Like most other people, I absolutely hate standing in those endless security lines at airports. For years now there have been various types of trusted traveler programs that enabled travelers at certain airports to bypass the long lines. There are commercial programs such as CLEAR (which almost disappeared, but then resurfaced) and the new Transportation Security Agency (TSA) Pre program which, according to the TSA website:
“… allows select frequent flyers of participating airlines and members of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Trusted Traveler programs who are flying on participating airlines, to receive expedited screening benefits. Eligible participants use dedicated screening lanes for screening benefits which include leaving on shoes, light outerwear and belts, as well as leaving laptops and 3-1-1 compliant liquids in carry-on bags.”
In order to participate in these programs you must undergo a background check. Due to my work in the Navy, I currently hold a Top Secret clearance. I have already undergone the background check and have been found worthy. For years I have been telling everyone who would listen, and some who really didn’t want to listen, that, due to my clearance, I should be considered trusted and I should not have to stand in those lines with the rest of you.
Now I am not so sure. I’m not sure if the background investigation for my clearance should be sufficient to allow for expedited screening, and I’m not confident that the background checks associated with programs such as CLEAR and TSA Pre are sufficient.
This past Monday, Aaron Alexis shot twelve people dead at the Washington Navy Yard. Alexis held a Secret clearance dating from 2008. According to his employer, a background re-investigation was cleared through the defense security service in July 2013. This despite several arrests for firearms violation and a recent history of mental health issues. News reporters were able to ferret out this information within hours of Alexis’ identification as the shooter, yet the recent background investigators either did not find it, or failed to report it.
We also have the case of Edward Snowden, who, as a contractor for the National Security Agency held a Top Secret clearance. Regardless of whether you consider Snowden a legitimate whistle-blower, or a traitor who betrayed the trust of his nation, it is obvious that a background check did not reveal anything to indicate to the investigators that he would steal and disseminate classified information.
So, much as I would like for my cleared status to allow me to waltz to the front of the airport security line, I have come to believe that background checks, in of themselves, are not sufficient to determine who should, or should not be, considered a trusted traveler. Assuming that current TSA airport screening procedures are necessary to insure flight safety (a topic for another day), I believe that, in the wake of recent events, the TSA should reevaluate programs such as CLEAR and TSA Pre to insure that they are truly performing the necessary due diligence to protect the flying public. If all they are doing is performing standard background checks, recent history has clearly shown that this does not constitute due diligence; I would hope that they now realize that they need to step back and determine if there is a better way to know which travelers should be trusted.