TSA Timeline and History
Here you will find interesting information about the history of the TSA, founded following the traumatic events of September 11, 2001.
On September 11, 2001, nine members of the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization hijacked four U.S. aircrafts. Two of these crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York, another hit the Pentagon and the last crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. 2,977 people were killed in these attacks, considered to date to be the deadliest terrorist attack in human history.
On November 19, 2001, two months and eight days after the attacks, President George W. Bush signed the act authorizing the creation of the TSA. The act mandated passenger screening at airports by federal officials (instead of by private companies), full examination of all baggage, establishing the Federal Air Marshal Service, and reinforcement of cockpit doors. The TSA's overall mission is to protect all modes of transportation in the United States.
On December 22, 2001, a bomb attack was attempted on board American Airlines Flight 63 which was traveling from Paris to Miami. Richard Reid, a self-proclaimed member of Al-Qaeda, carried with him shoes filled with two types of explosives, which he unsuccessfully tried to light on the plane. He was neutralized and arrested after the plane landed safely in Boston. He was later sentenced to life in prison.
Prior to September 11, 2001, only 5% of baggage was screened. On December 31, 2002, a signed warrant was issued, dictating that from that day on all checked baggage would be examined for explosives at all airports in the United States.
The Federal Flight Deck Officer Program (FFDO) was established in early 2003 and the first 44 FFDOs completed training in April 2003 at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC). This program constitutes one of the security layers and allows for the arming of air crew members, including pilots. The first armed pilots flew commercial flights as early as 2003.
In accordance with the 2002 ruling, as of April 2003, all cockpit doors for commercial flights were reinforced to protect them from unauthorized intrusions, bullets, and grenade-type explosives.
On March 11, 2004, exactly two and a half years after the September 11 attacks, the Madrid attacks took place. Several bombs planted on trains in the city by members of the terrorist group Al-Qaeda exploded simultaneously, killing nearly 200 people.
As of September 16, 2004, passengers were to remove their jackets before passing through security. Additionally, individuals without boarding passes were no longer allowed to pass through security checkpoints.
As of December 17, 2004, butane lighters were prohibited on board aircraft.
In response to the Madrid attacks, the TSA created the VIPR (Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response) teams. These security teams are primarily responsible for protecting non-air mass transit systems (buses, trains).
On August 9, 2006, an attempted attack on 10 transatlantic airline flights at London Heathrow Airport was foiled. The terrorists' plan was to detonate liquid bombs disguised as soda. The plot was unveiled by British police during a surveillance operation. In response, the TSA banned transport of all liquids, gels, and aerosols, in carry-on baggage. These measures were lightened over time, but even today it is forbidden to transport liquids with a volume of over 100ml in flights leaving from most countries.
On August 10, 2006, the TSA began requiring all passengers to remove their shoes at security checkpoints.
In addition to these new security measures, the TSA began deploying Federal Air Marshals (FAMS) outside the United States, in order to ensure the safety of international flights.
The TSA further strengthened security measures at airports; the number of random screenings of employees were increased, canine patrols were added, air cargo security measures were strengthened, identity verification standards were tightened, and security officers better trained in bomb detection and screening through observation techniques were deployed.
On 25 September, 2006, the TSA cancelled the total ban on the transport of liquids in favor of the new regulation, known as the "3-1-1 rule".
The TSA deployed new canine teams to assist the screening of all air cargo on U.S. flights. The canine program was then extended to all airport passenger and baggage checks.
On December 25, 2009, a terrorist named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to detonate a bomb hidden in his underwear (made of the same materials as the bomb prepared by Richard Reid in 2001), whilst travelling on board an Amsterdam-Detroit flight. The bomb failed to detonate and instead his leg caught fire. He was arrested at the Detroit airport, where he was interrogated by the FBI and found to have connections to Al-Qaeda. He was sentenced to life in prison.
