The Transportation Security Administration is actively testing its new Israeli-style interrogation program at Boston’s Logan Airport. The new screening method is part of the TSA’s SPOT (Screening of Passengers by Observation Technique) initiative that began in 2001, encompasses the TSA’s BDOs (Behavior Detection Officers), and costs taxpayers $212 million each year. Here is all you need to know about the new “chat-down” program:
From May 2004 to August 2008, 2 billion people boarded aircraft at SPOT airports and 152,000 were referred for secondary questioning, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report in May 2010. About 14,000 passengers were referred to law enforcement officers and 1,100 were arrested during that period.
Rather than charging anyone with terrorism, the SPOT detentions included 427 arrests of undocumented immigrants, 209 for outstanding warrants, 166 for fraudulent documents and 125 for drug possession.
Meanwhile, GAO checked 16 people who had been charged in six terrorist plots during that period and found they had passed unhindered at least 23 times through eight airports where SPOT officers worked.
Despite their longings otherwise, the TSA is not a law-enforcement body and I have grave reservations with them detaining people who are merely traveling internally within the United States. If passengers do not set off the metal detector and their bags are cleared—they should be cleared to fly immediately.
Billions of dollars later, we have 1,100 arrests, none for terrorism, while 16 suspected terrorists were able to get by SPOT officers undetected. In other words, we have a failed program that will potentially be expanded across the country. Why?
One reason is because we have sheep like Ingrid Esser, who told USA Today:
It doesn’t bother me at all. I understand their job, and it’s keeping America safe.
The public, and often the very people rabidly raving about soaring U.S. deficits, supports these expensive measures under the mistaken belief that they play a vital role in keeping Americans safer. The facts suggest otherwise.
Second, and I hate to be crass but I defy anyone to prove otherwise, the bloated TSA workforce has to be kept busy. This program keeps more of them moving, providing a justification for their employment.
At least for now, passengers can “opt out” of “chat-downs.” If they do (and I will), carry-on bags will be thoroughly searched. Actually, if I ever travel through an airport with SPOT officers questioning passengers, I plan to turn the tables and begin a rapid fire interrogation of the TSO interviewing me. And it will be personal too. If they can ask me how much money I am carrying and why I am traveling to Los Angeles, I can ask them why they are working for America’s second most hated government agency (behind the IRS), how exactly this program is keeping America safer, and whether they like movies about gladiators.
As security lines become longer, with interrogations and full body scanners to slow us down even more, the real threats will continue to slip by undetected. Mission accomplished.