A former member of a domestic terrorist group convicted of murder and other crimes involving explosives who served a multiple-year sentence before being released “was permitted to travel with expedited screening through the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) PreCheck process,” according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General.
The redacted public version of the IG’s report, Allegation of Granting Expedited Screening Through TSA PreCheck Improperly, “stemmed from a whistleblower disclosure which alleged that a notorious felon was improperly cleared for TSA PreCheck screening and was allowed to use the PreCheck lanes.
According to the IG, “The US 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. On October 16, 2014, OSC referred this allegation to the Secretary of Department of Homeland Security. The Department subsequently requested our assistance with this allegation.”
The IG’s report stated that, “After an extensive investigation of the allegation and assessment of the TSA PreCheck initiative, we determined that TSA provided a TSA PreCheck indicator and barcode on the traveler’s boarding pass. After checking the traveler’s boarding pass and identification, an alert Transportation Security Officer (TSO) at the airport recognized the felon and alerted his supervisor. However, the supervisor directed the TSO to take no action and allow the traveler to continue through the TSA PreCheck lane.”
The IG stated that TSA had never granted or vetted the person for TSA Pre screening through the TSA Pre Application Program or Managed Inclusion (MI). TSA granted the traveler TSA Pre screening through risk assessment rules in the Secure Flight program. TSA’s use of [redacted] to provide TSA Pre screening to unknown passengers creates an aviation security vulnerability. We recommend TSA [redacted] limit TSA Pre screening to known passengers that TSA determines to be members of trusted populations.”
The IG’s report on the TSA Pre breach said it had “determined the Transportation Security Officer followed standard operating procedures, but did not feel empowered to redirect the traveler from TSA Pre screening to standard lane screening.”
The IG recommended TSA modify its standard operating procedures to clarify TSO and supervisory TSO authority to refer passengers with TSA Pre boarding passes to standard screening lanes when they believe the passenger may be a threat to transportation security.
The IG recently issued a classified report to TSA concerning the need to modify the PreCheck vetting and screening processes, with specific recommendations.
TSA created Managed Inclusion to improve the efficiency of dedicated TSA PreCheck screening lanes and to help the agency reach their goal of providing expedited screening for at least 25 percent of passengers by the end of 2013.
A Government Accountability Office (GAO) audit stated that, “Managed Inclusion uses several layers of security, including procedures that randomly select passengers for expedited screening, behavior detection officers who observe passengers to identify high-risk behaviors, and either passenger screening canine teams or explosives trace detection devices to help ensure that passengers selected for expedited screening have not handled explosive material.”
TSA officials asserted each layer of the Managed Inclusion process has been tested to ensure that the individual components of the process provide an effective level of security. However, GAO asserted TSA needs to test the process as a whole to ensure effectiveness.
This wasn’t the first time GAO questioned the effectiveness of the Managed Inclusion process. In January 2013, GAO recommended TSA take actions to comprehensively assess the effectiveness of canine teams. In addition, GAO said TSA has experienced challenges in implementing procedures for testing the security effectiveness of other programs.
“Mitigating and reducing passenger screening vulnerabilities is important to our nation’s aviation security,” said Inspector General John Roth. “Incidents like this highlight the need for TSA to modify their PreCheck procedures.”
“While I understand that expedited screening is an interest of the traveling public, it should not be employed at the expense of security. This new report comes just after a December Government Accountability Office report on PreCheck and problems with the managed inclusion program,” said Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security. “Both these reports illustrate shortcomings with the methods TSA uses to identify low risk passengers and demand a legislative response.”
Homeland Security Today reported in December that the rapid expansion of expedited airport screening had raised questions about whether TSA sufficiently tests these measures for security effectiveness.
"This program, intended to make travel easier, could create unnecessary vulnerabilities and seems to cause confusion among travelers," House Committee on Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said in December.
TSA created the PreCheck program in 2011 to allow expedited screening for selected passengers considered low risk. Passengers participating in the pilot program were not required to remove their shoes, jackets, or belts and could keep laptops, as well as liquids and gels, in their carry-on baggage.
Thompson said he’s “preparing legislation to ensure that the approach TSA uses to identify low-risk passengers does not create security gaps. This bill will be unveiled at the at our Committee’s hearing on the PreCheck program on March 25.”