Editor's note: This story and its headline have been clarified to show that the Department of Homeland Security has not indicated it plans to use body scanners to tighten security at transportation sites beyond airports.
The next step in tightened security could be on U.S. public transportation, trains and boats.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says terrorists will continue to look for U.S. vulnerabilities, making tighter security standards necessary.
“[Terrorists] are going to continue to probe the system and try to find a way through,” Napolitano said in an interview that aired Monday night on "Charlie Rose."
“I think the tighter we get on aviation, we have to also be thinking now about going on to mass transit or to trains or maritime. So, what do we need to be doing to strengthen our protections there?”
Napolitano’s comments, made a day before one of the nation’s busiest travel days, come in the wake of a public outcry over newly implemented airport screening measures that have been criticized for being too invasive.
The secretary has defended the new screening methods, which include advanced imaging systems and pat-downs, as necessary to stopping terrorists. During the interview with Rose, Napolitano said her agency is now looking into ways to make other popular means of travel safer for passengers and commuters.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, introduced legislation this past September that would authorize testing of body scanners at some federal buildings.
Napolitano’s comments were in response to the question: “What will they [terrorists] be thinking in the future?” She gave no details about how soon the public could see changes in security or about what additional safety measures the DHS was entertaining.
The recently implemented airport screening methods have made John Pistole, who heads the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the focus of growing public ire.
On Monday, Pistole said he understood peoples’ privacy concerns and that the TSA would consider modifying its screening policies to make them “as minimally invasive as possible,” but he indicated the advanced-imaging body scans and pat-down methods would remain in place in the short term, including during the high-volume Thanksgiving period of travel.
Lawmakers from both parties have received hundreds of complaints about the new methods — some have likened the pat-downs to groping — and have called on Pistole to address the privacy concerns of their constituents, who were not informed about changes ahead of time.
Many lawmakers say the public should have been informed before the pat-downs and body-imaging techniques were put into practice. As a result, any move to implement new security screening measures for rail or water passengers is likely to be met with tough levels of scrutiny from lawmakers.
Pistole, who spent 26 years with the FBI, told reporters Monday that he rejected the advice of media aides who advised him to publicize the revised security measures before they took effect. Terrorist groups have been known to study the TSA’s screening methods in an attempt to circumvent them, he said.
Napolitano said she hoped the U.S. could get to a place in the future where Americans would not have to be as guarded against terrorist attacks as they are and that she was actively promoting research into the psychology of how a terrorist becomes radicalized.
“The long-term [question] is, how do we get out of this having to have an ever-increasing security apparatus because of terrorists and a terrorist attack?” she said. “I think having a better understanding of what causes someone to become a terrorist will be helpful."
DHS and intelligence officials are not as far along in understanding that process as they would like, Napolitano said, adding that until that goal is reached, steps need to be put in place to ensure the public’s safety.
“We don’t know much,” she said. “If you were to try and devise a template about what connects this terrorist to this terrorist and how they were raised and what schools they went to and their socioeconomic status, or this or that, it’s all over the map.
“I think there’s some important work that’s being done on that but … the Secretary of Homeland Security cannot wait for that.”