Just days after a new Gallup poll found that 54 percent of Americans believe the Transportation Security Administration is doing a good or excellent job, TSA agents at Boston’s Logan airport were accused of racial profiling.
Thirty-two TSA officers brought claims alleging they witnessed their co-workers targeting minorities. The officers were involved in the “expanded behavior detection” program at Logan, which is intended to prevent profiling based on race or appearance.
Yet the reports claim Hispanics traveling to Miami and blacks wearing baseball caps backwards were questioned for “suspicious behavior.”
The overwhelming majority of cases referred to Massachusetts police by the TSA involved members of minority groups.
The New York Times notes that the Obama administration has taken a strong anti-profiling stand in Arizona and elsewhere, only to have to defend the TSA against charges it has engaged in the practice.
The Boston program, considered a model for the TSA nationwide, has specially trained behavioral assessors scan lines of passengers for unusual activity. The assessors speak with passengers about their trip and other things while secretly gauging their responses.
Officers stop, search and question passengers they deem suspicious. Inconsistencies in the passengers’ responses to questions and behavior such as avoiding eye contact, fidgeting or sweating raise red flags.
According to the TSA website, “specialized behavioral analysis techniques are used to determine if a traveler should be referred for additional screening at the checkpoint.” Passengers at checkpoints will “experience a ‘casual greeting’ conversation with a Behavior Detection Officer as they go through identity verification.”
The TSA said on Friday that it is investigating the officers’ complaints.
“If any of these claims prove accurate, we will take immediate and decisive action to ensure there are consequences to such activity,” an agency spokesman said in a statement.
“The behavior detection program is no longer a behavior-based program, but it is a racial profiling program,” one officer wrote in an anonymous complaint obtained by the Times.
Kenneth Boatner, a black psychologist who was traveling to Atlanta on business last month, said he was detained for nearly half an hour as agents examined his belongings, including his checkbook and his patients’ clinical notes. He has since filed a formal complaint against the TSA.
CBS News senior correspondent John Miller, a former deputy director of National Intelligence, told “CBS This Morning” that the expanded behavior detection program is based on techniques long used in Israel.
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