TSA gooses the pre-check program with random passengers — bravo!


The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) knows that the careful screening of passengers at airport checkpoints is a bit of overkill. They know that if a terrorist makes it to the airport and as far as the TSA checkpoint with a bomb, more than a score of security systems have been bypassed. When they randomly shift passengers into the Pre-Check program, they are admitting the obvious.

Unfortunately, even with evidence that the screening systems at airports are little more than a charade, TSA is forced to maintain its programs because our elected officials are afraid of being logical. They are afraid that something will happen “on their watch” and they will be blamed.

Fortunately, TSA is run by an administrator who recognizes reality and who has been ratcheting back the invasiveness of searches and who even attempted to eliminate small knives, certain martial arts items and some sporting equipment from the TSA forbidden list. His common sense was met with hysteria from flight attendants who were backed up by pilots and eventually many politicians.

Hence, Administrator Pistole’s brave decision to remove items from the forbidden item list that could not bring a plane down was reversed.

In testimony before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and later in radio interviews, I proposed and then defended TSA’s decisions, to no avail. Security theater ultimately won out over real useful security procedures.

Today, TSA is still moving in the direction of more functional and realistic searches of passengers at airports by expanding their Pre-Check program that really rolls airport security back to pre-9/11. The TSA move is backed up by the realistic assessment that enhanced security and the terrorist watch list has made the airport pat-downs all but unnecessary.

Cleverly, TSA has established a Pre-Check background investigation to act as a fig leaf to placate fearful politicians and quiet worried flight attendants. This background investigation, however, only covers a small minority of passengers who pass through Pre-Check every day. Most of the Pre-Check passengers are made up of airline elite frequent fliers who qualify because of their frequent flier status. Some come from Global Entry rolls and others pay for Pre-Check; both go through the TSA background checks.

Even with these elite passengers who have slowly become accustomed to Pre-Check, TSA wants to move more passengers through the low-grade search lines. It has been reported that ultimately, TSA plans to shift up to 70 percent of its searches through Pre-Check lines.

In reality, the behind-the-scene screening that is conducted by more than a dozen security organizations means that every passenger in the country is “pre-checked.” Therefore, TSA has been randomly shifting passengers into the Pre-Check lanes and mixing them with the elite frequent fliers and Global Entry members who have already enjoyed unfettered access to Pre-Check.

This shift has not made everyone happy. The entitled elite frequent fliers have been grumbling because of “more crowded lanes.” Global Entry and Pre-Check members who paid money are expressing a bit of remorse for forking over a C-note or so for a special lane, only to find it crowded with bewildered passengers who insist on taking off their shoes even as TSA workers urge then through metal detectors.

The influx of people to Precheck annoys some program veterans. Ann Fries says she sometimes finds 20 people in the Precheck line at Tampa, Fla., her home airport. Many get befuddled when told they don’t have to take off their shoes and can leave liquids and laptops in bags. They ask why, slowing the line. Then they ask how they ended up in that lane.

“We went from people who knew what they were doing to people in line who don’t know what they are doing,” said Ms. Fries, who signed up for Global Entry to get Precheck when it first started.

There may be some growing pains, but TSA is moving in the right direction. The more passengers who move through Pre-Check, the better the overall experience will be for the flying public. With almost 600 lanes dedicated to Pre-Check at more than 110 airports across the country, TSA has a selling job and an education job with America’s fliers.

The more that experience Pre-Check, it is hoped, the more that will pony up the additional money to go through the extra screening. That will mean that, eventually, the random shifting of passengers without background checks will end as the lanes fill with paying customers.

TSA’s real efforts should be to move as many passengers through this expedited screening. After all, we are all Pre-Screened and we all pay our taxes in addition to TSA security fees that just have been more than doubled in many cases. There is no reason that TSA can’t keep the Pre-Check lanes filled and keep our skies safe and sound.

  • http://tsanewsblog.com/214/news/history-repeats-itself-with-tsas-strip-search-tactics/ Lisa Simeone

    “Fortunately, TSA is run by an administrator who recognizes reality . . . .”

