Large numbers of non-members in TSA Precheck lines reveal TSA humbug

TSA in action. Photo by Dan Paluska

Pre-Check is the security program offered by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) which allows some air travelers to use “expedited security lanes” at some airport security checkpoints for both domestic and international travel.

Those passing through Pre-Check security lines avoid full body scanners and/or enhanced pat-downs and instead pass through metal detectors or are scanned with wands. Unlike in standard airport security lines, travelers in Pre-Check lines don’t have to remove their belt, shoes, or lightweight jackets. They can keep their liquids in baggies and laptops in their carry-on luggage while going through x-ray inspection.

TSA Pre-Check lines were instituted to permit pre-scanned or vetted air travelers to more quickly transit through security checkpoints at the airport.

Participants in the Pre-Check program include members of the military, airline frequent fliers invited by airlines, TSA assessed passengers, members of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) trusted traveler programs, as well as members of the TSA Precheck Application Program, and now, randomly chosen members of the “un-prechecked” general air traveling public. I’ll get back to that last category of participant in a moment.

Whether or not some air travelers should be allowed to pay to be vetted in advance, thereby — most of the time — being able to use lower security Pre-Check lines at the airport, is beyond the scope of this column, as is whether or not any TSA security practices are abusive or violate the US Constitution.

It is assumed that members of the military, traveling on their Department of Defense identification, are not security threats. TSA-assessed passengers are air travelers who have been screened through the TSA “Secure Flight System,” or by a combination of screening canines and Behaviour Detection Officers at the airport. Members of CBP trusted traveler programs such as Global Entry and TSA’s own Pre-Check Application Program have been vetted by Homeland Security.

Frequent flier participants chosen by the airlines participating in the Pre-Check program are presumed to be “safe” because of the high number of flights they have taken without incident.

The last of the participants are those members of the general air traveling public who are directed to the lower security Pre-Check lines despite having not been screened or vetted in any way whatsoever.

If you’ve been at the airport recently, I’m sure you’ve seen TSA officers direct many air travelers to the Pre-Check line who don’t have a Precheck authorization stamped on their boarding pass, mostly because the regular security lines are overburdened and the Precheck lines are under-utilized.

The fact that these unvetted and unscreened air passengers are being shunted through the Pre-Check lines is why, in my opinion, TSA has revealed their airport security to be mostly “humbug,” hokum, little more than security theater, play acting.

Here’s the problem. We have been bombarded by TSA saying how important the full body scanners and enhanced patdowns are to maintaining security for the air traveling public, unless the traveler has already been deemed “safe” through other security methods, such as vetting through a trusted traveler program or the Pre-Check Application program.

These full body scanners and enhanced pat-downs supplanted the metal detectors and wands, which are now used in the Pre-Check lines, which were deemed insufficient for the standard security lines used by the general air traveling public.

Now, however, many unvetted and unscreened air passengers are going through the Pre-Check line which, according to TSA’s own standards, are insufficient to screen those very members of the air traveling public.

As far as I can tell, this situation can infer only three possibilities.

1. The old style security systems used by TSA, of metal detectors and wands, were sufficient, so their replacement by full body scanners and enhanced pat-downs is little more than “empire building,” by TSA administrator; or

2. The need for TSA informational or behavioral screening or vetting via trusted traveler programs or the Pre-Check Application program is a waste of time, since they are putting unscreened and unvetted people through the line which was supposed to be limited to passengers “known” to be safe; or

3. Most of the security used at airport checkpoints by TSA, specifically full body scanners and enhanced pat-downs, are nothing more than security theater, play acting to make air travelers “feel” safer, without actually making air travelers safer.

By permitting just about anyone to go through the Pre-Check lines, the low level security lines at the airport, TSA has admitted they’ve been scamming Congress and the American public about airport security, the imposition of intrusive security measures such as enhanced pat-downs and wasting untold tax dollars with the purchase and use of full body scanners.

With the truth about TSA security revealed, I want to know what the Obama Adminstration and Congress are going to do about it. A good start would be to remove the full body scanners from the airports, ban the enhanced patdowns, and fire all upper level TSA administrators and their bosses at the Department of Homeland Security.

