TSA behavior detection experiments fail to identify threats

A multiyear experiment in behavior detection is only worsening the Transportation Security Administration’s reputation for wastefulness. Since 2007, the T.S.A. has trained officers to identify high-risk passengers on the basis of mostly nonverbal signs, like fidgeting or sweating, which may indicate stress or fear. The total price tag: nearly $1 billion. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/07/opinion/behavior-detection-isnt-paying-off.html?src=rechp
In theory we’re all for the T.S.A. devoting resources to human intelligence, but this particular investment does not appear to be paying off.
As John Tierney wrote in The Times on March 25, the T.S.A. “seems to have fallen for a classic form of self-deception: the belief that you can read liars’ minds by watching their bodies.” He cited experiments showing that people are terrible at spotting liars. One survey of more than 200 studies found that “people correctly identified liars only 47 percent of the time, less than chance.”
The T.S.A.’s behavior-detection officers are no better. The Government Accountability Office told Congress in November that T.S.A. employees could not reliably single out dangerous passengers and that the program was ineffective.
In its review of 49 airports in 2011 and 2012, the G.A.O. calculated that behavior-detection officers designated passengers for additional screening on 61,000 occasions. From that group, 8,700, or 14 percent, were referred to law enforcement. Only 4 percent of the 8,700, or 0.6 percent of the total, were arrested — none for suspected terrorism. (The T.S.A. said the Federal Air Marshal Service earmarked certain cases for further investigation, but could not provide the G.A.O. with details.) The G.A.O. attributed these poor results to a general “absence of scientifically validated evidence” for training T.S.A. employees in the dark art of behavior detection, and urged Congress to limit future funding.
The union representing T.S.A. officers has defended the program, which costs roughly $200 million a year, arguing that an “imperfect deterrent to terrorist attacks is better than no deterrent at all.” But behavior detection is far from the country’s only shield, and “imperfect” is an understatement. Congress should take the G.A.O.’s advice.

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