TSA Is Keeping a Secret Watchlist of Those Who Resist

Are you a smart aleck to Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers? Have ever swatted away a screener’s hand or expressed displeasure at what you considered intrusive groping? Do you hang around airport checkpoints?

Well, you could be on America’s newest watchlist and not know it. That’s because the list is secret.

The agency’s official statement seems to indicate this is an arbitrary way to single out travelers who make officers unhappy, noting that it requires neither “injury” to a TSA employee nor an intent to injure. Instead, the list aims to include anyone who presents a “challenge” to the “safe and effective completion of screening.”

News of this list came out last month when a five-page memo was leaked to The New York Times revealing the agency had begun placing passengers on a new watchlist (different from the well-known “no-fly list” that flags suspected terrorists) if they engaged in behavior the agency found problematic.

That includes verbal altercations with TSA agents or interference in the screening process in any way. Even people who loiter near checkpoints in a suspicious manner could land on the list. It was created in February and is also known as a “95 list,” The Times said.

Only TSA knows who’s on it. Flyers cannot check whether they’re on the list, nor does there appear to be any way for them to appeal if somehow they should find out they’re listed. At least the directive obtained by The Times does not specify any appeal process. So in addition to the seemingly punitive motivations for creating the “95 list,” there’s the fact that once you’re on it — like other government lists targeting travelers — you may never come off.

TSA’s deputy chief counsel, Kelly Wheaton, told The Times that fewer than 50 people had been added so far. However, two other government security officials familiar with the list, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the number of names on the list could be higher, with travelers added daily.

Without citing evidence, TSA claims 34 screeners were “assaulted” last year. That was eight more than the year before, demonstrating, TSA says, the need for a special record of ornery travelers.  Keep in mind that these numbers are microscopic compared to the hundreds of millions screened every year.

All of this ambiguity is bad enough for Americans, but it could be really confounding for business travelers visiting the country, said Greeley Koch, executive director of the Association of Corporate Travel Executives.

It is especially problematic “for someone from outside America that isn’t used to the TSA and how there’s no uniformity in how they treat passengers,” Koch said. “If you’re a business traveler and you’re coming in and then all of a sudden subject to a pat-down search – if you make a bad comment, does that put you on this listing?”

The list was discussed in public for the first time at a recent House Homeland Security subcommittee meeting, said The Times, and representatives raised concerns over civil liberty implications. We can probably mark this down as a win for the terrorists because it doesn’t quite feel like a win for Americans.

So, have nice flights this summer, everyone!

Or, maybe just rent a car.