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TSA ramps up program to psychologically screen airline passengers
Nick Langewis and David Edwards
Published: Tuesday July 29, 2008

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In addition to having your bags scanned, taking off your shoes and emptying your pockets on the way to your plane, prepare to have an on-the-spot psychoanalysis as well.

The TSA is in the process of training "behavior detection officers" to seek out involuntary physical and physiological signs of "stress, fear or deception" among air passengers to help determine who to subject to additional screening at airport security checkpoints.

SPOT, short for the Screening Passengers by Observation Technique, has so far been tested in major airports such as Boston, Providence, and Minneapolis-St. Paul. In addition, the Los Angeles Times reported, a "handful" of airports were added last December.

"There are certain thresholds that this individual needs to meet in our behavioral detection program," TSA spokesperson Andrea McCauley told KXAN. "We don't just see someone who is nervous and pull them over to talk with them."

Another TSA spokesperson, Jennifer Peppin, told the Los Angeles Times that SPOT has helped catch drug smugglers and people holding fake passports. "Have we caught actual terrorists? That remains to be seen," she said. Caroline Fredrickson of the ACLU, however, worries of profiling, adding that the program sets "a very dangerous precedent" in trying to train TSA screeners to be "behavioral scientists."

"Cultural sensitivity" is part of the week-long training regimen, the TSA insisted.

The accompanying video report was broadcast on Austin NBC affiliate KXAN on July 29, 2008.


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