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New law aims to speed airport screening of military personnel

By Mike M. Ahlers, CNN
updated 8:17 PM EST, Tue January 3, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A new law requires the TSA to study ways of speeding screening of military personnel
  • President Obama signed the law on Tuesday
  • The already is testing card scanning for military personnel
  • Expediting military means the TSA can focus on higher-risk travelers, supporters say

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Members of the military may get expedited treatment at airport security checkpoints under a law signed Tuesday by President Obama.

The law, authored by Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-Minnesota, requires the Transportation Security Administration to study ways to speed up screening of service members and, to the extent possible, their families, when the service members are in uniform and traveling on orders.

Cravaack, a 24-year Navy veteran and former Northwest Airlines pilot, was inspired to introduce the bill after witnessing a soldier remove his boots while going through security at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport.

"It seemed way too excessive for someone who was obviously a patriot serving his country," said the congressman's spokesman, Michael Bars.

The new law was signed just days after two incidents involving the same soldier at airports in North Carolina and Texas.

According to court records, Trey Scott Atwater, a 30-year-old Army Green Beret, had a military smoke grenade in his bag when he was leaving Fayetteville, North Carolina, on Christmas Eve headed for Texas. He was allowed to continue on his trip.

On Saturday, he was arrested at Midland International Airport in Texas on his return trip when TSA screeners found an undisclosed amount of C-4 explosives in his bag. Authorities said Atwater did not have a detonator and initiator, that it would not have been possible to detonate the explosives, and that it did not appear he was up to anything nefarious.

It was not immediately clear how any checkpoint changes would impact cases like Atwater's. Bars said the new law is intended to expedite screening, but not reduce security. Currently, the TSA expedites screening for trusted travelers by dedicating a special line for them, and by allowing them to keep their shoes on and keep laptops in their carry-on bags.

The new law says the TSA should establish guidelines for screening travelers in military uniforms and combat boots, and consider incorporating military personnel into trusted traveler programs that give preference to passengers who undergo pre-screening. Nothing in the law prohibits additional screening of the service member if intelligence or law enforcement information indicates that additional screening is necessary.

In November, TSA Administrator John Pistole told CNN that he was already working on ways to expedite screening for service members. The TSA was starting to tests its ability to scan military ID cards, known as "Common Access Cards," at a regional airport in Monterey, CA.

Pistole said the TSA test would not immediately result in quicker screening for service members. But if tests are successful, "we hope to expand that to airports that would have a large number of military personnel traveling through them," he said.

Supporters of the initiative said that by expediting the screening of military personnel, the TSA will have more time to focus on unknown travelers who could present a higher risk."

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