the scenes that may have surprised us, it was all things you would expect" said DePaul University transportation professor Joe Schwieterman. "On one hand we want the TSA to be consumer friendly to reach out and sort of tell us their methods, on the another hand an agency like that needs to be a bit covert, a bit behind the scenes to show that things are unpredictable and striking that balance is tough, this video moves us a little bit closer to the consumer direction."

The layering effort being touted is the same one that a federal watchdog found faulty less than two years ago. A report to Congress by the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General detailed a covert audit of U.S. airports that found layers of security were "simply missing." The undercover investigation exposed gaps in Transportation Security Administration procedures that the agency said it was repairing. There has not been another full audit since then, according to the IG's records.

The new TSA video shows federal employees conducting pre-boarding name checks on passengers to see if they are known or suspected terrorists. It also shows TSA canine teams on airport patrols-one of the agencies most-favored terror prevention tactics; and it shows the elite air marshal service and discusses the use of armed pilots and crew members trained in self-defense.

The final layer of protection according to TSA relies on the protectees themselves: the travelers who are encouraged to report troublesome things that they see.

"TSA is really trying to soften their image, create a sense of pride, that what they do is something that we as a country should be pleased with" said Schwieterman. "So much criticism flows through TSA because people look at checkpoints at the airport and say it's ineffective. I think what they're trying to say is that we have a whole menu of strategies, a lot of things happening behind the scenes, you should give us the benefit of the doubt that we're doing a lot of things that we don't publicize."

TSA officials say the layers of security have helped to reduce traveler screening and wait times at U.S. airports. TSA spokesperson Michael McCarthy told the I-Team that the new video doesn't give away state secrets. "No specifics about security procedures or capabilities are revealed by mentioning the existence of the various layers- most of which are plainly apparent to the naked eye" McCarthy said.

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