Inspector General: TSA Behavior Detection Doesn’t Work, Racially Profiles

Two years ago I wrote about the introduction of the TSA’s “sophisticated behavioral inspections” known as spot that “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…”

At the time I was very skeptical that this would do anything to enhance security:

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.

..[T]he 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.

And now after spending over a billion dollars on the program, the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General agrees with me.

The Transportation Security Administration has little evidence that an airport passenger screening program, which some employees believe is a magnet for racial profiling and has cost taxpayers nearly one billion dollars, screens passengers objectively, according to a report by the inspector general for the Homeland Security Department.

…According to the report, the T.S.A. has not assessed the effectiveness of the program, which has 2,800 employees and does not have a comprehensive training program. The T.S.A. cannot “show that the program is cost-effective, or reasonably justify the program’s expansion,” the report said.

As a result of the T.S.A.’s ineffective oversight of the program, it “cannot ensure that passengers at U.S. airports are screened objectively,” the report said.

But it doesn’t matter if the program is effective or a total waste of money that engages in racial profiling, because

“Behavior analyses techniques add an additional layer of unseen security measures for the safety of all passengers that begins prior to arriving at the checkpoint”

It’s been previously reported that the program has been used to question African Americans wearing baseball caps backwards and Hispanics traveling to Florida “managers..believed that stopping and questioning them would turn up drugs, outstanding arrest warrants or immigration problems.”

None of which should be surprising from the agency staffed by a few bad apples who in no way undermine the hard work that thousands of men and women at the TSA do to keep us safe, day in and day out.


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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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Comments

  1. You’re half right – the Israeli model won’t work here. But it’s not because of the # of people in an airport they process

    It’s because while the TSA agents conducting the interviews here are unqualified, barely trained and can only ask routine questions that can easily be prepared for

    The ones doing the interrogating in Ben Gurion have extensive experience working in intelligence, and can actually conduct real interrogations that can weed out potential threats with very random questions that are hard to prepare for. They aren’t confined a generic 3 questions like “what is your date of birth”

    The quality of the interrogations in Ben Gurion are miles apart, and the quality of the interrogators are galaxies apart

    That’s the real reason

  2. @Chris – my argument is that the two are related. The intensive training required under the Israeli model doesn’t scale to US airports.

  3. @Gary

    Why not?

    Yes you would need more people, but then you also have a population pool 50x larger of which to hire from

    I don’t see why the scaling here would be any different that for say…. police officers, teachers etc.

  4. The racist profiling in play at TLV and with El Al is also of questionable effectiveness, as it certainly comes with a high proportion of “false positive” suspicions that result in additional searches that can be rather excessive compared to even the TSA’s excessive ways.

    Recall that the apartheid-era government/state of South Africa needed to secure its persons and interests against the actions of its opponents too, and then too the supporters of the apartheid government/state were also finding racist profiling to be “effective” despite the high proportion of “false positive” suspicions and excessive searches there too.

  5. Chris,

    Do you really believe that there are anywhere near as high a number of terrorists in the US who have airports and airplanes as their selected target as to justify hiring interrogators on a massive scale for deployment at all US airports with scheduled commercial flights on common carriers?

    If you want to waste that much money on “securing” life from extremely infrequent terrorist attacks at US airports and on US airplanes, how much money do you want to spend on getting people to abandon driving in their own cars and forcing them not to drive? The fewer people there are driving on the road, the way more lives would be saved in the US. 😉

  6. “Do you really believe that there are anywhere near as high a number of terrorists in the US who have airports and airplanes as their selected target as to justify hiring interrogators on a massive scale for deployment at all US airports with scheduled commercial flights on common carriers?”

    No. Why, is that what I said?

  7. “The racist profiling in play at TLV and with El Al is also of questionable effectiveness, as it certainly comes with a high proportion of “false positive” suspicions that result in additional searches that can be rather excessive compared to even the TSA’s excessive ways”

    I’m guessing that the residents of Israel would much prefer there be a lot of “false positives” than “false negatives”. They tend not to cut corners when it comes to the very real security threats they face, and it shows by the fact that a plane has never been hijacked out of TLV (not for lack of trying)

  8. If not, then is there any point to allocate further resources to this in any way, whether that way is scaling it up, further “professionalizing” it, or even contracting it in some form or another?

  9. [QUOTE=Chris]I’m guessing that the residents of Israel would much prefer there be a lot of “false positives” than “false negatives”. They tend not to cut corners when it comes to the very real security threats they face, and it shows by the fact that a plane has never been hijacked out of TLV (not for lack of trying)[/QUOTE]

    That is not surprising.

    Recall that the apartheid-era government/state of South Africa needed to secure its persons and interests against the actions of its opponents too, and then too the supporters of the apartheid government/state were also finding racist profiling to be “effective” despite the high proportion of “false positive” suspicions and excessive searches there too.

