before they can do harm again is, of course, one reason to investigate and seek attribution. Another is to learn from the attack in order to prevent future ones. Following the September 11 attacks, data were gathered from the air traffic control system and used to reconstruct the timing and pattern of the four airline hijackings. These analyses could prove helpful in improving the monitoring of traffic and recognizing the early signs of an attack. How best to develop such investigative capabilities—much as cockpit voice recorder and flight data boxes are critical for reconstructing airline crashes—is a potentially important avenue of inquiry.


The Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2001, which created TSA, set forth a series of responsibilities and deadlines for the agency, from the assumption of airline passenger and baggage screening functions to the deployment of air marshals and explosives detection systems at commercial airports. Whereas most of the act’s provisions deal exclusively with civil aviation, it also gives TSA a broader security mandate—affecting all transport modes—that includes the following statutory responsibilities:

  • Receive, assess, and distribute intelligence information related to transportation security;

  • Assess threats to transportation;

  • Develop policies, strategies, and plans for protecting against threats to transportation, mitigating damage from attacks, and responding to and recovering from attacks;

  • Make other plans related to transportation security, including coordination of countermeasures with appropriate departments and agencies;

  • Serve as the primary liaison for transportation security to the intelligence and law enforcement communities;

  • Enforce security-related regulations and requirements;

  • Inspect, maintain, and test security facilities, equipment, and systems;

  • Ensure the adequacy of security measures for the transportation of cargo; and

  • Identify and undertake research and development activities necessary to enhance transportation security.

The many new and challenging operational and implementation requirements laid out in the act are understandably consuming much of TSA’s financial and organizational resources, and they are likely to continue to do so for some time. Nevertheless, the overarching mission responsibilities listed above are essential to TSA’s success and cannot remain neglected for long. The following

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