Transportation Security's Handling of Sensitive Security Information
by Jim Kouri, CPP
Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, federal agencies have faced the challenge of protecting sensitive information from terrorists and others without a need to know while sharing this information with parties who are determined to have such a need.
One form of protection involves identifying and marking such information sensitive but unclassified -- information that is generally restricted from public disclosure but not designated as classified national security information. The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Transportation Security Administration (TSA) requires that certain information be protected from public disclosure as part of its responsibility for securing all modes of transportation.
TSA, through its authority to protect information as sensitive security information (SSI), prohibits the public disclosure of information obtained or developed in the conduct of security activities that, for example, would be detrimental to transportation security.
According to TSA, SSI may be generated by TSA, other DHS agencies, airports, aircraft operators, and other regulated parties when they, for example, establish or implement security programs or create documentation to address security requirements. Section 525 of the DHS Appropriations Act, 2007, required the Secretary of DHS to revise Management Directive (MD) 11056, which establishes DHS policy regarding the recognition, identification, and safeguarding of SSI.
In addition to answering this mandate, analysts from the Government Accountability Office are following up on a June 2005 report in which they recommended that DHS direct the Administrator of TSA to establish guidance and procedures for using TSA regulations to determine what constitutes SSI, establish responsibility for the identification and determination of SSI, and create and promulgate policies and procedures within TSA for providing training to those making SSI determinations.
In addition, GAO recommended internal controls that define responsibilities for monitoring compliance with SSI regulations, policies, and procedures and communicate these responsibilities throughout TSA.
To respond to the mandate and update the status of all GAO recommendations, analysts assessed DHS's status in establishing criteria and examples for identifying SSI; efforts in providing training to those that identify and designate SSI; processes for responding to requests to release SSI, including the legislative mandate to review various types of requests to release SSI; and efforts in establishing internal controls that define responsibilities for monitoring SSI policies and procedures.
DHS, primarily through TSA's SSI Office, has addressed all of the legislative mandates from the DHS Appropriations Act, 2007, and taken actions to satisfy all of the recommendations from the June 2005 GAO report.
DHS revised its MD to address the need for updating SSI guidance, and TSA has established more extensive SSI criteria and examples that respond to requirements in the DHS Appropriations Act, 2007, and GAO's 2005 recommendation that TSA establish guidance and procedures for using TSA regulations to determine what constitutes SSI.
TSA's SSI Office is in the process of providing SSI training to all of TSA's employees and contractors in accordance with its recently established policies and procedures, an action that responds to the 2005 recommendation. The office uses a "train the trainer" program in which it instructs SSI program managers and coordinators who are then expected to train appropriate staff in their respective agencies and programs.
Several aspects of the SSI training program that analysts evaluated are consistent with GAO-identified components of a strategic training program. TSA has taken actions to incorporate feedback and establish policies to collect data to evaluate its training program and foster continuous improvement.
Consistent with the legislative mandate, DHS has taken actions to update its processes to respond to requests to release SSI. Specifically, DHS revised MD 11056 in accordance with the DHS Appropriations Act, 2007, to incorporate a provision that all requests to publicly release SSI will be reviewed in a timely manner, including SSI that is at least 3 years old.
Between February 2006 and January 2007, the SSI Office received 490 requests to review records pertaining to the release of SSI, the majority of which came from government entities (62 percent). The SSI Office worked with the requesting government entity to agree upon a time frame for processing the request. Within the same 12-month period, 30 percent of requests were initiated by the public under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
The SSI Office has established a process for reviewing information requested through the FOIA process in 5 days, unless the information consists of more than 100 pages. The remaining 8 percent of requests within the 12-month period came from individuals in connection with litigation, including civil proceedings within the US District Courts. The internal controls that TSA designed for SSI are consistent with governmentwide requirements and respond to GAO's 2005 recommendation.
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police. He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for a number of organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. He writes for many police and crime magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer, Campus Law Enforcement Journal, and others. He's appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com, Booksamillion.com, and can be ordered at local bookstores. Kouri holds a bachelor of science in criminal justice and master of arts in public administration and he's a board certified protection professional.