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Now Showing At Homeland Insecurity Theater

Remember when TSA had this program and then cancelled it? Yeah, they’re resurrecting it. I would say Hallelujah but who knows whether it will make it out of the (second) trial?

Pilot Starts at Select Airports to Further Enhance Security

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) [on October 4th, 2011] announced that it began testing a limited, voluntary passenger pre-screening initiative with a small known traveler population at four U.S. airports.

… During this pilot, TSA will use pre-screening capabilities to make intelligence-based risk assessments on passengers who voluntarily participate in the TSA PreCheck program and are flying domestically from one of the four pilot sites: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County, Dallas/Fort Worth International and Miami International airports. Eligible participants include certain frequent flyers from American Airlines and Delta Air Lines as well as members of the Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP’s) Trusted Traveler programs, including Global Entry, SENTRI, and NEXUS, who are U.S. citizens and are flying on participating airlines. If successful, TSA plans to expand the pilot to include additional airlines, as well as other airports that participate in CBP’s Global Entry program, once operationally ready.

As a Global Entry customer, I cannot say enough good things about how efficiently the program gets you into the country after international trips. No standing in an hour-long line for a CBP/INS agent to stamp you through – just scan your passport, have your fingerprints and picture taken and off you go. It saved me from missing a crucial, cross-country connecting flight once.

Once you get to the domestic terminal, however, the system falls apart. All that Trusted Traveler stuff is out the window and, if you opt out of the millimeter-wave scanner as I often do, you are ripe for non-standard groping and explosive checks by a domestic TSA agent. The program that lets you into your own country doesn’t work in your country. The Department of Homeland Security was formed to reduce departmental redundancy and waste, merge databases and increase cross-organizational cooperation and overall efficiency. So, why in the name of “eliminating government waste” don’t CBP and TSA processes talk to one another? And why am I treated like a pariah in my own country, and especially after I went through the pains and paid to be pre-approved as a low-risk traveler?

All of this went through my mind in Hobby airport last week when, for the very first time in all my years of flying and patdowns, my nether region was rather unprofessionally and vigorously probed and patted down by a burly, female TSA agent before I got on a routine flight to Dallas. (Which incidentally was grounded and cancelled due to inclement weather in the north – figures.)

But, what really gets me comes from this last sentence in Mominem’s latest post on this same topic: “I don’t expect any airline to be able to block anyone from using government services we all pay for.” Mominem is a preferred AirTran customer and he was kept from the PreCheck line by a Delta gate agent who gave access to that line to preferred Delta customers. Leaving aside for a minute the defeat of purpose in allowing airline gate agents to have anything to do with security pre-screening, that entire barrier between the passenger and the flight gate was made possible by the taxpayer. Security priority and better treatment given to those who have flown more miles with a private airline and/or have had to pay extra to become a trusted traveler seems cross purposes when the intent and follow-through should be standard, courteous and timely service for all, regardless of race, age, gender, number of frequent flyer miles. Anything less makes me wonder how seriously our government-security complex takes this whole business.

My question is quickly answered when O’Hare TSA pulls aside a passenger for wearing this Pardon My Hindi tshirt.

A Hindu Iyengar uncle in hipster glasses and fedora? Too suspicious, yaar!

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