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See SPOT Catch a Terrorist

By Margaret Lyons in News on Dec 18, 2007 6:36PM


Word to the wise: try to keep from talking to yourself, sweating excessively or hyperventilating the next time you pass through security at O'Hare. [Ed. note: You might want to avoid those things, oh, all the time.] In light of this fall's news that TSA screeners had missed about 60 % of hidden bomb materials that were sneaked through security by tiger teams at O'Hare, the TSA is upgrading its strategy and employing new "psychological tactics." Sounds creepy, right? Really, it just means that screeners are now on the lookout for strange behavior.

A new Trib report scrutinizes the scrutinizers, evaluating the new SPOT (Screening Passengers by Observation Technique) method that "elite" airport security screeners are testing. The behavior detectors are looking for "extraordinary stress and fear, or signs of deception during questioning" (textbook terrorist behavior), and anything that might seem typical of a terrorist scouting mission, or worse.

Here's the money quote from TSA administrator Kip Hawley: "While we still need to screen baggage and carry-on items, the real focus is on people and creating a new layer of unpredictability at the security checkpoints." Unpredictability? That's just about the last element you want to throw into the mix in the place where you've already got to remove and replace your belt, shoes and the contents of your pockets (not to mention the laptop nonsense) in less than 30 seconds.

At best, it will catch the occasional miscreant or potential terrorist, and at worst it will single out and harass uptight commodities traders exhibiting strange behavior. But isn't this what we expected the TSA to be doing all along? -- Mark Boyer

TSA dude catching some zzzzs by TheeErin