The Transportation Security Administration is taking another step back from its one-size-fits-all security screening that requires all airline passengers to remove their belts, shoes and coats at checkpoints.
The agency already makes some exceptions, including allowing some frequent travelers who have passed background checks to move more quickly through security — an E-ZPass, of sorts, called PreCheck for passengers traveling in the United States.
Now, the agency is testing a new behavior detection program where officers use on-the-spot observations and conversations with passengers to select some for the quicker pass through the checkpoint.
The program, which the T.S.A. calls “managed inclusion,” is being tested at airports in Indianapolis and Tampa, Fla. If the tests are successful, the agency plans to expand the program to more airports this year.
The idea is to selectively identify certain passengers who appear to pose no threat and invite them to use lanes dedicated to the PreCheck program that the agency began in October 2011.
For several years, the T.S.A. has been looking for alternative screening methods to address public dissatisfaction with the current system. But one of those methods, behavior science, has its own critics, who warn of the potential for racial and ethnic profiling. Some critics also question whether the T.S.A. gives adequate training to its behavior detection officers. The officers had been receiving only four days of training, though the agency said recently it was expanding the program to provide “additional specialized training.”
One reason for the expanded program, the agency’s administrator, John S. Pistole, said, is to “make sure that the T.S.A. PreCheck lanes are being fully utilized” throughout the day, rather than just at peak hours. In a year-end report to employees, Mr. Pistole cited as an example what occurred at the Indianapolis airport on the day before Thanksgiving. Nearly a third of all passengers were chosen to go through a dedicated PreCheck lane, rather than the usual less than 5 percent, he said.
David Castelveter, a T.S.A. spokesman, explained how managed inclusion would work if the test phase was deemed successful. “As you are in the queue, behavior detection officers will be observing you, and if they feel that there is nothing that alarms them, you might be asked to come out of the queue, and invited to go through the PreCheck lane,” he said. Behavior detection officers, some with explosive-sniffing dogs, already routinely survey checkpoint lines.
Given the random nature of managed inclusion, there are no guarantees that anyone waiting in a regular checkpoint line will be invited to use one of the exclusive PreCheck lanes. “From time to time you might be pulled out of the line” and invited to use PreCheck, Mr. Castelveter said. Those passengers are able to keep their shoes on and their laptops in their cases, though they still have to go through metal detectors or body-imaging machines at the checkpoints. Their carry-ons are also still put through magnetometers.
It seems to me that the managed inclusion initiative is notable because it is based on the on-site judgment of behavior detection officers, rather than on the background checks that the PreCheck program requires.
Behavior detection officers use techniques familiar in some overseas airports, engaging passengers in casual conversation to look for suspicious behavioral clues.
But the Government Accountability Office has raised questions about the technique. In a 2010 report evaluating the T.S.A. behavior detection program, the G.A.O. cited a National Academy of Sciences study that said “a scientific consensus did not exist on whether behavioral detection principles could reliably be used for counterterrorism purposes.” The T.S.A. disputed that, saying the study did not specifically address airport security, and adding that it was conducting its own detailed research.
PreCheck, which is now at 35 airports in the United States, is still limited in scope. The T.S.A. said PreCheck was used five million times last year. It is open to high-frequency travelers selected by the five major airlines that so far participate — Delta, United, American, US Airways and Alaska. The T.S.A. is working with other domestic airlines to increase participation.
Once they are cleared in background checks, those invited passengers are eligible for boarding passes encoded to allow them to use PreCheck lanes. But randomness is deliberately built into PreCheck, so eligible passengers have no guarantee that they will be allowed to use a PreCheck lane on any given trip.
In addition to the high-frequency passengers selected by airlines, members of the Global Entry program of the Customs and Border Protection agency also are eligible for PreCheck. Global Entry costs $100 for five years and requires a background check and a personal interview. It provides expedited entry via an automated kiosk for airline passengers arriving from overseas, usually allowing them to avoid long lines at Customs and immigration.
I recently got a Global Entry card. The whole process, including the online questionnaire and the subsequent personal interview and fingerprinting at a Customs office, was easy to navigate. Enrollment information is at http://www.Globalentry.gov.
Managed inclusion, incidentally, is only one of several initiatives that Mr. Pistole has been proposing for this year to expand the population of so-called trusted travelers eligible for less intense checkpoint security. Security experts say that the more frequently people travel, the more “trusted” they become, since their travel patterns are easily determined. Of the roughly 640 million passengers who pass through T.S.A. checkpoints in a year, as many as 40 percent are frequent travelers, “the same people time and time again,” Mr. Pistole said.
Another possible initiative is what Mr. Pistole calls “Global Entry Light.” Details have not yet been worked out, but the basic idea is to adopt some aspects of the international traveler Global Entry program for domestic use by the T.S.A. At a lower enrollment fee, and perhaps with participation by private companies, Global Entry Light would offer expedited screening to qualifying domestic travelers who don’t also travel enough internationally to need the regular Global Entry.
That would be another part of the T.S.A.’s increasing effort this year to “move away from the one-size-fits-all construct” in airport screening and greatly expand the population of so-called trusted travelers eligible for PreCheck, Mr. Pistole said.
Critique #1: Known terrorists have moved through airports and have not been detected by the BDOs (Behavior Detection Officers).
What lets us identify those people who don’t fit in is by identifying the body language that is a result of the limbic system’s response to stress. If a person is conducting a crime, their body will prepare them for the freeze, flight, or fight response causing biological and physiological responses as well as a corresponding impact on their body language.
