The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a new report on the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Behavior Detection Officers (BDOs), and it is rough, to say the least.
The BDO program began in 2007 and has grown to encompass 176 of the 450 airports regulated by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). BDOs are trained to monitor and view passengers in the airport screening line for several “behavioral characteristics” (such as stress, fear, and deception) that flag them as a potential threat to airline security. If an individual scores high on the BDO’s checklist, he or she is removed from the security line, interviewed, and searched. If the individual’s behavior escalates further or additional information is found against the passenger, he or she is then handed over to a law enforcement officer for further investigation and possible arrest. Those arrests that have been made have been for unrelated matters, such as fraudulent documents.
Since the inception of this $900 million program, it has yet to apprehend a single terrorist. So why is DHS spending time and money on this program?
The program, termed SPOT (Screening Passengers by Observation Technique), uses methods that the GAO calls into question to their lack of validity within academic and government studies. These findings are from over 400 studies, according to the report. The GAO recommends that DHS limit further funding for its behavior detection activities.
DHS should look to remove the SPOT program until it can be properly validated and implemented and instead look to more viable answers for airport screening and security, such as TSA Pre-Check. Congress and DHS should make this validation program available sooner and make it easier and more affordable for travelers. Currently, travelers must use other government trusted travel programs in order to apply and become eligible for Pre-Check.
DHS should also push for more Security Partnership Programs that strengthen and leverage private-sector influence in airport security screening.
As the holidays are upon us, airport security has no time for misused financial means or mismanaged methodologies.