So will this work?
“Chat downs” have been used on a limited scale since 2003, according to the agency. The TSA’s Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) program, which targets only suspicious passengers for interroga … I mean, conversations, is already used in 160 airports. It has led to the arrest 2,000 criminals. None have been charged with terrorism.
Not only is the program ineffective, say critics. It’s also wasteful. In a letter (PDF) to TSA Administrator John Pistole, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) pointed out that the government investigation found that SPOT had been deployed without conducting a comprehensive risk assessment and cost-benefit analysis.
“As Congress and the Executive Branch continue to negotiate historic reductions in federal spending, it is curious that TSA continues to deploy personnel and devote dwindling budget resources to this unproven, costly and potentially ineffective security screening protocol,” he wrote.
But wait. If just one casual conversation can save a planeload of people from being incinerated, then why not?
And doesn’t Israel use sophisticated techniques that include asking questions? And isn’t the Israeli model considered the “gold” standard for airport security?
Count me among the skeptics. I’m not as concerned with blowing the budget as I am about “false” positives. Would someone who is simply uncomfortable being questioned (like me) get sent off to a private room for additional screening? What if you’re just a nervous flier? Will you get a once-over from a blueshirt?
Also, these BDOs roaming the airports seem just a little too close to the “papers please” agents from every totalitarian regime and dystopian novel I can remember.
The answer to the question of “will this work” is probably “yes.” It’ll catch a lot of petty criminals (not TSA’s job, by the way) and maybe a terrorist or two. But at what price?
Interrogating airline passengers in the Land of the Free. Who would have thought the day would ever come?
(Photo Leonard Mat thews/Flickr)