Acting TSA Head: Agency to Continue Using only Small Portion of Terror Watch List to Screen Passengers

By Matt Cover | March 5, 2010 | 5:50 PM EST

( – Acting Transportation Security Administration (TSA) administrator Gale Rossides said last week that her agency will continue its policy of screening airline passengers against only a fraction of the 400,000 name Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB) and will continue to allow some terrorists on that list to board planes.
Testifying before the House Appropriations Committee’s Homeland Security Subcommittee, Rossides revealed that TSA will continue with its Safe Flights program, which screens passengers against its No-Fly and Selectee lists, which she described as “important subsets” of the TSDB.
Rossides also revealed that some “known or suspected terrorists” would receive only “additional screening” before ultimately being allowed to board a U.S.-bound plane.
“DHS conducts pre-departure passenger screening in partnership with the airline industry and foreign governments in order to prevent known or suspected terrorists from boarding a plane bound for the United States or, as appropriate, to identify them for additional screening (before boarding),” Rossides told the committee.
“TSA uses the No-Fly List and the Selectee List, two important subsets within the Terrorist Screening Database managed by the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, to determine who may board, who requires further screening and who should be referred to appropriate law enforcement personnel,” she added.
Rossides explained that terrorists on the No-Fly list are not allowed to board while terrorists on the Selectee list are subjected to “additional security measures” before being allowed to board their flights and continue their travels.
“Individuals on the No-Fly list should not receive a boarding pass for a flight to, from, or within the United States. Individuals (terrorists) on the Selectee list must go through additional security measures, including a full-body pat-down and a full physical examination of personal effects (before being allowed to board.)”
As previously reported by, the TSDB is, according to the presidential directive that created it, was intended “to detect and interdict individuals known or reasonably suspected to be or have been engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism (‘terrorism suspects’) and terrorist activities.”
As subsets of the TSDB, the No-Fly and Selectee lists contain the names of “known or reasonably suspected” terrorists. However – as Acting Administrator Rossides revealed – the government does not use the entire TSDB to screen airline passengers, only the “subsets” that make up the No-Fly and Selectee lists, meaning that – as a matter of official policy -- the government allows some “known or reasonably suspected” terrorists to board airplanes full of American citizens.
According to a January 2009 report from the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, the No-Fly and Selectee lists only contain people whom the government views as direct threats to aviation.
“In applying more narrow requirements than the TSDB’s minimum substantive derogatory criteria requirements, the No Fly and Selectee lists are intended to prevent specific categories of terrorists from boarding commercial aircraft or subject these terrorists to secondary screening prior to boarding,” the report revealed.
The same report noted, however, that terrorists who are not on the two lists used by TSA could still threaten air travel.
“Although the use of No Fly and Selectee lists is largely successful in identifying potential terrorists who could threaten commercial aviation, some individuals not included on the lists may also present vulnerabilities to aviation security,” said the IG report.
Rossides revealed that the 2009 IG report had proven prophetic, telling Congress that Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had not been on either the No-Fly or Selectee lists and was therefore able to board his U.S.-bound flight.
“He was not on any terrorist watch list; he was neither a No-Fly nor a Selectee and so we did not have any visibility into (his movements.)”