Rep. Thompson asks TSA to suspend behavior detection
Amid new reports of racial profiling in the Transportation Security Administration's behavior detection program, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) asked TSA on Aug. 13 to suspend the program.
Thompson, the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a letter (.pdf) to TSA Administrator John Pistole that Congress has yet to see a third-party validation of the program's scientific basis. Thompson also asked for a cost-benefit analysis for the program.
Thompson has repeatedly called for more evidence that the program works and has safeguards to prevent racial profiling, such as in a letter (.pdf) to Pistole from Aug. 12, 2011.
Thirty-two TSA officers at Boston's Logan International Airport have filed written complaints about racial profiling, says The New York Times, which also spoke to five of the officers.
Officers told the Times that they're under pressure to achieve a certain number of referrals to state police or immigration authorities. Some then target minorities because they think they're more likely to find outstanding arrest warrants or immigration issues.
But the program is intended to detect threats to aviation security.
Behavior detection officers currently operate at 161 airports, and TSA has piloted an expanded version of the program at Logan airport, where officers engage passengers in brief, casual conversations. The idea is that officers can then get better assess if a passenger is behaving suspiciously.
In May 2010, the Government Accountability Office reported (.pdf) that TSA deployed the program without first validating its basis in science. No scientific consensus exists on whether the program's principles are reliable, auditors also found.
Thompson has asked (.pdf) the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Peter King (R-N.Y.), to hold a full committee hearing on the program.
Rep. Bill Keating (D-Mass.), ranking member of that committee's oversight and investigation subcommittee, has also requested that his Republican counterpart hold a hearing once Congress returns from its recess in September.
- download Rep. Thompson's Aug. 13 letter to TSA (.pdf)
- go to the article in The New York Times
- go to TSA's webpage on the program and the expansion pilot
- download GAO's May 2010 report, GAO-10-763 (.pdf)