TSA Might Eliminate Security Screening Completely at Regional Airports

Aug 1, 2018

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The Transportation Security Administration is considering ending required security screening for passengers at more than 150 small and mid-sized airports across the US.

According to a CNN report released on Wednesday, internal documents from the agency say the end of security screening at US airports that serve aircraft with 60 seats or fewer would only bring a “small (non-zero) undesirable increase in risk related to additional adversary opportunity.”

The agency documents, obtained by CNN, are from June and July and reportedly say that the security cuts would save the agency about $115 million each year. Passengers and luggage making connections at larger airports would be screened before entering the major airports’ secure terminals, the documents state.

Sources from inside the TSA say that the proposal is still dangerous. Two senior TSA officials told CNN on the condition of anonymity that they had serious national security concerns with the proposal, which was first pitched in 2011 but has recently resurfaced. The TSA officials said that this time the idea seems to have more momentum.

A task force of 20 people convened in late June to discuss the drawbacks and risks to ending the screenings for regional airports. The memo detailing the outcome of the task force’s meeting for the TSA Administrator’s chief of staff contained no formal recommendations on the proposal.

TSA screens 440 airports across the US. It was first brought into commission after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Two of the assailants in those attacks first boarded flights in Portland, Maine, then transferred at Boston’s airport to the transcon flight on whch they stormed the cockpit and crashed the plane into the World Trade Center’s North Tower. Portland’s airport capacity is above the limit in the proposal, but the attackers reportedly deemed it as less secure because of its relatively small size.

The agency documents say that the smaller aircraft would not be as “attractive” of a “payoff” for terrorists.

“There has been no decision to eliminate passenger screening at any federalized U.S. airport,” Michael Bilello, TSA’s assistant administrator for public affairs said in an emailed statement to TPG.

“TSA remains committed to its core mission to secure the Homeland by screening more than 2.5 million airline passengers per day. Every year as part of the federal budget process TSA is asked to discuss potential operational efficiencies—this year is no different. Any potential operational changes to better allocate limited taxpayer resources are simply part of predecisional discussions and deliberations and would not take place without a risk assessment to ensure the security of the aviation system,” the statement said.

This proposal seems completely incongruent with other recent measures the TSA has instated. In June 2017, the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the TSA, implemented a laptop ban from carry-on bags for almost 280 airports in more than 100 countries. Around that same time, DHS began requiring passengers to take out any electronic device larger than a cell phone during security screenings. And even more recently, TSA has stepped up its screening requirements for powders in carry ons.

*This post has been updated to include TSA’s statement to TPG.

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