TSA Blows Cash on Unproven Terrorist-Detection Scheme, Says Government Report

Fortune tellerseanmcgrath / Foter.com / CC BYTransportation Security Administration agents aren't so good as they might claim at honing their spidey senses to detect would-de doers of evil deeds. And they're persistently not good, expending time and money—lots of money—on a behavioral indicators program that has never shown much promise for heading off terrorists. That's the word from just the latest Government Accountability Office report to give a big bronx cheer to the Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) program, which the TSA has pursued in the total absence of any promising evidence of success, or even of a decent plan for gathering such evidence, in its quest for a magical way to do its job. Just stop, says the GAO.

In TSA Should Limit Future Funding for Behavior Detection Activities (PDF), the authors write:

Available evidence does not support whether behavioral indicators, which are used in the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) program, can be used to identify persons who may pose a risk to aviation security. GAO reviewed four meta-analyses (reviews that analyze other studies and synthesize their findings) that included over 400 studies from the past 60 years and found that the human ability to accurately identify deceptive behavior based on behavioral indicators is the same as or slightly better than chance. Further, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) April 2011 study conducted to validate SPOT’s behavioral indicators did not demonstrate their effectiveness because of study limitations, including the use of unreliable data.

Translation: Not only has the TSA offered no evidence that this approach works, nobody has ever found any support for the idea.

So, what should the folks tasked with poking and prodding us at the nation's airports, all for our own good, we're told, do?

Until TSA can provide scientifically validated evidence demonstrating that behavioral indicators can be used to identify passengers who may pose a threat to aviation security, the agency risks funding activities that have not been determined to be effective.

That's sad news for the roughly 3,000 behavior detection officers the TSA deploys at airports around the United States to engage in what the GAO concludes is essentially voodoo. That's voodoo at an annual cost of about $200 million, and a cost to date of $900 million since 2007.

Note that this is not the first time the GAO has called out the TSA for putting lots of resources into unproven behavior detection schemes. Reports in 2010 and 2012 also slammed the uniformed crotch-fondlers for deploying SPOT "without first validating the scientific basis for identifying suspicious passengers in an airport environment."

The earlier GAO reports also took the TSA to task for not investigating the reliability of other programs, such as biometric identification cards for controlling access to sensitive port facilities, and for purchasing expensive equipment and then leaving it to gather dust.

But the TSA has mastered sullen groping, as we all know.

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  • Rich||

    human ability to accurately identify deceptive behavior based on behavioral indicators is the same as or slightly better than chance.

    That's why we use *dogs*, DUH!

  • Snark Plissken||

    That's sad news for the roughly 3,000 behavior detection officers the TSA deploys at airports around the United States to engage in what the GAO concludes is essentially voodoo. That's voodoo at an annual cost of about $200 million, and a cost to date of $900 million since 2007.

    It's sad news alright, but not for the parasites getting a taxpayer funded paycheck and benefits.

  • Rich||

    So, are they or are they not able to identify *their own* deceptive behavior?

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    I hate consultants. I really hate consultants who contract for the government. They're typically about as useful as a poop-flavored lollipop.

  • Pro Libertate||

  • Brett L||

    Well, not being allowed to be more productive than the rest of the agency did slow my roll.

  • John Thacker||

    No, since nobody listens to the GAO, especially when the GAO is in the right.

  • John Thacker||

    Thus, nothing will happen, so no problem for these guys.

  • Slammer||

  • Rich||

    I'll bet Obama utters something like "I meant what I said when I promised "You can keep your plan.'"

  • Slammer||

    How do you "continue" something that's "cancelled"?

  • Andrew S.||

    Those greedy insurance companies should've listened to what Obama said, rather than what the law said! It's their fault the plans were cancelled! THIS IS WHY WE NEED SINGLE PAYER!

  • Pro Libertate||

    Single prayer?

  • Loki||

    Those greedy insurance companies should've listened to what Obama said, rather than what the law said!

    Meh, why not, might as well just go ahead and go full retard. We're already most of the way there. Rule of man, not rule of law.

  • Snark Plissken||

    By cashing in on a 'mistaken promise'?

  • Brett L||

    Not to worry, the Democrats are going to force the Insurance companies to give you the exact same plan they forced the insurance companies to cancel.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Compulsion is always better than cooperation, eh?

  • Brett L||

    You want them to ask? Then people will see them as weak.

  • Pro Libertate||

    What I'd like is for libertarian groups and media to frame everything like that, especially to left-statists. "So, what you're saying is that compulsion is better than cooperation. Certainly, it seems to be your go-to position. Can you explain why that is?"

  • ||

    I guess now SadBeard is going to be awfully disappointed in Obama.

    No, wait, the other thing.

  • thom||

    He can just do this? Is he ruling by decree at this point?

  • Rich||

    We'll deem him to be ruling by decree.

  • Hillary's Clitdong||

    I think he'd really prefer that Congress simply banned everything, and then he could rule by exempting from prosecution only actions which he thinks are permissible.

  • SweatingGin||

    Heh. Everyone knows those cancelled plans were terrible. Why does he want to let people have those substandard plans?

    Letting them keep them -- the people who had them are too dumb to know they were terrible!

  • Bardas Phocas||

    This is going dangerously close to violating THE LAW-O-THE-LAND!
    Filthy anarchistic, pugilistic, nihlistic TERRORISTS.

