TSA’s be­hav­ior de­tec­tion pro­gram a waste­ful flop

At a mo­ment when borders and sur­veil­lance have be­come sharply di­vi­sive is­sues at home and abroad, all Amer­i­cans should ob­ject to one of the great fed­eral se­cu­rity fail­ures play­ing out every day. The Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s be­hav­ior de­tect

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - OPINION -

For years, the TSA has turned in an ex­cep­tion­ally poor per­for­mance. (In 2007, its fail­ure rate on screen­ings hit 75 per­cent.) In an all-too-char­ac­ter­is­tic act of gov­ern­ment non-trans­parency, the TSA it­self did its level best to ob­scure the em­bar­rass­ing de­tails about the mis­be­got­ten project — although, in 2013, the GAO dis­missed it as in­ef­fec­tive too. The ACLU had to file suit against the agency two years ago af­ter the bu­reau­crats stonewalled its Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act re­quest. Suc­cess­fully pry­ing reams of doc­u­ments out of Wash­ing­ton’s hands, the ACLU re­vealed that ex­pert stud­ies col­lected by the TSA con­tra­dict the ba­sic premise of the be­hav­ior de­tec­tion pro­gram.

Nat­u­rally, of­fi­cials vow it’s been worth it to pump over a bil­lion dol­lars into an un­der­tak­ing that in­cludes plain­clothes of­fi­cers mon­i­tor­ing peo­ple who seem “off” be­cause stop­ping ter­ror­ism re­quires a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent ap­proaches. But the ex­e­cu­tion doesn’t mea­sure up to the con­cept. Al­le­ga­tions and anec­dotes of racial and eth­nic pro­fil­ing have mul­ti­plied, but a lack of records has made in­ves­ti­ga­tion im­pos­si­ble. And those who don’t be­long to sin­gled-out mi­nor­ity groups have their own rea­sons to dis­ap­prove of weakly ac­count­able se­cret snoop­ers with no track record of stop­ping at­tacks.

There’s got to be a bet­ter way. Amer­i­cans have largely lost pa­tience with waste­ful and in­va­sive in­ep­ti­tude from in­side the Beltway, no mat­ter how well-in­ten­tioned or ini­tially rea­son­able on pa­per. If the TSA doesn’t want Congress to con­sider shut­ter­ing the be­hav­ior de­tec­tion pro­gram, it had bet­ter find a way to make its op­er­a­tions more trans­par­ent, more cost-ef­fec­tive and more in tune with Amer­i­cans’ ba­sic ex­pec­ta­tions around civil lib­er­ties and po­lit­i­cal ac­count­abil­ity. Oth­er­wise, the whole agency could find it­self on the chop­ping block.

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