Signs You May Be A Terrorist - What Did I Do Wrong?

Did I get pulled off a plane because of improper attire? Did I yawn?


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On Saturday while traveling back from a lecture tour in Russia and Ukraine, I was pulled off my United flight for additional screening at the Frankfurt airport in Germany. The door of the aircraft actually had already been closed and the passenger loading ramp had been moved out of the way. A couple of worried flight attendants anxiously kept asking me if I had had "additional" screening before settling into my center row seat in the middle of the airplane. No.

One very worried looking attendant went forward and evidently told the pilots that we couldn't leave. The ramp was brought back; I was walked off the plane with my backpack. It was searched by two fairly apologetic German security guards who asked if all the wires went with my electronics, i.e, computer, iPad, and Kindle? Yes. I was released and returned to my seat where I announced, "It has been determined that I am not dangerous." The flight left about 20 minutes late just so that my carry-on luggage could be checked by hand. I know it was not the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), but I suspect that the Germans were following some standards set by that agency.

Today the folks over at the Intercept are publishing the criteria used by the TSA's Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) program used to evaluate people for possible terrorist intent.

Terrorist Sign

Perhaps suspicion about me was raised because of improper attire - I had packed my heavy coat rather than wear it. The temperature in Kiev when I left was 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Also I hadn't shaved that morning.

Given such vague criteria, it is not surprise that the SPOT program is mostly pseudo-science. As the Intercept notes:

Since its introduction in 2007, the SPOT program has attracted controversy for the lack of science supporting it. In 2013, the Government Accountability Office found that there was no evidence to back up the idea that "behavioral indicators … can be used to identify persons who may pose a risk to aviation security." After analyzing hundreds of scientific studies, the GAO concluded that "the human ability to accurately identify deceptive behavior based on behavioral indicators is the same as or slightly better than chance."

The inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security found in 2013 that TSA had failed to evaluate SPOT, and "cannot ensure that passengers at United States airports are screened objectively, show that the program is cost-effective, or reasonably justify the program's expansion."

Despite those concerns, TSA has trained and deployed thousands of Behavior Detection Officers, and the program has cost more than $900 million since it began in 2007, according to the GAO.

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing to get the TSA to disclose its search criteria. Go here to read the whole Intercept article.

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  1. In all fairness Ron, you probably just looked depressed.

    1. "There's no way I'm ever going to get my immortality serum or robot body!"

  2. I actually yawn in almost all confrontational situations. I thought that was just a weird thing that I did.

    1. It's so you can show your big teeth to your rival. It's a primate thing.

      1. Huh. That actually makes a lot of sense. Doesn't matter if it's a cop, a business negotiation or a bar fight (#1 and #3 haven't happened in a long time).

    2. I go into cold haughty stare mode.

      1. Same here.

        I find that visualizing doing terrible violence to someone while staring at them is eerily effective. Keep your poker face, but let your imagination go. People pick it up somehow. Freaks them out.

  3. Huh. Wouldn't those behaviors be demonstrated by people who are uncomfortable for some reason? Either with the stormtroopers looking at them funny or because they're scared of flying?

    1. Or OCD, germaphobia, running late for a flight, issues with traveling companion, needing to poop ........

      1. Sexual excitement could do it, too, I suppose.

      2. Ate some mushrooms...

      3. Or tired because you had to get up at 4am to get to the airport two hours early to get through screening.

    2. Same way a "lie detector" works; visual clues and guessing. Prolly every bit as accurate, too; ~50%

  4. I was on a flight leaving Zurich after spending some time in Bavaria. The Swiss security people had to follow TSA rules if you were flying to a US airport. So they took my little jar of Black Forest honey that I thought was small enough to bring on board. Nope. I was looking forward to that damned honey.

    1. Oh, but like your German security people above, they were very apologetic and were basically giving me the impression that they knew what they were doing was stupid and that they hated it.

