TSA’s Guide to Spotting Potential Terrorists at Airports

Monday, March 30, 2015
TSA at work

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has come up with a list of tips for agents to determine whether a traveler might be a terrorist.


You might be a terrorist if . . . you have an exaggerated yawn.

You might be a terrorist if . . . you have a cold penetrating stare.

You might be a terrorist if . . . you’re whistling as you approach the screening area.

You might be a terrorist if . . . you rub or wring your hands.

You might be a terrorist if . . . you have B.O.


The criteria were found on a document (pdf) supplied to The Intercept. The document isn’t classified, but it has been closely held by the agency.


The TSA has even assigned point values to each suspicious act. Strong body odor, for example, is worth 1 point, while a cold penetrating stare rates 2 points. If a passenger appears to be in disguise, he’s assessed 3 points. Points can also be deducted for a passenger’s age, or if they appear to be traveling with a spouse. Anyone assessed 4 or 5 points is subject to further screening and 6 or more points causes a supervisor to be called.


The document is part of TSA’s Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) program. SPOT has previously been found to be of questionable worth by the Government Accountability Office and has been the subject of suits by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The signs of deception and fear “are ridiculous,” a former TSA behavior detection officer (BDO) told The Intercept. “These are just ‘catch all’ behaviors to justify BDO interaction with a passenger. A license to harass.”

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

TSA’S Secret Behavior Checklist to Spot Terrorists (by Jana Winter and Cora Currier, The Intercept)

SPOT Referral Report (pdf)

$1 Billion TSA Behavioral Screening Program Slammed as Ineffective “Junk Science” (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

TSA Behavior Detection Technique Deemed Not Much Better than “Chance” (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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