Behavioral observation program questioned

Published 8 April 2008

TSDA has been training security officers in behavioral observation, then placed them in major U.S. airports to observe passengers and note suspicious behavior; in the past four years, 104,000 passengers were pulled out of line to answer to more serious security measures, but fewer than 700 were arrested – all on criminal, rather than terror, charges; critics are not sure the $45 million annual tab is justified

Four years ago the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
began an airport security program to study the behavioral patterns of
passengers in attempt to weed out would-be suicide bombers or other types of
terrorists (see HSDW story). The major airports of the United States have been carrying
out this type of screening – called SPOT (for Screening Passengers by
Observation Technique) — for the last
four years and have mostly yielded fake IDs and skittish flyers. No terrorist
plots have been foiled with this method. The program supporters argue it is a
worthy system to complement random searches and a good alternative to racial
profiling. Since the program began in the United States, out of the 104,000
passengers who were pulled out of line to answer to more serious security
measures, fewer than 700 were ever arrested on criminal charges. TSA says that
out of the 104,000 passengers, only
about half were even suspected of any crime, but the other half showed behavior
that behavioral observers felt called for further investigation.

program was founded after a similar program used in Israel, and SPOT will ask
for $45 million in funding this year.