Transportation Security Administration officers at Boston’s Logan International Airport are alleging that a program intended to help flag possible terrorists based on passengers’ mannerisms has led to rampant racial profiling, a newspaper reported Saturday.
The New York Times reported on its website that in interviews and internal complaints it has obtained, more than 30 officers involved in the “behavior detection” program at Logan contend that the operation targets not only Middle Easterners, but also passengers who fit certain profiles — such as Hispanics traveling to Miami, or blacks wearing baseball caps backward.
The TSA told the newspaper on Friday that it is investigating the officers’ claims. At a meeting last month with the agency, officers provided written complaints, some of them anonymous, from 32 officers.
The officers said their co-workers were increasingly targeting minorities, believing the stops would lead to the discovery of drugs, outstanding arrest warrants and immigration problems, in response to pressure from managers who wanted high numbers of stops, searches and criminal referrals, The Times reported.
“The behavior detection program is no longer a behavior-based program, but it is a racial profiling program,” one officer wrote in an anonymous complaint The Times obtained.
The program, which has been billed as a model for other airports across the country, is intended to allow officers to stop, search and question passengers who seem suspicious. Specially trained “assessors” observe security lines for unusual activity and speak individually with each passenger, looking for inconsistencies in the passenger’s responses to questions and behavior such as avoiding eye contact, fidgeting or sweating.
Passengers considered suspicious can be taken aside for more intensive questioning.
At least one passenger has filed a formal complaint with the TSA. Kenneth Boatner, a black psychologist and educational consultant who was traveling to Atlanta on business last month, said he was detained for nearly half an hour as agents examined his belongings, including his checkbook and his patients’ clinical notes.
In an interview with The Times, Boatner said he felt humiliated, and that the officers never explained why they were singling him out, but he suspected it was because of his race and attire. He was wearing sweat pants, a white T-shirt and high-top sneakers.
“I had never been subjected to anything like that,” Boatner said.
The TSA said the program at Logan “in no way encourages or tolerates profiling,” and that passengers cannot be subjected to behavior assessments based on their nationality, race, ethnicity or religion.
“If any of these claims prove accurate, we will take immediate and decisive action to ensure there are consequences to such activity,” the agency said in a statement.
The TSA said it did not compile information on passengers’ race or ethnicity and could not provide a breakdown of passengers who may have been stopped on either basis through the program.