Tepid review for TSA program to spot suspicious characters

Nov. 14, 2013 at 1:33 PM
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WASHINGTON, Nov. 14 (UPI) -- Airport security agents in the United States may be wasting their time scanning the lines of travelers waiting for screening, government analysts said.

The Government Accountability Office released a report Thursday that concluded the Transportation Security Agency should drop its Screening of Passengers by Observation Technique (SPOT) training program because the profiling wasn't producing the desired results.

The SPOT program trains agents to look over the lines of people approaching airport screening stations and pick out individuals who may be up to no good based on their facial expressions, body language and other factors. The GAO concluded the eyeballing was successful only 54 percent of the time, just slightly better than random chance.

The agency said that while it appeared that pulling suspicious-looking individuals over for closer scrutiny was better than just randomly selecting them would be more effective at finding potential trouble, there was a lack of high-quality data to support that assertion.

The report said the stress of air travel could cause perfectly innocent travelers to appear unduly nervous, harried or irritated.

The GAO report was the centerpiece of a hearing on the SPOT program held Thursday by a House subcommittee on transportation security. Rep. Bennie Wilson, D-Miss., told the Washington Post the report confirmed to him that the program "is fundamentally flawed, cannot be proven effective, and should no longer be funded with taxpayer dollars."

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