• Why Doesn’t TSA Trust the State Department?

    August 2, 2012

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State, Military

    The mighty men and women of TSA have a trust issue. Perhaps many were unloved as children, but they as a group simply are not people persons. Until very recently, a soldier in uniform, the pilot who is going to fly the actual plane, and a guy on a camel with a T-shirt reading “I am a Terrorist” holding an AK-74 were all treated the same at airport security checkpoints. Under some bizarre, irrational interpretation of fairness, limited security resources were not focused on the most likely threats but instead spread thin. A little old grandma’s wrapped birthday gift would set off the same level of scrutiny as a leaking box with wires hanging out the sides.

    No more. A tiny ray of reality seems to have entered the TSA world with the announcement that certain groups of low-risk travelers will be moved into a category called “TSA Pre-check.” No application needed or allowed as with previous attempts to sort out folks. Now, based on where you work and especially on whether or not you hold a US Government security clearance, you will face lighter screening.

    First in the pool are uniformed military at certain airports. Kind of a no brainer.

    Then we learned in a round-about-way that TSA is also including to exclude from full screening many CIA officers. Wired.com reports that TSA signed an agreement with the Director of National Intelligence in February to include members of the intelligence community in “pre check.” Again, kind of a no brainer.

    A Bit of Black Ops in Passports?

    Quite intriguingly, TSA chief John Pistole explained that membership in the special pre-check program is acknowledged when one uses his/her passport as ID. “The beauty of it from my perspective is that the information that the person is a known and trusted traveler is embedded in a bar code in the passport. And it doesn’t distinguish between a member of the intel community or a frequent flier. So the security officer at the checkpoint doesn’t know whoever you are.”

    Passport barcodes are in the back of the booklet and are tied to the physical booklet itself, not the traveler who is issued that booklet. US passports issued after 2007 contain an RFID chip which holds information about the traveler, including all the bio info from the passport and the photo. TSA does not scan or read the passport barcodes when you pass through the airport. They do scan the passport info encoded in plain letters and numbers, and can/do read the RFID chip. It would be interesting to know exactly what database TSA refers this info to to determine who is and who is not a pre-check qualified traveler. That database would have to be largely unclassified, as it would not do to have a handy list of all CIA officers (we hope), just a list of passport numbers and a go/no go code.

    Whither State?

    The justification for including CIA officers as a group in the pre-check program makes sense. As a group they all hold at least Top Secret clearances and are well-known to the government. If you are not ready to trust them to leave their shoes on going through the airport you probably should not trust them to hunt terrorists, operate killer drones and all that. Kind of a no brainer.

    But what about State Department Foreign Service Officers as a group? They are not in the pre-check program. As a group they all hold at least Top Secret clearances and are well-known to the government. If you are not ready to trust them to meet with foreign governments, reconstruct Iraq, Afghanistan and Haiti, why trust them to leave their shoes on going through the airport?

    Ironically, it is the State Department who issues the passports others can use as tickets to faster security processing. Maybe there’s a way State can spoof the passports to get their people included?

    Permission to ease through TSA security has been under discussion inside State for a long time. State’s internal “ideas marketplace,” the Sounding Board, has had a thread on this topic since 2010, with over 140 entries. Yet not a word there or anywhere else on why State’s diplomats are not trusted by TSA. State Department employees coming from overseas were initially excluded from airline discount programs for pets, originally offered only to the military. State had to fight its way into that program, largely through its employee association, AFSA’s, efforts. It is always “People First” at State.

    Bonus for State Department people: It appears State has been part of some inter-agency working group “looking into this” since at least March 2012, with the boffo results above. I contacted AFSA, who tells me they have raised and continue to pursue this very issue with management.

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  • Recent Comments

    • Donny said...



      This very simply boils down to the fact that the leadership at CIA, DoD, et al., is more willing to stick up for its people than ours at State. Same thing goes with VA taxes and residency issues, registering our kids in VA after foreign assignments, convincing companies to ship to a DPO, etc … It’s also why DoD was able to negotiate O-4s into the Middle level of housing assignments while comparable FS-3s are in the Standard group. Military folks at some embassies get government provided rentals while we are stuck fighting with State over the size of our POV and how much they’re going to charge us in overage costs to ship it.

      Quite simply, State leadership doesn’t give a shit about its people. It is unwilling to reach out and explain what we do, but in the meantime the Civil Service component is growing more and more influential as they sit in their ivory towers back in DC/NoVA tasking us from afar. The corps that’s supposed to provide support to those in the field could really give a shit less about the FS other than we provide an opportunity for them to do TDYs (re: boondoggles) to exotic places on the government dime under the guise of “consultations.”

      You and Chandrasekaran have it right – HRC is too busy flying around the world logging USAF frequent flyer miles and we as a core of FSOs are too chicken shit to stand up for ourselves and demand to be more than tour guides to the wives of Undersecretaries of Defense.

      08/2/12 2:39 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Does anyone see the irony that PVB gets kicked out the building for violations of security – linking to a site that linked to Wikileaks – while the head TSA official speaks openly about security issues that AQ could exploit. Headline: AQ Terrorists Use Stolen “Trusted Traveler” Passports to Hijack Airliners in Repeat of 9-11 WTC Attack”

      08/2/12 10:59 PM | Comment Link

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