Tuesday, August 02, 2011

TSA questions travelers

I am a fan of the series Criminal Minds, so the Behavior Analysis Unit (BAU) of Criminal Minds is, of course, the first thing I thought of when I saw an article on the MSNBC news website about what the Transportation and Safety Administration (TSA) is up to at Boston Logan International Airport.

Starting Tuesday there will be Behavior Detection Officers (BDOs) offering greetings to travelers at Boston Logan International Airport. The MSNBC article says that the TSA announced the new BDO placement via local media and posting signs in the area of the airport where the program was being implemented.

The article would lead one to believe, that this is a new program and Boston Logan International Airport is the first place where Behavior Detection Officers have been used, however, according to the TSA's website it is not the only airport.

The men and women who work to recognize the behavior of individuals in airports are known as BDO's (Behavior Detection Officers), however, the program itself is known to the TSA as SPOT.

SPOT stands for Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques, and has been a part of the TSA's efforts to keep travelers safe since June 2003. In 2007 plans were moved forward to place BDOs in 40 of the nation's busiest airports.

And what exactly are BDOs good for in an airport? If we refer back to Logan the TSA highlights it as one of the points of successful observation in a 2007 article on the TSA website. They note that a group of passengers were identified as "making clandestine signs to one another, while pretending not to know each other", the passengers, after being questioned, admitted to having been paid $5,000 to observe security at different airports.

Other activity that SPOT has detected have included a man with a box that had wires extending up the sleeves of his multi-layered clothing, and in a separate incident, someone that was caught carrying surveillance photographs of high-risk buildings and bridges.

It is not, however, all possible bombs and covert activity for the BDOs. In addition to threats to travelers, the DBOs has also identified illegal immigrants, stopped a passenger transporting large quantities of prescription medication, $20,000 in cash and someone else's passport.

Then there was the BDO team working at Washington Dulles International who, after being alerted that a man who had kidnapped a child might be headed toward the airport, identified the kidnapper and kept the man in sight until the police arrived.

Like the FBI crime solvers on TV, the Behavior Detection Officers of the TSA are trained in observing how people react to various situations, this training extends well beyond the scope of potential terrorist threat and aids the TSA in keeping travelers safer on a number of levels. The TSA's website notes that there are BDOs working in over 150 airports across the nation. Watching travelers for any indication of involuntary physical or psychological tells that could indicate a concern of being detected. There are, of course, travelers that are just uneasy about flying or upset about a need to leave a loved one behind, and that is where the specialization of the BDOs comes in. They are trained to recognize the different layers of unease and 'fidgeting' and when someone is giving off a tell that is a little less fear of flying and a little more fear of airport security.

I would like to thank all of the men and women of the TSA and the Behavior Detection Officers of their SPOT program for working hard to make travelers that much safer.