    John Pistole is a liar and a criminal. He should be fired and prosecuted. Unreal that you call him “brave” for the no-brainer decision to allow small knives that routinely get on board anyway, with or without the TSA (a decision from which he backed down!). Pistole instituted the Reign of Molestation. Pistole thinks it’s okay that you and your family members are virtually — or actually — strip-searched and groped.

    Pre-Check is a thinly veiled attempt to stifle criticism of the TSA’s abusive practices by creating two classes of people — the Special People, who’ve forked over $85 in a vain attempt to buy back their rights — and everyone else. Which is why it’s perfect, poetic justice that the Special People are finding out that they aren’t so special after all.

    As you know, and as the TSA itself says, Pre-Check doesn’t guarantee anything. Pre-Check doesn’t guarantee expedited screening. Pre-Check is a scam. The Special People are just as prone to getting scanned and groped and detained as anyone else. Ha ha.

    Pre-Check is not only a fraud, it’s ethically indefensible. It’s the embodiment of “All Animals Are Equal But Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others.”

  • 1amwendy

    This is not a black-or-white issue. Yes, it makes sense to move back to reasonable security. That’s goodness. The way that is being accomplished leaves much to be desired, however. First, it’s insane that the TSA can, with a straight face, charge certain people for the “privilege.” Really stupid and insulting – and nothing more than a blatant money grab. Wouldn’t it be oh-so-refreshing to hear an admission that this nation over-reacted to 9-11 and is mererly righting that emotional ship? It’s also stupid to construct rules that count any medical device as a reason for a full pat-down – like there’s a correlation between needing a medical device and an intention for terrorist activity??? Really??? As Mr. Leocha points out, everyone buying a ticket (except for those that buy a ticket right before a flight) is background searched anyway. So please tell me why those cretins at security go into full assault mode for any of those travelers confined to a wheelchair?

    Disabled flyers will be the only ones standing. it is full-out discrimination to constantly subject them to a very instrusive, appalling and egregious search each and every time they choose to fly. One of these fine days someone will win the court argument that it is illegal to make this protected minority give up their rights under HIPAA and the 4th Amendment for simply attempting to engage in their also-given constitutional right to travel unmolested.

  • Susan Richart

    Lisa is correct in that PreCheck was conjured up by the brilliant minds at TSA to silence the criticism of frequent flyers to the constant harassment and humiliation meted out at checkpoints to that group.

    Wendy is correct in wondering why the TSA just can’t come out and say “we’ve been doing things wrong and are now going to correct it by instituting pre-9/11 screening for ALL passengers, even the disabled.” But, of course, Pistole just can’t bring himself to do that; he will fight to the bitter end.

    Charlie and Wendy are correct in stating that every single passenger has been vetted through the TSA’s use of various data bases. If one has been granted “permission” to purchase a ticket, then one should automatically be granted the easier screening process.

    Pistole claims that his crack squad of voodoo “officers”, a/k/a Behavior Detection “officers”, allow between 150,000 and 219,000 (depending of which of Pistole’s recent letters to the editors of certain media you read) passengers through to PreCheck at our airports each day. This is so much hooey. In spite of proof that voodoo at the airport doesn’t work, Pistole just can’t let go of his belief in these practitioners.

    Above all, Wendy is correct is stating that “it is full-out discrimination to constantly subject them (disabled or medically challenged passengers) to a very
    instrusive, appalling and egregious search each and every time they
    choose to fly.”

    It is beyond me how the TSA has been allowed to get away with this most hateful of discriminatory practices.

    Heck, a suicidal individual bent on wreaking havoc at an airport, prosthesis or not, doesn’t even have to purchase a ticket. All he or she would need to do is to walk in and go stand in a line, any line, any where and set off an explosive device.

  • http://litbrit.blogspot.com/ Deborah Newell Tornello

    There is no reason that TSA can’t keep the Pre-Check lanes filled and keep our skies safe and sound.

