Transportation Security

The nation’s air, land, and marine transportation systems are designed for accessibility and efficiency, two characteristics that make them vulnerable to terrorist attack. While hardening the transportation sector is difficult, measures can be taken to deter terrorists. The enduring challenge facing Congress is how best to implement and finance a system of deterrence, protection, and response that effectively reduces the possibility and consequences of terrorist attacks without unduly interfering with travel, commerce, and civil liberties. Transportation security has been a major policy focus since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. In the aftermath of those attacks, Congress moved quickly to pass the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA; P.L. 107-71), creating the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and mandating that security screeners employed by the federal government inspect airline passengers, their baggage, and air cargo. Despite attention to aviation and transportation security over the past two decades, a number of challenges remain. Bombings of passenger trains in Europe and Asia in the past few years illustrate the vulnerability of passenger rail systems to terrorist attacks. Passenger rail systems—primarily subway systems—in the United States carry about five times as many passengers each day as do airlines, over many thousands of miles of track, serving stations that are designed primarily for easy access. Transit security issues of recent interest to Congress include the quality of TSA’s surface transportation inspector program. The bulk of U.S. overseas trade is carried by ships, and thus the economic consequences of a maritime terrorist attack could be significant. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Coast Guard have implemented security screening procedures that effectively “push the borders out”—that is, they begin screening vessels and cargo before they reach a U.S. port. Two aspects of maritime security that have drawn attention recently are cybersecurity and the use of drones for coastal surveillance.       Purchase this Volume