Airport Check-in: TSA behavior screening misses suspects
By Roger Yu, USA TODAY
A Transportation Security Administration program to screen passengers at airports based on their behavior missed at least 16 people later linked to terror plots, according to a government report released last week.
The program — dubbed Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques — began testing in October 2003 to identify those who pose a risk to aviation security by focusing on behavior and appearance. But the program was introduced without valid "scientific basis" and still faces operational challenges, says the report by the Government Accountability Office. "A scientific consensus does not exist on whether behavior-detection principles can be reliably used for counterterrorism purposes," the report says.
The program employs 3,000 officers at 161 airports nationwide and costs $212 million annually. It's requesting $20 million more for 2011.
"TSA strongly believes that behavior detection is a vital layer in its aviation security strategy," wrote Jerald Levine, director of the Homeland Security Department's GAO liaison office, in a response.
The report says TSA is failing to fully use "the resources it has available to systematically collect and analyze the information obtained by (officers) on passengers who may pose a threat."
For example, the TSA generally does not check all law enforcement and intelligence databases available to identify persons referred by officers. Using these resources would help TSA better "connect the dots," the report concludes.
The GAO recommends that independent experts review TSA's methodology to ensure "a rigorous, scientific validation" of the program.