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TSA wasting money by profiling passenger behavior says GovernmentAccountability Office
TSA wasting money by profiling passengers’ behavior, investigators say
By Stephen Dinan
The Washington Times
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Government investigators said Wednesday that there is little evidence to
show TSA employees are able to pick out potential terrorists by
profiling behavior and that the agency may be wasting hundreds of
millions of dollars on the 3,000 officers hired to do so.
The Government Accountability Office, which is Congress‘ chief watchdog,
said it has reviewed all of the major research and said, at best, the
Transportation Security Administration’s behavior detection officers do
only slightly better than random chance in singling out high-risk
The GAO recommended that TSA dramatically scale back the program until
it can prove a real payoff.
“Until TSA can provide scientifically validated evidence demonstrating
that behavioral indicators can be used to identify passengers who may
pose a threat to aviation security, the agency risks funding activities
that have not been determined to be effective,” the investigators said.
TSA began the program in 2007 and by 2012 had deployed about 3,000
behavior detection officers to 176 airports throughout the country. It
costs about $200 million a year to maintain the program.
The behavior officers are different from the transportation security
officers, who screen passengers and luggage.
The officers are trained to watch for 94 signs of stress, fear or
deception, but even some of the officers interviewed by investigators
acknowledged that the indicators are subjective. Indeed, officers at
some airports picked out potential high-risk passengers at far higher
rates than other airports.
The GAO didn’t release the names of the airports in the public version
of its study.
Rep. Bennie G. Thompson of Mississippi, the top Democrat on the House
Homeland Security Committee, said the findings show it’s time to scrap
the behavior program altogether.
“TSA’s Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques program is
fundamentally flawed, cannot be proven effective, and should no longer
be funded with taxpayer dollars,” Mr. Thompson said.
TSA Administrator John S. Pistole is scheduled to appear before the
Homeland Security Committee on Thursday to talk about the recent
shooting at Los Angeles International Airport. Mr. Thompson said the
agency chief will have to explain why he thinks the behavior money is
In its official response to the report, TSA vehemently rejected the
findings, arguing that behavior detection is an “accepted practice”
within law enforcement and said it still should be part of their system.
Desperate to preserve the program, TSA defended the research and said
its own study shows its officers are “substantially better at
identifying high-risk passengers than a random screening protocol.”
TSA said it is trying to improve its methodology by streamlining the
list of behaviors targeted by officers and establishing metrics for the
“The goal of the TSA behavior detection program is to identify
individuals exhibiting behavior indicative of simple emotions (e.g.
fear, stress) and re-route them to a higher level of screening,” the
agency said. “TSA’s behavior detection approach does not attempt to
specifically identify persons engaging in lying or terrorist acts.”
GAO said research shows there could be value to studying behavior in
connection with an interview, but that is not part of TSA’s program.
Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael T. McCaul, Texas
Republican, said he still sees some value in behavior detection but that
the GAO report’s conclusions “are concerning.”
“The terrorist threats to our aviation system require us to constantly
re-evaluate and evolve our security procedures, and if this program
isn’t working, we need to find something that will,” he said.
Some passengers have complained that the program amounts to racial or
ethnic profiling, and TSA has tried to take steps to crack down on that.
But of the 25 officers interviewed by investigators for the report, 20
percent said racial profiling was happening at their airports.
GAO investigators said the TSA doesn’t collect enough data to determine
whether profiling was occurring.
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