TSA leader speaks to Rotarians

Del Mar Rotarians got the opportunity to do something millions of frustrated air travelers would long for: to grill Michael Aguilar, director of the Transportation Security Administration for the San Diego Airport.

“Do you automatically tag people who are traveling alone with no baggage and a one-way ticket?” asked one Rotarian, referring to the Dec. 25 incident in which Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines plane on approach to Detroit.

“Not automatically,” Aguilar said, adding that would only apply to in-person purchases and not online.

Aguilar gave an overview of the TSA, its methods and policies in a 30-minute lunch-time session with the Del Mar Rotary Club.

“Part of my responsibility as a senior federal executive is to interact and get the word out and have this sort of dialogue with the public,” he said. “I’m a public servant, and it just boils down to that. They pay my wages.”

Aguilar talked about the TSA’s history, and perhaps most timely, about the changes coming to airports across America this year, including San Diego. He said full-body scanners would be appearing at Lindbergh Field later. Aguilar also praised the behavioral detection officers, instituted about 1 1/2 years ago. Based on the Israeli model of one-on-one interviews for all passengers, these security agents monitor nonverbal communications of those at airports looking for signs of intent to do wrong.

“One of the complaints you hear about TSA is they’re standing around doing nothing,” he said. “They’re standing around doing something, they’re watching.”

Rotarians asked about TSA policies of sharing information with other security agencies, if people with health problems would be required to go through full-body scanners, and to evaluate the department’s overall success.

“A byproduct of a free and open society is that there are a lot of vulnerabilities,” Aguilar said. “As long as we continue to enjoy the freedoms and liberties we cherish, we’re winning.”

Speaking about how Abdulmutallab was able to board the Northwest Airlines plane on Christmas Day despite government knowledge of his associations, Aguilar said: “Although you may have heard in the newspaper that information was readily available, it should have been put together immediately to prevent the 25 December (incident), I can’t get into specifics with you, but I can tell you it was pretty tight in order to make the call and connect those dots. But the bottom line is that’s our job to do it, and we failed in that way.”

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Posted by on Jan 28, 2010. Filed under Archives. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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