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Entries in SPOT Program (2)

Wednesday
Jul132011

$1 Billion Airport Security Program Has Yet to Catch a Terrorist

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Department of Homeland Security plans to spend a total of $1 billion on a controversial airport security program that, despite being in use for at least seven years, has yet to nab a known terror suspect or thwart a potential attack.

The U.S. government has already spent approximately $750 million on the Screening of Passengers by Technique (SPOT) program, which in part trains airport security officers to look out for "micro-expressions" of travelers that may betray nefarious planning, and plans to add another $254 million to the program in 2012, according to a report published Wednesday by the Government Accountability Office's Director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues Stephen Lord. ABC News previously reported critics' concerns with the unproven science behind the SPOT program.

According to the GAO report, since DHS started collecting data in 2004, the SPOT program has led to hundreds of arrests of travelers suspected of immigration violations, drug possession, false documents and other offenses, but not a single one of the arrests was identified as terror-related. In fiscal year 2010, 50,000 people were singled out by the SPOT program, but only 300 eventually were arrested -- none on terror charges, the GAO said. A previous GAO report found that at least 17 known terrorists traveled through at least 23 U.S. airports in the SPOT program without being detected.

This year the DHS's Science and Technology Directorate completed a four-year study on SPOT and found that while it was better than random screening at spotting criminality, the directorate's study "was not designed to fully validate whether behavior detection can be used to reliably identify individuals in an airport environment that pose a security risk."

In a hearing Wednesday before the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Transportation Security Administration Assistant Administrator John Sammon was asked if the program has ever been successful in thwarting a potential terror attack. Sammon recounted the story of an Orlando man who was spotted due to irregular behavior before he was able to place a bag with explosives on the checked bag conveyor belt.

"So, one?" asked subcommittee member Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX).

But before Sammon could answer, Lord, who was also a witness, interjected and told the subcommittee the Orlando man was actually reported by other travelers and a ticket counter employee -- and had nothing to do with the SPOT program.

The TSA readily admitted that the SPOT program was implemented "before first determining whether there was a scientifically valid basis" for it, the GAO report said, and the DHS "may be years away from knowing" the answer.

However, another witness, former director of security at Tel Aviv Ben Gurion International Airport Rafi Ron, defended the use of behavioral observation in security, which is used widely in Israeli airports.

"I think that the investment in behavior observation certainly makes sense," Ron said. "We need to spend more attention on people than just items. Observing behavior is one of the basic tools that can be used at the airport."

The SPOT program is based in large part on the work of Dr. Paul Ekman, a retired psychology professor at the University of California, who devised a system that identifies facial "micro-expressions" and body movements that are out of the ordinary.

"Micro-expressions, the wonderful thing about them, is they're universal," Dr. Ekman told ABC News in January. "There are seven different emotions and it doesn't matter your language or your culture, if you have one of those emotions it is going to appear in your face and if you're trying to conceal it, it may well leak out in a micro-expression."

Other behavioral science experts said they were skeptical.

"The scientific research shows that it's very hard to detect whether somebody's up to no good just by looking at their behavior," Dr. Maria Hartwig, an assistant professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York and an expert in the psychology of deception and its detection, said in January.

In its conclusion, the GAO reported suggested the DHS study the viability of the SPOT program further.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Jan252011

TSA 'Not Capable' of Detecting Moscow-Like Attack, Critics Say

Photo Courtesy - Jeff Swensen/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- A $212-million federal program designed to spot suspected terrorists at American airports is "not capable of detecting what took place in Moscow," according to the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Rep. John Mica of Florida.

The program, called SPOT, was created in 2006 by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and now has more than 3,000 "Behavior Detection" officers at 161 airports.  The officers receive four days of classroom instruction on how to spot certain unusual behaviors.

But the Government Accountability Office says the TSA has relied on unproven behavioral science and Congressional critics say the program has done nothing to deal with the actual vulnerabilities of airport security.

"I see the classified results and it gives me great concern, I saw what happened [in Moscow] and I have even more concern," Rep. Mica told ABC News Tuesday.

The suicide bomb attack at the Moscow airport highlighted a physical vulnerability long recognized by both security officials and terrorists.

"Every airport in the world, including every airport in the United States, has virtually no security until you get to the security checkpoint," said Richard Clarke, an ABC News consultant and former White House counter-terrorism official.

"Very large parts of all airports are inherently insecure," Clarke added.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio