Senior lawmaker urges diligence on aviation screening technology

Homeland Security Committee chairman says failed plane bombing brings 'major challenges into stark focus'

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has told President Barack Obama that it's critical that new aviation security and screening technologies are fully tested and certified before getting major investments as the government moves to bolster aviation security.

After the failed terror attack on Christmas Day, some have advocated expanding the use of whole body or advanced imaging technology at airport checkpoints to improve aviation security. However, others remain worried about privacy implications of technology.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Jan. 7 said that even before the failed attack, her department had plans to deploy 300 advanced imaging machines, in addition to the 40 now in use. Thompson urged Obama in a letter dated Jan. 8 to “continue engaging the American public in a national discourse” on the further deployment of whole body imaging technology and “other promising technologies.”

In addition, Napolitano said that DHS will establish a partnership on aviation screening technology with Energy Department to develop new and more effective technologies.

Thompson also said one of the most dramatic areas of security improvements since the 2001 terrorist attacks involves screening technology and protocols. However, Thompson said the official avenues for testing and evaluating emerging technology aren’t flexible enough and that the process for reviewing new screening technologies must be reformed to deal with emerging threats in a forward-thinking way.

Meanwhile, Thompson said the failed attack brought security problems “into stark focus,” and in addition to screening technologies he identified issues related to information sharing, the terrorist watch list, and personnel vacancies that he said “need immediate attention.”

Thompson said the results of the Obama administration’s preliminary review of the failed attack are “frank, informative and could provide a basis for critical security enhancements and process improvements.”

“However, progress is unlikely if timely actions are not undertaken by the entire intelligence community, the Departments of Homeland Security and State and the Congress,” he added.

The Homeland Security Committee has scheduled a hearing on the incident for Jan. 27.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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