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Ian McColgin
03-30-2015, 09:02 AM
[IMc - The fact that TSA has been employing a magical pseudo-science should come as no surprise. From "The Intercept".]

EXCLUSIVE: TSA’S SECRET BEHAVIOR CHECKLIST TO SPOT TERRORISTS

BY JANA WINTER AND CORA CURRIER @janawinter@coracurrier FRIDAY AT 9:59 AM

Fidgeting, whistling, sweaty palms. Add one point each. Arrogance, a cold penetrating stare, and rigid posture, two points.

These are just a few of the suspicious signs that the Transportation Security Administration directs its officers to look out for — and score — in airport travelers, according to a confidential TSA document obtained exclusively by The Intercept.

The checklist is part of TSA’s controversial program to identify potential terrorists based on behaviors that it thinks indicate stress or deception — known as the Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques, or SPOT. The program employs specially trained officers, known as Behavior Detection Officers, to watch and interact with passengers going through screening.

The document listing the criteria, known as the “Spot Referral Report,” is not classified, but it has been closely held by TSA and has not been previously released. A copy was provided to The Intercept by a source concerned about the quality of the program.

The checklist ranges from the mind-numbingly obvious, like “appears to be in disguise,” which is worth three points, to the downright dubious, like a bobbing Adam’s apple. Many indicators, like “trembling” and “arriving late for flight,” appear to confirm allegations that the program picks out signs and emotions that are common to many people who fly.

A TSA spokesperson declined to comment on the criteria obtained by The Intercept. “Behavior detection, which is just one element of the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) efforts to mitigate threats against the traveling public, is vital to TSA’s layered approach to deter, detect and disrupt individuals who pose a threat to aviation,” a spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

Since its introduction in 2007, the SPOT program has attracted controversy for the lack of science supporting it. In 2013, the Government Accountability Office found that there was no evidence to back up the idea that “behavioral indicators … can be used to identify persons who may pose a risk to aviation security.” After analyzing hundreds of scientific studies, the GAO concluded that “the human ability to accurately identify deceptive behavior based on behavioral indicators is the same as or slightly better than chance.”

The inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security found in 2013 that TSA had failed to evaluate SPOT, and “cannot ensure that passengers at United States airports are screened objectively, show that the program is cost-effective, or reasonably justify the program’s expansion.”

Despite those concerns, TSA has trained and deployed thousands of Behavior Detection Officers, and the program has cost more than $900 million since it began in 2007, according to the GAO.

The 92-point checklist listed in the “Spot Referral Report” is divided into various categories with a point score for each. Those categories include a preliminary “observation and behavior analysis,” and then those passengers pulled over for additional inspection are scored based on two more categories: whether they have “unusual items,” like almanacs and “numerous prepaid calling cards or cell phones,” and a final category for “signs of deception,” which include “covers mouth with hand when speaking” and “fast eye blink rate.

Points can also be deducted from someone’s score based on observations about the traveler that make him or her less likely, in TSA’s eyes, to be a terrorist. For example, “apparent” married couples, if both people are over 55, have two points deducted off their score. Women over the age of 55 have one pointed deducted; for men, the point deduction doesn’t come until they reach 65.

Last week, the ACLU sued TSA to obtain records related to its behavior detection programs, alleging that they lead to racial profiling. The lawsuit is based on a Freedom of Information Act request the ACLU filed last November asking for numerous documents related to the program, including the scientific justification for the program, changes to the list of behavior indicators, materials used to train officers and screen passengers, and what happens to the information collected on travelers.

“The TSA has insisted on keeping documents about SPOT secret, but the agency can’t hide the fact that there’s no evidence the program works,” said Hugh Handeyside, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project, in a statement announcing the lawsuit.

Being on the lookout for suspicious behavior is a “common sense approach” that is used by law enforcement, according to TSA. “No single behavior alone will cause a traveler to be referred to additional screening or will result in a call to a law enforcement officer (LEO),” the agency said in its emailed statement. “Officers are trained and audited to ensure referrals for additional screening are based only on observable behaviors and not race or ethnicity.”