    Yes there is: it’s called reality. The skies, like the earth beneath them, cannot be kept 100% safe and sound–and therefore, not “safe and sound” at all, in the true sense of the words–because there exists in this world a small but very real possibility that mechanical failure, weather events, or even the event of a suicidal individual hell-bent on dying for one cause or another will indeed take place.

    In short, there is no such thing as 100% security, and if America is ever to move toward a saner security system that respects people’s rights and does not violate the Constitution, the first thing people must do is stop living in a fantasy world in which a government agency (much less one as incompetent as the TSA) can protect them from tragedy. And America must then put the risk of such tragedy in its proper perspective–it is much safer to fly than to drive, for example–and decide if it’s worth living in fear and giving up hard-won rights, or rather, conclude that it’s time to be thoughtful, logical, fact-respecting adults about all this.

  • BobChi

    I agree with most of your positions in theory. But in the practical world it’s a good thing that some of the charade and theatre are being reduced. We both hope to see more happen in that direction in the future. It’s to a significant extent the politicians that lack backbone that are standing in the way of a more reasonable process.

  • FrequentFlyer

    There’s a reason frequent flyers don’t like inexperienced people in the PreCheck lane. The last time I went through at LGA, the woman in front of me started taking off her shoes and coat LESS THAN A MINUTE after being told not to. The point of PreCheck is to expedite security. Putting people who rarely fly and cannot follow simple instructions SHOULD NOT be in the PreCheck lane. Period.

  • Susan Richart

    Elitist. They have been vetted and found not to be a threat to airline travel. Why shouldn’t they be able to board without being harassed and humiliated?

    Above and beyond that, however, we need to go back to pre-9/11 screening for everyone, including the medically challenged,

  • http://tsanewsblog.com/214/news/history-repeats-itself-with-tsas-strip-search-tactics/ Lisa Simeone

    But the charade and theater aren’t being reduced. They’re just being given different cloaks.

  • http://upgrd.com/roadmoretraveled MeanMeosh

    Charlie, a couple of possible inaccuracies I wanted to point out. If you obtain Precheck access via Global Entry, you still have to go through a background check and interview to qualify for Global Entry. And while it’s been several years since I was invited to apply for Precheck courtesy of airline status, my recollection is that you still had to affirmatively apply for it, which meant going through the same process, including the background check and the fee. It wasn’t something that was just handed out, though that might have changed since then (and no, I didn’t apply). With very few exceptions, I believe most everyone who has Precheck will have gone through the background check at some point.

    I also have to respectfully disagree with your analysis of Administrator Pistole. Pistole is the same person who has stood in front of Congress numerous times defending the choice of porno-scanner or grope, and has defiantly said that the gropes will continue and that the agency doesn’t really care about the concerns that Congress or the public have on the matter. He may have instituted a few changes around the edges, but the bottom line is, the invasive gropes continue – if he really were committed to changing the agency, my mom wouldn’t have to endure one every time she flies because of her bum knee.

  • Charles Leocha

    I changed the punctuation and added a phrase to clarify that part of the article. Thanks for your comment. The frequent flier members who were the initial members of Pre-Check, did not go through any extra screening, as far as I know. Global Entry and Pre-Check applicants do go through the background check.

  • RB

    TSA Pre Check one of the latest government scam jobs going.
    No one should have to pay to be treated properly by government.

    Security Screening at airports should be Pre Check type screening for everyone as the default and then if reason is developed increase the screening level. There should be a cause for feeling up peoples crotches and ladies breast, not the beginning default screening method.

    Same goes with the Naked Body Scanners. These devices are required by contract to have the ability to store and transmit images. And don’t fall for the lie that TSA passes out that it’s only a generic outline. That is what is displayed on the monitor at the checkpoint but the underlying image is the full monty, naked, high resolution image that the outline image is derived from. That high resolution naked image would be the image that is stored if that capability is turned on and who in TSA has the ability to change the Strip Search Machine settings?

