Fidgeting, sweating or staring might sound like average behavior for anyone waiting in line at airport security, but according to the Transportation Security Administration, they’re potential warning signs for would-be terrorists.
A confidential TSA document obtained by The Intercept and published Friday lays out a list of “suspicious behavior” for TSA offers to judge airline passengers on, including “fidgeting, whistling, sweaty palms… arrogance, a cold penetrating stare, and rigid posture.”
The list is the basis of the TSA’s Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT), which specially trained Behavior Detection Officers use to score passengers’ risk level based on actions that indicate stress or deception. The more behaviors a flier exhibits, the higher the score they receive. The higher the score, the more likely a passenger will subject to increased scrutiny.
“Taxpayer dollars would be better spent funding real police at TSA checkpoints,” a former TSA manager said in the report.
The 92-point checklist is catch-all by design, according to former employees, and includes average mannerisms that would subject any nervous flier to above average skepticism.
Flying unkempt may be the best way to go, according to the list, as faces “pale from recent shaving of beard,” “exaggerated or repetitive grooming gestures” and frequent touching of the face are also worthy of bad behavior points.
It also lends to the suggestion to always get to the airport early, since passengers “arriving late for flight” get points. Make sure to grab a coffee, because “exaggerated yawning” is also a no no — but watch your caffeine intake — “trembling” and “widely open staring eyes” are frowned upon.
“Behavior detection, which is just one element of the Transportation Security Administration’s efforts to mitigate threats against the traveling public,” the agency said in the report.
A study by the Government Accountability Office from 2013 cited by the Intercept said there was no evidence that “behavioral indicators … can be used to identify persons who may pose a risk to aviation security.”
“[T]he human ability to accurately identify deceptive behavior based on behavioral indicators is the same as or slightly better than chance,” the GAO concluded.