  • Susan Richart

    ALL passengers are vetted in some form or another, whether it be through a trusted traveler program, a pre-check background check or the TSA’s search of multiple databases before one is allowed a boarding pass. At least, the TSA tells us that all passengers’ are checked out before being allowed to board.

    (ETA: If the TSA does background checks on prospective passengers as well as it does background checks on its prospective employees, the said background checks are most likely useless.)

    If anyone believes that Pistole’s voodoo “officers” can assess the trustworthiness of passengers at the airport, then I have a bridge I’d like to offer to you at a bargain rate.

    Nude body scanners and enhanced or resolution pat downs aside, the worst thing about the current TSA procedures is that the disabled are rejected for pre-check every single time they attempt to go through a TSA checkpoint.

    These people must endure the humiliation and degradation of a full TSA screening, normally involving a degrading grope, whenever they want to board a plane.

    This is discrimination at its worst and is perpetrated upon these individuals by the very government that has declared such acts illegal.

    But back to the article. Yes, TSA security procedures are a scam and we have known that for years – at least people who are capable of thinking have known that for years.

    As for your last sentence which I have tried unsuccessfully to copy and paste several times, not only do all upper level TSA and DHS administrators need to be fired, they, PAST AND PRESENT, need to be prosecuted for lying to and stealing from the American public. The “stealing from….” phrase pertains to Michael Chertoff in particular, who has made millions promoting the use of nude body scanners.


    Apparently I could copy and paste the final sentence but it didn’t appear where I wanted it to appear.

  • LIz

    You can’t make a blanket statement saying “the disabled are rejected for pre-check every single time they attempt to go through a TSA checkpoint”. My Mom is disabled and she goes through pre-check just fine. More often than not, even though we’re flying on the same reservation, she gets a pre-check notice on her boarding pass and I don’t. She waits for me after the checkpoint.

  • Susan Richart

    Is your mother in a wheelchair? Does she wear a prosthesis? Does she have implants or another device which alarm the WTMD?

  • Tim Reed

    Okay, I’m a TSA-PRE and Global Entry and paid to have that. No I don’t just want anyone being put thru the pre-check line. I agree with Ned about what is TSA doing as an overall check. I think they are like lots of us who like new “toys” so it we can get the money we will spend it

  • VELS14

    I know many Precheck passengers who have no problem getting through Precheck with artificial knees, and hips, and spinal column cages. When the metal detector goes off, they are wanded then waved through.

    As for your constant nonsense with wanting prosecutions (I’ve seen your comments here and elsewhere.) it’s complete nonsense, and makes you sound like an extremist, and extremists get quickly dismissed by people who have power to change.

    These people need to go for sure, but if we are not logical about the situation and act like a bunch of looney tune characters no one will listen.

  • NedLevi

    Susan, I have disabled members in my family, though fortunately none in wheelchairs, at the current time, who have artificial joints which are immediately picked up by the metal detectors in the Precheck line. The TSA TSO’s pull them aside, speak with them for a moment or two, and find out that they have artificial knees or hips, for example, and then use MD Wands to check them. Once wanded they’re good to go. They’ve never been sent to the regular line for a full body scan, or enhanced patdown.

    As far as wheelchairs go, I’ve not been in a Precheck line personally with a wheelchair or traveling with someone with a wheelchair, but I did read an interesting Washington Post article in February, which talked about the people who paid via Global Entry, etc., to be in Precheck, and were saddled behind numerous wheelchairs in the Precheck line making the line move ridiculously slowly.

    Apparently many air travelers with wheelchairs and artificial limbs get through Precheck with few problems, if any, every day.

  • Lisa Simeone

    So TSA clerks who assault people shouldn’t be prosecuted? Interesting.

  • VELS14

    No TSA clerk touches anyone to start. The TSA personnel who perform the enhanced patdowns at airport security are known as Transportation Security Officers, and they have been duly authorized by TSA, part of the Dept. of Homeland Security to perform the enhanced patdowns, and use the full body scanners. It’s also true that under Federal Statute, Homeland Security, and TSA in particular have the power to require security scans of people, including personal patdowns.

    I know that to be true, because I had it checked by an attorney after I was patted down so hard that I screamed out in pain when my testicles were squeezed.