    2. Yeah, I was pissed when all Americans were required to undergo additional bullshit screening in Seoul, thanks to the U.S. government treating us like subjects.

        1. I look forward to the day when I am able to pay enough grift to my masters and am promoted to "subject".

          Right now, I'm just a serf.

    3. The Swiss security people had to follow TSA rules if you were flying to a US airport. So they took my little jar of Black Forest honey that I thought was small enough to bring on board.

      *feels vicarious shame*

  5. Does that mean that I shouldn't wear yoga pants and sports bra when I travel?

    1. I always do. No problems so far.

      1. People avert their gazes, Old Man. you're like the "Somebody Else's Problem Field" from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in that regard.

  6. Those behaviors are signs that you're a basket case, not a terrorist.

    1. The pale face from recently shaved beard is the only one that's very terrorist specific, as Islamists shave before making their marytrdom complete. The out of place clothing is also a good one, but way too difficult to assess as travelers are often dressed for where they're flying to instead of from.

      1. How does "out of place clothing" remotely make sense as a suspicious characteristic?

        1. It's primarily people wearing more clothing than the environs call for, as that clothing is a method of concealing what is someone is trying to get on the plane.

          1. Or it could be people who are layering up, because sometimes those fucking planes get chilly.


              *points frantically at R C*

              1. *R C gives the Stare of Doom to Switzy. And the DHS goons*

        2. Wasn't it the underwear bomber who was wearing just jeans and a T-shirt and brought no luggage while on a flight landing in Detroit on Christmas Day?

      2. The pale face from recently shaved beard is the only one that's verysomewhat terrorist specific

        Not an Islamist here but I usually shave back my beard when traveling or other such occasions. Back home I let it grow out unless I have meetings.

        1. There's a difference between the "I shave or trim my beard occasionally for travel" look and the "just shaved after an entire adulthood of having facial hair in a desert environment" look.

          If the guy buying the one-way ticket at the counter with cash looks like he's sporting flesh-toned mutton chops it might be worth giving him a look. Not that I think the average TSA agent is capable of making such a cognizent observation, but it's the only item on the list which isn't likely to snag infinitely more false positives than the rest. It'll still snag oodles of not-terrorists, just not as clearly stupid and tied to regular travellers as the others.

          1. Actually, even that is stupid since they are not using HAVING a large beard as a signal for increased scrutiny.

            Therefore if you were a terrorist with a full beard and you wanted to blow up an airplane you would simply leave the beard in place

            1. They have to shave prior to maryrdom in order to ensure passage to heavan.

              1. Two words for the TSA: Fake Beard.

                1. or: Fake Tan

      3. as Islamists shave before making their marytrdom complete.

        No, no they don't.

  7. Airports are always full of people not wearing proper attire for location. And I'm not just talking about the slobs wearing pajamas in public.

    1. I keep telling you nicole: they cover the same thing as regular pants, and I washed them first.

      1. They only cover the same thing as regular pants IF you button the fly Hugh. We keep telling you that, but it is like you aren't even listening.

        1. ::sticks fingers in ears:: LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA

  8. "... the SPOT program is mostly pseudo-science".

    You're being way to kind. At its very best, it uses some pseudo-science. It is mostly horseshit.

  9. So it sounds like we've roped the whole world's airport staff into the TSA? I feel so much safer now.

    1. The minute we instituted "enhanced" screening under the TSA, we roped everyone else in. The main difference is that in foreign airports, they are contract employees hired by either the company running the airport or the airlines themselves, depending on the country. As such, they are much better at their jobs and far more apologetic and understanding. This isn't to say they still don't do the full business: after the liquid bombs/trans-Pacific/Philippines scare, the fine people at DXB hand-searched everyone's carry-on (on a full 777) at the gate, then did the full manual pat-down on everyone as well, including the turn-your-head-and-cough level of crotch search. There were some Texas oilmen on board who didn't much appreciate that.

