TSA Granting Expedited Security Checks To Entire Lines Of Travelers Undercuts Everything About Its Security Theater

from the the-TSA-wants-YOU-to-not-think-too-hard-about-this dept

The TSA finally appears to be doing something to trim down the runtime of security theater performances. The PreCheck program, which sold travelers’ rights back to them for a smallish fee is now being applied randomly to people waiting in line. And not just certain somebodies as the TSA did randomly over the holiday season in an effort to appear slightly less annoying. A whole lot of somebodies, according to this report from The Consumerist.

[A]s I approached the checkpoint to have my ID checked and my boarding pass scanned, a man who appeared to be a TSA supervisor stood and declared that my line and the one next to it are now PreCheck lanes.

The initial reaction from those around me was confusion — mutterings of “Why did they put me in the wrong line? What is PreCheck? Do I have to get in another line?” — but then the supervisor just continued telling us that we didn’t need to take off our shoes, remove laptops from their bags, and the other perks of being a PreCheck traveler.

While the TSA would probably prefer this random largesse to be greeted with relief and gratitude, its normal day-to-day enforcement of petty, illogical policies ensures that this sort of thing is only greeted with suspicion.

Chris Morran was naturally perplexed by the TSA’s implicit admission that its security theater was, in fact, security theater. After all, if whole lines can be declared “not terrorists,” then why all the shoeless jumping through hoops the other 99.99% of the time? He reached out to the TSA, which responded with this:

“TSA also utilizes these lanes during certain times for other low-risk passengers who are identified through a real-time threat assessment process,” explained a TSA rep who then directed me to this TSA.gov page on what the agency calls “Managed Inclusion.”

The infamous “threat assessment program” (as performed by barely-trained “Behavioral Detection Officers” [BDOs] and overseen by Passenger Screening Canines), which the GAO referred to as little better than a “coin flip” at detecting terrorists is now being used as the justification for granting dozens of fliers instant PreCheck approval.

Morran has a good reason to be suspicious of this move. Not only does it undercut the TSA’s arguments for pretty much everything else that it does, it also contorts itself to give itself a pat on the back for being so damn good at detecting terrorists. This allows the TSA to give its Threat Assessment Program a veneer of legitimacy it hasn’t earned. Morran points out that he didn’t see a single “screening dog” anywhere and nothing indicating the decision was being made with any sort of “assessment” being involved. It was just business as usual and then, suddenly, everyone swept through the security process with shoes and laptops intact.

While I’m sure the travelers appreciated the expedited process, the real danger here is that the TSA — which is supposed to be ensuring our airplanes are terrorist-free — is now arbitrarily deciding to drop 90% of the process on a whim. Even if the infamous BDOs (and their pet friends) are performing some sort of en masse “assessment,” that process has been deemed no more likely to net a terrorist than the randomly dragging every other person off for extra screening. Either the TSA needs to drop the many pretenses that “support” its procedures or it needs to stand by the very things it has claimed for years are essential to preventing terrorist activity. What if this had nothing to do with assessment and had everything to do with agents feeling less than motivated? It would look exactly the same and would have the same amount of “threat detection” behind it.

I would like to see the TSA drop the “theater” part and return to actual security, but trying to half-ass it with crowd-pleasing “everyone is pre-approved!” tactics like this is the agency trying to have it both ways — and it’s hugely disingenuous.

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Comments on “TSA Granting Expedited Security Checks To Entire Lines Of Travelers Undercuts Everything About Its Security Theater”

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Wally says:


It’s simple…and affective. McCarnel International Airport, Cleveland Hopkins, Dalas Fort Worth International Airports and JFK…all have this system in…The prioritized security voucher check pertains mostly to elderly people, or people with medical issues such as cancer…Rather than make them go through the trouble of getting out of wheel chairs, going through security checks, their carryon is already pre-checked by attendants..

It saves a lot of time and mobility when connecting to a flight.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: nathandog04@yahoo.con

I dunno. I flew out of New Orleans two weeks ago and got randomly put in the precheck lane. While I was breezing through security, I saw the TSA making an older guy in a wheelchair get up and back down repeatedly as they searched him. I’m 31, and he was wearing a Vietnam veterans hat. Seems pointless to me.

Anonymous Coward says:

I took a flight last week and at my home airport a TSA agent was using an iPad (attached to one of the poles with the web strapping in it) with an app called “TSA Randomizer” which they simply touched and it pointed in one direction or another.

One lane was the usual security with taking shoes off and jackets and etc etc. The other lane was a precheck lane, as far as I could tell.

The app didn’t do much to alleviate the congestion, most of the time it directed people into the busy heavy security lane and the agent kept getting frustrated that it just kept putting people into the busy line. The person in front of me got to go to precheck but the next 5 parties, including myself, stayed in the busy line. After that it went back and forth alternately, before pushing more people into the busy line and frustrating the agent again.

out_of_the_blue says:

Long predicted division into privileged classes.

