House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) started the question period at Thursday’s hearing with acting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Elaine Duke referring to TSA’s “failing grade” regarding airport screening.
“We heard this in 2015, and now we’re in 2017,” he said. “As you know with a laptop threat, the ability to convert laptops into bombs and explosive devices to blow up airplanes, possibly inbound flights into the United States … we need to take quicker action.”
He referred to technology and pilot programs that use computed tomography (CT) technology for screening. “It’s like going from an X-ray to an MRI,” he said. McCaul referred to a letter he had sent to Duke requesting such technology be implemented “as soon as possible, given the nature of the threat that exists.”
Duke noted that they are working on algorithms now to make sure the machines are able to detect the proper materials. McCaul noted that in a previous hearing he was told that software for CT scanners would not be updatable for a period of time, suggesting delaying the implementation of CT scanners. Instead of waiting for the updates, McCaul suggested TSA stop procuring X-ray machines today, switch to CT scanners now, and just upgrade the software when it becomes available.
Duke agreed that the process needs to move faster and the CT scanners would boost the level of security, but there was no specific timeline provided for full implementation.
Overall, in her opening statement, Duke said that the terror threat today is as serious, if not more serious, than it was around 9/11.
“We are seeing a surge in terrorist activity because the fundamentals of terrorism have changed,” she said. “Our enemies are crowd-sourcing their violence online and promoting a ‘do-it-yourself” approach that involves using any weapons their followers can get their hands on.”
She also emphasized that the primary terror threat to the country comes from jihadists, though DHS is also focused on domestic terrorism.
Duke outlined a two-tier approach to address the overall terror threat.
First, she said DHS is “rethinking homeland security for this new age.” Primarily, it’s a matter of recognizing that threats are no longer defined by borders. As a result, she said DHS is working toward a more integrated posture, “bringing together intelligence, operations, interagency agreement, and international action like never before,” she said.
The second part of this approach includes a stronger security posture to keep threats from entering the United States in the first place. This includes completing a southwest border wall, as well as focusing on gangs and “transnational” criminal entities that bring drugs and violence to the country’s communities.
The entire hearing can be viewed here.
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