Everyone knows the Transportation Security Administration is our best defense against terrorists doing 9/11 to us again. Or at least protecting us from scantily clad teenage girls, kids in wheelchairs, moms armed with weaponized bottles of breast milk, and those sneaky devils with their fake non-American photo IDs from some unknown "District of Columbia." So it's good to know that the TSA has a carefully designed and effective system for spotting the most likely potential terrorists among us:


Fidgeting, whistling, sweaty palms. Add one point each. Arrogance, a cold penetrating stare, and rigid posture, two points.

These are just a few of the suspicious signs that the Transportation Security Administration directs its officers to look out for — and score — in airport travelers, according to a confidential TSA document obtained exclusively by The Intercept.

The checklist is part of TSA’s controversial program to identify potential terrorists based on behaviors that it thinks indicate stress or deception — known as the Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques, or SPOT. The program employs specially trained officers, known as Behavior Detection Officers, to watch and interact with passengers going through screening.

Other suspicious signs that you might be a terrorist include:

  • Strong body odor
  • Arrives late for flight, if known
  • Wearing improper attire for location
  • Liquids or gels (in excess of 3.4 oz or 100 ml)
  • Excessive perspiration inconsistent with the environment
  • Face pale from recent shaving of beard
  • Displays arrogance and verbally expresses contempt for screening process
  • Training manuals such as flight, scuba, explosive, or military

TSA assigns different points for different suspicious activities. So you get two points added to your Super Suspicious Suspect Score for being inappropriately dressed for your flight or expressing contempt for having to remove your shoes and belt and maybe have an inspector cop a feel if your underwire bra sets off the metal detector. But you only get one point if you forget to toss out your oversized bottle of Smart Energy Monster Bull Drink from your backpack, or you show up late for a flight because you were either stuck in traffic on your way to the airport or, more likely, plotting to hijack the plane with your terrorist pals. And while it's understandable that manuals on explosive devices might be cause for alarm, we're pretty sure even non-terrorist regular people enjoy scuba diving, unless they're all part of a sleeper cell and the Great Barrier Reef is one big training camp.

At least the SPOT program is based on careful calculation and science. Really. But not really:

Since its introduction in 2007, the SPOT program has attracted controversy for the lack of science supporting it. In 2013, the Government Accountability Office found that there was no evidence to back up the idea that “behavioral indicators … can be used to identify persons who may pose a risk to aviation security.” After analyzing hundreds of scientific studies, the GAO concluded that “the human ability to accurately identify deceptive behavior based on behavioral indicators is the same as or slightly better than chance.”

Or, as one anonymous former Behavior Detection Officer manager put it, "The SPOT program is bullshit. Complete bullshit."

The good news, though -- other than the TSA's recognition that ladies over 55 get one point deducted from their score for being old ladies, but men have to wait until they're 65 (RIP patriarchy!) -- is that black ladies are no longer automatically suspect for having hair:

After reaching an agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), officials at the Transportation Safety [sic] Administration (TSA) have agreed to stop racially profiling black women with natural hair and subjecting them to extra security screenings.

The agency will also provide conduct trainings for TSA employees emphasizing “race neutrality” and specifically focusing on how to approach black women’s hair during security pat-downs, according to an announcement from the ACLU.

So at least there's that victory. But as for black women under 55 who enjoy scuba and forgot to put on deodorant, you're still out of luck. Sorry, but freedom isn't free.

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[The Intercept via BuzzFeed/Think Progress]

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