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Feeling Nervous? 3,000 Behavior Detection Officers Will Be Watching You at the Airport This Thanksgiving

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Liliana Segura
AlterNet
Tuesday, Nov 24th, 2009

Nearly 100,000 passengers were pulled aside by TSA behavior watchers last year, and it remains to be proven whether you can spot terrorists by the looks on their faces.

Here’s a question to ponder the next time you’re taking off your shoes at airport security: Can you spot terrorists by the look on their faces?

For the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the answer is yes. For the past few years, airports across the country have been using what many call “behavioral surveillance” to weed out potential hijackers among us, by covertly examining travelers’ facial expressions and body language as they go through security. Unlike those airport employees who herd us along as we remove our shoes and relinquish all liquids over three ounces (with dubious results), this new program, named “Screening Passengers by Observational Techniques,” or “SPOT,” is carried out by TSA employees who have been trained to monitor travelers’ faces and movements. As Americans head out of town this holiday season, more than 3,000 “Behavior Detection Officers” will be at 161 airports nationwide, watching our every move.

Tthe TSA boasts that the SPOT program is “derivative of other successful behavioral analysis programs that have been employed by law enforcement and security personnel both in the U.S. and around the world.” Yet, the success of the SPOT program remains highly questionable. This month the Washington Post reported that, in 2008 alone, Behavior Detection Officers across the country pulled 98,805 passengers aside for additional screenings, out of which 9,854 were questioned by local police. 813 were eventually arrested.

The cost of the program, according to TSA spokesperson Ann Davis, was $3.1 million.

In an e-mail correspondence with AlterNet, Davis could not say how many of the 813 arrests led to convictions — or for that matter, whether any terrorists were caught. “Many of the SPOT cases that resulted in arrests remain under active investigation by law enforcement,” she said. “TSA doesn’t always hear back from the investigative agencies on the outcome of the cases so we cannot track convictions.”

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This article was posted: Tuesday, November 24, 2009 at 10:24 am





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