WASHINGTON: With war raging in Iraq and the threat of retaliatory strikes looming at home, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is looking to increase overseas coverage of US anti-terrorism activities to deter would-be attackers.
In coordination with the State Department, the TSA has in recent weeks begun hosting foreign press tours of the Federal Air Marshall training program. The images of heavily armed, well-trained agents in airports and on commercial flights are expected not only to warn international travelers of the new restrictions, but make anti-American operatives think twice before taking action.
"There are two audiences we want to try and serve as part of this effort," said TSA director of communications and public information Robert Johnson.
"The first is international travelers, who should be prepared to deal with this new level of security when they come through US airports. The second message we're trying to deliver is to terrorists, that we have gotten better at this," he explained. "Our systems are vastly improved.
We are one step ahead of them."
Johnson, whose department was created in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and is still being transitioned into the Department of Homeland Security, characterized the foreign media's response thus far as encouraging.
"If last week is any indication, there is global interest in what we're doing," he said. "We had seven TV networks from around the world on this first trip, and some print outlets."
This month also marks the beginning, on a limited basis, of the TSA's handgun-training program for commercial pilots - a setting Johnson described as another appropriate photo op for deterring potential attackers. However, because Congress decided not to fund the program, the TSA is paying for the initial class of 48 from its own budget. If Congress continues to deny funding, Johnson said, the program might not survive long enough to serve a PR purpose.
In addition, Johnson's team is creating a similar media campaign for its counterpart North of the border, the Canadian Air Transport Authority (CATA).
"So many travelers come to us through Canada, we thought it was important to tell them what they can do to make it easier on all of us," Johnson explained. "There it's more of a travel-related message."
The CATA was also developed after September 11, and hence is still in start-up mode. The campaign will gain steam, Johnson said, once that agency is better situated.