How the TSA Decides If You're a Terrorist
Fidgeting, whistling, sweaty palms: just a few of the suspicious signs that the TSA directs its officers to look out for — and score — in airport travelers, according to a confidential TSA document obtained exclusively by The Intercept.
"The checklist is part of TSA’s controversial program to identify potential terrorists based on behaviors that it thinks indicate stress or deception — known as the Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques, or SPOT. The program employs specially trained officers, known as Behavior Detection Officers, to watch and interact with passengers going through screening," said The Intercept.
The document was provided to The Intercept by a source concerned about the quality of the program.
The checklist ranges from the mind-numbingly obvious, like “appears to be in disguise,” which is worth three points, to the downright dubious, like a bobbing Adam’s apple. Many indicators, like “trembling” and “arriving late for flight,” appear to confirm allegations that the program picks out signs and emotions that are common to many people who fly.
The 92-point checklist listed in the “Spot Referral Report” is divided into various categories with a point score for each, said The Intercept.Those categories include a preliminary “observation and behavior analysis,” and then those passengers pulled over for additional inspection are scored based on two more categories: whether they have “unusual items,” like almanacs and “numerous prepaid calling cards or cell phones,” and a final category for “signs of deception,” which include “covers mouth with hand when speaking” and “fast eye blink rate.
Points can also be deducted from someone’s score based on observations about the traveler that make him or her less likely, in TSA’s eyes, to be a terrorist, said The Intercept report. For example, “apparent” married couples, if both people are over 55, have two points deducted off their score. Women over the age of 55 have one pointed deducted; for men, the point deduction doesn’t come until they reach 65, said The Intercept report.
A TSA spokesperson declined to comment on the criteria obtained by The Intercept.