The TSA began the installation of hundreds of body scanners with advanced imaging technology at U.S. airports. These scanners can detect non-metallic explosives as well as other threats which can be hidden under clothing and evade detection by traditional metal scanners.
In June 2010, the TSA achieved its goal of completing 100 percent pre-screening through its Secure Flight program, covering all domestic flights to and from the U.S.
On October 29, 2010, two bombs were discovered on two separate planes flying from Yemen to the U.S., during stop-overs at Dubai and in the UK. The bombs were hidden inside printer ink cartridges and were undetectable by scanners and canine teams. The bombs were intended to explode mid-air over major U.S. cities, but were detected before by the British and UAE authorities due to a tip-off from a Saudi-Arabian government official.
Following the attempted attack on October 29, all air cargo from Yemen was suspended indefinitely. Passengers are now prohibited from carrying ink cartridges in their carry-on baggage.
As of December 2010, 500 scanners are now available at U.S. airports.
In December 2011, the TSA launched the TSA PreCheck® program at McCarran International Airport (LAS), located near Las Vegas. This screening program allows for passenger risk assessments prior to arrival at airport checkpoints. It provides passengers with faster screening at checkpoints, while allowing the TSA to focus on unknown passengers in the program.
In May 2012, a plot to detonate a more advanced version of the so-called "underwear bomb" carried by an Al-Qaeda terrorist in December 2009, was foiled by the CIA. The attack was intended to explode in mid-air on the anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death.
Following criticism of the body scanners used at airports, labeled as too revealing and thus violations of passenger privacy, all of them were replaced by different scanners that created generic avatars of the passengers instead of naked images.
The TSA began allowing transport of small Swiss knife-type pocketknives in passengers' carry-on baggage. This decision was highly controversial amongst airport security teams.
Transport of pocketknives in carry-on luggage was once again prohibited by the TSA.
The first TSA PreCheck® check-in center opened at Indianapolis International Airport. Permanent U.S. citizens over the age of 18 can apply for the program by providing personal details, fingerprint identification, payment method, and proof of citizenship or immigration documents. These measures allow the TSA to improve airport security by focusing on persons unknown to the agency.
On December 25, 2014, five years after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's attempted bombing attack, Al-Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula's online magazine published an edition dedicated to the autonomous manufacturing of airplane bombs, providing details on how to create these bombs as well as advice regarding their placement on planes.
Following this publication, the TSA strengthened security and explosive detection systems by body scanners, in addition to existing technologies.
Following an increase in attempts to create bombs embedded in electronic devices or hidden on the bodies of individuals, the TSA established research teams dedicated to the improvement of bomb detection and resolution capabilities. The agency also improved screening at airports outside the United States that provided direct flights to the U.S., in addition to increasing the number of random passenger and carry-on baggage searches at airports.
The TSA began deploying automated screening lanes with state-of-the-art technology – the RFID-based system. The system consists of automated conveyor belts that transport the bags to the X-ray machines whilst data is transmitted to the system via ultra-high frequency Radio Frequency Identification Tags attached to each bin. The system allowed the TSA to improve the traceability of items, in addition to the use of regular cameras taking photos of the bags and linking X-ray images of their contents.
The TSA implemented advanced security measures at international airports providing direct flights to the United States, including the addition and improvement of aircraft security protocols, canine screening teams, and electronic device verification methods.
Security measures for checking electronic devices were further improved. Passengers were now required to remove all electronic devices larger than a mobile phone from their carry-on bags and place them in trays separate from the rest of their belongings, before proceeding through an x-ray machine. All the while, the TSA continued to strengthen security measures at airports and airlines.
As of January 22, 2018, state-issued driving licenses or ID cards that do not comply with the Real ID Act and are unauthorized by the DHS (Department of Homeland Security) are no longer accepted as valid methods of identification in flights within the United States.
In 2020 the TSA headquarters, originally located in Pentagon City, Virginia, relocated to Springfield, Virginia.