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The Men Who Stare At Airline Passengers, Coming To the UK 468

Posted by timothy
from the setting-aside-american-senators dept.
An anonymous reader writes, "The Economist's Gulliver reports on a story in Nature that questions the current airport security regimen," excerpting: "Over the past four years, some 3,000 officers in America's Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have been specially trained to spot potential terrorists at airports. The programme, known as SPOT, for Screening Passengers by Observation Technique, is intended to allow airport security officers to use tiny facial cues to identify people who are acting suspiciously. The British government is currently launching a new screening regime modelled on the Americans' SPOT. There's just one problem with all this: there's no evidence that SPOT is actually effective. The whole thing is mostly based on pseudoscience, Sharon Weinberger reports in Nature." Happily, Nature's original article is available in full, rather than paywalled.
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The Men Who Stare At Airline Passengers, Coming To the UK

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  • Might as well (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Xacid (560407) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @10:01PM (#32480086) Journal
    Chalk it up as a boondoggle and consider it part of the economic recovery plan.
    • If only. (Score:3, Informative)

      The government can regain money through taxation. The violation of a civil liberty is a loss that cannot be regained.
      • Re:If only. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Sunday June 06, 2010 @10:37PM (#32480300) Homepage Journal

        The violation of a civil liberty is a loss that cannot be regained.

        Can you explain how having an officer look at you is a violation of civil liberties?

        You're in public, after all. It's not like you're being observed in your home. While I don't see how the SPOT program actually accomplishes anything, I really don't see how it's going to violate our freedoms. Law enforcement doesn't need a warrant to check you out as you stand in line to check your luggage. And it might just be that having trained observers in airports would force terrorists to work a little harder.

        We've got to be careful of crying wolf when we complain about intrusion into our lives. We gave away most of our liberties in the US with the PATRIOT Act and the warrantless wiretapping. For us to now say "you can't look at us" is taking our eye off the ball, which is to reverse the outrageous parts of PATRIOT and return some sanity to counter-terrorism.

        • Re:If only. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Andorin (1624303) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @10:49PM (#32480354)
          The point is not that an airport official will be watching passengers in an attempt to spot terrorists. The point is that there is a possibility that someone stressed, sick, distracted or socially inept- all of which could make a person seem "suspicious"- will be accosted or even held despite complete innocence of terrorism. It's "security theater" to a T: it gives the appearance of safety and security without actually providing any of the substance.
          • Re:If only. (Score:5, Interesting)

            by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Monday June 07, 2010 @12:38AM (#32480898)

            Fine. Observing passengers for potential cues is security theater. Then explain to me, how exactly is airplane security is going to work? You can't possibly strip search everybody, no one would fly. Having everybody fly naked is not an option either, as is having everybody be sedated and tied to their seats.

            As securing all passengers with 100% failproof methods is far more intrusive than what's currently proposed, we need to look elsewhere. We know that the no-fly list is bogus because it is secret and non-appealable. We know that removing all liquids is dumb as well, because you're a) always behind the curve in what terrorists will try, and b) because most of the hare-brained ideas won't work anyway.

            So what's left? We are pretty much left with SPOT: the observation of human behavior to indicate who gets special treatment. It is the only thing that can work, because it keys on the only thing common among terrorists: their plan, and the impact on human physiology of planning a suicide. Will innocent people be subjected to extra searches? They sure will. But behavioral observation - if done correctly, and yes, that's a big if - is the only real profiling technique that has any chance of not falling into obvious traps.

            Finally, for an insight into how and why it works, look at the security at the Tel Aviv airport. They have some spectacular saves that would have failed with any other technique short of getting lucky with a random search.

            • Re:If only. (Score:4, Insightful)

              by TapeCutter (624760) * on Monday June 07, 2010 @01:21AM (#32481088) Journal
              "having everybody be sedated and tied to their seats"

              Personally I think that would be the best way to fly long distance.
            • Re:If only. (Score:5, Insightful)

              by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Monday June 07, 2010 @01:27AM (#32481114)

              Fine. Observing passengers for potential cues is security theater.

              No. Observing passengers for MEANINGLESS cues is security theater,

              Finally, for an insight into how and why it works, look at the security at the Tel Aviv airport.

