TSA Exemptions And The Powers That Be

So lots of people (me included) were irate when it was announced that certain “high-value” people would be exempt from the “scan/fondle your genitals?” question. We were wrong. Here’s the AP:

Cabinet secretaries, top congressional leaders and an exclusive group of senior U.S. officials are exempt from toughened new airport screening procedures when they fly commercially with government-approved federal security details.

Aviation security officials would not name those who can skip the controversial screening, but other officials said those VIPs range from top officials like Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and FBI Director Robert Mueller to congressional leaders like incoming House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who avoided security before a recent flight from Washington’s Reagan National Airport.

My response on Facebook? “I’m shocked!”

Then in my comments, a comment from someone who knows something about security:

ummm, I think there is a misunderstanding here. If they are protectees, the agents flying armed don’t go through security because they are cleared by other means. They cannot leave their protectee so all will take the flying armed route. It’s not because they are above the law, it’s because of the complications of traveling with a protective detail.

Crap. I hate it when a beautiful theory (or rant) is slain by an ugly fact.

But it is when it is, and I’ve gotta acknowledge it.
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14 thoughts on “TSA Exemptions And The Powers That Be”

  1. That’s fine as far as it goes, but why shouldn’t the alternative system be open to everyone else? Americans who chose to subject themselves to background checks — which could be as mild as those associated with a concealed carry license, which most of us have anyway; or as strict as those associated with a SECRET security clearance, which isn’t that much worse — could get a biometric card that would let them pass through the alternate clearance mechanism.

    It’d be like reverse-profiling. Instead of TSA singling out ‘suspicious types,’ citizens could volunteer for an in-depth clearance of them based on a background investigation. Then, when it became time to fly, they’d need only produce their card and go through a minimal examination.

  2. Except that an in depth background is a time consuming and expensive operation. You would have to hire trained investigators and put an infrastructure in place to perform millions of backgrounds, each of which could take months to complete and on whose dime? The taxpayer? The protective details who fly armed have backgrounds in place that were performed by the agencies that hire them. It is just not a practical answer for the masses.

  3. I think we’d end up saving money. For one thing, a lot of these background checks are being done anyway — if we established a standard that lined up with the normal concealed carry license, or normal background check for a security clearance, you could get your Free To Fly license as part of the same process. Most of the work would be done by those already doing it as part of another process; and we could save on TSA employees and scanners, since we’d be able to cut a substantial portion of the population out of the need for the full treatment.

  4. I like Grim’s idea. Who would pay for it? Whoever is getting himself a background check. You’d need to ensure that the companies who are doing the checks meet appropriate standards, of course. That would be where this system would be most vulnerable. But, whatever it’s practicalities, in theory it seems like a beautiful idea. If I don’t want to go through a screening each time I fly, I can just shell out the dollars to have myself get a thorough one-time background check and receive a passport-like card that let’s me go through an alternate, security-free line at the airport.

  5. The background that is done for those who currently bypass the normal security route at the Airport is considerably more extensive than that used for concealed carry, in fact, concealed carry permit requirements can vary by region. Most of what is done for those is merely computerized. The people who currently do backgrounds are already busy doing them for those agencies. You couldn’t realistically expect them to add millions of new requests to their workload. The cost to implement such a program would be huge and maintenance would be worse. You can defray costs by charging individuals who want to enter this imaginary system, but do you think you could get them to invest up front to create it? As for replacing TSA with background investigators, I can safely say that trained investigators cost more. And remember, backgrounds have to be updated regularly for civilians to maintain any hint of security. Sworn personnel are required to notify their agencies of status changes or off duty contacts with law enforcement. If they don’t, they risk their career. Citizens hoping to get on a plane faster would have no such incentive to let the authorities know of relevant changes in their lives.

  6. Sanity check, here: Clearances (of the confidential, secret, top secret type) are time consuming and expensive to procure. By “time consuming” I mean months to a year for a mid-range one. By “expensive” I mean tens of thousands of dollars.

    So if that’s the level of background check you’re thinking about, think again. Damn few people are going to spring for that purely to avoid a few lines.

    Not to mention, the people who do that for actual clearances are busy and aren’t going to lightly be re-purposed for doing travel background checks.

  7. The camel’s nose is under the tent side…..

    “Show me your paper’s, schwein!”

    Softening the people up for the real police state. You know, they told me if I voted for McCain I would end up living in a fascist state and they were right!

    Brought to you by those caring folks in the PNSDP.

  8. I have a current security clearance, guys, I know what’s involved in one.

    That’s why I also mentioned the concealed carry permit. Standards do differ, but in Georgia, what you do is you go hand over a copy of your fingerprints and about fifty bucks. That covers the cost of the man hours involved in checking your prints. So, who’s paying for it? You are.

    As for the objection that current clearances are much more in-depth, sure they are. You’re talking about guys who need access to secret or even compartmentalized information, or guys who are going to be trusted with the lives of our precious elected officials.

    What we’re talking about here is ‘guys who are going to be trusted to submit only to the old-fashioned metal detector before taking a plane ride.’

    I think we can adopt the lower standard there; but it would be wise to go ahead and write in “…or possesses a current security clearance,” because that does capture a few tens of thousands of frequent fliers.

  9. The camel’s nose is under the tent side…..

    “Show me your paper’s, schwein!”

    Softening the people up for the real police state. You know, they told me if I voted for McCain I would end up living in a fascist state and they were right!

    Brought to you by those caring folks in the PNSDP.

  10. Here’s the hypocrisy- I thought we were operating under the premise that everyone was an equal threat. If a pilot or a 90 year old nun might decide to bring a bomb onto a plane, why couldn’t a congressman or the secretary of indian affairs? Or a secret service agent?

  11. Here’s the hypocrisy- I thought we were operating under the premise that everyone was an equal threat.

    Exactly. That’s just it. We are operating under that premise. Everyone gets bothered by TSA.

    A choice needs to be made. Either we screen everyone or we do not. And if we do not, well, that leaves being choosy about who we bother. And that leaves certain groups and individuals on or off the bother/not bother column, which is bound to anger someone. Authorities cannot please everyone, it is not possible, and authorities like cops and rent a cops are routinely hated, along with lawyers, journalists, some politicians, and bounty hunters.

  12. Here’s the hypocrisy- I thought we were operating under the premise that everyone was an equal threat.

    Exactly. That’s just it. We are operating under that premise. Everyone gets bothered by TSA.

    A choice needs to be made. Either we screen everyone or we do not. And if we do not, well, that leaves being choosy about who we bother. And that leaves certain groups and individuals on or off the bother/not bother column, which is bound to anger someone. Authorities cannot please everyone, it is not possible, and authorities like cops and rent a cops are routinely hated, along with lawyers, journalists, some politicians, and bounty hunters.

  13. Then maybe we should concern ourselves less about who is going to be angered and more about what is most effective. The less chaff we have to separate from the wheat the more effective we will be.

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