  10. So, being happy, pissed, or sad can all get you selected for additional screening. Basically, if you have a pulse, you may be selected. As the article says, this is just a license to hassle whoever the TSA pleases.

  11. In all fairness Ron, you did propose/support mandatory health insurance. If I were in charge, you'd be in Gitmo.

  12. Not wearing appropriate attire for your location is hilarious. The whole point of an airport is to go to a different location, usually one pretty far away.

    1. Yeah, when we go to Hawaii from Minnesoda in January, the family looks goofy inside the terminal wearing shorts and t-shirts.

  13. When flying domestically last November, I refused the nudey scanner and got to go through the full-body rub-down. I was the only person to do so. TSA was polite, but clearly taken aback.

    Meh. The Saudis screened me that way for 15 years when I lived there. I'd rather choose that and make TSA look stupid than go through the scanners like a terrified sheep.

    Have any of you paid for the pre-screen privileges?

    1. I always try to pop a woody before the hand screening. Lots of laughs all around.

      1. Seeing as how I'm not equipped for that, and my child has weaned so my boobs are no longer melon-like... I got nothing.

        1. I suggest donning a strap-on.

        2. Nah, you still have options. Your bowels still work, right?

    2. I always opt out. Usually, it doesn't cause an issue, but once I could tell they were deliberately making me stand around and wait, because I could see a whole group of them standing around and chatting while the agent near me apologized and called for a screener over the radio several times.

      1. I had that happen in Las Vegas. Maybe it was coincidence but as soon as other passengers not opting out started asking why I and a handful of others were waiting, the TSA pat down screeners popped up.

        I also like to be offer to help the TSA agent carry my luggage over to the pat down station. Apparently their policy doesn't allow this. Which is why I offer every time. "Are you sure I can't help you carry my bags? I'd be glad to so."

        1. "Has an unknown person handled your luggage?"

          "Yes. YOU."

      2. Yup. I'm an opt outer too. Same thing, they make sure you have to stand around for a while to teach you a lesson.

        Once I had rolled my ankle badly the day before flying and I had my ankle all taped up and the groper paid no attention to it at all.

        I've also noticed that they have never, ever asked me to raise my feet to look at the bottom of them.

        1. First time I did it, I made sure that I still had my comb in my back pocket. It's thicker than a blade would be. The guy did not notice it at all.

      3. I need a male assist over here!

      4. The first few times I did it there was no issue. But the most recent couple of times, they've been real dicks about it.

        The worst was when they were switching between the metal detector and the full body scan. I was hoping to pass the metal detector, but they switched back to scan when I got up. So I asked for opt-out, and then they start going through the metal detector again. I ask to go through the metal detector like everyone else, but nope! I opted-out, so I have to wait for some guy to stop dicking around and come rub me down.

        Useless cunts.

    3. Have any of you paid for the pre-screen privileges?

      Yes. Haven't had a chance to use them yet. (I have used the global entry kiosk on the way back in, and it was totes worth it.)

    4. Did you have the special curtained area where you and a female gate security agent disappeared behind? That was always a strange sight at AUH or DXB.

      1. Nope, I was stood on little yellow feet at the end of the screening tables, right before the "put your shit back together and get dressed" table. Out in the open for everyone to see.

  14. Excessive complaints about the screening process

    IOW, just shut up and take it, prole or you'll be next in line for a cavity search/ amateur prostate exam.

    The fact that everyone isn't flagged as a potential terrorist due to this criteria is further evidence of what a bunch of sheep we really are.

  15. Amsterdam airport has a new (to me) stupid requirement. All wires and other electronic thingies in your hand luggage must be removed and placed in a plastic bag (which they provide you). Last week I was travelling with a notebook (with portable mouse, VGA and HDMI adapters, power cord and brick), an iPhone (with a cord and brick) and a camera with a battery charger, all of which were carefully placed in specific places in hand luggage. It took about ten minutes to get them all out, put them in the bag, then, ten feet away, put them all back.

