Securing Transportation: The Technology and Strategies Protecting Tomorrow’s Travel

Published: April 17, 2019


On April 11, 2019, Noblis brought together federal and industry leaders across the aviation and security communities for the Securing Transportation: The Technology and Strategies Protecting Tomorrow’s Travel event. The opening remarks were made by Anna Peyton, Vice President of Events, Government Executive Media Group and Dr. Jordin Cohen, Vice President, Defense and Homeland Security, Noblis. The key message of this event was to discuss the collaborative effort between public and private sector aviation stakeholders to secure US airports post-9/11. Through the use of modern technology, such as, facial recognition/biometric collection; AI/machine learning; and more, ever-growing potential threats are being mitigated for safer consumer travel.

The Keynote speaker was Patricia Cogswell, Acting Deputy Administrator, Transportation Security Administration. During the Opening Keynote, Cogswell explained the importance of threat environment awareness. In order to secure our airports, more than airplane checkpoints need to be in place. Rapid screening is necessary to look for unknown bad guys, not just known. Paying attention to anomalous information helps with that. This pertains to more advanced threats as well, such as insider threats. To avoid these threats, processes are required to understand what normal and irregular behavior is. Public/Private partnerships play a huge role in enforcing these safety measures. It is important that those who share the same interests/needs match in order to create a like-minded workspace. This is a community trying to reach a common goal.

During the “Technology for Securing Tomorrow’s Entry Points: Maintaining a Proactive Posture” panel, the speakers focused on the discussion of modern technology, specifically facial recognition. The speakers included: 

  • John Wagner, Deputy Executive Assistant Commissioner, Office of Field Operations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection
  • Jonathan McEntee, Acting Director, Border, Immigration and Maritime Security, Science and Technology Directorate, Department of Homeland Security
  • Goutam Kundu, Senior Vice President of Technology and Chief Information Officer, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority
  • Chris Barnett, Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Noblis
  • Moderator: Dr. Chris Reynolds, Dean, Academic Outreach & Program Development, American Public University System

Facial recognition has given us the opportunity to use our face as passports/other identification methods. The Biometric Collection Process was heavily discussed during this panel. Before this, a departure control process was not set in place. This procedure helps identify whether further inspection on a person is needed and gives the capability to learn more about a person in two to three seconds. The tool can be used through something as simple as an app on an iPad or through a designated gate area in an airport. The method is easy, intuitive, and accurate. It has been noted by customers and employees that the ease of use has allowed for an improved experience for both parties. When asked about security concerns with the black market and dark web, the panelists answered that this has been discussed. “If you can think it, it is possible.” In order to prepare for these circumstances, the technology has been very well encrypted. If broken into, all that appears are one’s and zero’s. In addition, this is information that is already been being used. Biometrics just matches pictures to information.

“Examining the Present Lens: Modern Airport Security Posture and the Passenger Experience” was presented by Scott Johnson, Federal Security Director, Washington-Dulles International Airport, TSA and moderated by Dr. Chris Reynolds, Dean, Academic Outreach & Program Development, American Public University System. As the Federal Security Director at Washington-Dulles International Airport, Johnson discussed a recent threat at Dulles and how it was avoided. To summarize, on March 28, 2019, a man was accused of plotting ISIS inspired attacks at both Dulles and the National Harbor. From there, the discussion led into different technology that is currently being used to enhance security, such as: Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT), Credential Authentication Technology/Boarding Pass Scanning System, and Facial Recognition. When asked of the impact on the changing technology on the workforce, Johnson stated that it will be more driven to find people to drive that new technology.

The Spotlight Session on the Transportation Security Laboratory was presented by Dr. Christopher Smith, Director, Transportation Security Laboratory, Science and Technology Directorate, Department of Homeland Security. It was discussed that Computed Tomography (CT) technology will revolutionize the checkpoint and be able to quickly find traditional threats. CT scans are an x-ray procedure that create a 3-D image to detect for explosives that is then thoroughly examined by a TSA officer. Incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) allows for quicker auto clearance. Normally, a TSA officer will spend 30-60 seconds determining if a threat is present. To save time, AI is needed for auto clearance. Machines will be able to find traditional threats and pass them onto humans for further investigation and determine if a threat is present. The return on investment of machine learning is stunningly good, but still needs to be asked what is missing. You cannot ask AI why it thought something was a threat – its decisions cannot be explained. However, the performance is great and the machine is able to learn more over time and get better at its job.

With more innovative and advanced technologies coming forth, the future of transportation security is looking bright. Even with this technological progression, it was greatly emphasized that humans are still desired. Higher education in both cybersecurity and information technology will be the driving force to continue these developments. The intuitiveness of humans is what has technology, such as artificial intelligence, beat. That being said, it is best to leave machines doing what they do best and leave people doing what people do best.