Federal agents taking part in a program at Boston's Logan Airport to spot mannerisms of potential terrorists, now say the operation has evolved into racial profiling, targeting people from the Middle East as well as blacks, Hispanics and other minorities.
The New York Times says based on internal complaints and interviews with more than 30 officers from the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) "behavior detection" program, passengers who fit certain profiles are more likely to be stopped, searched and questioned for "suspicious" behavior. The Times uses the examples of Hispanics traveling to Miami or blacks wearing baseball caps backward.
One white officer who wants to remain anonymous tells the Times, “They just pull aside anyone who they don’t like the way they look — if they are black and have expensive clothes or jewelry, or if they are Hispanic.”
The officers say management demands for a large number of stops, searches and criminal referrals had led some staff to target minorities, believing that it would result in more drug arrests, outstanding warrants or immigration problems. And they say it hasn't gone unnoticed by Massachusetts State Police officials who have asked why minorities make up most of the cases that are referred from the airport program. One unidentified officer wrote in an anonymous complaint, “the behavior detection program is no longer a behavior-based program, but it is a racial profiling program.”
The TSA has opened an investigation into the claims and a spokesman tells The NY Times, “If any of these claims prove accurate, we will take immediate and decisive action to ensure there are consequences to such activity.”
The agency insists that the behavior detection program “in no way encourages or tolerates profiling” and forbids officers from singling out passengers based on nationality, race, ethnicity or religion.
The Times says the officers are supposed to look for signs like; avoiding eye contact, sweating, or fidgeting and are told to speak directly to passengers to look for inconsistencies in their answers.
While the TSA insists the program "is clearly an effective means of identifying people engaged in activity that may threaten the security of the passengers and the airports and has become a very effective intelligence tool, enabling law enforcement to bust larger operations and track any trends in nefarious activity,” some researchers say the concept of spotting terrorists based on their behavior, is dubious at best.
The US Government Accountability Office says, based on past research, the link between a person’s behavior and mental state works best when trying to identify “simple emotions” like happiness and sadness. But they say it is weak when trying to determine if someone is lying and is virtually "nonexistent" to determine if someone holds "terrorist intent and beliefs."