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$200m ‘behaviour detection’ officers fail to spot a single terrorist at airports
A team of more than 3,000 “behaviour detection” officers hired to spot terrorists at US airports have failed to catch a single person despite costing the taxpayer $200 million (£140 million) last year.
May 20, 2010
The specially-trained officers patrol terminals monitoring passengers for suspicious body language and facial expressions.
Since 2006, the officers have been stationed at more than 160 airports across the US in order to provide a hidden measure of security.
But 16 people accused of being part of terrorist plots have passed through US airports undetected a total of 23 times since 2004 – a number of them since the scheme was started – according to an investigation by the Government Accountability Office.
Earlier this year, officials at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which runs the behaviour detection programme, asked US Congress to expand the scheme, which is known as Spot – Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques.
John Mica, a Republican congressman from Florida who was involved in setting up the TSA in response to the Sept 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, said it had become too bureaucratic.
He said the report into behaviour detection would further call into question the agency’s ability to perform its security mission.
The TSA said the programme is a “vital layer of security based in science”, which has led to more than 1,700 arrests for other crimes like drug smuggling.
However, a 2008 report by a team at the National Academy of Sciences said “behavioural surveillance” had “enormous potential for violating privacy” and there was no evidence it worked.
The report said a person behaving oddly could just as easily be planning an extramarital affair as a terrorist attack.
Stephen Fienberg, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, described the programme as a “sham”. By 2008, around 160,000 people had been selected to be interviewed or given further pat downs based on the behaviour detection technique but less than one per cent of those were arrested.
Charles Slepian, and aviation security analyst, said the failure of the programme to catch a terrorist was a “disgrace.” He told CBS News: “If it worked, you would catch them.”
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