[lbo-talk] TSA news

Dennis Claxton ddclaxton at earthlink.net
Wed Aug 17 20:55:30 PDT 2011

Two weeks training!



As part of the TSA's new behavior-detection pilot program that started this week, screeners are engaging each passenger in Terminal A [in Boston] in casual conversation in an effort to detect suspicious behavior. After passengers provide their boarding pass and ID, they have to answer a few questions from TSA officers who have received two weeks of training.


Such like has been going on for a while. Screening for "microexpression" also began in Boston:

August 17, 2006 Screening

Faces, Too, Are Searched at U.S. Airports


DULLES, Va., Aug. 16 ­ As the man approached the airport security checkpoint here on Wednesday, he kept picking up and putting down his backpack, touching his fingers to his chin, rubbing some object in his hands and finally reaching for his pack of cigarettes, even though smoking was not allowed.

Two Transportation Security Administration officers stood nearby, nearly motionless and silent, gazing straight at him. Then, with a nod, they moved in, chatting briefly with the man, and then swiftly pulled him aside for an intense search.

Another airline passenger had just made the acquaintance of the transportation agency’s “behavior detection officers.”

Taking a page from Israeli airport security, the transportation agency has been experimenting with this new squad, whose members do not look for bombs, guns or knives. Instead, the assignment is to find anyone with evil intent.

So far, these specially trained officers are working in only about a dozen airports nationwide, including Dulles International Airport here outside Washington, and they represent just a tiny percentage of the transportation agency’s 43,000 screeners.

But after the reported liquid bomb plot in Britain, agency officials say they want to have hundreds of behavior detection officers trained by the end of next year and deployed at most of the nation’s biggest airports.

“The observation of human behavior is probably the hardest thing to defeat,” said Waverly Cousin, a former police officer and checkpoint screener who is now the supervisor of the behavior detection unit at Dulles. “You just don’t know what I am going to see.”

Even in its infancy, the program has elicited some protests.

At one airport, passengers singled out solely because of their behavior have at times been threatened with detention if they did not cooperate, raising constitutional issues that are already being argued in court. Some civil liberties experts said that the program, if not run properly, could turn into another version of racial profiling.

Other concerns were raised this week by two of the foremost proponents of the techniques, a former Israeli security official and a behavioral psychologist who developed the system of observing involuntarily muscular reactions to gauge a person’s state of mind.

They said in interviews that the agency’s approach puts too little emphasis on the follow-up interview and relies on a behavior-scoring system that is not necessarily applicable to airports.

“It may be the best that can be done now, but it is not nearly good enough,” said Paul Ekman, a retired psychology professor from the University of California, San Francisco, who specializes in detecting lies and deceit, and has helped the T.S.A. set up its program. “We could do much better, and we should because it could save lives.”

Agency officials said they recognize that the program, which they call Screening Passengers by Observation Technique, or SPOT, may not yet be perfect. But they added that they were constantly making adjustments and that they were convinced that it was a valuable addition to their security tool chest.

“There are infinite ways to find things to use as a weapon and infinite ways to hide them,” said the director of the T.S.A., Kip Hawley, in an interview this week. “But if you can identify the individual, it is by far the better way to find the threat.”

The American version of the airport behavior observation program got its start in Boston, said Thomas G. Robbins, former commander of the Logan International Airport police.


More information about the lbo-talk mailing list