National Security & Defense

TSA Considers Eliminating Security Screening at 150 Small and Medium Size Airports

A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) official checks a bag at Terminal 4 of JFK airport in New York City, May 17, 2017. (Joe Penney/Reuters)

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is considering eliminating the standard security screening process at 150 small and medium size airports around the country, according to internal documents obtained by CNN.

The documents, produced by a TSA working group in June and July, suggests the agency could save $115 million annually by eliminating security screenings for flights on aircrafts with 60 seats or less, thereby ensuring a “small (non-zero) undesirable increase in risk related to additional adversary opportunity.”

Under the proposed plan, passengers on smaller flights would be screened when they arrive at major airpots prior to their connecting flights. This would speed the process, according to the documents, because larger airports have more resources and higher level security.

The new process would effect roughly 10,000 passengers daily or about 0.5 percent of the total number of passengers screened by TSA each day.

“This is not a new issue,” TSA spokesman Michael Bilello told CNN via email. “The regulations which established TSA does not require screening below a certain level, so every year is ‘the year’ that TSA will reconsider screening.”

Two senior TSA officials disputed Bilello’s characterization, telling CNN that the creation of the 20-person working group is indicative of serious consideration on the part of TSA.

While proponents of the move cite its efficiency and cost saving benefits, critics suggest those are far outweighed by the potential security risks.

“Al Qaeda and ISIS still regard aviation as a priority target — that includes aircraft where you have fewer than 60 people on board,” said CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank. “They would see that as a way to hit the headlines. They would see that as a way to inflict severe economic damage on the United States. If you have an aircraft of 50 or so people being blown out of the sky there is going to be a great amount of panic and there will indeed be significant economic reverberations, and of course significant loss of life.”

The new consideration represents a departure from the security rhetoric embraced thus far by the Trump administration, which last year placed a ban on passengers carrying-on laptop computers.

“Terrorists want to bring down aircraft to instill fear, disrupt our economies and undermine our way of life,” Then-homeland security secretary John Kelly said. “And it works, which is why they still see aviation as the crown jewel target.”

“The threat has not diminished. In fact, I am concerned that we are seeing renewed interest on the part of terrorist groups to go after the aviation sector — from bombing aircraft to attacking airports on the ground,” he said.

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