$200m ‘behaviour detection’ fails to spot terrorists at airports

$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.

Refreshing News
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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TSA’s scheme to uncover Terrorists before boarding flights, using the new technology “Spot–Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques” was believed by many to be a scam. Consequently Government paid millions of dollars to someone for this alleged technology and the training of hundreds of TSA personnel to implement it. The Screening Techniques were allegedly developed to help TSA security at airports track and monitor a “Set Of Involuntary Physiological Reactions” to detect when a person “harbors malicious intent” as opposed to when someone is late for a flight or annoyed by something else. It should have been apparent to TSA from the beginning that few humans have the capability, let alone hundreds of briefly trained TSA observers, to differentiate-sets of involuntary physiological reactions of Americans; and countless ethic groups and cultures to determine if someone was harboring malice intent; for example certain Asian cultures do not always show emotion; while other cultures might overly express emotion. Any American salesman boarding a flight with the intent to smash his business competition upon arriving at his business destination could show “A Set Involuntary Physiological Reactions” that might appear harboring malicious intent.” So what. More recently it was reported that TSA is considering buying a new technology that supposedly can analyze body-odor from a distance at airports to determine whether a potential passenger is under a certain kind of stress that signals hostility. This idea is so absurd it isn’t worth discussing except to say, hopefully U.S. taxpayers won’t buy it.

Comment by Dan Scott

TSA’s new technology “Spot–Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques” might actually help sophisticated terrorists escape detection at airport checkpoints: TSA’s training may actually narrow the observation capability of some TSA security personnel at airports, by training and conditioning TSA observers to rely on “Spot–Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques” to uncover terrorists. It is relevant to mention that the former Russian KGB successfully trained spies to monitor their own physiological reactions under stress and to pass lie detector tests when they were lying. KGB training included covertly filming their own agents’ “body language” during a mission, then showing the film to the agent so he or she could review their body language in a given situation. KGB agents were taught not only to “monitor” their body language, but to copy and implement other persons’ body language when on a mission to prevent their own from being read: it is foreseeable a sophisticated terrorist could copy and emulate both non-threatening body language of other people and different character types, like actors do, to avoid being detected by TSA airport security that too much depend on “Spot–Screening Passengers by Observation techniques” to catch terrorists.

Comment by Rwolf

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