Congressmen concerned about TSA’s Abu Dhabi pre-clearance program

Abu Dhabi International Airport. (Courtesy of Abu Dhabi International Airport)
Abu Dhabi International Airport. (Courtesy of Abu Dhabi International Airport)

Two key Democrats this week raised concerns about a federal program that allows passengers to bypass screening at U.S. airports after arriving from the United Arab Emirates’ Abu Dhabi International Airport.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Cedric L. Richmond (D-La.), the top Democrat on one of the panel’s subcommittees, suggested in a letter to Transportation Security Administration Administrator John Pistole that the operation has moved forward without proper certification.   

TSA spokesman Ross Feinstein said this week that the agency plans to respond directly to members of Congress about their concerns. He added: “TSA continues to ensure that appropriate security measures are being applied to all U.S.-bound flights to ensure the safety of the traveling public.”

Under the program in question, American authorities can clear passengers through a U.S. screening facility at the Abu Dhabi airport, allowing those individuals to be treated as domestic travelers once they reach the United States.

The congressmen said a “high-level TSA official” gave them assurances that security officers would re-check passengers who arrive from the United Arab Emirates until the pre-clearance program was certified. But TSA began a soft launch on Feb. 5, allowing travelers to “deplane directly into the sterile area of airports in the Unites States and board connecting flights without being re-screened,” according to the letter.

Thompson and Richmond said proper implementation of the pre-clearance program is “critical to our domestic security in light of the high threat nature of the passengers transiting through Abu Dhabi International Airport.”

The congressmen also said they were dismayed to learn about the soft launch on the same day TSA issued a temporary security directive stemming from concerns about potential terrorist attacks during the Winter Olympics. The new policy prohibits liquids, aerosols and powders on board flights between the United States and Russia, in addition to requiring in-person check-ins from passengers traveling between those two countries.

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Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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Josh Hicks · February 13