TSA workers to get classified intelligenceBy KEITH HERBERT
February 13, 2010
As many as 10,000 Transportation Security Administration workers will have access to classified intelligence as a tool to keep terrorists off airplanes, a TSA official said Friday.
The TSA developed a plan in July 2008 that would give some of its workers access to secret intelligence, said Ann Davis, a TSA spokeswoman.
"It's sort of a natural progression for professionally trained officers," Davis told Newsday. So far, about 750 people have been trained to receive secret intelligence, she said, and it could take two years for all 10,000 to be trained. The plan was reported Friday in USA Today.
Anything the TSA does to make the "rank and file better at their jobs" would be positive, said Alvy Dodson, a former TSA security director who now works in private industry. "I always thought we needed to share as much information as we could with the people actually doing the job," Dodson said.
Rep. Peter King, (R-Seaford), ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, said TSA employees who get access to secret intelligence won't be the workers "going through your bags," but supervisors.
Background checks workers must receive are equivalent to those a Department of Defense employee or a soldier going to Iraq would get, he said.
Typically the information TSA workers will receive includes the native country of a terrorist and particular types of threats, King said. "I think basically it's a good idea," he said.
According to Dodson, who left the agency a year and a half ago, airport security workers received some intelligence briefing from managers. But the latest move "seems to be taking the next step," giving workers access to more detailed data.
Many of the workers slated to get access to the secret intelligence are uniformed TSA officers, including behavior detection officers trained to identify and observe "high-risk" passengers based upon their behavior. There are 3,000 such officers at 161 airports across the country, Davis said. The information is classified one notch below "Top Secret," she said.
About 2.5 million people have security clearances in the United States, many with the military or defense contractors.
Kate Hanni, founder of FlyersRights.org, a nonprofit passenger advocate group, praised the plan. TSA workers with access to secret intelligence will better be able to select which passengers need full-body screening and searches, she said.
"It's about time," she added.