'Notorious' felon was cleared for faster boarding at airports

'Notorious' felon was cleared for faster boarding at airports
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The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) approved a convicted felon who is a former member of a domestic terrorist organization for expedited airport security last year, according to a report released this week by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general. 

The report alleges that the TSA cleared the June 2014 passenger, whose name was not revealed, despite the fact that the traveler had not submitted paperwork for its PreCheck trusted passenger program. The traveler was recognized by security agents at the airport. 

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“In this circumstance, the [Transportation Security Officer] recognized the sufficiently notorious convicted felon based on media coverage, and verified the traveler's identity documents. Upon scanning the traveler's boarding pass, the TSA received a TSA PreCheck eligibility notification,” the report said.  

“However the TSO knew of the traveler's ... disqualifying criminal convictions,” the report continued. “The TSO followed 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 PreCheck lane.” 

The Homeland Security inspector general’s report said the passenger, who it described as “a former member of a domestic terrorist group,” was cleared through the TSA’s Secure Flight program, which the agency says is supposed to match passengers’ boarding documents with federal No Fly Lists. 

“Secure Flight is a behind-the-scenes program that enhances the security of domestic and international commercial air travel through the use of improved watch list matching,” the agency says about the Secure Flight program on its website. 

“Collecting additional passenger data improves the travel experience for all airline passengers, including those who have been misidentified in the past,” the post continued. “When passengers travel, they are required to provide the [background data] to the airline. The airline submits this information to Secure Flight, which uses it to perform watch list matching. This serves to prevent individuals on the No Fly List from boarding an aircraft and to identify individuals on the Selectee List for enhanced screening.”  

The inspector general’s report said the Secure Flight program failed to flag a passenger who was "involved in numerous felonious criminal activities" and served a multiple-year prison sentence.

Lawmakers said the report shows serious vulnerabilities exist within the TSA’s expedited screening programs. 

“While I understand that expedited screening is an interest of the traveling public, it should not be employed at the expense of security,” Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said in a statement. 

“This new report comes just after a December Government Accountability Office report on PreCheck and problems with the managed inclusion program,” Thompson continued. “Both these reports illustrate shortcomings with the methods TSA uses to identify low risk passengers and demand a legislative response.” 

Thompson added he is “preparing legislation to ensure that the approach TSA uses to identify low-risk passengers does not create security gaps.” 

TSA officials defended the expedited screening programs, which are part of a broad series of “risk-based initiatives” that have been touted as a sea change in U.S. airport security because they direct all airport security officials to focus on passengers who are most likely to pose threats to flights. 

“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,” the agency said in a statement that was provided to The Hill on Thursday evening. 

“All passengers, including those with TSA PreCheck on boarding passes, are subject to a robust security approach that employs multiple layers of security, both seen and unseen,” the agency’s statement continued. “Together, these layers provide enhanced security and a stronger, more protected transportation system for the traveling public.”