WASHINGTON – This weekend marks the beginning of the Thanksgiving holiday travel surge. More than 23 million passengers are expected at the nation's airports, and to make travel a little less hectic, the federal Transportation Security Administration is showcasing some major changes to airline security.
In one key change, kids 12 and younger won't need to take off their sneakers at the screening check points. Although that change has been in place for a couple of months, the Thanksgiving rush is its first major test.
TSA chief John Pistole told Fox News that the new approach is driven by the intelligence gathered on potential threats.
“Children themselves, of course, are not terrorists. But we also know that they can be used by terrorists to do bad things, which we've seen overseas," he said. "Fortunately we haven't seen that here."
Pistole said the decisions also come down to measuring risk, because the TSA can’t protect every passenger and every airplane all of the time. “This is all about risk mitigation, risk management. It's not risk elimination,” Pistole emphasized, adding that kids are low risk compared to the shoe bomber who tried to bring down a jet over the Atlantic 10 years ago.
“The shoes Richard Reid had in December of '01 were large shoes, so simply from an explosives standpoint, smaller shoes, smaller feet – much less likely in terms of something bad.”
If there’s a problem, Pistole said, kids are allowed to pass through the screener a few times, or trace detection can be used to solve the problem in consultation with parents or a guardian.
There are other changes, too. About half of the full body scanners are now using new software that replaces the detailed outline of the body with a generic image -- after complaints that the detailed scans were an undue invasion of personal privacy. The TSA says the cost was not huge given the change involved upgrading software.
An anomaly shows up as an a brightly colored shape, and that area typically requires a pat-down.
Some of the other changes went out in a press release from the TSA. TSA officials say they are moving toward an intelligence-driven approach with the goal of identifying high risk passengers before they reach the airport.
Fox News chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge's bestselling book "The Next Wave: On the Hunt for al Qaeda's American Recruits," published by Crown, draws on her reporting for Fox News into the first American on the CIA’s kill or capture list, his new generation of recruits al Qaeda 2.0 and its takes the reader inside the attempt to prosecute the 9/11case.
Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.