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After $900 million spent on TSA’s behavioral screening program, it isn’t working

Jun 05, 2013 6:00 am

Skift Take

Close to a billion dollars spend later, TSA’s lack of training — to make sure passengers are not racially profiled — in a very sensitive detection program is appalling, but not surprising.

— Rafat Ali

Evolving Strategies in Travel Ad Tech and Bookings


The U.S. Transportation Security Administration can’t justify expanding a $878 million behavior- detection program because it isn’t objective, a U.S. audit concluded (full audit embedded below).

The Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general said TSA hasn’t developed adequate training for its 2,800 full- time behavior-detection officers or been able to assess the program’s effectiveness. The agency also doesn’t have a financial plan for the program.

“As a result, TSA cannot ensure that passengers at United States airports are screened objectively, show that the program is cost-effective, or reasonably justify the program’s expansion,” the inspector general said in a report today.

The program known as Screening of Passengers by Observation Technique, or SPOT, has been buffeted by accusations that officers use racial profiling in targeting travelers for extra security screening, allegations that the TSA has denied.

In August, agency officers at Boston’s Logan International Airport were accused by the American Civil Liberties Union of targeting black and Hispanic fliers for extra questioning.

Chatdowns, in which agents engage passengers in brief conversations as they go through the screening line, became part of the agency’s behavior-detection strategy last year. They’re built on the broader SPOT program that started in 2004.

In its first 4 1/2 years, referrals to law enforcement from SPOT officers led to 1,083 arrests, all on charges other than terrorism, according to the Government Accountability Office. Of 353 arrests from November 2010 to April 2012, 68 percent were for immigration offenses, drug charges or outstanding criminal warrants, the GAO found.

In response to the racial-profiling complaints, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano hired a consultant in September to develop performance measures to deter the practice. The TSA also changed the program’s metrics so airport managers wouldn’t attempt to meet quotas for enforcement actions by making referrals unrelated to terrorism.

TSA spokeswoman Ann Davis didn’t have an immediate comment on the inspector general’s report.

–Editors: Bernard Kohn, Steve Geimann

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeff Plungis in Washington at jplungis@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at bkohn2@bloomberg.net

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