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Covert Testing

Security Screening

What is Covert Testing?

Photo of an older bomb device

Covert testing in aviation security dates back to the 1970s when airport security checkpoints were first created. What started as rudimentary mock bombs and guns being snuck through the airport has evolved to highly sophisticated systems, used by expert testers with insider knowledge. These experts not only know the system better than anyone, they have the distinct advantage of not being subjected to TSA's 18 other layers of security in addition to the checkpoint. Today's covert testers are the best in the history of aviation in the U.S. and are testing security with items as small as a pen cap.

Why is Covert Testing Important?

Photo of a modern detonator

Many people think the purpose of covert testing is to catch an officer missing an object. While this makes surprising headlines in newspapers and scares the public, the reality is that covert testing is a tool to identify vulnerabilities in the system and uncover weaknesses of training, procedures or technology. It is not designed to test an individual officer or airport but to act as a measure of system-wide effectiveness and drive improvement through training.

It would be simple to make covert testing nothing more than a rubber stamp of security, reverting back to pre-9/11 test kits and touting success rates in the high 90 percentages but that wouldn't provide the critical feedback and adaptive training input required to counter today's terrorist.

Photo of a camera with a bomb detonator

The 9/11 hijackers exploited a static system, one that was easy to navigate around and worked inflexibly. Today's covert testers are one of the best assets we have to continually raise the bar on security. In fact, as security officers adapt and begin to consistently discover covert testing methods, testers start all over again, creating more difficult and harder-to-detect tests. This years' long game of cat and mouse more closely simulates real terrorist probing and operations and keeps officers alert and informed of the latest techniques and improvements.

Types of Testing

Testing of officers takes many forms, some of these include:

Photo of a TSO looking at an x-ray monitor

How Covert Testing Benefits Security

Photo of an airplane flying

Covert testing is a critical element of the aviation security system. It measures effectiveness, identifies vulnerabilities, constantly adapts to challenge officers while incorporating intelligence in a useable way. Simply put, without difficult, adapting covert testing, the aviation security system would not be as effective as it is.

Some best practices developed as a result of covert testing include; placing testing bomb kits at every checkpoint in the nation to help officers familiarize themselves with bombs and components, enhanced scrutiny of shoes and other bulky clothing and many other significant enhancements.