Did any of these known terrorists that have evaded these BDOs conduct an attack? No they didn’t. If they were not in the act of a crime, there wouldn’t be a corresponding stress response and the person wouldn’t give off the cues that would make them identifiable. Both parties (good guys and bad guys) need to be involved for detection to occur, if good guys aren’t looking for them or bad guys aren’t preparing or conducting an attack, it isn’t reasonable to assume that they could be found.
Critique #2: All of the people that have been arrested by the BDOs (I think it was around 1,800 people by 2010) were criminals with outstanding warrants or guilty of other crimes, not terrorism.
This should be an indicator of success, not a critique! A terrorist attack is not possible without some form of criminal act before it. A terrorist would need a fake ID, they would need to weapons, they would need to build and transport explosives, they would need to launder money, they would have to smuggle the weapon into the location of the attack, they would have to hijack a plane, etc. before they could conduct an attack. You can’t conduct a terrorist attack without at least one criminal act occurring before it.
The fact that these officers have been identifying criminals could have hypothetically stopped an attack. What would constitute stopping a terrorist? The definition is pretty vague. How would you know if one of those criminals intended to bring down an airline? Is it realistic and reasonable to think that we would be able to prove a person’s intentions and classify that as terrorism or common crime?
At a minimum, is it bad that 1,800 people (and those were 2010 statistics) were detained? Again, these are people who were dangerous enough to have warrants out for their arrests. Because the BDOs who had this training were able to identify the criminals should show that the program has some merit. These were criminals who we know had successfully avoided detection up to this point since they were still at large.
Critique #3: What if I am just nervous about flying, won’t I give off the same cues and get questioned by a BDO?
Probably, and frankly you should be stopped. The limbic system response that lets us identify you would be the same, but if you are legitimately just nervous about flying, it won’t take long for the TSA to realize that you are not a terrorist and just don’t enjoy flying. If you cooperate and answer the questions, I would imagine that you would move on fairly quickly with only minimal hassle.
Think of the number of people that died on September 11th (on the planes, in the towers, and in the Pentagon) and all of the members of the military that have been killed in the decade long war that resulted from that day. Let’s say that 100 people get questioned by the TSA and 99 of them are just nervous flyers who still catch their flights, but they stop 1 person who intends to hijack a plane. Would you really trade that amount of death for an extra 10 minutes of basic questions about where you are heading? As a Marine, I will apologize to those 99 people for the delay before I have to tell one set of parents that their son or daughter died because I let a person go through security who I observed giving off behavioral cues known to be pre-event indicators to threats.
Critique #4: The science behind the program has not been validated.
People have cited the work of Dr. Paul Ekman and his training that teaches people to identify the seven universal emotions. They also cite research that shows that people only have a 50-50 chance of detecting lies successfully. What they leave out is that research shows the 50-50 ability applies to people who have had no training in deception detection and those that have had training have shown significantly higher results. But all of the research has been done in a laboratory! I am not a researcher, but I know that the issues of variables provide a great number of limitations on the results of a study. If you think about what it would take to conduct a study in an unscripted environment, it certainly wouldn’t be easy. Let’s say a researcher identifies that a person is lying, but the person who was lying continues to deny the lie. The results of the entire study would be thrown out.
The material that you find here on this site (again, I don’t know the details about the entirety of the TSA training) is based off of the application of research from over 16 different scientific fields, but we also go beyond just recognition of facial expressions. We also don’t say that it is fool proof or that we make perfect decisions, just satisfactory decisions with the limited time and information that we have access to.
One of the experts in the field that we cite extensively, Joe Navarro, is a retired FBI agent and provides training to the FBI. His work has been validated and has gone to great lengths to ensure that it is scientifically validated.
Critique #5: A one-week training program is insufficient.
This one I don’t necessarily disagree with as it certainly takes more time to become an expert in any field. But one week is enough time to teach the skills to the agents and provide the foundation for continued learning. As long as there is a structured system for continued learning, it is reasonable to assume that the skills of these BDOs will only increase and become more accurate.
They can also come to this site for more information, resources, and videos to practice on. Of course this database of resources and videos will only continue to grow and become more inclusive for them. (You see what I did there? Marketing is everything).
And for a quick run through of the more ridiculous comments people have made:
The program is too expensive.
Yeah it certainly costs a lot of money, but lets put that into context. The GSA (the agency who oversees government spending) spent over $800,000 on a conference in Las Vegas in 2010. That was just for one conference, not to mention all of the trips required for the planning of it. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, uses military aircraft for personal travel and vacations. Government spending is out of control, but we can probably find ways to reduce that before we start cutting training and education to people responsible for our security.
In 2008 when the TSA stopped a person in Orlando trying to check a bag filled with explosives was identified by other passengers, not the TSA or the airlines!
Is that really a bad thing? Are we BLAMING the TSA when concerned citizens help security by doing their part? That is huge progress and should be celebrated. That is people doing the right thing! TSA, I hope you have learned your lesson.
The TSA should be going to Quantico to study with the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit to become a real “profiler.”
The BAU’s personnel are trained to develop a profile about a person who has ALREADY conducted an attack or a crime. They look at the crime, analyze the elements that they can identify that say something about the individual and then put out a list of characteristics to help the local police find that individual. They don’t look at people before a crime is conducted and pick the serial killer out of the crowd. Personally, I don’t want to wait for a plan to blow up (with the attacker on it) before we start looking for the attacker. I’m not knocking the FBI or the BAU, far from it, what they do is incredible, but it doesn’t fit this scenario.
And my personal favorite:
We should do it like the Israeli’s do it.
I couldn’t agree more. But they take behavioral analysis to a level that would never be accepted here in America and start looking for people the second they park their cars or get dropped off on the sidewalk. Even a former director of security at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv has said it is a vital part of their security process. How many people are going to tolerate a mandatory interview before you board a plane while we are still angry at taking our shoes off.