A review by the Department of Homeland Security”s Office of Inspector General (OIG) did not find even a smidgen of evidence to corroborate allegations that a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) supervisor at the Orlando airport directed TSA air marshals or other TSA personnel to use behavior detection techniques to “racially discriminate” against travelers.
This review was requested by members of Congress based on allegations made in the news media by former members of TSA’s Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS).
In a letter to Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, Rep. Val Butler Demings, Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman and Rep. Darren Soto, the OIG reported that apart from the testimony of the three complainants, it did not identify any additional evidence that substantiated the allegations.
During the course of the review, OIG found no previous record of similar complaints against the TSA supervisor. Although some witnesses mentioned prior instances of alleged racial profiling in the behavior detection program, none of the approximately 30 current and former personnel OIG interviewed confirmed the complainants’ specific allegations.
TSA has since eliminated the behavior detection officer position, and has largely stopped referring travelers for additional screening using behavior detection techniques.
A Program Kicked to the Wayside
The Council on American Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy group, has been complaining about a security training program Transportation Security Administration security officers assigned to the nation’s airports. The CAIR leadership had released a statement that claimed the TSA’s airport security directives amount to the profiling of Muslims.
According to TSA officials, security officers at major airports across the country would be trained to use “casual conversation” to flush out possible terrorists. Instructors would first teach officers what suspicious behaviors to look for in travelers. These can include nervousness, wearing a big coat in the summer or reluctance to make eye contact with law enforcement. Then, the officers carry on a supposedly casual conversation with passengers in hopes of spotting possible terrorists or to determine whether further scrutiny of a passenger is required.
This would have been a welcomed program by those in law enforcement who’ve said for years that psychological profiling should be used by airport security staff. While representing the staff and membership of the National Association of Chiefs of Police at lectures or during media interviews, this writer often discusses the need for upgrading the training of airport security staff with part of that upgrade to include psychological profiling.
Most police officers and investigators are familiar with the concept since it’s used during the interrogation and interview process to detect deception on the part of the subject. Without going into too much detail, interrogators or interviewers, while questioning a subject about the matter at hand, are observing body language, eye contact, breathing, physical characteristics such as dry mouth or profuse perspiration, and other criteria.
However, the Washington-based CAIR officials claimed that the new guidelines, under which anyone traveling from or through 13 Muslim-majority nations will be required to go through enhanced screening techniques before boarding flights, will disproportionately target American Muslims who have family or spiritual ties to the Islamic world and therefore amount to religious and ethnic profiling.
“Under these new guidelines, almost every American Muslim who travels to see family or friends or goes on pilgrimage to Mecca will automatically be singled out for special security checks—that’s profiling,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad.
“While singling out travelers based on religion and national origin may make some people feel safer, it only serves to alienate and stigmatize Muslims and does nothing to improve airline security,” he said.
“We all support effective security measures that will protect the traveling public from an attack such as that attempted on Christmas Day,” added Awad. “But knee-jerk policies will not address this serious challenge to public safety.”
However, security experts believe that the measures are reasonable and necessary in order to enhance airport and airline protection and safety.
“Look, I don’t buy it. The fact is, what I say is do smart screening. Ethnicity is one of the factors that should be included in the profile. After all, what is profiling? You’re extrapolating the common characteristics of the terrorist attacks. 100% of all the terrorist attacks against the United States last year were carried out by Muslim jihadists. So, if that’s the one common denominator, let’s include that in the mix. That at airports would trigger a secondary inspection in which case the bomber on Christmas Day this year, maybe have they found the bomb,” said the respected terrorism expert Steven Emerson, founder and director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism.
“Are you going to inspect 98 year old ladies from Sweden in wheelchairs because we’re trying to distribute the risk among 300 million Americans when the risk category is really spread 99 to 1 million people? No I don’t buy it. Let’s be smart about this,” added Emerson, who is a consultant for several media and law enforcement organizations.
Israeli security agents and police have used this method for screening people at airports and security checkpoints for years with much success.
In a commentary distributed by CAIR challenging calls for profiling, Awad suggested alternatives to faith-based security checks: “First look at behavior, not at faith or skin color. Then spend what it takes to obtain more bomb-sniffing dogs, to install more sophisticated bomb-detection equipment and to train security personnel in identifying the behavior of real terror suspects.”
But law enforcement officials and security professionals believe that to treat everyone equally is like grade school discipline.
“It’s ridiculous. Because a few extremists who are Muslims perpetrate terrorist attacks on planes, everyone must be inconvenienced and harassed? That’s like elementary school when a student misbehaves and the teacher punishes the entire class by keeping them all after school,” said former intelligence officer and NYPD detective Sid Franes.
“The Israeli security people are trained to use profiling—they also look at body language, listen to voice patterns, check eye contact and other facial indicators of deception,” said Franes.
Counterterrorism experts believe that part of the professionalization process is the training of airport security staff in what’s been called psychological profiling or behavioral analysis or a number of other terms that all amount to the same thing—effectively screening out potential terrorists.