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.