  • Brett L||

    Comrade, the Ministry of Truth has reported that you are obviously psychologically unstable to recall something that NEVER HAPPENED!

  • Brett L||

    I guess we just live in a dictatorship and I didn't get the memo? Is there anything related to health-care that this law doesn't allow the Executive to do without further legislation?

  • Rich||

    I wouldn't say "anything", but a *lot*. RTFL and weep.

  • Pro Libertate||

    In better times, the very act of treating this law as enabling the president to do anything connected to it would alone show that it was an improper delegation. The whole thing should go away just for that.

  • Hillary's Clitdong||

    White House to Allow Insurers to Continue Canceled Health Plans

    How do you continue that which no longer exists? "White House to Allow Nation's Boyfriends to Continue Cancelled Relationships".

  • Brett L||

    Trust me bro, its better to just move on.

  • Hillary's Clitdong||

    Nonsense, she owns a bunny. It's time for Fatal Attraction 2: Attack of the Libertarian.

  • Brett L||

    I prefer my coney stew without fur.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Dude deserved it. Seriously, who the fuck cheats on 30-something Ann Archer with Glenn Close?

  • Malvolio||

    That part made no sense. The hottest day she ever lived, Close couldn't hold a candle to Archer. Blowing guys in elevators just makes her sadder.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    "Enrolled or applied" is the new "created or saved."

  • Dave Krueger||

    Cool. Now let's get them to investigate the success rate of drug sniffing dogs.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    EENY, MEENY, MINEY, MOE!

    To Guantanamo, you must go!

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Available evidence does not support whether behavioral indicators, which are used in the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) program, can be used to identify persons who may pose a risk to aviation security.

    This obviously means more money is needed.

  • Rich||

    Not really. At *zero* cost, I can identify persons who *may* pose a risk.

  • UnCivilServant||

    They're already labelled, they wear blue uniforms and hang around dangerous radiological devices in the airport all day. Arrest them!

  • Dave Krueger||

    That's sad news for the roughly 3,000 behavior detection officers the TSA deploys at airports around the United States to engage in what the GAO concludes is essentially voodoo. That's voodoo at an annual cost of about $200 million, and a cost to date of $900 million since 2007.

    But, as a jobs program for voodoo practitioners, it's been a wonderful success, so don't plan on it going away anytime soon. They will simply institute changes and declare the report null and void. "That report was about the old SPOT program. The new SPOT program is much better, so we need to keep funding it."

    They used that strategy to keep the DARE program alive for something like three decades.

  • ||

    human ability to accurately identify deceptive behavior based on behavioral indicators is the same as or slightly better than chance.

    Chauncy Gardiner: There will be gropes in the spring.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    If they cut funding for this, it will adversely affect teh GDP, you America-hating monsters!

  • Zeb||

    I've heard people claim a number of times that Israeli airport security is very effective because they do just this sort of thing. Is that bullshit, or does the TSA just suck at everything?

  • playa manhattan||

    Israel is very good at it. El Al has psychiatrists that observe the passengers while they wait. Lot of false positives, but that's by design.

  • Paul.||

    When you're second, you're last.

    Damnit.

  • Dave Krueger||

    Any DHS program can be justified by simply comparing the number of terrorist attacks that have happened since the program started with the number of terrorist attacks that would have happened if the program weren't there. The latter number comes directly out of their asses (which is exactly where Keith Alexander got the number of attacks that have been thwarted by NSA surveillance).

  • Brett L||

    I would find zero to five attacks causing no more than 100 deaths per year acceptable. I propose we scale back our airport security by 10% a year until we reach that level.

  • Loki||

    You Monster! IF IT SAVES JUST ONE LIFE!!!!!111!!11!!!

  • Pro Libertate||

    Just curious, since I'm descended from a Scottish clan with a reputation for being magical, can I make money advising the TSA? They have to accept my claims, right, because it's part of my rich ethnic heritage? I figure $500 million/year should cover it.

  • Paul.||

    Your women will have to fight in the old highland way, bare-breasted and each carrying an 8lb baby.

  • Brett L||

    Well sure, if the babies are bigger than that, they should be carrying daggers and finishing wounded enemies.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Well, sure. Besides, how else can they grow big and strong if they don't eat the hearts of their enemies?

  • Paul.||

    I'm tempted to ask... reason did a video segment some years ago about the TSAs ineffective shakedown techniques, and an Israeli security expert responded to the TSAs checkpoint approach to a more distributed approach using what he described as "behavioral indicators".

    I haven't read the details on SPOT, but is it possible they're using some of the techniques that Reason was "promoting"?

    I only ask because I remember thinking how the Israeli techniques could be easily criticized if they were used here, "Looking for body language and other 'behavioral indicators', then stopping the passenger on the causeway and asking him about his trip, his destination, what's in his bags etc"

    It just seemed like the kind of thing that Reason would be criticizing if it were used here.

  • sarcasmic||

    The Israelis do profiling that simply isn't acceptable here. I mean, just because every hijacker ever has been an Arab male between eighteen and forty years old doesn't mean that future hijackers could fit that profile. That's racist.

  • MasterDarque||

    TSA Blows would have been a better and more accurate title for the whole farce.

  • FreeOregon||

    More likely, the purpose of the program is to instill fear and uncertainty, changing people's behavior.

    Even if it does not actually work, the the program exists and might work even if all evidence is to the contrary.

    It also provides employment and a sense of meaning for those employed.

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