Internal documents reveal that the TSA’s behavior detection program aimed at rooting out terrorists is inherently flawed according to an ACLU report.
The TSA’s behavior detection program utilizes specially-trained agents — some uniformed, some in plain clothes — to scope out signs of stress, fear or deception in airport passengers. The program has been around for 10 years and includes 3,000 behavior-detection officers in 176 U.S. airports. Its goal is simple: find terrorists before they can act.
Fearing religious and race-based profiling, the ACLU requested TSA internal documents concerning its behavior detection program via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The TSA was reticent to hand over this information but the ACLU sued and successfully obtained it. Now an explosive new report (.pdf) reveals even the TSA-commisioned studies question the effectiveness of its tactics.
The ACLU urges Congressional scrutiny of this program, asserting–
The records include numerous academic studies and articles that directly undermine the premise of the program…The scientific literature in the TSA’s own files reinforces that deception detection is inherently unreliable.
The smoking gun is internal TSA documents that reveal, “Despite decades of research effort to maximize the accuracy of deception judgments, detection rates rarely budge.” In other words, the very premise of this program is flawed.
Let’s not forget this is more than just an intrusion into civil liberties — this program has cost more than $1BN over its life. Further, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a scathing 2013 report also questioning the validity of the program.
Not surprisingly, the TSA is pushing back. A spokesman stated, “Behavior detection is threat-agnostic, and unlike technology, does not become obsolete when the adversary develops a new weapon or tactic.” My translation: pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.
With even internal TSA documents questioning the usefulness of its behavior detection program, it is time for Congress to act. I agree with the ACLU that the program is ripe for abuse, simply does not work, and thus must be overhauled.