“I expect that pilots and flight attendants will eventually be let out of the severe screening, and as I said previously, that begins dividing society into levels of the more and the less trusted, enforced by epsilon minus TSA thugs.”


Not that I’m prescient. The whole plan can be read in “1984” and “Brave New World”. You just can’t believe The Rich are serious about this global tyranny, but they are. Crazy serious. All they want is absolute and total control. — By the way, reason to not indulge in fantasies is two-fold: not only does it blind you to reality and let you escape, but these themes are planted gradually to get you accustomed to them. For instance, “Total Recall” has the scene where Arnold is taking off for Mars or wherever, and goes through the X-ray scanner, just like you already do.

The phony deal that evil people (and gullible fools) try to force on us: You can’t have the benefits of technology unless give up all privacy.


Skeptical Cynic (profile) says:

Re: Long predicted division into privileged classes.


This is not a class warfare thing. Wow I bet you enjoy your paranoid world view, but those that seek to address real world grievances to our privacy and restrictions do not see it the same way.

But I will agree with you on a couple points.

Yes the best tactic to get people to except something is the graduale method.

Skeptical Cynic (profile) says:

In other news TSA proves it does nothing!

Why are people paid just above the minimum wage allowed to decide anything?

They are nothing more than food service vendor employees that wanted to get a fake badge and exercise authority over people that can afford to fly somewhere. They are paid the same. They prove time and time again they do nothing but exercise their own will and preconceived desires to cause discomfort to those that are better off than they are.

They are skilled in nothing but BS scanning procedures that do nothing to actually protect air travelers.

So in the final conclusion expedited security checks are nothing but a PR stunt. Nothing but marketing BS to the masses that they are trying to help and secure.

DogBreath says:

Re: A much more cynical answer...

I’m thinking along the same lines, but this example being more like hard drugs. The first taste is free (more of an advertisement), but when you come back for more because you discover that you like it, that is when it is going to start costing you. The TSA PreCheck price will inevitably go up, getting you to pay even more for the same old security theater.

Just look at all the new fees and increases the airlines have tacked onto every flight, while cramming more and more people into the same physical space over the years.

I guess the government wants their extra piece of the pie too, and this is one way to get it.

AricTheRed says:

Highly Sensitive TSA training material leaked to the american public

…When trying to determine which potential terrorists rights and dignity to trample always remember this simple mnemonic device while performing “Real-time Threat Assesment”

“Duck, Duck, Goose, Duck, Duck, Duck, Goose”

All of the Geese ((plural for Goose) plural means more than one)) require “extra screening” while the ducks can be ignored, because really how dangerous are ducks anyway.

Anonymous Coward says:

In a way I hate to see critical articles like this being written, because it only serves to encourage the standard response of authorities whenever attention is drawn to their incompetence: to stubbornly never admit they were wrong (and to ‘prove’ it, they typically “double-down” rather than backing off).

Anyway, they are not “dropping” invasive security – they’re only halfway rolling it back to the level it was before the post-911 insanity took hold.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

911 only allowed those that wanted to restrict freedom a path to success. Republicans were lambasted for taking our freedoms, but the Democrats saw what had happened and said “WOW we can do so much more to create a dependency on our government polices and thus create a permanent Democratic voting block by running with this paranoia. They will have no choice but to vote Democrat as they depend on the Gov to provide everything to them including safety and income.”

Simply put the RINOs did what they were suppose to do. They created a Gov dependant class and the TSA is just a place to see it in operation.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

The whole damn country has lurched to the right, okay? Think about where we stood on the issues thirty, forty years ago. We’ve become more selfish and narcissistic as people, demanding reductions in taxes and insisting that every penny spent benefits us directly or we won’t spend it.

We’re voting people into office because of the principles they claim to stand for, not on their record of governing well or providing efficient administration in other roles.

We’ve become tribal, creating a toxic “Us v Them” political climate that makes it impossible to get things done. It’s in the interest of the Establishment to keep us bickering like kids over hot button issues instead of working together to hold them accountable for their performance in office. Are you a part of the problem or a part of the solution? Because there aren’t enough of us holding their feet to the fire to remind them they’re supposed to be representing us.

Lord Kibble (profile) says:

I wondered what was going on.

I assume that is what happened when I left Las Vegas on Sunday then. For a brief moment everyone in the queue was mildly confused before hurriedly making their way through security in case the powers that be changed their minds. I was actually slightly put out as I’d planned ahead and worn slip on shoes and had left my laptop in the UK. I imagine with CES being on they got pretty fed up of looking at laptops.

It was nice to see the full body scanners sitting idle. The whole security thing (both entering and leaving) seemed considerably less stressful this year.

Anonymous Coward says:

If it’s security theater anyway, then I guess lessening it could be a good thing.

It also could be a sneaky way to inconvenience someone without them knowing it. Giving someone extra scrutiny is fairly noticeable. But what if you just make it so they never get less scrutiny? I mean, they can’t exactly complain that their line is never the expedited one, right?

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