              Yes, let's look at what happens at Tel Aviv - they extensively interview every passenger. SPOT does not even come close to what happens in an israeli airport. Nor do we face the threat that israeli airports face either. They have a much higher risk and a much lower number of passengers - roughly one day's worth of passengers through Kennedy is equal to a year's worth of passengers through Tel Aviv.

              So basically the behavioural profiling that is applied to israeli flyers has nothing in common with SPOT- and it never will because applying the same techniques to flyers in the USA would require tens of billions of dollars.

              • Re:If only. (Score:5, Interesting)

                by AndersOSU (873247) on Monday June 07, 2010 @09:08AM (#32483270)

                My favorite part of TFA

                His critics argue that most of his peer-reviewed studies on microexpressions were published decades ago, and much of his more recent writing on the subject has not been peer reviewed. Ekman maintains that this publishing strategy is deliberate — that he no longer publishes all of the details of his work in the peer-reviewed literature because, he says, those papers are closely followed by scientists in countries such as Syria, Iran and China, which the United States views as a potential threat.

                We know its working, even though we can't tell you how we know it works, because if we told you, bad people would pay attention...

            • Re:If only. (Score:5, Insightful)

              by unkiereamus (1061340) on Monday June 07, 2010 @02:08AM (#32481306)
              What else should we do? All I see for it is to accept the risk an move on.

              Don't get me wrong, there have been more than a few nice saves by real security, and I expect that as the technology progresses, they'll get better, but on the scale of risks including airplane hijacking or terrorism, I take a much larger personal risk every time I drink the water around here, let alone drive somewhere.

              You can't make life safe. Not from accidents and certainly not from the deliberate acts of other people. If you can't accept that, then you might as well euthanize yourself, because you'll spend every waking moment in fear of what could be.
              • Re:If only. (Score:5, Insightful)

                by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Monday June 07, 2010 @03:12AM (#32481518)

                Don't get me wrong, there have been more than a few nice saves by real security,

                Really?

                I try to pay attention and I haven't seen a single one in the news.

                What I have seen are people getting busted for drugs and people stupid enough to forget they have a gun or knife in carry-on. They even busted a guy in florida for having bomb materials - unassembled and in his checked luggage. They even chalked that one up as a win to this SPOT program - despite the fact the guy had no intent or ability to harm the flight, my guess is that he was baked and they cued in on that, expecting another drug bust.

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by aaandre (526056)

                What else should we do? All I see for it is to accept the risk an move on.

                I agree with accepting the risk. We could also lower the risk by taking actions to go down the list of the most hated nations on the planet.

            • Re:If only. (Score:5, Insightful)

              by Mr. Freeman (933986) on Monday June 07, 2010 @02:30AM (#32481406)
              "But behavioral observation ... is the only real profiling technique that has any chance of not falling into obvious traps."

              What nonsense did you use to arrive at that conclusion?
              SPOT has been proven ineffective. Searches are partially effective. How can you say that only SPOT has any chance of success?

              Furthermore, you assert that having innocent passengers subject to extra search. How far are you willing to take this? Anyone that looks suspicious should be turned away from the airport? You've arbitrary drawn the line at "it's acceptable to subject innocent people to extra searches", there's no reasoning not to draw the line at any other place.

              We simply have to admit that FLYING ISN'T FUCKING 100% SAFE BECAUSE NOTHING IS. It's safer than driving a car for fuck's sake, if you're willing to drive a car then you should have no problem flying in a plane. At least with a terrorist you have the chance to tackle them on the plane and beat them to a pulp before they can blow anything up. You don't even have a fighting chance against, say, a drunk driver running a light.

              PROTIP: See someone trying to light their shoes or balls on fire? Tackle them.
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by bigstrat2003 (1058574) *

                We simply have to admit that FLYING ISN'T FUCKING 100% SAFE BECAUSE NOTHING IS.

                You're correct. The problem is that many (the pessimist in me says "most") people in the US are not mature and level-headed enough to accept that everything in life has risk. They operate under the delusion that if something isn't risk-free, it's unacceptable.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Anonymous Coward

              Fine. Observing passengers for potential cues is security theater. Then explain to me, how exactly is airplane security is going to work? You can't possibly strip search everybody, no one would fly. Having everybody fly naked is not an option either, as is having everybody be sedated and tied to their seats.

