'SPOT' Check Misses Terror Suspects at National Airports

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The Transportation Security Administration's training program to root out suspicious passengers by behavior and appearance has come under fire for letting a number of travelers associated with terror plots slip through the security gates.

The SPOT program (Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques), which trains TSA officials to identify passengers who might pose a security risk through behavioral analysis, has failed to prevent at least 16 travelers with suspected affiliations to terrorism plots from boarding planes, according to a new report released last week by the Government Accountability Office. The report also criticizes the effectiveness of the SPOT program because of its lack of "scientific basis."

"A scientific consensus does not exist on whether behavior-detection principles can be reliably used for counterterrorism purposes," the report concludes.

Under the special SPOT training, specific TSA officials are instructed to look out for unusual behavior, such as changes in vocal pitch or excessive nervousness that could be involuntary psychological reactions by a potential criminal afraid of being caught. Those passengers identified as suspicious undergo more thorough examination, such as a pat down or physical inspection of their luggage. Racial profiling however cannot be used in their criteria.

The TSA defended the program by saying the methods used to detect suspicious passengers are similar to those used by law enforcement agencies across the country. The security training has lead to more than 1,800 arrests for illegal activities at US airports since 2003, including the arrest of a passenger who had "explosive components at the Orlando airport in 2008."
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