(CNSNews.com) - Using airplanes as guided missiles "is still the crown jewel of ISIS and Al Qaida," Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told a hearing on Thursday.
McCaul called for quicker action to roll out technology using computed tomography, or CT scans, that use X-rays to provide more detailed pictures of what is contained in luggage.
"As you know, with the laptop threat -- the ability to convert laptops into bombs and explosive devices to blow up airplanes, possibly inbound flights in the United States...I think I speak for almost every member of this committee that we need to take quicker action," McCaul told Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke.
"There is technology available today, there are pilot programs today using computed tomography. It's like going from an X-ray to an MRI. We -- a lot of us in the committee have seen this," McCaul said. "And so I've sent you a letter requesting this technology be deployed, not in 2018 or 2019, but as soon as possible, given the nature of the threat that exists. Can you respond to that letter?" McCaul asked Duke.
Duke said she agrees that CT scans are an "essential part of our plan to raise the baseline of aviation security. We are currently developing the algorithms necessary to fully deploy that, and -- agree with you -- it is essential for our TSA future."
McCaul urged Duke to deploy the CT technology today and to stop buying X-ray machines. He said the software for the CT technology could be upgraded when it becomes available at a later date.
Again, Duke agreed. "We are moving -- we are already procuring some," she said. She said the "algorithms" involve "running different materials" through the machines to make sure they can detect "what we need them to detect."
"That's in process now, and we are, along with our foreign partners, working on making that the new standard for passenger baggage."
The Transportation Security Administration announced this past June that in partnership with American Airlines, it had set up CT scanners at one checkpoint lane at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. A second "demonstration project" was later established at one checkpoint lane at Boston's Logan International Airport.
Appearing at the hearing with Duke, Nicholas Rasmussen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, mentioned the "resurgence of aviation threats" as "reaching a level of concern that we in the intelligence community have not faced since AQAP's printer package plot back in 2010."
Rasmussen noted the "long history" of terrorists "seeking innovative means to carry out aviation attacks."
"And aviation has taken center stage again this year, as evidenced by Australian authorities disrupting a plot back in July by terrorists to bring explosives aboard an aircraft," Rasmussen said. "Terrorists have shown themselves to be persistent out-of-the-box thinkers with respect to aviation. Aviation-related threats have long been, and will remain near or at the top of the things that demand our focused attention."
Rasmussen also mentioned another concern -- the potential for terrorists to use drones as threats to aviation or to events on the ground.
Secretary Elaine Duke agreed that unmanned aircraft systems are a "major, increasing threat."
"This is an area where we lack authority," she said. "And, if there is anything I would ask of the committee, it would be to assist us in getting authority. We can't even do testing of anti-UAS systems with our current authorities," she said.
Chairman McCaul said he thinks it's time for Congress to consider legislation that would move some authorities regarding drone oversight from the Federal Aviation Administration to the Department of Homeland Security. “And I -- and I would very much like to work with you," he told Duke.