For those who haven’t heard about the TSA’s SPOT program, it is a Transportation Safety Administration program(started in 2006). SPOT stands for
Screening of Passengers by Observations and Techniques, and it is designed to have agents called BDO’s (Behavioral Detection Officer), who have been
trained to recognize certain behaviors such as emotion, deceit, and intent. They recognize these by what is known as Micro expressions that they say
all humans exhibit involuntarily. Based off a classified point scoring system, once you exhibit enough of these ME’s they will then take further
action such as a encounter with law enforcement for further investigation. This was originally implemented to nab terrorists while in their planning
stages or before they were able to board an aircraft. However, now with at least 3300 BDO’s at a minimum of 161 of our airports, it has undoubtedly
re focused its attention on anyone that flies out of most of our airports in the US(not just terrorists). It should also be noted that the program is
rumored to have also been extended to include train stations and government buildings.
I intend to show that this program appears to be nothing more than a giant intelligence gathering operation and that most experts agree that it has no
basis in science, and is basically a guessing game. But if you fail this guessing game, you will be accosted and everything about you will be recorded
and put in a giant data base that you will be in for the next 15 years. Who has access to this data base? It’s not so clear, but it appears that all
federal law enforcement agencies, the so called alphabet agencies. It should also be noted that it doesn’t matter if the BDO made the wrong decision
about you, if you are picked out for further investigation, you will be entered into the data base. What will be entered in this data base? For
First, middle, and last names;
• Aliases and nicknames;
• Home and business addresses and phone numbers;
• Employer information;
• Identification numbers such as Social Security Number, drivers license number or passport
• Date and place of birth;
• Languages spoken;
• Height and weight;
• Eye color;
• Hair color, style and length; and
• Facial hair, scars, tattoos and piercing, clothing (including colors and patterns) and eyewear;
• Purpose for travel and contact information;
• Photographs of any prohibited items, associated carry-on bags, and boarding documents;
• identifying information for traveling companion.
Along with any information about you that is gleaned from such sources as the DHS Daily
Operations Report, the FBI Most Wanted List, the ICE Most Wanted List, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children alerts. Also, any
information collected by law enforcement officers, airport stakeholders, airline personnel and witnesses (if any) to the event(s).
-Some of the information above was taken directly from a report entitled “Privacy Impact Assessment for the Screening of passengers by Observations
Techniques (SPOT) Program” That was produced by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2008
Does it work? The general consensus seems to be that it does not work at all.
On April 6th 2011, CSPAN aired live coverage of an oversight committee called “The House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee, on
Investigation and Oversight” They were talking about the SPOT program specifically. Multiple experts were invited, along with House members,
including one of the creators of the TSA and the SPOT program (Rep John Mica). The TSA was also invited to attend, although they decided to ignore the
request. Which I can tell you did not sit well with the head of the committee Rep Paul Broun, or any of the other Representatives that were in
attendance. There was talk of subpoenas if the TSA continued to ignore their repeated requests for attendance to these oversight committees (not just
the one in question). Some of the guest speakers that attended were…
Dr Maria Hartwig- Psychology professor
Stephen Lord- Government Accountability Office
Phillip Rubin- Haskins Lab
All of them, have serious doubts about the SPOT program, not one person in attendance was optimistic about the program. Rep Sandy Adams said that a
Validation Study has been going on since it’s creation in 2007 and that none of the TSA’s claims that the program works have been validated.
There was however one person who was in favor of the program that attended the committee, he was the primary developer of the SPOT program, his name
is Detective LT Peter J DiDomenica, he read his statement titled “The TSA SPOT Program: A Law Enforcement Perspective.”
You can read his full statement here
60 Minutes ran a story on the SPOT program around May of last year; it was called “The TSA’s program to spot terrorists a 200 million dollar
sham?” They noted how they failed a critical test for the SPOT program, when Times Square bombing suspect Faisal Shahzad, was completely missed by
the BDO’s working that day at JFK. To this day they have failed to detect any terrorists. Another quote from the article…
In fact, sources tell CBS News a Government Accountability Office investigation is raising serious questions about the program. The GAO uncovered at
least 16 individuals later accused of involvement in terrorist plots flew 23 different times through U.S. airports since 2004. Yet none were stopped
by TSA behavior detection officers working at those airports. "It's a disgrace," said aviation security analyst Charles Slepian. "Why didn't
they stop them? If it worked, you would catch them." Scientists are split over whether it's even possible to recognize terrorists simply by
behavior detection. A 2008 report found no evidence it works. "TSA is doing a number of things in the area of behavior detection and I personally
think that some of them are shams," said Stephen Fienberg, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University.
