Congress held hearings last week on TSA’s costly Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) program that was recently deemed worthless in a recent GAO report. This is not the first time that this nearly one billion dollar a year program has been criticized. The Office of the Inspector General for DHS issued a nearly identical finding in May of this year. There have been other similar reports in the past including a GAO report in 2012 suggested that TSA was using faulty metrics to target potential terrorists and cast doubt on the ability of the program to produce any measurable benefit. Despite the obvious fact that the program bears more resemblance to a physic mind reading scam or fortune telling than a bona fide security program, it has managed to waste billions of taxpayer dollars over TSA’s 11 year existence.
The failure of TSA to address past failures in this program has prompted bipartisan support in the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation to defund the program entirely and direct funds to other programs. TSA Administrator John Pistole attempted to defend the program, as he has in the past, made the dubious claim that the program is a necessary component of TSA’s otherwise haphazard and inconsistent security practices.
TSA defends behavior screening against profiling claims
Bart Jansen, USA TODAY 3:02 p.m. EST November 14, 2013
WASHINGTON — Lawmakers peppered the head of the Transportation Security Administration with questions Thursday about a screening program that government audits say is little better than random chance at spotting suspicious behavior.
TSA Administrator John Pistole told the House Homeland Security subcommittee on transportation that the behavior program is a key part of protecting aviation security because it looks for a traveler’s intent rather than just items.
“Defunding the program is not the answer,” Pistole said. “If Congress did that, what I envision is there would be fewer passengers going through expedited screening, increased pat-downs, longer lines. There would be more frustration with the traveling public.”
Pistole said “profiling has absolutely no place” in behavior detection, and allegations of profiling would be investigated thoroughly.
“It’s not good law enforcement. It’s not good security work, from our perspective. And it’s not constitutional,” Pistole said. “Anybody who is found to be profiling will be investigated and dealt with appropriately.”
It should be noted that the TSA worker recently killed at LAX, Gerardo Hernandez was a behavior-detection officer (BDO) tasked with spotting suspicious activity and identifying potential terrorists, said TSA Administrator John Pistole. This demonstrates, his BDO training and abilities proved fatally insufficient to enable him or his coworkers of intercepting his killer.
This program has also come under fire in the past for repeated incidents of racial profiling and harassment of passengers based on nothing more than the color of the skin.
In 2011, TSA faced charges that BDO’s at Newark airport deliberately targeted travelers that they believed to be Mexicans and Dominicans in an effort to boost law enforcement referrals, which is TSA shorthand for identifying potential drug arrests. The agency was taken to task in June 2011 facing many of the same questions asked this week and, like this week, promising to address the program’s shortcomings saying “TSA has acknowledged the report, but maintains that Newark has re-trained its BDOs and has taken precautionary measures to prevent racial profiling from occurring again”
Apparently any re-training was confined to Newark since a nearly identical occurred just six months later at Honolulu airport when charges were made that Mexican travelers were being targeted by BDO workers. Not surprisingly, a TSA internal investigation found “no evidence of profiling”. To add insult to injury, another report revealed that the TSA BDO accused in the racial profiling investigation would be promoted.
The problem became so prevalent that the Sikh Coalition developed a mobile app called FlyRights
To help travelers to file reports of alleged racial profiling by TSA. The app filed 28 complaints in its first 10 days, nearly three times the number filed with the agency during the first half of 2011.
Following the two profiling incidents at Newark and Honolulu, yet another claim of racial profiling was exposed in August of 2012 when a group of TSA screeners at Boston’s Logan airport complained to the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts.
As usual, TSA promised to provide more” training” to address what had grown into a major scandal that was further weakening an already Congressional support of the agency. This time the TSA Deputy Administrator, John Halinski, was tasked with defending the agency before Congress in an ill-advised effort to restore some semblance of TSA credibility with lawmakers. Unfortunately for TSA, he failed miserably prompted an otherwise supportive lawmaker, Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, to comment that “Additional training cannot cure a program that is inherently flawed.”
The most startling aspect of the SPOT program, which has been likened to voodoo and TSA in general for that matter, is that it has managed to convince lawmakers that they can actually train people to read minds and predict the future making it more akin to a psychic hotline or fortune teller than security. It speaks volumes on the state of America when they can hoodwink Congress and while managing to convince Americans that it is “necessary” to take nude images of their children and allow a stranger to essentially grope them and their parents, all in the name of security.
It has become painfully apparent that no one within TSA, particularly its Administrator John Pistole, is capable of reforming this program, The SPOT program should be the first of many TSA programs to be defunded and the beginning of dismantling TSA while replacing it a sensible system operated by real law enforcement that respects civil liberty laws and is accountable for their transgressions.