    We may not like it, but the problem is that under Federal Law, it’s not assault, or even abuse. There is no crime, so there can’t be a prosecution.

    If we want change, if we want TSA to stop their intrusive and unnecessary security practices and procedures, we’re going to have to get our Congress off its collective duff and have them change the law. That’s why I’ve contacted my Congressman, and my Senators about these problems, as a voter. When enough voters send the message that we’re unhappy about the TSA situation at airports, and we’re not going to vote for any legislator who isn’t going to make new law to force a change, we’ll get that change.

    Your approach which you’ve been pressing and articulating for a long time, often in obnoxious and belittling statements against anyone who doesn’t march to your drummer, is bankrupt, as it never gets to the root of the problem, and doesn’t use an approach which will ever be carried out.

    Personally, I don’t find your approach at all interesting, nor your attacks on anyone not in lockstep with you.

  • Lisa Simeone

    Ah, yes, of course, the thought of contacting my Congressional reps has never occurred to me, nor have I ever advocated for it; ditto for submitting comments to the Federal Register during the TSA’s long-overdue, court-mandated NPRM; same for the copious empirical evidence I have presented over the past 6 years; also the abundant and varied methods of resistance and protest I’ve suggested.

    Yes, all obnoxious, and none of it getting to the root of the problem.

    Sigh. I’m such a drag.

  • TestJeff Pierce

    Everyone went through PreCheck in 2002. FYI.

  • TestJeff Pierce

    Not this one. I don’t believe for an instant that metal detector wands are used (haven’t seen them in years), per this lawsuit. Further reading and following the lawsuit shows that the TSA said metal detector wands are not sufficient security and pat downs are required.

  • TestJeff Pierce

    RE: PRECHECK and METAL. Not this one. I don’t believe for an instant that metal detector wands are used (haven’t seen them in years), per this lawsuit. Further reading and following the lawsuit shows that the TSA said metal detector wands are not sufficient security and pat downs are required.

  • Robert B

    … and I have a Global Entry card (yes – paid $100.00, which was fortunatly reimbursed through the Amex platinum card program) and last time I flew, the Pre-check logo didn’t appear on my boarding pass. I checked with UA and the known traveler number was in the record correctly. I had to go throught the full body scanner, take off my shoes, etc. Same thing happened on the return.
    HA! – So much for pre-vetting security.

  • RB

    Before a person can buy an airline ticket their name is ran through all of the watch lists to be sure they are not a threat.

    Those people pulled out of line at the airport are pulled out by TSA’s Behavior Detector people who do no better than guessing according to GAO so that offers no increased security.

    TSA hasn’t used hand held metal detector wands for a couple of years. They had an inexpensive fault free device so obviously had to buy something that cost taxpayers much more money, $200,000 Whole Body Strip Search Machines.

    This whole TSA Pre Check is nothing less than a government scam job. Virtually no one represents a terrorist threat. Even then normal Walk Through Metal Detector screening of the person and x-ray of carry on baggage will address the threat. If a person needs a more in depth screening then bring on the Whole Body Scanner and/or the Whole Body Feel Downs.

    The automatic inclusion of some groups into TSA Pre Check has no basis in security risk. Take the recent shooting at Fort Hood. That person would have been TSA Pre Check eligible just because Administrator Pistole decided to include active military.

    Also Administrator Pistole has determined that people 75 and older are not eligible for being selected for TSA Pre Check at the airport. When did Mr. Pistole derive any right to discriminate against the elderly? And a bigger question, what shows that these elderly people present any risk at all? Surely TSA can produce the documentation showing that old gramps is a security threat.

    TSA hasn’t a clue about how to screen the traveling public and it shows.

    TSA should be disbanded, airport/airline security functions returned to the airlines since it is their property and customers at risk, and all other airport related security concerns return to the FAA.

  • RB

    TSA hasn’t used Hand Held Metal Detectors for a couple of years.

    Research much?

  • Amy Alkon

    “Extremists” is what the Founding Fathers were — extremely interested in preserving civil liberties. As am I.

  • Susan Richart

    Thanks, Amy. I was going to point the very same out to VELS14 but I doubt he would accept my comment.

