TSA History and Mission

Founding of the transportation Security Administration

The Transportation Security Administration, or TSA as most people refer to it as was founded on November 19, 2001, by the United States Government, shortly after the tragic September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

The history and mission of different TSA departments, job positions, and laws will be covered on this page, including:

  • Aviation and Transportation Security Act.
  • The Mission of the TSA.
  • The Role of the Transportation Security Administration.
  • TSA Security Measures.
  • The Training of New TSA Personnel.
  • Federal Air Marshals and Transportation Security Officers.
  • TSA Pre✓™.
  • Behavior Detection Officers.
  • Behavioral Pre-Aviation Movement

Let’s begin

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Aviation and Transportation Security Act

Before September 11, the nation’s transportation systems were handled by private contractors with a much more relaxed approach. Passengers and luggage were not checked diligently, and non-travelers could accompany their family or friends to the gate. Travelers could even pass through metal detectors with their shoes and jackets on. Additionally, passengers were allowed to take any liquid or food they wanted onto the plane without a second thought.

It was clear, that after September 11, there needed to be a significant change in airport security. As a result, the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, was passed by the 107th Congress and signed by George W. Bush on November 19, 2001, thus establishing the Transportation Security Administration.

So, let’s take a deeper look at the TSA history.

The Mission of the TSA

Originally, the TSA was part of the Department of Transportation. However, in March 2003, TSA was transferred to a new Department created by the Homeland Security Act of 2002.

The Department’s primary goal is to ensure the nation’s transportation systems are protected from the many threats to America’s aviation. Homeland security currently employs over 240,000 people with a very diverse job range. The sole job of each TSA worker is to enforce security measures, thus ensuring freedom of movement across our nation’s airports for both people and commerce. 

The Role of the Transportation Security Administration

The TSA’s primary role is airport security to prevent aircraft hijacking. While the public only sees security checkpoints, X-ray machines, and dog sniffers, there is a lot of behind-the-scenes work as well. TSA reviews many lists of passengers and compares them to individuals who are a known security risk. They take this list and do additional screening for some passengers. They also have to make sure passengers on some of these lists do not make it onto the plane. Only then can they examine and screen each passenger and their baggage to look for anything suspicious

TSA Security Measures

As mentioned above, TSA has implemented many measures and checkpoints to ensure safe traveling for the public. Some of these measures are visible to the public, such as the TSA screener and checkpoints, but others are not. Below are a few additional behind-the-scenes checkpoints/layers the TSA employs to ensure the safest travel experience possible:

  • Intelligence gathering and analysis.
  • Checking passenger manifests against watch lists.
  • Random canine searches at airports.
  • Federal air marshals.
  • Federal flight deck officers.

The Training of New TSA Personnel

It’s important to take a step back and understand how TSA Agents are trained (After they pass the TSA hiring process and the TSA CBT test).

Transportation Security Officers are now trained at the new Virginia official Law Enforcement Training Center, which includes two stages of training.

Prior to opening the educational TSA Headquarters in 2016, training was very ad-hoc and conducted at various airports around the country. Now the two phases of training are methodological, including all the tools and resources the new security officer needs to succeed.

Phase 1

In this phase, new TSA Personnel will gain fundamental knowledge and basic technical skills needed to do the job. They learn everything from terrorist threat detection to checking travel documents, understanding screening policies, using X-ray equipment while developing effective communication, and much more.

Phase 2

The phase focuses on procedures, intensive training exercises on equipment, receiving lessons from certified explosives specialists, attending lectures, and more.

In both phases of training, the future Transportation Security Officers must score a minimum of 70 to pass.

Federal Air Marshals

The Federal Air Marshal Service deploys Air Marshals (FAMs) on U.S. aircraft worldwide. Since 1961, their job is to protect the public and assess situations at airports. They are undercover armed federal law enforcement officers on some passenger flights. They are there to protect travelers and crew against any violence or terrorist activities on the flight.

Federal Air Marshals are very highly trained undercover officers who provide additional passenger safety. They receive extensive training to ensure safety on flights. As they are undercover, they are sometimes also known as “the quiet professionals.” They are highly trained and ready to perform alone in very stressful situations. There is no doubt that the frontline work of the TSA has eased the work of marshals.

Transportation Security Officers

As mentioned above, only some of the security measures implemented are visible to the public. Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) are the public-facing officers that air travelers see at airports every day. While stationed at over 440 airports nationwide, TSOs screen over 2 million passengers each day. They are specifically trained to spot items on the prohibited list, and each day uncover an average of nine firearms.

It’s important for TSA Agents to be detail-oriented and very observant. They are also dealing with a variety of people and personalities each day so they need to have some customer service training as well. It’s important for TSOs to know what to do in stressful situations and be able to act quickly and appropriately. TSOs are an integral part of the TSA.

TSA Pre✓™

The Transportation Security Administration is always evolving and trying to improve its processes and equipment. TSA must stay ahead of things to prevent terrorist attacks and keep the public safe. However, the Transportation Security Administration TSA operations found that this does not always need to come at the expense of expediency.

TSA Pre✓™ was one of the first major improvements, devised back in 2013. The TSA Pre✓™ expedites the screening process at airport security for travelers. Travelers that enroll in this program share a good amount of information with TSA for a faster screening process on the day of travel. TSA Pre✓™ is a separate process for in-line travelers and significantly reduces wait time and stress on the security checkpoint transportation systems.

TSA Introduces Behavior Detection Officers

Nearly 10 years after the signing of the Transportation Security Act, in 2011, the Transportation Security administration understood that to safely ensure freedom of movement for people across the country takes more than advanced technology or a good pat-down. Initially, the question of using behavior detection officers for counter-terrorism was fraught with doubt. In 2008, for instance, the National Academy of Sciences put out a study doubting the “linkages between behavioral and physiological markers” of those holding terrorist ideologies.

Support for Behavioral Pre-Aviation Movement

However, in 2015 a comprehensive report to congress submitted by Transportation Security Administration TSA put this to rest. The report compiled 189 scientific documents highlighting the need for behavior detection, noting:

“Behavior detection is a vital component of the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) overall security posture. In order to stay ahead of evolving threats, there must be a security capability that transcends current technological solutions and can remain flexible in order to protect the homeland. Behavior detection is such a capability and provides the means to identify potentially high-risk individuals when the method of attack is not readily known or may otherwise escape detection.”

Safeguarding America’s Transportation Systems

Over the past 20 years, the TSA has ensured freedom of movement for people and commerce across the country. While a tremendous amont of criticism has been launched against the organation, let’s be honest, there has not been a single successful attack since its founding.
There is no role in the TSA that is easy, and each position takes a lot of training and experience. While traveling may not always be easy and quick, the agency is doing their best to enhance both security and the travel experience through innovative technologies, methods, and policies.