Ramped up se­cu­rity

The Western Star - - Editorial -

This past week, snow­birds and other vis­i­tors got a lit­tle more to think about when it comes to go­ing to the United States. Canadian trav­ellers were told to ex­pect to need up to two hours to get through se­cu­rity head­ing south be­cause of new se­cu­rity mea­sures.

“Ter­ror­ist groups con­tinue to tar­get pas­sen­ger air­craft, and we have seen a spi­der web of threats to com­mer­cial avi­a­tion as ter­ror­ists pur­sue new at­tack meth­ods,” the U.S. Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity said on its web­site, ex­plain­ing why new se­cu­rity meth­ods were needed.

But while you wait in line, you might stop and think about how, some­times, se­cu­rity can be mis­guided or just plain wrong.

For the last decade, the U.S. Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion (TSA) has been staffing air­ports with thou­sands of be­hav­iour de­tec­tion of­fi­cers, which it calls BDOs.

The prac­tice was re­cently re­viewed by the U.S. Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­ing Of­fice (GAO), a sort of au­di­tor gen­eral for U.S. fed­eral spend­ing.

The GAO de­scribed the role of BDOs as iden­ti­fy­ing “pas­sen­gers ex­hibit­ing be­hav­iours in­dica­tive of stress, fear, or de­cep­tion at air­port screen­ing check­points. Ac­cord­ing to TSA, cer­tain ver­bal and non­ver­bal cues and be­hav­iors — TSA’s be­hav­ioral indicators—may in­di­cate ma­l­in­tent, such as the in­tent to carry out a ter­ror­ist at­tack. Th­ese be­hav­ioral indicators in­clude, for ex­am­ple, as­sess­ing the way an in­di­vid­ual swal­lows or the de­gree to which an in­di­vid­ual’s eyes are open. Ac­cord­ing to TSA, such indicators pro­vide a means for iden­ti­fy­ing pas­sen­gers who may pose a risk to avi­a­tion se­cu­rity and re­fer­ring them for ad­di­tional screen­ing.”

Only one prob­lem: there’s no proof it works — in fact, there’s re­search that bluntly says it doesn’t. In 2013, the GAO asked the TSA to pro­vide re­search to jus­tify the hir­ing of all those thou­sands of BDOs na­tion­wide. In re­sponse, the TSA re­duced the num­ber of be­hav­ioral indicators it looks for from 94 to 36 (what those indicators are is kept se­cret for se­cu­rity rea­sons). In 2017, the TSA also handed over 178 pieces of re­search that it said showed be­hav­ioral anal­y­sis ac­tu­ally works.

The GAO took a look at the re­search, say­ing, “We de­fined valid ev­i­dence as orig­i­nal re­search that meets gen­er­ally ac­cepted re­search stan­dards and presents ev­i­dence that is ap­pli­ca­ble in sup­port­ing TSA’s spe­cific be­hav­ioral indicators.”

Their find­ings this week? “In our re­view of all 178 sources TSA cited in sup­port of its re­vised list, we found that 98 per­cent (175 of 178) of the sources do not pro­vide valid ev­i­dence ap­pli­ca­ble to the spe­cific indicators that TSA iden­ti­fied them as sup­port­ing.”

Sigh.

So, if you’re wait­ing there in line, you can ei­ther wait pa­tiently, know­ing ev­ery­thing is be­ing done to keep you as safe as pos­si­ble, or you can pon­der on the fact that se­cu­rity meth­ods may mean well, but not ac­tu­ally ac­com­plish any­thing.

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