TSA Spent $900 Million on Behavior Detection Officers Who Detected 0 Terrorists

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) spent approximately $900 million over the last 5 years for behavior detection officers to identify high-risk passengers but, so far, according to the General Accountability Office (GAO), only 0.59% of the passengers flagged were arrested and among those not one was charged with terrorism – zero.

In 2003, the TSA started testing its Screening of Passengers by Observation Technique (SPOT) program, which was then fully deployed in 2007. About 3,000 behavior detection officers (BDO) “had been deployed to 176 of the more than 450 TSA-regulated airports in the United States” by fiscal year 2012 (Oct. 1, 2011 – Sept. 30, 2012), according to the GAO.

Those BDO officers are trained to “identify passenger behaviors indicative of stress, fear, or deception and refer passengers” and their baggage for additional screening, reported the GAO in its Nov. 8, 2013 report, Aviation Security: TSA Should Limit Future Funding for Behavior Detection Activities.

Since 2007, the TSA has spent approximately $900 million on the SPOT program, said the GAO.

TSA Spent $900 Million on Behavior Detection Officers Who Detected 0 Terrorists

TSA security point check. (AP)

During the SPOT screening, the TSA’s behavior detection officers are supposed to look for and identify “high-risk passengers based on behavioral indicators that indicate mal-intent,” said the GAO.  The BDOs can refer the passengers to a law enforcement officer (LEO) for further investigation. From there, if warranted, a passenger (or passengers) can be arrested.

 

In a statement for the Subcommittee on Transportation Security, Stephen M. Lord, the director of homeland security and justice issues at the GAO, said that in fiscal years 2011 and 2012, for the 49 airports the GAO analyzed, there were 61,000 SPOT referrals, meaning that many passengers apparently displayed “behavioral indicators that indicate mal-intent.”

From that number, 8,700 (13.6%) were referred to a LEO. And from those LEO referrals, 365 (4%) “resulted in an arrest,” said the GAO.

That 4% of 61,000 SPOT referrals is 0.59%. In other words, for the SPOT referrals, 99.41% were not arrested. For the 0.59%, none were arrested for “terrorism.”

 

airplaneFor that 0.59% arrested, the GAO stated the following in a footnote: “The SPOT database identifies six reasons for arrest, including (1) fraudulent documents, (2) illegal alien, (3) other, (4) outstanding warrants, (5) suspected drugs, and (6) undeclared currency.”

CNSNews.com asked Director Lord if it were accurate to report that of those 365 persons arrested, not one was arrested for “terrorism”?   Lord answered by e-mail: “This is accurate for the arrests but please see footnote 98 and 99 on page 45 of the full report (GAO-14-159)  as TSA believes that some of these referrals to law enforcement might be related to terrorism but has no supporting documentation or system to track the basis for these referrals.”

Footnote 98 says: “TSA was unable to provide documentation to support the number of  referrals that were forwarded to law enforcement for further  investigation for potential ties to terrorism.”

In his statement, Director Lord said, as explained in the November 2013 report, “TSA cannot demonstrate the effectiveness of its behavior detection activities, and available evidence does not support whether behavioral indicators can be used to identify threats to aviation security.”

The report concluded by recommending that “TSA limit future funding for its behavior detection activities,” but “DHS did not concur with our recommendation.”

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