One former Behavior Detection Officer manager, who asked not to be identified, said that SPOT indicators are used by law enforcement to justify pulling aside anyone officers find suspicious, rather than acting as an actual checklist for specific indicators. “The SPOT sheet was designed in such a way that virtually every passenger will exhibit multiple ‘behaviors’ that can be assigned a SPOT sheet value,” the former manager said.

The signs of deception and fear “are ridiculous,” the source continued. “These are just ‘catch all’ behaviors to justify BDO interaction with a passenger. A license to harass.”

The observations of a TSA screener or a Behavior Detection Officer shouldn’t be the basis for referring someone to law enforcement. “The program is flawed and unnecessarily delays and harasses travelers. Taxpayer dollars would be better spent funding real police at TSA checkpoints,” the former manager said.

A second former Behavior Detection Officer manager, who also asked not to be identified, told The Intercept that the program suffers from lack of science and simple inconsistency, with every airport training its officers differently. “The SPOT program is bull$hit,” the manager told The Intercept. “Complete bull$hit.”

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RonW
03-30-2015, 09:05 AM
This appears to be more anti-government and less security for the citizens from the radical left who wants us all subjected 3rd to world standards of security.

Paul Pless
03-30-2015, 09:08 AM
a few years ago they rolled out a 'friendly conversation' program as apart of their screening process
i always got a kick out that. . .

Peerie Maa
03-30-2015, 09:11 AM
This appears to be more anti-government and less security for the citizens from the radical left who wants us all subjected 3rd to world standards of security.

I've friends and colleagues who fly into the US. They report that your security is already third world standard.

Canoez
03-30-2015, 09:17 AM
a few years ago they rolled out a 'friendly conversation' program as apart of their screening process
i always got a kick out that. . .

El Al has been doing that for years... However I think it qualifies for more than just a 'friendly conversation'.

Gerarddm
03-30-2015, 09:56 AM
In the early 70s I visited a college chum in London over a long weekend. Had longish hair and a Fu Manchu mustache back then. When we came back into Logan Airport in Boston I was nervous and concerned that my short duration trip would arouse suspicions and boy it did. They interpreted my nervousness for being a drug mule. Couldn't get out of the airport until they strip searched me for drugs, even trying to pry the heels off my cowboy boots.

BrianW
03-30-2015, 10:20 AM
I've friends and colleagues who fly into the US. They report that your security is already third world standard.

I don't care for TSA very much, and feel they could do a lot of things better, but to rate their level of security as 'third world' comes across as arrogance to me.

I don't base that on what my friends have said. I base it on having flow both internationally and domestically a lot. I've flown in the UK, both internationally multiple times, and domestic once. Europe, Schiphol and Charles de Gaulle multiple times. Dubai, multiple times. Costa Rica, Hong Kong, Beijing, Brunei.

They all do things a bit differently. In the US, you have to remove your shoes, but can leave your belt on. At Schiphol you can leave your shoes on, but will get ugly stares if you tell them your belt is all plastic and suggest keeping it on.

The US likes to place security between the ticket counters and the gates, some other countries like to conduct security at the individual gates based on destination. That means having unchecked people roaming the inner workings of the airport. Some places do both at random.

I know in some airports, the metal detectors thresholds are set pretty high (or low, however you look at it), based on the sheer number of first time travelers who wear a bunch of jewelry and other metals bits of clothing. The security guys more concerned with getting passengers through than proper scanning.

But there's no way that the security in the US rates as third world. It may not be the best, but it's as good as most.

Jim Mahan
03-30-2015, 10:36 AM
Arrogance, a cold penetrating stare, and rigid posture, two points.

The look of any ordinary person pissed off about the security BS foisted on everyone standing in line, since 911.


...the program picks out signs and emotions that are common to many people who fly.

...the program picks out signs and emotions that are common to many people who—are pissed off about the security BS.


...and the program has cost more than $900 million since it began in 2007, according to the GAO.

What a deal, eight years of pointless, mostly useless, annoying, time-wasting boondoggle affecting hundreds of millions of travellers, for a mere $900 million. They must have had a couple of consultants.

