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Dueling memos over how TSA is operating PreCheck biometric travel program

Dueling memos over how TSA is operating PreCheck biometric travel program
 

It might come as a surprise to anyone traveling by air in the United States, but about four years ago, a now-deceased federal security director filed an anonymous whistleblower complaint alleging Transportation Security Administration agents were cutting corners to keep people moving.

It amounts to mismanagement and presents a danger for the flying public, said the director, whose identity, other than the title, is protected.

They told the federal Office of Special Counsel around 2018 that TSA personnel were allowing passengers traveling with wheelchairs and unidentified other assistive devices to go through low-security PreCheck screening prior to boarding.

PreCheck subscribers provide biometric and biographic data when they enroll and are being used in conjunction with airline digital ID schemes. The government is clear on the fact that the program limits threats, it does not eliminate them.

Only passengers who have been vetted by the government and paid for a program subscription are supposed to have access to PreCheck identification lanes. In other words, it is not a freebie that can be offered at the discretion of a TSA agent.

The whistleblower also reportedly told the Office of Special Counsel, an independent agency that investigates and prosecutes political corruption, that the TSA was potentially under-scrutinizing bags being X-rayed.

TSA officials say they have not changed the risk-based, intelligence-driven screening approach they adopted in 2013. An inspector general in the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the TSA, has backed that assessment.

Passengers who are PreCheck members are identified by “technology” and agents at a document-check podium. A sign-off by both are required to get into the low-friction PreCheck lanes, according to a notice posted by TSA officials.

The notice does not address allegations of too-lax bag screening.

The Special Counsel last week strongly disagreed with the inspector general’s report.

What TSA is doing amounts to “gross mismanagement” and presents a “substantial and specific danger to public safety,” according to a redacted memo on the matter, according to Special Counsel.

The Special Counsel sent its finding to the White House. A timeline, if any, for reconciling the two narratives has not been announced.

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