NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — How did a convicted murderer with ties to a terrorist group get aboard an airplane through a reduced security screening?
As CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported, it happened at a U.S. airport. And on Monday, members of Congress were calling into question the safety of the popular PreCheck program.
With a boarding pass stamped pre-check, the man got ushered through expedited screening — the lane for low-risk travelers. That, according to a Department of Homeland Security inspector general report, was a significant security breach.
The passenger in question had been convicted of murder, and had ties to a domestic terrorist group and explosives. The report did not name the passenger or the airport.
“Something is very, very much wrong,” said U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)
Schumer said the June Incident sets off alarms.
“What is the reason for allowing people to do TSA pre-check when they haven’t gone through the clearance policy?” Schumer said.
Passengers are often invited to the PreCheck line without the usual fingerprinting and background checks. The TSA calls the procedure “managed inclusion”
“If a convicted murderer got through, it’s really not that safe then,” one woman said.
CBS2 first reported this past fall on unvetted passengers – dozens at a time – being herded through expedited security.
Nearly 700,000 passengers have signed up for PreCheck, CBS 2 reported back in November. The registered passengers undergone background checks, been fingerprinted, and paid $85 for the privilege of going through the hassle-free fast lane at airport security where jackets, belts, and shoes stay on, and laptops and liquids stay packed.
But those pre-check lines were observed to be flooded with passengers who had not been registered or prec-checked.
TSA officers were seen merging all lines into one, herding entire lines of people who have not been pre-screened through limited security, they only go through the metal detector.
The TSA at the time disputed that passengers were merged in large numbers, and said that most passengers are “low-risk,” security is now “intelligence driven,” and only “eligible passengers” are sent to the TSA pre-check line based on multiple layers of security.
But U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) told CBS2 the program needs to be better managed.
“The TSA – they really have to tighten it up. There’s no doubt about it,” King said in November.
Former El Al Airlines director of security Isaac Yeffet believes the whole concept of different security protocol for different passengers is risky. He said you cannot size people up in an instant.
“How can I tell — if you are pretty, then you are OK; if you are ugly, you are a terrorist?” Yeffet said.
In the latest case just revealed by the inspector general, an alert TSA officer recognized the notorious felon and told a supervisor who did nothing. The passenger proceeded through reduced security and boarded the plane.
The report recommended that the TSA modify PreCheck procedures.
The TSA responded: “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.”
The agency pointed out the unnamed felon was not on any government no-fly list.
But questions remained.
“Was it an aberration? Does it happen regularly? What are they going to do to tighten it up?” Schumer said. “Even one is one too many.”
The U.S. House Homeland Security Committee holds a hearing on the issue Wednesday.
Rep. King, in Washington, D.C. on Monday, told CBS2 the TSA needs to immediately address the breach.