Government Program Fails to SPOT Airport Terrorists
Only the government could come up with the inelegant term: Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques, better known as SPOT.
But in spite of the name, apparently the program doesn't work. It catches other types of "bad guys" at the airport, just not terrorists.
The billion dollar brainchild of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is designed to spot terrorists or would-be terrorists based on observing passengers who are waiting in line for security clearance. SPOT-trained agents have about 45 seconds to assign points to a passenger based on his or her body language and expressions. Accumulate a certain number points, based on a behavior formula, and you get singled out for more thorough screening.
Accumulate even more, and you are handed over to law enforcement officers.
The theory of course is that anyone up to no good displays a range of facial expressions and body language that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says indicates "an individual is engaged in some form of deception and fears discovery."
The good news is that SPOT works: The TSA reports that 150,000 passengers were asked to undergo secondary screening. Fourteen thousand of those were turned over to law enforcement-and of those, a little more than 1000 were actually arrested, usually for outstanding warrants, fake documents or as illegal immigrants.
The bad news is, not one would-be or real terrorist was caught in the SPOT net.
The GAO, a powerful watchdog agency, scathingly reported last month that TSA deployed SPOT nationwide without first validating the scientific basis for identifying suspicious passengers in an airport environment. It further said, "A scientific consensus does not exist on whether behavior detection principles can be reliably used for counterterrorism purposes."
So much for that.
There are plans to improve the "behavior detection" program to the tune of $1.2 billion dollars during the next five years a cost, reportedly, about a fifth of what the government spent for all screening programs in 2009.
It's difficult to know what makes a persons behavior suspicious, as they stand in a security clearance line.
One suspects that anger, rage and frustration would be common expressions among passengers, perfectly understandable in today's travel climate.