The rest of the story can be found here: www.cbsnews.com...
, along with video of the 60 Minutes
Another story begins at the Philadelphia Airport, in August of 2009, where 22 year old Nicholas George, a student was identified by the BDO’s of the
SPOT program as a threat. As he was passing through the gate checkpoint, he was detained by the TSA officers, as they went through his bags…
Inside George's bag, however, the screeners found flash cards with Arabic words — he was studying Arabic at Pomona — and a book they considered
to be critical of US foreign policy. That led to more questioning, this time by a TSA supervisor, about George's views on the terrorist attacks on 11
September 2001. Eventually, and seemingly without cause, he was handcuffed by Philadelphia police, detained for four hours, and questioned by Federal
Bureau of Investigation agents before being released without charge.
It remains unclear what the officers found anomalous about George's behavior, and why he was detained. The TSA's parent agency, the Department of
Homeland Security (DHS), has declined to comment on his case because it is the subject of a federal lawsuit that was filed on George's behalf in
February by the American Civil Liberties Union. But the incident has brought renewed attention to a burgeoning controversy: is it possible to know
whether people are being deceptive, or planning hostile acts, just by observing them?
Both quotes taken from a excellent read on the SPOT programs failures here www.nature.com...
A 2008 report prepared by the JASON defense advisory group said…
"No scientific evidence exists to support the detection or inference of future behavior, including intent," declares a 2008 report prepared by the
JASON defense advisory group. And the TSA had no business deploying SPOT across the nation's airports "without first validating the scientific basis
for identifying suspicious passengers in an airport environment", stated a two-year review of the program released on 20 May by the Government
Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of the US Congress.
If you’re wondering just how many people have been selected by BDO’s as potential threats and thereby entered into the Data base, mentioned
earlier. Just in the time frame of January 2006 to November 2009, there were 232,000 people (That’s 232,000 people who entire life’s information
will stay in a data base for the next 15 years, to be scrutinized by who knows who)…Out of that number 1710 people were arrested, and if your
keeping track, that means that fewer than 1 percent of the BDO’s referrals actually lead to an arrest. The vast majority of these arrests came from
outstanding warrants and minor criminal activity, not a single terrorist.
So the question becomes, what is really going on here? Mind you, everything that has been discussed is just what’s publicly known. What about the
classified aspects of this program? If everyone but the creators and contributors that helped create the SPOT program believe that the program is a
fraud, why does this program still continue to be heavily supported by the TSA and more importantly by parts of our government? Could it be possible
that it is nothing more than the easiest way for the TSA agents to skirt the fourth amendment and accost private citizens when there is simply no
other way to do so by law? Suspicious of someone, bring in a BDO, who undoubtedly will perceive your micro expressions as a threat to security there
by escalating to detainment (thereby giving them the OK to find everything out about you and enter it into their data base). It reminds me of how if
you ever try to deny the police from searching your vehicle on a traffic stop, the first person they call is their trusty K9 unit. Whose drug dog will
never fail to alert his handler to the presence of drugs, thereby giving them the right to search your vehicle without your permission? To me it’s
plain to see that the program is about two things, giving the TSA the power to terrorize anyone they want to, regardless of laws or rights of the
people. And two to build a giant intelligence data base of the people they come into contact with, a data base that was at least 232,000 strong at the
end of 2009, over two years ago. Again, a data base that contains anything and everything about you, which they will keep for at least 15 years, that
is assessable by anyone in the TSA, and a large number of other alphabet agencies.
When I started out looking into this, the post was just going to about the fact that the program is apparently a total failure, with no checks and
balances, basically the same as just picking someone randomly to detain and investigate. Yet the more information I read the more I began to wonder if
maybe the program is a complete success. A success because it’s true intention is to gather massive amounts of intelligence on anyone who decides to
step foot inside a airport. This would explain why hundreds of millions of dollars is being poured into it. It would explain why the TSA refuses to
shut it down. It would also explain why they refuse to participate in any external oversight discussions or studies. I guess time will tell, but once
again the TSA seems to be the only people at our US airports that is terrorizing anyone anymore.