Gracious, it’s a wonder the TSA allows me anywhere near an airport. Might as well have “highly suspicious” tattooed across my forehead.
The Intercept, an aptly named online magazine (better known for posting Edward Snowden’s pilfered documents), has published the confidential — make that formerly confidential — criteria used by Transportation Security Administration airport screeners to ferret out potential terrorists.
At least they didn’t include my mug shot.
I’m fairly dripping with the suspicious cues cited by “SPOT,” TSA’s acronym for Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques. When I fly, I tend to be spotty.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
TSA “behavior detection officers” look for certain tendencies that the SPOT program attributes to potential homicidal crazies. Except those same behaviors pretty much describe me, catching the morning flight home after a rowdy few days with some hard-drinking desperadoes.
Like “excessive yawning.” After going off on a hell-raising, whiskey-soaked vacation, my recovery time’s not what it used to be. I tend to show up for the flight home with a “flushed face” and “shuffling feet” and “fidgeting” and, habitually, “arriving late.”
Each of those behaviors gets you a point under the TSA terrorist screening formula. Rack up six points and you’re jerked out of the screening line and into an interrogation room.
So I get five demerits just by showing up. “Head turning,” pushes me over the six-point threshold. So does “clock watching,” which seems unfair, given that I’ve already been dunned a point for arriving late. Of course, I’m watching the damn clock. My flight’s about to take off without me. Which undoubtedly accounts for “excessive perspiration inconsistent with the environment” — a “sign of deception” according to the TSA. No wonder I’m sweating and exhibiting “increased breathing rate, panting,” after my frantic run through the airport.
So I’m nine points deep into a terrorist profile. And I haven’t even added two points for “improper clothing for the location” — pretty much the definition of “journalist,” and “bulges in clothing.” OK, so I’m not in such great shape. A bulge here. A bulge there. Might as well introduce myself as Fred bin Laden.
Before the TSA formula was leaked, I had just assumed I was getting shunted into the might-as-well-be-naked screening booth because of the prurient impulses of female screening agents. Now I know better.
TSA has spent close to a billion dollars on SPOT since 2007, so who am I to cast doubt on a system designed to nab high-risk airline passengers? Even if it’s me. However, the Government Accounting Office gave SPOT a close look in 2013 and reported that “meta-analyses . . . found that the ability of human observers to accurately identify deceptive behavior based on behavioral cues or indicators is the same as or slightly better than chance (54 percent).”
No better than a coin toss. Still, that hardly makes me feel OK about running up the score as a maybe terrorist. And that’s not even counting my points for “whistling during the screening process.”