TSA Behavior Detection Technique Deemed Not Much Better than “Chance”

Monday, November 18, 2013
TSA questioning (photo: Josh T. Reynolds, USA Today)

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has spent about a billion dollars in recent years to man airport security checkpoints with special personnel trained to “spot” people who might be potential threats. But the effort has amounted to little more than guessing on the part of TSA screeners, according to a critical government report (pdf).


The Government Accountability Office (GAO) says in its latest report that TSA’s S.P.O.T. program (Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques) is “the same as or slightly better than chance” in terms of getting it right and preventing attacks.


The procedure involves TSA officers spotting passengers who appear suspicious, and then engaging them in conversation to make a further determination as to their potential as a threat.


The GAO based its findings on a review of more than 400 studies related to detecting deception that were conducted during the past 60 years, as well as interviews with experts in the field.


The agency concluded that “the ability of human observers to accurately identify deceptive behavior based on behavioral cues or indicators is the same as or slightly better than chance (54 percent).” It also made reference to other studies that “do not support the use of behavioral indicators to identify mal-intent or threats to aviation.”


The agency currently employs 3,000 behavior detection officers at more than 170 airports around the nation as part of SPOT. The cost amounts to $200 million annually, or about $1 billion since the program began six years ago.


“TSA has yet to empirically demonstrate the effectiveness of the program despite spending about $900 million on it since 2007,” Steve Lord, who directed the investigation for the GAO, told the Associated Press.


GAO auditors also found that the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees TSA, issued a study two years ago to validate SPOT that used “unreliable data.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

TSA's Behavior Detection Procedure Is Not a Good Way to Spot Terrorists (by Brian Feldman, Atlantic Wire)

Aviation Security: TSA Should Limit Future Funding for Behavior Detection Activities - Highlights (U.S. Government Accountability Office)

Aviation Security: TSA Should Limit Future Funding for Behavior Detection Activities (U.S. Government Accountability Office) (pdf)

Federal Probe Questions Value of TSA Behavior Profiling Efforts at Airports (Associated Press)

Clerical Blunder Reveals TSA Considers Airport Terrorist Attack Unlikely (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)          

Dallas TSA Accused of Body-Scanning Women with Attractive Figures (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)         


Raider 10 years ago
The TSA along with its parent the gestapo like DHS, must be shut down and dismantled permanently. The sooner the better.

Leave a comment