Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) on Monday called for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to halt the implementation of a new behavioral screening program that is modeled after Israel’s airport security screening methods.
He is a ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security.
The 60-day Behavior Detection Officer pilot program began Monday at the Boston Logan International Airport. In the new “Assessor” screenings, TSA officers will ask passengers a few personal questions and look for signs that they may be hiding something. Suspicious passengers will be sent to a secondary screening or referred to a law enforcement officer.
In a letter (PDF) to TSA Administrator John Pistole, Thompson questioned why the agency had decided to implement a “scientifically unproven technique,” noting there “is no scientific validation, limited or comprehensive, of the efficacy of the Assessor model of screening to detect persons who pose a security risk to aviation.”
Thompson is skeptical that the results of the pilot program can determine how the agency should proceed with the “chat downs.”
“Although the [Behavior Detection Officers] may not have interviewed a sufficient number of passengers to yield a statistically significant result during this 60 day period, TSA representatives indicated during the briefing that the agency plans on using the results of the pilot to determine whether the ‘assessor’ program should be expanded.”
“As Congress and the Executive Branch continue to negotiate historic reductions in federal spending, it is curious that TSA continues to deploy personnel and divert dwindling budget resources to this unproven, costly and potentially ineffective security screening protocol,” he added.
The Behavior Detection Officer pilot program is part of a nearly $1 billion national program called the Screening Passengers by Observation Technique (SPOT) program.