X-Ray Nation | TSA SPOT’s Security Complainers While Blenders Slip Through

TSA security looks at people who complain about … TSA security


Mike M. Ahlers,Jeanne Meserve|CNN

Experts agree that the fact that there is an extremely small number of terrorists makes it hard to evaluate the effectiveness of behavioral observation programs. The Accountability Office said it looked at 23 occasions in which 16 individuals -- people later charged with terrorism-related activities -- passed through high-threat airports.

Washington (CNN) — Don’t like the way airport screeners are doing their job? You might not want to complain too much while standing in line.

Arrogant complaining about airport security is one indicator Transportation Security Administration officers consider when looking for possible criminals and terrorists, CNN has learned exclusively. And, when combined with other behavioral indicators, it could result in a traveler facing additional scrutiny.

CNN has obtained a list of roughly 70 “behavioral indicators” that TSA behavior detection officers use to identify potentially “high risk” passengers at the nation’s airports.

Many of the indicators, as characterized in open government reports, are behaviors and appearances that may be indicative of stress, fear or deception. None of them, as the TSA has long said, refer to or suggest race, religion or ethnicity.

But one addresses passengers’ attitudes towards security, and how they express those attitudes.

It reads: “Very arrogant and expresses contempt against airport passenger procedures.”

TSA officials declined to comment on the list of indicators, but said that no single indicator, taken by itself, is ever used to identify travelers as potentially high-risk passengers. Travelers must exhibit several indicators before behavior detection officers steer them to more thorough screening.

But a civil liberties organization said the list should not include behavior relating to the expression of opinions, even arrogant expressions of opinion.

“Expressing your contempt about airport procedures — that’s a First Amendment-protected right,” said Michael German, a former FBI agent who now works as legal counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. “We all have the right to express our views, and particularly in a situation where the government is demanding the ability to search you.”

“It’s circular reasoning where, you know, I’m going to ask someone to surrender their rights; if they refuse, that’s evidence that I need to take their rights away from them. And it’s simply inappropriate,” he said.

The TSA says its security programs are informed by real-world situations and intelligence. Indeed, the immigration agent who refused to let the alleged “20th hijacker” into the United States in 2001 later testified that the man’s arrogant behavior contributed to his suspicions.

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