Momentum for trusted traveler program beginning again

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I fly 100 or more times each year and I’ve been seeing a big improvement in dealing with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at airports. The attitude of TSA employees is generally much kinder than it was a while back. And those stories about horrific waits in Las Vegas after a convention, or in Atlanta on a Monday or a Friday or in the New York/New Jersey area almost any day of the week, well, those staffing issues seem to have been resolved.

But I still have a big beef when it comes to the TSA. We’re still wasting billions of dollars on “security theater” instead of the real deal. Think about the 3 oz. bottle rule, taking your shoes off and putting them on the conveyor belt, taking your laptop out, etc. Whatever we’ve been asked to do, we’ve put up with it.

What has been missing from our airports in the almost 10 years since Sept. 11, 2001 is robust human intelligence. Israel has figured how to assess individuals based on human characteristics, a process that includes looking people in the eye, asking them questions repeatedly to see if the answers change, etc. The British also do this really well because of the IRA.

Why can’t we get on the ball?

The reason is that there are concerns about profiling in a politically correct world, plus there’s bureaucratic inertia. But profiling should not be even be a part of this discussion because al-Qaeda has expressed a desire to move on to sleeper agents who wouldn’t fit any neat profiles. That alone makes human intelligence even more important.

There’s no denying that we need a fresh start when it comes to airport security. There’s a new report out from the U.S. Travel Association co-authored by former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and others. It pushes the idea of a real trusted traveler program like the Israelis have.

So if you agree to submit to an extreme background check, from that point on you go through a simplified, fast procedure when you’re at the security checkpoint. That would free the TSA employees up to spend time doing true real security at airports.

What’s so “extreme” about the background check, you ask? Well, in addition to requiring fingerprints and iris scans, the program would require subscribers to provide credit information, tax returns and other personal data.

Here’s the reality: We’re almost 10 years out from the terror attacks of Sept. 11 and we still do childish security. I’m flying this week, next week and the week after that. Let’s hope I don’t have to eat my words about kinder, gentler TSA employees when I run the gauntlet at LaGuardia Airport!

Editor’s note: This segment originally aired in March 2011.

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