  • Susan Richart

    deleted and moved comments

  • RB

    Tell us, exactly what the limits are to how TSA screeners touch people? They say they go up the legs until they reach resistance but that is meaningless dribble

    Show me a written description of the procedure used by TSA to Pat Down a person just trying to make their flight.

    It can’t be claimed that I accept TSA screening procedures unless I know how that screening will be done. I don’t think anyone should have to accept words like “meet resistance” when TSA really means they will feel up a person genitals.

  • Susan Richart

    From the TSA Blog:

    “TSA pre-check is great IF you are able-bodied and don’t need a wheelchair or mobility assistive device at an airport! It seems that in the process of designing pre-check, no one figured out how to manage
    those of us who need assistance. At DCA and LAS I was turned away because the wheelchair in which I was being pushed wasn’t allowed to go through pre-check. It seems if you can stand a bit you can go through and the wheelchair and its pusher have to go all the way around. BOO!

    There’s gotta be a better way.

    April 16, 2014 at 2:34 PM”

  • Susan Richart

    From Petitioner’s Brief:

    “The TSA informed Ruskai that the HHMDs had been eliminated for “security reasons,” AR at 1895, see also AR 3385 (“the increased level of security in Revision 9 does not allow for HHMD of individuals as additional screening”).”

    Thanks for giving us the link.

  • Susan Richart

    I shall try again with my comment. I don’t really care that you don’t like my position of wanting prosecutions. If you don’t like my comments, don’t read them.

    I have written to my congresspeople until my fingers are down to stubs. It is no longer with the time and effort.

  • Susan Richart

    Please share with us the replies you received from your congresspeople to your complaints about the TSA.

    What do you think precipitated changes to screening procedures for children and able-bodied folks over the age of 75? What do you think precipitated the institution of Pre-Check?

    It was loud protestations by frequent travelers, YouTube vidoes of children screaming at being separated from their parents and old folks trying to remove their footwear that got the TSA to move off dead center.

    If folks had not spoken up loud and clear, those changes would never have happened.

    Lisa has kept the problems with the TSA in the forefront for many years and for that I applaud her. Without her approach and others like her, the problems with the TSA might very well have faded into the background.

  • TestJeff Pierce

    1) Correct, on the statute giving authority for the TSA to perform security screening at airports.
    2) Not written was taking nude pictures with scanners (technology evaluation, yes, but nothing about nude pictures…I know ATR is 100% now).
    3) Not written was words that said “touch the genitals, female breasts, and buttocks” of passengers…a crime in all 50 states ranging from misdemeanor to felony…and something police cannot do without reasonable, articulable suspicion.
    4) Congress won’t do anything…I have personally spoken to Rush Holt’s office (a freedom loving Democrat from NJ) who cosponsored a bill in 2011 with Chaffetz (tea party from out West) to outlaw scanners and pat downs as primary screening. They were happy for now that they pushed to remove nude images (good for them). However, they did not see a window to re-introduce their bill in 2013. I occasionally send his aide who manages security issues recent stories of how medically challenged are still assaulted.
    5) The President who allowed this – Obama – joked about the pat downs in his 2011 state of the union speech….he won’t change anything. I am NEVER voting for a Presidential candidate who won’t pledge to outlaw scanners and criminal touching pat downs as primary screening.

  • TestJeff Pierce

    I think Susan has requalified her comment, as you point out. See the comments on the Ruskai case above for people with PreCheck and medical metal. Prof. Ruskai, unlike me, actually prefers scanners because she doesn’t alarm them (the metal inside her is not setting off ATR scanners of course). Jon Corbett (can Google him) of course also pointed out how he went through ATR and AIT scanners with a metal object on him…thus showing scanners are not as good at detecting metalic objects – the most likely material required for bombs or used to make handguns.

  • Susan Richart

    Sadly, I believe Rush Holt has said he will not run again….

  • TestJeff Pierce

    Correct, he won’t run again. A lot of the local state reps are running for his seat this year.

  • Susan Richart

    The WSJ states, in its recent article regarding the debacle that is Pre-Check, that Pre-Check is available at 118 airports, or 26% of airports that are required to have TSA “services” available. So you’re up the creek without a paddle if you fly from one of the airports that doesn’t have Pre-Check. Flying from one of those airports changes you into a threat.

