Wearing "improper attire," having a pale face (drank too much the night before?) or yawning excessively (early flight?) could all get a traveler detained and interrogated by the Transportation Safety Administration, as these are all officially considered "suspicious signs" of potential terrorists.
According to a document obtained and published by the Intercept on Friday, TSA Behavior Detection Officers (BDO) have been trained to pick up on such signs, as part of the Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT), while airline passengers make their way through US airports.
The document details a 92-point checklist and a point system used to determine potential threats.
Among the signs are complaints about the screening process (who doesn’t do that?), throat clearing, wide open eyes and grooming gestures. Many say such criteria have done much to fight terrorism, but others are concerned about the quality of the program, as many of these behaviors and emotions are common to many people who fly, let alone those with anxiety about air travel.
But the TSA says the document is "just one element" of its strategy to "mitigate threats against the traveling public."
Meanwhile, the Intercept notes evidence that the program is highly ineffective in pinning down those who intend to cause harm.
"The TSA has insisted on keeping documents about SPOT secret, but the agency can’t hide the fact that there’s no evidence the program works," said Hugh Handeyside, ACLU attorney.
A former BDO manager told the Intercept that the TSA approach to profiling passengers lacks scientific backing and consistency, as every airport trains its officers differently.
"The SPOT program is bullshit," he said. "Complete bullshit."