    Just before that I got 'the interview' ('did anyone give you anything electronic to take on the flight, is all the luggage yours? etc.)

    The last time someone put a bomb on a plane by giving someone a piece of electronic equipment was almost thirty years ago, but most airports still warn travelers over the PA system not to accept objects from strangers. Kinda like generals fighting the last war.

    1. Is the wire thing because they think it's disguised detonation cord or something?

      1. Think? You give them too much credit.

        1. Touche'

  16. This kind of thing is exactly why I always insist on the gropedown, and always look them in the eye while they do it. I may not be able to stop the policies, but maybe I can instill some shame in the ape enforcing them.

  17. One of my favorite TSA absurdity stories was being singled out at Austin Straubel (Green Bay, WI) because, evidently, *cheese* looks like a brick of plastic explosive on an XRay. There is a cheese shop in the fucking airport, and they don't bother to tell you this ahead of time, either in the shop or at the screening line.

    1. Did they make you cut the cheese?

      1. No, but I crop dusted them on the way out.

    2. evidently, *cheese* looks like a brick of plastic explosive on an XRay.

      I left Austin Straubel last year with about 6 blocks of cheese and 10 pounds of sausage in my carry-on and didn't hear a word. As useless as all of these cast extras from the Wiggles are I can say the ones in Green Bay have always been much more polite than their counterparts anywhere.

    3. The Milwaukee airport gift shop has prominent signs saying the cheese is allowed through TSA checkpoints.

      1. I used to fly out of Madison on hunting trips. Meaning I was hauling some serious hardware.

        Totally schizophrenic. The ticket chicks would be visibly horrified by the amount of artillery I was carrying. The cops and other passengers were generally very interested. Had some nice conversations about red dot scopes for hunting (two thumbs up), the merits of the 300 Win Mag (typically, many schools of thought), barrel length, etc.

        You know. The kinds of things civilized adults can have a conversation with, but arrested development ninnies can't.


    What, no duty-free booze? Accidentally left your electronic items on during takeoff? *Nothing*?

  19. Excessive complaints about the screening process?

    I highly fucking doubt it. Every other one of those are "Quick, act natural!" types of physical responses, but bitching about the screening process is entirely different and there is no way someone attempting to perform an act of terror would fuck it up by making a scene. That's purely for cover so that they can fuck with anyone who questions the legitimacy of the charade.

    It's Kabuki theater, all of it.

  20. Whistling, gazing down, hand rubbing

    If you're nervous about or scared of flying, you are clearly a terrorist.

    1. Oddly, I have seen screeners showing every one of those behaviors.

  21. What happens if a traveler notices the TSA with any of these characteristics? Does it mean the TSA is a terrorist organization? Just curious.

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    Visit this website ????? http://www.jobsfish.com

  23. Whistling as the individual approaches the screening process

    Whistling by *anybody/anything*?

    Like "*** wolf-whistle*** Oh, I'd pat *that* down!"?

  24. Next time I'm flying by myself (on account of Mrs. Dean would be Not Amused, At All), I'm tempted to refuse the rape-scan, and when they come to do the pat-down, inform them that I am gay and request a pat-down by a female of their species.

  25. On a recent flight to AZ, I was apparently randomly selected for the TSA Pre-check screening where you get to get your shoes on and no rapey-scanner.

    Flying back, they tried to shove me through the rapey-scanner, and so of course I said no and got the full terrorist patdown.

    It's like they admit they're just fucking with you and it makes no sense at all.

  26. How about the fact that one was, or wasn't PLAYING WITH THEMSELVES. Talk about bureaucratic stupidity, this appears to take the cake. What is this criteria used by the TSA, I wonder?

  27. Yikes, this is my usual crowd control look ... all of the above... and why I don't fly

  28. We should learn from the Israelis. They are the only ones who have figured this out and are batting 1.000.

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