Congressional testimony of Larry Willis, program manager for the Science and Technology Directorate, argued that behavioral science and security is effective.
The evaluation compared the SPOT Referral Report process with a random screening process to see whether the correct screening decisions are made.
As a result, it was found that operational SPOT is nine times more likely to identify high-risk travelers versus random screening.
Since its inception in 2006, Behavior Detection Officers (BDOs) have been trained to identify potentially high-risk passengers who indicate threats and suspicious behaviors. However, this method has caused controversy as many have questioned its legitimacy – how can you be trained to detect whether people are conspiring terrorist attacks?
Sharon Weinberger, a national security writer said, “The Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) 2010 evaluation of the SPOT program reported that the BDOs have never caught a terrorist. And that is, after all, the goal of the program. If a high-risk traveler is simply someone who has a criminal background (like an outstanding arrest warrant), that doesn’t prove SPOT is effective with respect to counter-terrorism.”
A statement from TSA said:
“For security reasons, we cannot outline the specific behaviors that we have trained our behavior detection officers to look for, but we can tell you that no single behavior will result in a referral or call to law enforcement. BDOs are looking for a number of behaviors that, all together, indicate that a particular passenger should be scrutinized more closely.”
Further research is set to continue to validate the accuracy of the SPOT program in identifying other indicators, which could increase its accuracy.
Weinberger said the effectiveness of SPOT should be compared against non-SPOT trained agents, “[It} would tell us whether the SPOT protocol is effective, or whether the BDOs are simply pulling aside people based, for example, on profiling.”
Michael McCarthy, from TSA’s office of strategic communications said, “SPOT can be likened to ‘human alarm resolution.’ Just like an alarm at the walk-through metal detector signals a need for additional screening to resolve the cause of the alarm, certain behaviors set off an alarm for BDOs telling them they need to refer a traveler for additional screening to assess if the behaviors have either a threatening or non-threatening origin.”