The Transportation Security Agency (TSA) granted expedited screening privileges to a former member of a “domestic” terror group convicted of explosives-related crimes, “creating a significant aviation security breach,” reports a government watchdog.
TSA agents were aware that the traveler had been improperly cleared to use expedited airport security lanes.
Nevertheless, the individual was allowed through to his flight on June 29, 2014, reveals the inspector general (IG) at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in a partially redacted report.
TSA is a component of DHS.
“Mitigating and reducing passenger screening vulnerabilities is important to our nation’s aviation security,” said DHS IG John Roth. “Incidents like this highlight the need for TSA to modify their [Pre-check] procedures.”
In responding to the DHS IG audit, TSA said that if the traveler was a threat, the U.S. government should have placed his name on a terrorist watchlist or a no-fly list.
A whistleblower informed the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) that “a sufficiently notorious convicted felon was improperly cleared” for TSA’s Pre-check screening, Roth said in the report.
OSC referred the whistleblower’s allegation to DHS. The felon, a U.S. citizen whose name was redacted, spent years in prison “for murder and offenses that involve explosives.”
“The traveler is a former member of a domestic terrorist group,” states the inspector general. “While a member, the traveler was involved in numerous felonious criminal activities that led to arrest and conviction. After serving a multiple-year sentence, the traveler was released from prison.”
“The [Transportation Security Officer] TSO knew of the traveler’s TSA [Pre-check] disqualifying criminal convictions,” adds the IG. “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-check] lane. As a result, TSA does not have an incident report for this event.”
The TSO felt that he did not have the authority to redirect the traveler to the standard screening lane since the “traveler did not demonstrate physical or verbal signs that would result in action based on the TSO’s understanding of articulable belief,” notes Roth.
He recommended that TSA develop a procedure for officers to deny expedited screening to individuals who “may be a threat to transportation security” and direct them to standard security lines.
TSA’s Pre-check program permits travelers to keep on their shoes and jackets though airport checkpoints, and leave their laptops and small liquid containers in their carry-on bags.
To qualify, a traveler must answer a biographical questionnaire and submit fingerprints. Anyone convicted of any of 28 criminal offenses is denied membership.
The felon did not apply for the TSA Pre-check program, but was selected for expedited screening through the Secure Flight program’s “risk assessment rules.”
Roth recommended that TSA limit its Pre-check screening “to known passengers that TSA determines to be members of trusted populations.”
The incident highlighted by the DHS IG revealed an apparent breach in the popular TSA program.
“TSA continues to enhance its layered security approach through state-of-the-art technologies, improved passenger identification techniques and trusted traveler programs, and best practices to strengthen transportation security across all modes of transportation,” TSA said in a statement issued Thursday. “All passengers, including those with TSA Pre-check on boarding passes, are subject to a robust security approach that employs multiple layers of security, both seen and unseen.”
The DHS IG did not identify the domestic terrorist group to which the traveler used to belong.