Changes within the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) should  prompt you to reconsider the wisdom of crossing into or out of the United States.

The TSA is slowly turning from counter-terrorism to criminal law enforcement, which will include the pursuit of tax violaters. And you may not be able to rely on the agency’s notorious incompetence for much longer.    

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Meet the New Sheriff. Not Quite like the Old

John Pistole stepped down as head of the TSA on December 31, leaving an acting administrator to keep the seat warm. On February 3, Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus,NY) conducted his first hearing as chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security. News reports glowed about his ‘performance’, saying “Katko looked as if he’s done this before.”  All signs point to Katko becoming a new power player behind the TSA.

The man is a hard-liner with a mandate. The freshly-elected Katko is an award-winning federal prosecutor who secured his Congressional seat by a staggering 20 percentage points of the vote even though his democratic opponent overspent him by millions. After his first subcommittee hearing, Katko explained that his training in the US Attorney General’s Office made heading the subcommittee “a very easy transition.”   

Having been a prosecutor also defines his vision of the TSA and whom its agents should target. Pistole had publicly stressed the need to control terrorists. Katko now publicly calls for the detection and detention of anyone suspected or guilty of committing a crime…any crime. Only one month into his stint at the House of Representatives, Katko has introduced two bipartisan bills aimed at reforming the TSA. 

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One of them, the TSA Office of Inspection Accountability Act (HR 719) would require TSA law enforcement officers to “spend on average at least 50 percent of their time investigating, apprehending, or detaining individuals suspected or convicted of offenses against the criminal laws of the United States.” Katko accuses the current TSA of relying “primarily” on the “criminal investigations conducted by other agencies.” He wants its agents to conduct their own investigations.

There is no indication of which crimes would absorb 50% of the focus of TSA agents.  The category “crime” is so broad that it includes everything from prostitution to drunk driving, murder to rape, insider trading to bribery, domestic violence to child support arrears. Tax violations, money laundering and other financial ‘crimes’ are likely to be among the most hotly pursued ‘crimes’ because they invite the confiscation of goods and bank accounts; they would be profitable. And, since individuals only need to be “suspected” of a crime, almost anyone crossing the US Border could be summarily detained aka arrested.

“Show me the man, and I’ll show you the crime.” – Lavrentiy Beria, head of Joseph Stalin’s secret police

HR 719 (and Katko) would convert the TSA into an explicit frontline for the enforcement of criminal law in America.

Don’t Rely on the TSA’s Incompetence

In an article entitled “New Bill Turns TSA Into Tax Police,” InfoWars (Feb. 6) observed, “The TSA already delves into a treasure trove of private information about all Americans in the name of security before they even arrive at the airport, including tax identification numbers, vehicle and job history, and property ownership records.”

But the TSA confronts two problems in gathering information about travellers. First, it is an incompetent bureaucracy. Second, few people have signed up for its PreCheck program through which the TSA hoped to reap a bonanza of sensitive information.

The PreCheck program allows a traveller to be approved for quick TSA processing at airports; for example, the traveller will never need to remove his shoes or to endure secondary screening. The cost to the PreChecked traveller is $85 and the surrender of personal data on everything from financial transactions to interactions with family.  

TechDirt (Jan. 23) listed the type of “commercial data” that enrollment opens to TSA eyes. It includes: “public record data, such as criminal history and real estate records produced by federal, state, and local governments; other publicly available information, such as directories, press reports, location data and information that individuals post on blogs and social media sites; and wide ranging data such as purchase information, customer lists from registration websites, and self-reported information provided by consumers that is obtained by commercial data sources such as data brokers.”

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But not enough travellers were willing to turn their data over to the TSA in exchange for keeping their shoes on. Of course, the TSA views the low enrollment as a marketing problem rather than the result of their offering a bad product. The official solution? The TSA quietly announced its plans to hire huge data mining companies to woo Americans into the PreCheck program.  Those who fly should expect solicitations and promotions from the quasi-private sector — also known as crony capitalists — over 2015.

Before you sign up, however, read the small print because the data companies want more than your enrollment. They will want permission to access your credit card accounts, your grocery receipts, your Facebook and twitter posts…and to do so on a continuing basis.

The information has clear commercial value to any company that possesses it. But the data will also be used to provide the TSA with an assessment of a traveller as a terror risk. The TSA is confident enough about this method of assessment that it is considering a reduction in airport screeners for whom the massive outsourced data mining would substitute.  (It is not clear whether the information will be used by other government agencies. But private companies have the ‘advantage’ of not being subject to constitutional restraints on their behavior.)

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If HR 719 and Katko are successful, then the TSA will undoubtedly receive an assessment of a traveller’s criminal status as well. Even if HR 719 is not successful, criminal evaluations are likely to occur. In soliciting bids for “multiple vendors” of PreCheck, for example, the TSA was clear that it  explicitly wanted data correlations between terrorism, criminal behavior and commercial conduct. Moreover, the bid solicitation reads,

“Contractors may use commercial data to conduct an eligibility evaluation (also known as pre-screening) of potential applicants. The eligibility evaluation shall include, at a minimum, validating identity and performing a criminal history records check to ensure that applicants do not have disqualifying convictions in conjunction with the TSA Pre?® disqualifying offenses…” 

[Note: the actual bid solicitation seems to have disappeared from online.]

Of course, the evaluations may (and probably will) occur whether or not you enroll in PreCheck; but they will be more difficult to generate and, perhaps, less thorough.

In a sad irony, travellers who eschew PreCheck for privacy reasons may receive enhanced scrutiny. The Federal Register describes the PreCheck program as “a risk-based approach to aviation screening that allows TSA to focus its limited resources on unknown and perhaps high-risk travelers.” This means greater suspicion and TSA time-hours will fall upon those who have opted not to be pre-cleared as a terrorist risk or as a criminal. Such people can expect longer lines, greater inspection and more indignities.

Two facts seem clear about the TSA in the coming year. First, the agency will focus increasingly upon criminal screening, including (and, perhaps, with special emphasis) upon financial and tax ‘crimes’. Arrests, fines and confiscations at the border will almost certainly increase. Second, travellers will be evaluated with more competence by semi-private data companies than they were by low-level civil servants. Any information culled — even from unrelated parties such as Facebook — may be a larger factor in your ability to cross the border… or for the process to move forward smoothly.  


Stop travelling to or from the United States. If you live within American territory, consider other options. If you choose to stay, be aware that the borders are closing, and it may happen more quickly than you expect.

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