President Barack Obama's nominee to oversee security at US airports said on Tuesday he wants to shift screening closer to the Israeli model to include more behavior detection in a bid to thwart terrorism plots.
Retired Major General Robert Harding was nominated earlier this month to head the Transportation Security Administration after serving more than three decades in the military, including a stint as deputy to the Army's chief of intelligence and director for operations in the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Aviation security has received heightened attention in recent months after a Nigerian man tried to blow up a US commercial airliner flying from Amsterdam to Detroit last Christmas with a bomb hidden in his underwear.
Harding said that while the Israeli security system was smaller, it offered a blueprint for trying to thwart terrorism plots in the aviation system, which has remained a target for militant groups like al-Qaeda.
"We should move even closer to an Israeli model where there's more engagement with passengers," Harding told the Senate Commerce Committee that is considering his nomination. "I think that increases the layers and pushes the layers out."
He said the TSA had about 2,000 behavioral detection officers and that expanded training was needed.
The top TSA position has been filled by an acting administrator since Obama took office in January 2009. His first pick for the job, Erroll Southers, withdrew from consideration when Republicans questioned whether he would try to unionize the workforce that screens travelers and luggage at U.S. airports.
Southers also came under fire for testimony he gave to the Senate about a reprimand he received in the 1980s.
Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, the top Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, questioned Harding about the potential for the 48,000 screening officers unionizing.
"Previous TSA administrators have said that they would be very, very concerned about collective bargaining, not allowing the flexibility that you need to be able to deploy forces to a certain area of an airport or to a certain airport," she said.
Harding said all sides agreed on the need for the TSA to have "flexibility" to move screeners quickly to respond to a crisis and that he and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano agreed security was the foremost priority.
"Again, we both agree, senator, that we would never bargain away security, but we probably also both agree that I would really need to do I think an in-depth and thorough review before I inform the secretary of my recommendation," Harding told the panel.