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April 10, 2014

House Members Seek Information on Expansion of TSA Behavior Detection Programs

(WASHINGTON) – Today, four House Committee and Subcommittee Ranking Members sent a letter to John S. Pistole, Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), questioning the expanded use of Behavior Detection Officers (BDOs) through the Targeted Conversation program, which is part of TSA's Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) program. Under the expanded program, passengers who refuse to answer intrusive questions posed by BDOs at airport security checkpoints will undergo secondary screening. The Ranking Members are concerned that TSA is expanding behavior detection programs despite a lack of scientific validation for these methods.

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Ranking Member of the Committee on Homeland Security, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Ranking Member of the Committee on the Judiciary, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD), Ranking Member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-LA), Ranking Member of the Committee on Homeland Security's Transportation Security Subcommittee wrote Administrator Pistole that

"This [Targeted Conversation Proof of Concept] represents an intrusion into the privacy of the flying public through a process TSA has not scientifically validated." The Members added: "The expanded use of BDOs subsequent to GAO's recommendation that TSA limit funding for SPOT until it can provide scientifically validated evidence that behavioral indicators can be used to identify threats to aviation security raises serious concerns."

Background on Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT):

  • Over $1 billion has been spent since 2007.
  • Zero terrorists have been identified, apprehended, referred to law enforcement or prevented from boarding an aircraft as a result of the program.
  • Known or suspected terrorists have passed through screening on 23 different occasions in airports where BDOs were present.
  • TSA has not provided any scientific validation for the program.
  • In 2013, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommended Congress consider whether to continue to fund SPOT after TSA disagreed with the recommendation that it limit future funding of the program.

Link to Letter


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Media Contact:
(Thompson) Adam Comis at (202) 225-9978
(Richmond) Brandon Gassaway at (202) 225-6636
(Conyers) Andrew Schreiber at (202) 226-6906
(Cummings) Jennifer Hoffman at (202) 225-5051