TSA’s $1 billion behavioral screening is ‘slightly better than chance’

TSA“TSA Security Checkpoint” by billypalooza

Well here’s some unsurprising news: apparently asking low-paid, famously socially deficient TSA agents to arbitrarily scan crowds of airport passengers for odd behavior isn’t particularly effective. Fortunately, they only spent $1 billion before someone pointed that out.

In theory, agents were stare a hole in passengers, hoping to recognize behavioral indicators like fear, stress and “deceptive behavior,” which, coincidentally, is how people tend to behave when uniformed, all-powerful, notoriously ill-trained goons stare at them intently. Anyone deemed to be looking a little nervous was subjected to additional security screening.

The whole concept of the TSA’s Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques program (conveniently spelling out “SPOT”) was hopeless before it ever started, according to the Government Accountability Office after they very belatedly conducted four “meta analyses” of more than 400 studies on related subjects from the past 60 years. The GAO concluded that SPOT’s effectiveness is “the same as or slightly better than chance.”

The program was launched in 2007 and currently involves roughly 3,000 “behavior detection officers” at 176 U.S. airports.