TSA’s Behavior Detection Program Has a Newsletter, and It’s Ridiculous
By Jana Winter
The Transportation Security Administration’s embattled behavior detection program has not identified a
singe terrorist, but it has produced glossy bi-monthly newsletters poking fun at the traveling public.
bi-monthly employee newsletters—six of which were obtained by The Intercept —behavior detection officers, who are supposed to help spot possible terrorists, sometimes make fun of inexperienced or nervous travelers, including one “sweet little old lady” who thought the bowl for metallic objects was a tip jar.
On their own, the newsletters could be regarded as light-hearted workplace fun, but they are also part of a controversial
billion dollar program, known a Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques, or SPOT, which employs specially trained officers, known as Behavior Detection Officers, to rate passengers going through screening for signs of deception. Those alleged signs of deception, which the The Interceptrevealed earlier this year, include “excessive yawning” and “wringing of hands,” and have been widely criticized for lacking any basis in science, or even common sense.
The Intercept also reported on the program’s flawed design that targets undocumented immigrantsnot potential terrorists.
Each issue of newsletters ranges from seven to nine pages and provides a forum for behavior detection officers to share stories about confiscated lots of wine, showcase original poetry (an ode to Alaska, for example), and in one case, a promotion for an officer’s dog breeding business (the officer says her TSA training to spot deception helps her “read” potential dog buyers).
A section called “BDO
funnies” highlights naïve or nervous passengers, including an example of someone successfully convincing one woman going through security that a swab used for detecting explosives was testing for DNA. At other times, however, the newsletters praise behavior detection officers for providing “customer service” to the traveling public, by explaining security procedures, or helping passengers. There are also mentions of various testings of pilot programs or attempts to test out metrics to be used to track and evaluate the program overall.
Some offices detail their goals for the year. “This year’s goal is to visit the Botanical Garden which is adjacent to the beautiful and newly re-modeled airport and learn more about the indigenous plants and species that share in improving our air quality!” reads one item.
Others highlight past memorable moments or achievements. One team, for example, wrote about a botched attempt to reheat a chicken sandwich in
their airport’s break room microwave. (Someone forgot to remove the foil wrapper, the sandwich became engulfed in flames then exploded.)
Much of the
newsletters are devoted to very lengthy regional articles about the weather, with headlines like, “Surviving the Snow in Bangor, Maine!” “Beating the Summer Heat in Milwaulkee!” and “Yes it Snows in Arizona!”
The newsletters also offer insights into the background of some behavior detection officers, who are supposed to be able to spot potential terrorists just by looking at them. “How many of us can look back about 20 years at the Susan Smith case, specifically at that famous news conference where she insisted there had been a carjacking and her children were in the car?” wrote one officer. “I know I turned to my husband and said, ‘She’s lying.’ I knew nothing about BDOs at that time; I just knew that her behaviors contradicted her words.”
Prior to joining TSA, the behavior detection officer worked as a travel agent for Walt Disney Company.
Newly-confirmed TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger faced tough questions from lawmakers earlier this week about the agency’s failure to spot weapons and explosives 96 percent of the time in recent tests. The congressional panel also raised questions about the behavior detection officer program. Neffenger said he needed to continue to look at the program before making decisions about its future.
In response to The
Intercept’s questions about the content and purpose of the newsletters, TSA spokesman Bruce Anderson said it was one of myriad methods used by the agency to engage and encourage communication across its workforce.
“An engaged and informed workforce is critical to TSA’s mission while ensuring that we treat all passengers fairly and with dignity and integrity,” the
spokesman said via email. “Employees who feel part of a community and recognized are more engaged and better perform their security mission. “’BDOs in Motion’ is a newsletter written by Behavior Detection Officers. As always, professionalism and integrity are at the core of who we are as homeland security professionals, and TSA strives to demonstrate this with every passenger at every airport around the country.”
TSA did not answer The Intercept’s questions regarding
costs and time involved in producing the BDO newsletters.
The post TSA’s Behavior Detection Program Has a Newsletter, and It’s Ridiculous appeared first on The Intercept.
July 31, 2015 at 07:27PM
via The Intercept http://ift.tt/1hbhKFE