TSA to Demand Eye Contact (and a Business Card) Before You Fly

Via Alan H., Boston TSA screeners “soon will be carrying out sophisticated behavioral inspections.”

The training for the Israeli-style screening — a projected $1 billion national program dubbed Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques — kicks off today at Logan International Airport and will be put to use in Terminal A on Aug. 15. It requires screeners to make quick reads of whether passengers pose a danger or a terror threat based on their reactions to a set of routine questions…

…Under the SPOT program, as passengers hand over their boarding passes and identification, specially trained agents will ask three to four questions — from “Where have you been?” to “Do you have a business card?” and “Where are you traveling?” — while looking for “micro expressions,” such as lack of eye contact, that might hint at nefarious intent.

Suspicious individuals will be pulled aside for more questioning, full-body scans and pat-downs. If the encounter escalates, agents will call in state police.

At Logan, about 70 agents — all with college degrees — are undergoing training by an international consulting firm that includes a four-day classroom course and 24 hours of on-the-job experience, said TSA spokeswoman Ann Davis

Four days of classroom instruction and 24 hours of on-the-job training.

To do psychological evaluations of passengers in a matter of seconds, after three questions.

Now, even if the TSA were competent, and the expensive contractors they had hired to bring passenger evaluation to US airports had any idea what they were doing, the point here is that the Israeli security model doesn’t scale. Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport processes 12 million passengers a year. Orlando handles about 33 million, and that’s not even one of the ten busiest airports in the United States.

When you roll out a project that may work at what would amount to a busy, regional airport in the U.S. (but not even a hub), that has been developed over years, and try to roll it out across a much larger system you wind up with TSA agents — who weren’t hired for their profiling skills — taking a few days of classes and being turned out on the traveling public to decide whose ‘micro expressions’ make them a threat to national security.

This is just silly.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I go with scary … The creep is totally out of control and at a cost ethically, morally and financially that we cannot afford. The slide continues 🙁

  2. 70 agents with college degrees? I guess they have to employ all those arts grads somehwere…

    Moreover something like micro expressions is just BS. It’s similar to a lie detector, you want your enemy to believe it works, but like a lie detector it doesn’t.

  3. This is way beyond silly. This is an abusive waste of our own money to harass, threaten, and intimidate passengers whose only crime is purchasing a ticket. It diverts resources from being used for actual and effective security. It sets the stage to allow the TSA to declare anyone who doesn’t immediately comply as exhibiting “suspicious behavior.” As if the TSA needs any more excuses to go on a power trip.

    Stop it with the security theater already. Effective security starts with intelligence and investigation, not at the podium inside the airport.

  4. The TSA will have to prove that they’re capable of screening this way. The Israelis have this method down to a science after years of experience.

    If the TSA used Israelis as screeners, I think this would be a great idea.

  5. my response to “Where have you been?” to “Do you have a business card?” and “Where are you traveling?” will be… “look in my black passport… have a problem, talk to my boss…”

  6. This is a horrible idea ; again more tax dollars wasted. This so called international firm is an Israeli company who is trained to harass Muslims no doubt. These questions can be answered by anyone, and just because you are nervous, doesn’t mean you are a threat. Schools are failing, social security has been cut and so on and so on..and here we are, letting the out of control govt spend more of our money on useless tactics.

  7. Ozaer, Social Security has been cut? Sounds like you’ve been watching too many lefty tv shows. Go back to the TV. Your soc sec check is fine.

  8. I guess I am the only one on this board that has any concerns about our security? Come on guys, they have to step up their security procedures and while it may be painful and woefully short of expectations, do you want to be on the next aircraft that is targeted? I surely don’t!

  9. Gary – I love your stuff, but you often fire shots across the bow on anything at all related to airport security. It seems that you admitted that even if it was carried out just like that in Israel – it still wouldn’t work (based on an assumption it wouldn’t scale). Just out of curiosity – what would your ideal solution be for airport security?

  10. and if it results in muslims being profiled…, that’s better than the status quo of old people and little kids being profiled. and, if i recall correctly, it seems that muslims are the ones trying to blow crap up, so maybe not such a bad idea anyway.

  11. Let’s not forget that an “enhancement” to security was mandated a year of so ago by the TSA for all flights coming into the USA from abroad. Basically it’s a standardised set of three silly questions: get them right and you get a sticker on your passport – no sticker, no flight.

    My observation is that United now employs six or seven people at Heathrow doing this nonsense – it’s quite separate from the normal security screening. Multiplied by all airlines at all stations, it costs a fortune, delays everyone and seems to me to achieve nothing.

  12. I have no idea why they don’t simply follow what AVESCO (contract aviation security company) does in Hong Kong International Airport. Safe yet efficient.

  13. It is none of the TSA’s business where I have been or if I have a business card.

    Remind me how many terrorists have they caught so far?

  14. Thanks for pointing out the stupidity of it all. Seriously, no eye contact as a sign of nervousness is just silly – especially when in an airport where different cultures have different interpretations of eye contact.

  15. Last week I staying in Priority line to clear through TSA at ORD. Two men in full business attire in front of me commented” “Look at these 10 TSA guys serving the single line. They barely move. These TSA hires would not be able to hold to a job at McDonald’s…”

  16. I need to make it a goal to get the business cards of various airport FSD’s so I can show that when asked if I have a business card.

    @Gary K, many of us care about AVIATION security. This does not equate to many of the measures and procedures in place at our nation’s airports. I fail to see how a bunch of guys getting the equivalent of 56 hours of classroom/on-the-job training will effectively protect our skies. The TSA has caught precisely 0 actual threats in almost a decade of existence. It has harrassed and confused and frustrated countless citizens and visitors to our country. This amounts to nothing more than an ineffective show of force.

  17. All along I have been saying they need the Israelis to train them to screen for terrorists. Clearly the current efforts aren’t great, and Israel is extremely successful. I applaud them for finally trying this. Let’s see how it goes before we condemn. Your opinion of what 56 hours of train will do, and what it actually accomplishes may be very different.

  18. I’ve always thought (not that I have any expertise, just my opinion) that effective profiling – IN LIEU OF – the NOS and pat-downs, would potentially be OK. Whether that can be done in the massive US aviation system, I don’t know though.

    The questions seem laughable and easily foiled, especially as they’re now public knowledge. I don’t have a business card…I work for the gov’t and we have to pay for our own if we want them. My wife is a stay at home mom, why should she need a business card?

    My solution is to keep it simple like it was before 9/11… simple WTMD and X-ray of my carryon would be fine by me. NOne of this other BS has stopped anyone and TSA just reacts to yesterday’s last threat.

  19. Just wear a NY Yankees T-shirt in Boston, and yes, you’ll get one extra question with an epithet.

    ED.

  20. No wonder almost everybody in most parts(if not all)of the world despises Americans, no class, no culture, and no clue. The system works,

  21. Hmmm…I’m planning on flying out of Logan next year. This should be interesting.

    Do we have to “plan” to be at the airport 3 hours ahead of time now just to make it through their ridiculous “SPOT”?

    Unreal.

  22. What nonsense. Ben Gurion airport is notorious for just profiling all Arab and Muslim travellers. All we’re going to get out of this is a new set of excuses for bringing that kind of backwards thinking here.

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