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TSA blog answers questions, explains security

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

In an attempt to shed light on the sometimes mysterious process of security, the Transportation Security Administration is now publishing a blog that answers questions and explains officials' thinking.

In a recent post on the online journal, Kip Hawley, TSA administrator, wrote about attempts to balance standard security procedures with the individual officer's intuition and creativity. The post, published on the TSA's new blog on Sunday morning, sounds as if Hawley is just thinking out loud and inviting the public to participate in his thoughts.

"We were putting [officers] in situations where they had to do things 'because it's [standard operating procedure],' whether or not it made sense," he wrote. "It was not helpful for public credibility or for keeping our people sharp. Since nobody would care that we followed the 'SOP' precisely if there was a successful attack, and since our enemy can observe our SOP and plan ways to beat it -- we needed something more."

By midnight that night, about 30 people had posted comments in response to Hawley's post, some in support, some with questions, some railing against the TSA and accusing it of being inconsistent, stupid, uncivil, invasive and in violation of the constitution. By the middle of the afternoon on Tuesday, more than 80 comments had been posted to the blog discussing security.

"What makes this particularly important," said Jon Allen, a TSA spokesman, "is that there isn't a whole lot of time for that type of discussion or spirited debate when you're going through screening. When you're going through the checkpoint, there's enough on your mind. We wanted to provide some type of forum where people can ask some of these questions."

Online since Jan. 30, TSA officials have posted 14 times, discussing airline security from the very specific details (How come airport employees aren't adhering to the liquid ban in Denver?) to the general policies (such as shoe checks and liquid bans).

Hawley, in a public release announcing the blog, said that the public's perception of the TSA is often nothing more than that experience being screened at the airport. He said a lot of the TSA's procedures often appear baffling and arbitrary, because they're unexplained. The blog, he said, can explain the TSA's attempts to stay ahead of security threats.

Entitled, "Evolution of Security," the blog's mission is stated in a header: "Terrorists Evolve. Threats Evolve. Security Must Stay Ahead. You Play A Part."

The primary purpose of the blog is to explain why TSA does what it does, serving as a sort of digital ombudsman for the federal agency, but Allen thinks the whole experiment will also make everyone safer.

"The more people know about the procedure, the more people know what to expect, the more uneventful it becomes," he said. "If there's one more person that the [security officers] don't have to tell about the liquid ban, then that's enabling them to concentrate as much as they can on the things they really want to make sure don't pass through security. Having armed everybody with knowledge is going to help them, individually, and it's going to help their fellow passengers, and it's going to help us."

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On the web:

www.tsa.gov/blog