from the waving-through-felons-while-patting-down-toddler dept
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) received a whistleblower disclosure alleging a sufficiently notorious convicted felon was improperly cleared for TSA Pre✓ screening, creating a significant aviation security breach. The disclosure identified this event as a possible error in the TSA Secure Flight program since the traveler’s boarding pass contained a TSA Pre✓ indicator and encrypted barcode.The good news (such as it were) is that the TSA did not grant the unnamed felon/terrorist PreCheck approval through its laborious and intrusive application process. It also didn't wave him/her through because lines were backing up at the normal checkpoints. (This is called "Managed Inclusion" by the TSA, but it more resembles "For the Hell of It" in practice…) That ends the good news.
It did, however, use its "risk assessment rules" to determine the terrorist/felon to be of no threat. This might be encouraging news for former felons/domestic terrorists, perhaps signaling that government agencies may ultimately forgive some criminal acts and not subject former felons to additional security harassment in perpetuity. Then again, this may just be the TSA's excuse for waving someone with questionable PreCheck clearance through security because a checkmark -- and its own internal bureaucracy -- told it to.
We also determined the Transportation Security Officer (TSO) followed standard operating procedures, but did not feel empowered to redirect the traveler from TSA Pre✓ screening to standard lane screening.The OIG recommends more "empowerment" for rank-and-file. Good luck with that. If officers don't feel empowered, it's because management has shown them that questioning the (broken and wildly inconsistent) system isn't an option. Neither is doing any independent thinking. When this officer attempted to push it up the line, he/she ran into a pretty predictable response.
[T]he TSO knew of the traveler's TSA Pre✓disqualifying criminal convictions. The TSO followed the standard operating procedures and reported this to the supervisory TSO who then directed the TSO to take no further action and allow the traveler through the TSA Pre✓ lane. As a result, TSA does not have an incident report for this event.One of the TSA's Behavioral Detection Officers (highly-trained in the art of the mental coin toss) was also contacted by the concerned officer. And, again, no further action was taken/recommended.
In the end, a felon/terrorist boarded a plane because the TSA's bureaucratic process can't handle contradictory variables. The PreCheck approval said "yes," but the previous convictions said PreCheck approval should never have happened. The TSA deferred to the obviously incorrect checkmark on the boarding pass. And now we have the punchline to the joke that starts, "A murderer with explosives experience walks into a PreCheck lane…"
The OIG's mostly-redacted recommendation criticizing the TSA's over-reliance on fallible pre-screening processes was mostly ignored by the agency.
TSA officials did not concur with Recommendation 1. In its response, TSA said that with respect to individuals who may pose an elevated security risk to commercial aviation, theU.S. Government's approach to domestic aviation security relies heavily on the TSDB and its Selectee List and No Fly List subcomponents. TSA said, had the intelligence or national law enforcement communities felt that this traveler posed an elevated risk to commercial aviation, they would have nominated the traveler to one of these lists and prevented the traveler from being designated as lower-risk.To which the OIG responded, "Well, that 's obviously not working because this traveler should have been automatically denied PreCheck approval."
We consider TSA's actions nonresponsive to the intent of Recommendation 1, which is unresolved and open. TSA said it relies on the U.S. Government watchlisting process to identify individuals that represent an elevated risk to commercial aviation. However, not all non-watchlisted passengers are lower-risk and eligible for TSA Pre✓. For example, TSA has established disqualifying criteria, in addition to the watchlisting process, for an applicant seeking TSA Pre✓ Application Program membership. TSA will deny membership to an applicant convicted of any of the 28 disqualifying criminal offenses or not a U.S. citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident. Even though the traveler is not watchlisted, the traveler would be permanently ineligible for TSA Pre✓.And yet, a convicted murderer has been PreCheck approved. The TSA wants to blame the rest of the government. The OIG just wants someone to use common sense, rather than never questioning a boarding pass. The OIG has a good point. The TSA claims it's shifting to a smarter, more responsive travel security, like the PreCheck program and its many Behavioral Detection Officers. But when a situation involving both arose, it left the thinking to its brainstem -- unwavering faith in databases and policy -- rather than making any move indicative of higher thought processes.