TSA Behavior Profiling Not Effective, GAO Report Finds

Behavioral screening at airports across the county has wasted up to $1 billion since 2007 and cannot be proven effective, according to the Government Accountability Office.

GAO released its report on the Transportation Security Administration's Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques program, also known as SPOT, where agents profile cagey looking people and engage them in conversation in an attempt to determine whether they are up to no good.

The report found that the available evidence and data show that the program cannot be proven effective and that profiling is "probably no better than chance."

Last May, The Department of Homeland Security Inspector General released a report on SPOT that also found the program is tough to prove effective.

"The report released today by GAO displays what I have been saying for years - that TSA's Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques program is fundamentally flawed, cannot be proven effective, and should no longer be funded with taxpayer dollars," Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said in a statement today.

The House Subcommittee on Transportation Security will hold a hearing Thursday to question GAO officials and TSA Administrator John Pistole about the report. The hearing will also examine the "initial lessons" learned from the shooting at LAX on November 1.

"In the wake of last week's tragic shooting at LAX, we have a responsibility to re-examine existing TSA security policies and programs, in order to identify practical, risk-based steps that can be taken to strengthen coordination between local law enforcement and TSA, and to prioritize security measures more effectively," Richard Hudson, the subcommittee chairman, said in a statement today. "The Subcommittee's hearing on TSA's Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) Program is a timely opportunity to review whether this program and others are an effective and efficient use of resources."

The SPOT program costs more than $200 million per year, placing 3,000 behavior detection officers at 176 airports in the United States, according to GAO.

Several Democrats on the committee believe that money could be put to use on other proven and effective measures to enhance aviation security.

"This report represents a serious indictment of TSA's Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques program," Rep. Cedric L. Richmond, the ranking Democrat on the transportation security subcommittee, stated. "With a single report, GAO has displayed that the science behind the program is non-existent and that the study TSA cites in defending the program was fundamentally flawed. Given TSA's unwillingness to concur with GAO's recommendation that the agency limit funding for the program until it could be proven, it is now up to Congress to take a hard look at reprioritizing the funding for this program. I trust that my colleagues will do just that."

The report recommends that when making funding decisions on the program, Congress consider the lack of scientifically validated evidence for using behavioral indicators to identify threats to aviation security. DHS did not agree with the recommendation.