TSA’s Behavioral Profiling Program Takes a Hit
Securing the homeland has its challenges, and few agencies are as maligned as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Unfortunately, just as many security programs are judged by the first impression given by a security guard, TSA is often judged by its screening of shoeless airline passengers. But TSA’s impact on homeland security is significant in many modes of transport. TSA employs a number of technologies and techniques to ensure that individuals travel safely everyday. One of the more interesting and controversial is behavioral profiling.
In the media, profiling is often associated with traffic stops and ethnic groups. But the use of behavioral profiling is a proven technique for early detection of potential bad actors. Officers trained in the observation and detection of signs of suspicious behavior are deployed to observe patrons and single out suspicious persons for additional screening. The technique is used in airports and other facilities around the world, and the Israelis are often cited as the experts in this field. But TSA has, since 2007, been employing behavioral profiling techniques in some of the country’s largest and busiest airports, and thousands of passengers have been selected for additional screening using these methods.
A fascinating report was released this week by the Office of the Inspector General. It is chocked full of very interesting information about the program, with a few redactions that deal mostly with force levels and screening selection criteria. The report states that TSA has done a less than stellar job in managing the program. According to the OIG, TSA has not effectively measured the effectiveness of the program, developed structured training, nor has it created a strategy for further implementation or financial support. The report got some attention and may hurt the program’s support in Congress.
This is a setback for this passenger screening technique. Behavioral profiling is a force-multiplier. It provides early detection, intercepting threats before they reach critical areas of critical infrastructure. Further, Behavioral Detection Officers ease the burden on screeners, who have to manage long lines of impatient travelers, and cannot be as observant in their production environment. The wider deployment of this technique could improve airport security without zapping every passenger with more non-ionizing radiation. Now that all these details of the program are out on the web, and the media is perusing the report, perhaps TSA will commit the appropriate resources to managing the program effectively before Congress loses interest in funding it.