Felon using expedited airport security lane renews concerns

AP News
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Posted: Mar 20, 2015 3:16 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — A key lawmaker raised questions about air travel security after a convicted felon and former member of a domestic terrorist organization was able to use an expedited airport security line.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, the senior Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, said the disclosure of June 29, 2014 incident highlights shortcomings in how the Transportation Security Administration identifies low-risk passengers as well as the need for Congress to respond.

The Homeland Security Department's inspector general announced Thursday that a felon convicted of murder and explosives-related offenses was allowed to pass through the TSA's PreCheck security lane designed for passengers who are considered a low security risk.

TSA's PreCheck lanes can be accessed by airline passengers who enroll in the program and submit to a background check to ensure they present a low risk to security. But TSA also selects some passengers for the expedited screening based on biographical data provided to airlines, including a passenger's name and date of birth.

In the case of the convicted felon, he was approved for the expedited security lane despite his criminal history. A TSA officer who checked his boarding pass recognized him as a convicted criminal from news reports, the Inspector General found. When a supervisor was alerted, the officer was instructed to let the passenger go through the faster line, anyway.

The Inspector General's report did not say where the incident occurred or provide any other details about the man's convictions or former affiliation with a domestic terrorist group.

In a statement issued late Thursday, the TSA said it "takes its responsibility for protecting the traveling public very seriously."

It said, "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."

Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, said he plans to introduce legislation to ensure travelers like the convicted felon aren't able to access expedited security lanes at airports.

"While I understand that expedited screening is an interest of the traveling public, it should not be employed at the expense of security," Thompson said.

In December, a Government Accountability Office report highlighted the need for TSA to evaluate security surrounding the use of expedited screening for passengers not preapproved for the program.

The inspector general's office, in its report made public Friday, recommended that TSA modify its procedures to allow TSA officers and supervisors to refer passengers back to a regular screening line if don't believe they should be eligible for the expedited screening. A second recommendation was redacted from the report.

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