  • Lisa Simeone

    “I am NEVER voting for a Presidential candidate who won’t pledge to outlaw scanners and criminal touching pat downs as primary screening.”

    Alas, you’ll have a long wait. Probably longer than your lifetime. As will we all.

  • Fisher1949

    TSA has proven itself to be a sick joke over the past decade and this is just the most recent confirmation of their totally idiotic policies.

    So those who have paid the TSA extortion provided all of their personal information, those travelers get shunted to the regular lines while random people get the grope free Precheck treatment. You just can’t make this stuff up.

    In a way, it serves the elitists right for trying to get a pass through TSA molestation and leaving everyone else to be victimized by the misfits and pedophiles that TSA hires.

  • VELS14

    What a completely moronic comment.

  • VELS14

    TSA used a wand on a woman on my flight to Boston today, in the Pre line. She had set off the metal detector. She was in front of me and had told them she had a metal hip. Seconds later she was through security.

  • VELS14

    I don’t know what research Ned used, but they used them today on a flight I took to Boston, as mentioned above. Seems you think repeating yourself will make it true. It won’t.

  • VELS14

    Why should I accept a comment from a person who sees everything in black and white in a world which is mostly gray.

  • VELS14

    I will agree with you on that one.

  • VELS14

    He did say that. He is perhaps the finest person in the House.

  • Lisa Simeone

    VELS14 writes: What a completely moronic comment,” thus showing his ignorance of how Pre-Check works.

  • Susan Richart

    What’s “moronic” about the truth, VELS14?

  • Lisa Simeone

    Then I guess they weren’t following their own procedures (though that’s nothing new), since, as already posted in this thread, with the link from the lawsuit also posted:

    The TSA informed Ruskai that the HHMDs had been eliminated for “security reasons,” AR at 1895, see also AR 3385 (“the increased level of security in Revision 9 does not allow for HHMD of individuals as additional screening”).

  • Lisa Simeone

    Has anyone else noticed that “VELS14″ excoriated us up one side and down the other as, quote, “belittling,” “obnoxious,” “moronic,” and “looney tunes,” while simultaneously claiming the moral, linguistic, and political high ground?

  • Susan Richart

    He’s busily responding to posts at another site that were put up 11 months ago. :-)

  • Lisa Simeone

    Do tell. ?

  • Chris Bray

    This is the most personally revealing comment I have ever seen someone post. You “screamed out in pain” when your “testicles were squeezed,” then had to call your lawyer to find out if you’d been assaulted? It’s like, “Hmm, this person is stabbing me in the face. I must have a licensed attorney assess statutory law to see if this action constitutes an unlawful assault.”

    1.) This person is hurting me badly for no defensible reason, but

    2.) He is wearing a government uniform, so

    3.) It cannot be assault.

    Our political problems have crossed the line into psychological problems.

  • Susan Richart

    search for newest comments – talk about moronic.

  • Lisa Simeone

    Well, hey, at least he’s on the side of civil liberties there. He’s calling out the homophobes. I’m on board with that.

  • RB

    Then that is a good thing. There are documents available from TSA that state the wands were removed.

  • Drontil

    I saw this posted in the Checkpoints and Border Policy forum at FlyerTalk:

    “I’ve read comments in various places that the HHMD are making a comeback in PreCheck lines, especially for travelers with implants.

    Can anyone confirm this?”

    As you can see, no one has responded in the affirmative. I’ll let you arrive at your own conclusion as to what the lack of response means.

  • Drontil

    In reply to my own post, this finally appeared at FlyerTalk:

    “HHMDs are not part of the normal clearing procedures as of this time… but you already knew that, so I had nothing substantive to add to the information stream, therefore, I jumped in with a touch of humor, which is a normal thing for me.”

    posted by someone who claims he’s an LTSO and a BDO.

  • Susan Richart

    “HHMDs are not part of the normal clearing procedures as of this time…but you already knew that…”

    posted by an LTSO/BDO who is also a member of the TSA Blog team.

    Typical of the TSA for the right hand to not know what the left hand is doing.