I’ve just received my “Known Traveler Number” from TSA. After my June trip to California to meet my newest grandson I decided to apply for PreCheck to avoid the lines, the inconvenience of taking off my shoes, and most importantly the indignity of the situation I encountered at LAX.
Going through the scanner, my groin area lit up bright orange on the screen causing me to be sidelined for fifteen minutes while I was – ahem – “patted down” – and databases were checked. I stood, horrified, wondering what in the hell made that happen. I was, after all, wearing exactly what I had worn when flying from NYC as I breezed through security: a sleeveless jumpsuit, panties and a bra. Nothing else!
So off to be fingerprinted and interviewed I went on Thursday. My appointment was at 12:20 at the newly set up kiosk in my local Staples. The overworked clerk was running about a half an hour late, which I took as pretty much par for the course for standing in any TSA line. I was relieved that she was nonetheless cheerful as she took my prints, photographed me and corrected a typo I had made on my online application. “Expect to receive your KTN in 20 to 30 days after your background check clears” she said as she called in the next customer.
The next day I got an email congratulating me on becoming a Known Traveler, with my own special number and PreCheck privileges until July 9, 2026.
I should have been relieved. Instead, I thought, “Holy crap, I guess I’m already a “Known Traveler!” Have I recently been vetted in some way that I didn’t even know was happening? Or am I just being paranoid instead of grateful that my government has been so efficient in handling my application?”
Then I remembered that Dan and I almost always received PreCheck privileges when we flew even though we hadn’t applied for them. “Random” passengers receive that benefit to speed things up. But how random was it really? I mean, he did work for the IRS and I’ve been screened at least twice well beyond the ordinary.
Over thirty years ago I was a finalist for a White House Fellowship, receiving a top security clearance in order to participate in the final selection round. At least one semi-finalist had been unable to clear that hurdle, which became the subject of whispered speculation at the weekend retreat we attended.
I still remember my security clearance interview at the FBI office in suburban Washington, D.C. The clean cut, dark suit-clad, very young agent knew EVERYTHING about me. Sitting in a cubicle, we had a discussion about my marijuana use. He asked me who else had been in the apartment where I had regularly smoked with college friends. Nervous, I rather flippantly replied, “I really don’t remember, that was kinda the whole point of getting high.” Oops.
“Did you ever do any other drugs or sell drugs?” he asked.
“No,” I answered – truthfully (although lots of people I knew had).
We moved on to questions about my sex life, all previous partners, anything tabloid worthy.
“Whew, now you know more about that than my mother!” I exclaimed, red-faced. (This was 1988 after all – before Cardi B celebrated female libido, at the start of Poppy Bush’s administration).
I even had to discuss why I had sought out counseling at various points, and provide the names of my therapists. Neighbors reported that questions about my financial responsibility and possible debts or gambling habits had been asked.
I mean, I get it, blackmail was the reason that my personal habits, history and temperament could become a worry, especially if I were to be less than transparent about them. That was why I had to undergo those most invasive questions, and why I had to tell the truth, and the whole truth and nothing but the truth under oath while answering them.
The second occasion for scrutiny into my character, associations and finances took place years later. I was chaperoning an AP US History class trip to the CIA, the only one ever held before or since, because one of my student’s parents was – well you can guess. All the kids were vetted, and that time I passed with flying colors, too.
Which is why I almost lost my damn mind when Jared was allowed to amend his security clearance application numerous times, when he and Ivanka were granted top security clearances despite rumblings in the FBI and the CIA about their unfitness. And how did they get them? They were granted by their clearly compromised boss, the only president to be suspected of actually being a Russian asset. I bet they have TSA PreCheck and Global Entry, too! Oh, and I guess if you fly in private planes or Air Force One you don’t get wanded or patted down either.
Unlike the Trumps, I have nothing to hide and got my clearances – presumably including my very hastily granted TSA PreCheck — the old-fashioned way, by actually being an honest person, even if my crotch did light up orange that one time. So there.
15 thoughts on “Becoming a “Known Traveler” and Why I am Still Mad About Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump”
Although I deplore a certain kind of thinking that exists in this society (not yours) I can understand their (ignorant) fear about losing what they call freedoms (and I call rights). I deplore the inequality of “rights” offered certain Jareds and Ivankas (et al) for no reason other than they are the nepotic fringe element of the former guy.