  10. I’m not sure if this is widespread in Europe or the UK but when I was flying out of Glasgow there were 2 security guards/cops after security hanging out by an entry way. They stopped me and started talking to me. Asking me basic questions like where I was going, how long I had been in Glasgow, etc. I could tell they were feeling me out for security but these guys were good. They acted like the genuinely cared and by the time I left we were all laughing and smiling. Not that something like that could scale to the USA but my point is you need trained professionals doing this stuff, not people making $12 an hour.

  11. “and then too the supporters of the apartheid government/state were also finding racist profiling to be “effective” despite the high proportion of “false positive” suspicions and excessive searches there too.”

    Maybe we just have different standards in the way we would consider it a success. How many “false positives” occur doesn’t affect my opinion on whether or not it’s been a success

    The fact that there’s never been a 9/11 or any other terrorist attack from TLV, not for lack of trying…. is why I would consider it a success.

    If a few extra innocent people receiving some extra questioning at the airport also leads to the ability to catch the Mohammed Atta’s of the world, that’s a sacrifice I’m sure the Israeli people will gladly make

  12. [QUOTE=Chris]The fact that there’s never been a 9/11 or any other terrorist attack from TLV, not for lack of trying…. is why I would consider it a success.[/QUOTE]

    Get rid of all passengers from planes and a 9/11 wouldn’t have happened from other airports either. That meets Chris’s measure of “success” too.

    The advocates of racist profiling don’t mind having the government treating many, many others in racist ways as long as they (i.e. the supporters of racist profiling) can feel a bit more secure regardless of the questionable effectiveness of the approach. Anything for security, eh?

  13. “Get rid of all passengers from planes and a 9/11 wouldn’t have happened from other airports either. That meets Chris’s measure of “success” too.”

    If I’m measuring the success of preventing people to hijack planes, then yes, that would be a success under my standards

    There are more than 1 way to prevent a terrorist attack on a plane from happening. One is by not having flights. The other is by actually thwarting them.

    Israeli’s went with the latter. Deal with it.

    Also, I hate to break it to you….. but you are aware that Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs are the same race, right? I know this might sound hard for you to believe, but most Israeli’s don’t look like the Irish

  14. Gary hits a key point as to why this will never, ever work – the current TSA agents were not hired for their skills in profiling. You cannot assume that you can train people into a skill they did not previously possess or be inclined to. No amount of training will ever make me a decent basketball player – I just don’t have the inclination toward the skill.

  15. [QUOTE=Chris]If I’m measuring the success of preventing people to hijack planes, then yes, that would be a success under my standards

    There are more than 1 way to prevent a terrorist attack on a plane from happening. One is by not having flights. The other is by actually thwarting them.

    Israeli’s went with the latter. Deal with it.

    Also, I hate to break it to you….. but you are aware that Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs are the same race, right? I know this might sound hard for you to believe, but most Israeli’s don’t look like the Irish[/QUOTE]

    You have it that getting rid of all passengers is a measure of “security” success. That speaks volumes by itself.

    The Israeli airport mind-reading magic (which is but cover for racist profiling) is so “effective” and scale-able that Israel hasn’t been able to “thwart” all the non-state-actor acts of violence that have hit Israel from the very Palestinian territories which Israel has occupied for decades and where it had been running “security” operations. Less racist or not, crawling babies doing “mind-reading” at TLV would be at least just as “effective” at “thwarting” terrorists as the adult “professionals” doing the racist profiling in Israel.

    Palestinian Arabs and Jewish Israelis are of the same human race in the way the Irish and Nigerians are; but they are certainly not all of the same ethnicity. Jewish Israeli racism against Palestinian Arabs and some others is a fact of “security” life at TLV and elsewhere in Israel. With regard to some Israeli racism against Palestinian Arabs, Netanyahu has even had to get off the fence and decry some form of that racism:

    http://www.jpost.com/Diplomacy-and-Politics/Netanyahu-vows-to-stop-price-tag-attacks-anti-Arab-racism-315151

    He isn’t decrying the racist profiling at TLV.

    As someone with a good deal of experience with TLV and Israel, it doesn’t sound hard at all for me to believe what I know: most Israelis don’t look like most Irish. So much for your incorrect “knowledge” about me, Chris. Better luck next time with the Israeli

  16. “You have it that getting rid of all passengers is a measure of “security” success. That speaks volumes by itself.”

    I have it as one of the multiple ways to prevent terrorist attacks from happening at TLV and on flights originating from TLV

    Fortunately, it is not the only way to prevent terrorist attacks, as evidenced by Israel’s ability to thwart dozens of attempted attacks related to TLV and El Al.

  17. The freedom vs. safety issue goes on. As it’s proclaimed in New Hampshire, “Live free or Die!”

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