The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is discussing the possibility of the removal of passenger security checkpoints at over 150 small to medium-sized airports across the United States. Due to the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, TSA’s presence has been felt in every airport nationwide. If implemented, this new proposal could drastically change a policy that has been enacted for nearly two decades.
The proposal from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) would eliminate screening at smaller and some medium-sized airports, which is categorized by the aircrafts that consist of 60 seats or fewer. A TSA working group described the proposed change as a “small (non-zero) undesirable increase in risk related to additional adversary opportunity.” Internal documents from TSA suggest that the removal of passenger security checkpoints would save around $115 million annually that will go towards increased security at larger airports. Passengers and luggage arriving from smaller airports would be screened upon arriving at a major airport for connecting flights, as opposed to the current protocol of joining the already screened passengers at the larger airport. Larger airports have increased capability and enhanced security measures than smaller airports.
Removal of passenger security checkpoints does not mean that terrorists would not target airports that have planes with less than 60 passengers. It is “stunning that this is even seriously being considered,” argues terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank. “Al Qaeda and ISIS still regard aviation as a priority target — that includes aircraft where you have fewer than 60 people on board.” Cruickshank noted that terrorists would see this initiative as a way to hit the headlines and inflict severe economic damage on the United States. With an aircraft of 50 or so people erupting in the sky, there will be great peril, economic reverberations, and numerous casualties.
Two senior TSA officials have explained that the new regulation enforcing the removal of passenger security checkpoints would have serious national security concerns. This idea is one that was discussed back in 2011 and has recently been resurrected. In looking at the numbers, it is observed that Transportation Security Administration (TSA) currently provides screening services to 440 airports. It has been determined that the policy change would affect 10,000 passengers who are vetted by 1,299 TSA agents. This totals 0.5% of people flying out of the United States daily.
Unlike previous rumblings, TSA developed a working group this year of 20 people, which included the agency’s administrator’s office who met on Thursday, June 21, 2018 to study the possible threat of the policy change. On Tuesday, July 17, 2018, a memo was sent from Jerry Booker, TSA Director of Enterprise Performance and Risk Strategy, to Ha Nguyen McNeill, the TSA Administrator’s Chief of Staff. This memo provided a summary of the group’s findings, and contains no formal recommendation.
Proponents of the policy change explain that smaller airports are “not attractive” to terrorists because of the potential loss of life is a lesser amount when compared to the potential impact that could be done to a larger airport with higher volume passenger planes. Any loss of life, however, is still one too many. “People, weapons, dangerous goods and what’s boarding the plane are all potential risks from criminals,” said Juliette Kayyem, a CNN analyst. “TSA is falling into the trap that this is just about terror. A gun could be brought on board too.”