One of the first grown up lectures I ever got from my dad was to caution me against signing up for anything or joining anything. He had the highest security clearance the gubmint gave during the Cold War and IF during the McCarthy Days he’d signed up or joined any organization (in which he might have believed) he would not have had the job that ultimately provided for my mom and made it possible for my brother and me to go to college.
Later on, in my life, a friend was chosen to be on the US cabinet and I had to go through this. At this point in my life, I will have to go through the most excruciating security at the airport because of my bionic hips, presumably my entire nether region will glow. There is nowhere anywhere nearby where I can get the Known Traveler Card.
I’m just hoping that I won’t light up orange again, because I might have to still go through the scanner. But at least I won’t have to stand there while everyone looks at the screen showing it because they will probably not take fifteen minutes to figure out I am not a terrorist. And I’m also hoping that Jared and Ivanka end up in orange jumpsuits. Dan always had to be patted down because of his pacemaker precluding him from going through the scanner, but it was often pretty perfunctory.
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What I hope for Jared and Ivanka probably shouldn’t be written publicly. I really regret the emotions I had to uncover in myself during the past year in particular. But then I think to reach 68+ with so many ideals in place is pretty lucky. 🙂
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Wow, I can only imagine what my hippy background in Boston in the late 60’s (barely political, though I did sign up people for and did attend the March on Washington against the Viet Nam war) would reveal. Back to the land organic gardeners turned psychotherapists- not terrorist material but I suppose a definite affront to those who did not hold with alternative ideas back then, or perhaps even now. Well, I am glad you were cleared and got the stamp of approval for being safe to fly our skies once again. To see your grandson. Yay you.
I did some protesting and marching myself, and not just in the 60s. They didn’t seem too concerned about that, but of course that was in the days before cameras were everywhere.
Ah, brings back memories of my own clearance-related soul searching, and of handwringing colleagues going through their clearance checks and polygraphs!
Good memories I hope, LOL!!
In my first job out of college, I was submitted for a top secret security clearance. After a contentious discussion with a couple of agents where I wouldn’t divulge my drug sources and couldn’t convince them that ‘those days’ were behind me, I got a secret (but not top secret) clearance. There was a lot of mumbling in the halls about why I might not have gotten a top secret. I’m sure the guesses were pretty accurate. I’m a bit surprised I never made it onto a no fly list. Back in my hard OCD days, I used to send a lot of taunting, snarky emails to the Bush White House. I find the TSA rigmarole pretty stressful and triggering. I might do well to get prescreened. There are enough things to worry about on a travel day besides getting strip-searched because I used the wrong detergent.
The prescreening process was actually pretty simple. Go for it if you plan to fly any time soon. Between the COVID stuff and the security line it is beyond annoying.
Early in my career before we had kids, I was being considered for a job in Iran by the large contractor which employed me. I filled out a massive amount of forms for a security clearance but never heard any more about that job. I received good assignments and promotions on the commercial, computer, and corporate side of the business. Late in my career I was in a high level meeting concerning security clearances and the question of how we notify people who are rejected for clearances came up. The Security Director said, “We don’t. We just bury the paperwork.” That’s when I realized I had been rejected for clearance and probably never considered for a job that required one. Probably for being a member of the anti-war organization at my college or maybe some drug use they uncovered when I was a student. Who knows?
Wow. I guess I am lucky that I got mine!
Meanwhile, the real terrorists slip right through!
I hope you’ll write more about your experience as a finalist for a White House fellowship.
I might — it was quite an experience. Thanks for reading and commenting!
Justice is not fair, I’m afraid. Good for you for going through the hassle. I seem to get pre-checked quite a bit and don’t travel enough to become a Known Traveler, at this point. My brother works for the Navy, so the clearance hoops sounded very familiar. Goodness!
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Oh my, that kind of search would have just pushed me over the edge. So violating. I’ve had the pre-check clearance for 5 years and it is worth every penny. I don’t think I’ve had the “wand” more than once, but at least now I don’t get overly worried about the possibility. The loss of any kind of privacy really bothers me although I know it is the way it is. Maybe it’s my age and because I remember the “before.” My 33 year old son flew every other week for work a couple of years ago – he got patted down each time and it didn’t bother him. He never knew why (and didn’t have pre-check) and didn’t care. Something showed up on the scanner (I think it’s the pin in his once broken finger), but it didn’t phase him. Perhaps because a lack of privacy in society has always been his reality. Now Ivanka and Jared…another example of privilege and then some. Ugh.