Category Archives: Introduction to Screening

It’s Not “Profiling”, It’s “Behavior Detection”… And It Does Work

female-307643_1280Recently, information came to light about part of a program implemented and used by the TSA since 2007 as a way to identify potential terrorists and subject them to closer inspection. The program has been criticized as being based on flawed scientific principles, and because none of the passengers detained were subsequently arrested for terrorist activities.

Yes, I get this. There is “no” scientific proof that this works. However, what’s lost in the study is that behavioral profiling is both natural and effective. We all do it. Those of us that do it better than others have learned to recognize risky situations (and avoid them), thus making us less susceptible to criminal activity. In fact, individuals with traumatic childhood experiences such as sexual or physical abuse, have proven to be even better at detecting violent intent or behaviors. It’s part of our survival process. We either learned to spot danger while searching for dinner, or we became dinner.

Every beat cop and Customs agent in the world can also tell you that they learn to identify baseline behaviors in certain situations, and they can also spot when individuals are not behaving in a manner consistent with the baseline. In an airport, people are nervous about flying, upset about going through screening, and long lines, and often outside of their element. THAT’s their baseline (so maybe we should watch for people who are having to good of a time at the airport!). There are also different baselines based on the type of traveler. A frequent business traveler exhibits different behaviors than a leisure traveller taking the kids out for a family vacation. These baselines can be spotted by any observant airport worker. The CIA, the FBI, ATF and other agencies have used behavior detection for years with great success during interrogations (much better than torture it seems).

The fact that “they haven’t caught any terrorists,” isn’t the only measurement here. How many terrorists have been deterred because of the presence of police and other security personnel? We don’t know. The only way to find out is to take all of them away and see what happens.

The Israeli’s have used these processes for years and the fact they continue to use them may be a testament to its success. The famous case of Anne Marie Murphy, who was stopped by an Israeli profiler in 1986 at the Heathrow airport as she was about to board an El Al flight carrying a bomb was the case that started the security questions here in the U.S. But that’s where the problem is – and that may be where the problem is with the TSA program: in the U.S. we told airline gate agents to ask a series of questions, the same questions every time, and if you answered wrong, you were sent to secondary screening. We didn’t truly adopt the Israeli methods – and when Pan Am airlines tried to, after the Lockerbie bombing, civil rights activist quickly squashed that process. After Ann Marie Murphy, we watered down a process, sterilized it and implemented it, then pretended it was the same thing.

The way the Israeli’s do it: the security personnel who decide if you’re flying that day, not airline personnel. They don’t ask the same questions. They ask a variety of questions and they remain flexible in their approach. THEN, the entire airport staff, not just a few trained teams, are trained behavior detection turning everyone into potential suspicious activity detectors. This also has a huge workplace violence prevention side – maybe if someone at Germanwings had noticed significant changes to the behavior of the first officer, that could have been reported and 150 people would still be alive.


TSA: Sleeping on the Job

A recent Government Accountability Office report (click here for the report) showed TSA personnel sleeping, showing up late to work, abusing leave time and other lesser infractions, but along with those they also found TSA personnel guilty of theft, and allowing friends and family to bypass the screening checkpoints. The GAO office identified more than… Continue Reading

PreCheck to open for more people, and probably get slower

The original intent of PreCheck, TSA’s risk-based security strategy to allow known travelers alternative screening, meaning they can keep their liquids and laptops in their bag, their jacket and belts on and their dignity and efficiency in place, is about to expand to the masses. PreCheck originally rolled out for airline frequent flyers (and it’s… Continue Reading

Managed Inclusion – putting dogs into the mix and adding numerous benefits

You may be noticing more canines in the screening checkpoint these days. This is part of TSA’s risk-based security strategy and is known as managed inclusion. Taking of advantage of airports with pre-check managed inclusion takes randomly selected passengers from the normal screening queue and diverts them to the pre-check lane, while sometimes using a canine… Continue Reading

The Education of John Pistole

The TSA announced they are reversing their earlier policy that would have allowed small pocket knives, hockey sticks and a few other items back in the cabin of the aircraft. Regardless of the right or wrong’ness of this step, it seems Pistole is learning that TSA is not like the FBI. Industry participation in policy… Continue Reading

The Washington Generals Always Lose

The airport industry is finding out what it’s like to be the Washington Generals, the perennial opponent of the Harlem Globetrotters, forever destined to play their hearts out but ultimately lose. In the latest round, the Globetrotters (TSA), and the airport industry (the Generals) are facing off over the issue of exit lane security. TSA… Continue Reading

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or of the one

The TSA is relaxing the restrictions on pocketknives and some sporting equipment. The flight attendants association is not happy. Unfortunately, it is not about the safety of individuals it is about the safety of the entire flight and allowing small items, actually increases aviation security. Shortly after 9/11, a documentary on airline security featured a… Continue Reading

Racial Profiling at Boston Logan?

The recent accusations of racial profiling being used by the TSA’s Behavior Detection Officers may hurt what is an otherwise effective security measure – the security questioning and behavior detection process. Opponents of the program have been waiting for just such accusations and now, unfortunately, they may have gotten their wish. As I’ve written about… Continue Reading

TSA’s Strategic Plan for Risk Based Security

Blogging live from the Colorado Airport Operators Association, Annual Conference, 2012, Vail, Colorado (paraphrasing as necessary) Douglas Hoffsass – Assoc. Administrator, Office of the Administrator, TSA The Right Reverend Hoffsass continues his nationwide tour to preach Administrator Pistole’s risk based security programs, most notably, PreCheck and Global Entry. I, Deacon Jeff, will attempt to pass… Continue Reading

You can’t go your own way

Let’s Make a Deal – behind door number one is a no-hassle trip to your airplane, with no guarantee it will be hijacked or bombed. You’ll be flying old school. Behind door number 2 is a body imager, whereupon your saturated fat bursting self will be viewed in all its unglamorous glory by people you… Continue Reading