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 numerous times, security questions and behavior detection are not only effective security measures, but have been used by law enforcement, customs and drug enforcement agents, and even average citizens for as long as anyone can recall. The recognition that “something just isn’t right,” is trait we are born with and in some cases, can hone to a highly refined and accurate skill.
We know from years of research that individuals that are attempting to deceive give off certain behavioral and physiological clues, and that under questioning, those clues often manifest in even more identifiable means. However, when anyone begins to focus on a particular indicator, whether that is a racial, nationality, or even a particular behavioral tick, to the exclusion of other information, then they are hurting their detection abilities.
The program in place at Boston/Logan has been a model for other BDO programs throughout the United States. However, the “model,” wasn’t entirely TSA’s, nor was it based on any sort of racial profiling method. Originally, after 9/11, Boston/Logan hired Rafi Ron, noted Israeli aviation security expert, to train staffers throughout the facility in basic behavior detection. Pan Am did the same thing after the bombing of Flight 103, however passengers protested the additional scrutiny and decided they’d rather take their chances of being bombed, I guess.
Rafi implemented his behavior program, which is not racially based, at Boston/Logan, then at several other airports in the United States. Eventually, TSA and a Massport officer would decide to take Rafi’s baseline program, combined with the excellent work of Paul Eckman and his research on detecting lies, and create the new BDO program, which is in use today throughout the country. Debate still remains about whose program is more effective, but regardless, neither models use racial profiling. In fact, racial profiling may cause security personnel to miss actual threats, which is another reason it’s not effective (besides the fact that it’s just wrong).
What needs to happen here is what TSA is already doing. They will attempt to identify if this is a training issue, an operational / supervisory issue, or just what the issue is. I know from my limited time as an intelligence officer that physical description is part of identifying any one (makes sense right?), so perhaps there was information that individuals matching certain physical descriptions were known to be smuggling drugs, guns or committing other crimes and that somehow got interpreted wrong, or, correctly but only in a certain case and now things have gotten blown out of proportion.
Whatever the result of what happened at Logan, this should not be a reason to get rid of the behavior programs. Maybe it is a reason to revisit how they can be more effective.