    As far as John S. Pistole being heroic for trying to allow certain items I say it was a coward who backed down to pressure from the Flight Attendants who based their fear on unreasoned hysteria.

    John S. Pistole is so far removed from reality that HE approved procedures that called for the full body pat downs of young children. For any adult to believe that such acts are acceptable demonstrates a person who is not connected to reality.

    TSA is not moving in the right direction as long as TSA feels people up as a routine screening method.

    TSA is not moving in the right direction as long as Whole Body Strip Search machines are the entry level of airport screening.

    John S. Pistole’s TSA is the wrong solution for today’s travelers.

    John S. Pistole’s TSA is the wrong solution for America.

    John S. Pistole’s TSA should be removed from the face of the earth.

  • RB

    IF Pre Check level screening was the screening method for everyone then all travelers would benefit. The various procedures that TSA uses and change at a whim is the reason for the slow downs. Who can blame the infrequent traveler for being confused, well other than those people who think they are more entitled than just regular people.

    If you want to blame anyone for fouled up airport security screening then give John S. Pistole a call. It is his incompetence that has screwed up airport screenings for everyone.

  • Susan Richart

    A question, if I might.

    I have an acquaintance who has a U.S. Airways credit card which she believes will allow her PreCheck every time she flies. She is not a frequent flyer, traveling by air maybe once a year.

    Would I be correct in telling her that she must apply, pay the fee, be fingerprinted and have an interview before she is formally granted PreCheck status, which, of course, will not guarantee her anything?

  • http://upgrd.com/roadmoretraveled MeanMeosh

    She may be confusing “Precheck” with “Clear”. Some credit cards offer membership in Clear for “free” as part of the annual fee. Clear lets you skip to the front of the line like, similar to elite frequent fliers and those traveling on First/Business Class tickets, but I don’t believe you get the other Precheck benefits. To my knowledge there are no credit cards that offer any kind of reduced fee or automatic enrollment in Precheck. Your friend would have to go through the application process and pay the fee the same as anyone else (and yes, still be subject to being “randomly” sent through the porno-scanners even after paying her $85).

  • http://upgrd.com/roadmoretraveled MeanMeosh

    Hmmm…interesting. I was one of those AA elites that was invited to the initial rollout of Precheck, but for some reason, I seem to remember it just being an invitation to apply through the regular process, which at the time was restricted to certain elite FFs. I could well be mistaken, though. That was a long time and a lot of brain cobwebs ago.

  • Susan Richart

    Thanks. That’s what I figured. I don’t think she is confusing it with Clear. I think she is confusing priority check-in with PreCheck or, more correctly, she believes that the priority status will get her PreCheck each time she flies.

  • Fisher1949

    Precheck is a complete scam being used by the chief child molester John Pistole on idiots to convince them that TSA is actually useful.

    How does granting a non-Precheck passenger a free pass through security while sending vetted passengers through the standard security molestation gauntlet supposed to make any sense?

    Precheck, like the rest of TSA’s harassment smoke and mirrors is done solely for PR reasons and perpetrated on stupid people who don’t fly enough to understand how this workfare program really works.

    Other supporters mostly include airline officials and those with a vested interest in maintaining the airline status quo and enabling abuse of the flying public for their own gain.

  • Charles Smith

    I know that I don’t have PreChek, Clear, or Global Entry. But on my last three trips (all award tickets BTW) I was given PreChek on my Boarding Pass. Is it possible that the Airlines feel that if you are smart enough to use FFMiles for a ticket, you know the procedures of the TSA???

  • Vec14

    Small correction – a Global Entry application review and interview are conducted by Customs and Border Patrol, not TSA. If you get GE, you receive a trusted traveler number you can enter when making reservations on domestic flights. You may or may not get Pre-Check because you have GE.

    Yes, Pre-Check is a nice perk if you have GE, however, I applied for GE because it saves me time when I fly internationally or drive into Canada since I am allowed to use Nexus lanes.