TSA Groping For Thee, But Not For Me

Top administration and congressional officials can skip the indignities of airport screening, even when they fly commercial.

In addition to the President and Vice-President and their families, there are many other government officials who never have to worry about being groped by the TSA:

Cabinet secretaries, top congressional leaders and an exclusive group of senior U.S. officials are exempt from toughened new airport screening procedures when they fly commercially with government-approved federal security details.

Aviation security officials would not name those who can skip the controversial screening, but other officials said those VIPs range from top officials like Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and FBI Director Robert Mueller to congressional leaders like incoming House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who avoided security before a recent flight from Washington’s Reagan National Airport.

The heightened new security procedures by the Transportation Security Administration, which involve either a scan by a full-body detector or an intimate personal pat-down, have spurred passenger outrage in the lead-up to the Thanksgiving holiday airport crush.

But while passengers have no choice but to submit to either the detector or what some complain is an intrusive pat-down, some senior government officials can opt out if they fly accompanied by government security guards approved by the TSA.

“Government officials traveling with federal law enforcement security details are screened at airports under a specialized screening protocol, which includes identity verification,” TSA spokesman Nicholas Kimball said. This allows the officials to skip the airport security checkpoints.”

The TSA would not explain why it makes these exceptions. But many of the exempted government officials have gone through several levels of security clearances, including FBI background checks. Armed security details eliminate the need for an additional layer of security at airports.

Excluding such people from regular security procedures does make sense on some level, but then so does not subjecting an 56 year old retiree recovering from bladder cancer to a pat-down so invasive he ends up covered in his own urine.

UPDATE (James Joyner): I was working on a post when I saw Doug beat me to it.   I understand the outrage, which Michelle Malkin captures nicely:

DHS Secretary Clownitano regularly bypasses security since she travels almost exclusively on government or military planes. Same with AG Eric Holder. ICE head John Morton travels commercial with a security detail and skips the screenings and pat-downs, AP also reports.

DHS motto: Homeland security waivers for we, but not for thee. Now, submit or pay up!

But it seems to me that the answer to stupidity is to decrease it rather than increase it.   To the extent that these procedures are legitimately aimed at screening out potential terrorists, it’s silly to pretend that high ranking government officials, traveling with a screened security detail, are plausible suspects.    So, by all means, let them avoid the silliness.

By the same token, though, why not increase pre-screening beyond that handful of Special People?   Surely, military officers, CIA agents, Foreign Service Officers, federal cops, and other highly screened people should be able to go into a separate line?   They’re more thoroughly screened than an airline flight attendant.   And we already have various programs whereby frequent travelers can pay to get background checks and undergo modestly less screening at the airport.  Why not beef those up and give those people the same status as flight crew?

Obviously, even these people who require some screening at the airport. Extremely trusted individuals (think: Robert Hanssen or Nidal Malik Hassan) can wind up being traitors or terrorists.   And, while al Qaeda is unlikely to infiltrate the president’s cabinet, surely they could get people through the screening process required of flight attendants.   But the risks are so much lower for these people that a cursory check would be adequate.

FILED UNDER: National Security, Terrorism, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Jack says:

    On a purely pragmatic level, what you discuss regarding pre-screening is very sensible.  Unfortunately, it sets up a regime that is even more “some animals are more equal than others” than we are already stumbling into on our current path to plutarchy.
    The Bill of Rights was written and added to the Constitution explicitly to curb abuse of citizens by the government.  Unfortunately, we now have TSA agents/supervisors stating that “you give up your rights” when you buy an airplane ticket.  While I do not believe that is the official policy, the training for those in the TSA is being proved to be horrendously inadequate if one goes by the anecdotal evidence, and in effect, giving up rights has BECOME the policy.
    Is this the direction we want to continue pushing our country?