John of Phoenix
03-30-2015, 11:26 AM
I was waiting in line to go through the metal detector when a TSA agent started roaming up and down the rather long line loudly saying, almost shouting, in as authoritative voice as he could muster, "Take off your shoes, take off your belt, take off your jacket or sweater. Take off your shoes, take off your belt, take off your jacket or sweater. Take off your shoes, take off your belt, take off your jacket or sweater."

After a couple of laps up and down the line, a large woman said in an equally loud voice, "I ain't takin' off no more clothes until someone gives me some MONEY!"

The place exploded.

The Bigfella
03-30-2015, 01:42 PM
Not that long after 911, there were planeloads of Americans flying in to Oz to see what we had with SmartGate. The guy who developed it was a client.

BrianW
03-30-2015, 03:07 PM
Not that long after 911, there were planeloads of Americans flying in to Oz to see what we had with SmartGate. The guy who developed it was a client.

I'm a US Customs "Trusted Traveller" and use Global Entry Kiosks when entering the USA, bypassing long lines.

Like your smart gate (from what I can tell on their website) neither is intended as a security alternative, just a passport control alternative.

John of Phoenix
03-30-2015, 03:18 PM
There's no "security" check coming OFF a plane, just immigration and customs though I suppose immigration is a security screening for undesirable individuals vs contraband.

BrianW
03-30-2015, 04:11 PM
There's no "security" check coming OFF a plane, just immigration and customs...

In theory, but at SeaTac when arriving internationally, and continuing on a domestic flight, you will pass through passport control, gather your luggage if you have any, pass through customs, recheck your bags, then go through TSA security screening before reentering the secure portion of the airport.

If SeaTac is your final stop, then there's no need to go through TSA security again.

I don't recall going through that in Atlanta, but it's possible it's the same. I don't recall the process at all. ;)



...though I suppose immigration is a security screening for undesirable individuals vs contraband.

I think some people classify the whole process as "security". I realize you meant just the TSA portion.

John of Phoenix
03-30-2015, 04:46 PM
Brian, when I came back through Schiphol a couple of years ago, they had a screening process I'd never seen before. A security officer casually interviewed each party, four people in our case, just before entering the gate area. Questions like, "Did you enjoy your visit? Where did you stay? A nice hotel? What did you think of our canals/museums/food/cafes, etc." All very non-threatening almost like tourist bureau survey. Then I noticed another officer standing off to the side. He was the observer, the Behavior Detection Officer. No one else in our group was aware of him. I thought it was effective and very thorough without being an in-your-face intimidating interrogation.

Have you experienced anything similar?

BrianW
03-30-2015, 07:09 PM
Brian, when I came back through Schiphol a couple of years ago, they had a screening process I'd never seen before. A security officer casually interviewed each party, four people in our case, just before entering the gate area. Questions like, "Did you enjoy your visit? Where did you stay? A nice hotel? What did you think of our canals/museums/food/cafes, etc." All very non-threatening almost like tourist bureau survey. Then I noticed another officer standing off to the side. He was the observer, the Behavior Detection Officer. No one else in our group was aware of him. I thought it was effective and very thorough without being an in-your-face intimidating interrogation.

Have you experienced anything similar?

Nope. Maybe because I was traveling alone? Or maybe I just didn't notice the shakedown. ;)

Schiphol is one of the "security at the gate" airports. After going into town (and leaving my gear in a storage locker in the airport!) on returning to the airport I only went through passport control, with no security check, until at the gate just prior to boarding the plane.

That's not a bad idea, as then passengers cannot miss their flight because security was busy. It does require a lot more equipment though. The security personnel just mover from gate to gate, so that's not a problem

skuthorp
03-30-2015, 07:13 PM
Our airport mob have been sucessfull in intercepting several prospective IS fighters and sending them off without their passports.
That said I reckon there's a lot of smoke and mirrors, and much 'gut feeling' about such interventions. Personal and official prejudices are likely to play a part, they're all human after all.

Jim Bow
03-30-2015, 10:00 PM
When we flew home from Heathrow, there was a nice young woman going around with a questionnaire about ,what she called, "The Heathrow Experience". She asked questions about shopping and food at the airport. I noticed that some were questioned far longer than others. I think it was a friendly way of testing for evil intent.