              Good old investigative work. A terror cell can't really blow up airplanes if their plans are known to the police beforehand, can they? Apart from that, some passive security measures are still possible.

            • Re:If only. (Score:5, Insightful)

              by Dhalka226 (559740) on Monday June 07, 2010 @02:50AM (#32481454)

              Fine. Observing passengers for potential cues is security theater.

              I have no particular problem with the idea of observing passengers for suspicious behavior. It's security theater because it doesn't work.

              Read the Nature article that was linked, and you'll see the following statistic: From January 2006 to November 2009, these SPOT officers singled out over 232,000 people for further inspection. Of these, 1,710 were arrested. Of THOSE, zero were terrorists.

              Let's set aside the fact that these programs are ostensibly about stopping terrorism and instead consider it a victory if anybody was arrested for anything at all--a metric which makes it look much better. 1710/232000 is 0.74%. They have a success rate equal to grabbing one out of every 134 people who pass through the security checkpoints randomly.

              Now I'm not sure what a philosophical debate on what a successful program is would turn up, but surely we can agree that 1% success rate is a failure? And this aspires to that level of failure. If these 3,000 officers make $50,000 a year each, we paid $575,000,000 in that approximately 46 month time period to catch 1,710 people of various, non-terrorism-related crimes. Or about $336,257 per arrest. Roughly two officers employed in the program per arrest made.

              Now fast forward back to reality where the purpose of these programs is to make airports and air travel more safe and realize its complete and utter lack of success. Go further in understanding that while these numbers are helpful in making an evaluation, these numbers are PEOPLE who are questioned, searched, potentially delayed and detained to arrest a criminal less than one percent of the time. Take another step and consider the philosophical implications of detaining people because they look wrong to you, and the horrendous abuses--conscious or unconscious--that this permits.

              Hoo boy. That's why this is ridiculous security theater, and why it needs to be stopped.

              What's the solution, you ask? Honestly, I agree with another reply to you: The solution is to accept that there is a risk in flying and move on. The reality is that there is more risk of you dying in a plane crash than a terrorist activity aboard your plane, and obviously far less risk of dying related to air travel than there is simply driving to work in the mornings. And really, the best this airport security can ever hope to accomplish is to force a terrorist to detonate their bombs in crowded security lines instead of crowded airplanes.

              Why we've spent hundreds of millions on this program and billions overall on the charade... well it isn't beyond me, it's politics. It's not about safety. It's about an illusion of safety. There's some value to that, but not so much as we spend.

              • Re:If only. (Score:4, Insightful)

                by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Monday June 07, 2010 @09:20AM (#32483416) Homepage Journal

                What's the solution, you ask?

                I'll answer: The solution is for passengers to recognize that hijackers are trying to kill them, and to respond appropriately. Of course, that solution was implemented shortly after the first plane struck the first tower on 9/11.

                The strengthened cockpit doors are nice, too, but the attitude change of the passengers has already made turning an airliner into a missile unworkable. All that's left for terrorists is to blow up the plane itself, which has a very limited terror payoff and even pre-9/11 security makes it a somewhat difficult target. You could kill a lot more people by setting off a bomb in a crowded shopping mall, and there's no security whatsoever there.

            • Re:If only. (Score:4, Insightful)

              by vtcodger (957785) on Monday June 07, 2010 @02:55AM (#32481468)

              ***Fine. Observing passengers for potential cues is security theater. Then explain to me, how exactly is airplane security is going to work?***

              It's going to work exactly the same way that it did on 9/11 and does today -- not very well. The ability of 19 hijackers to get past security on 9/11/2001 came as no surprise to seasoned air travelers, and there isn't much doubt that the next bunch of hijackers or bombers won't have any trouble either. What'll they use for weapons? I have no idea. They have years to work on that problem. They'll come up with something.

              In point of fact, things like the US's No-Fly list have -- so far as we know -- a perfect record. They have never, to our knowledge, impeded anyone who was an actual threat.

              This sort of foolishness is an example of "We must do something even if it is dead stupid" thinking.

            • Re:If only. (Score:5, Informative)

              by stonewallred (1465497) on Monday June 07, 2010 @04:28AM (#32481754)
              Israelis couple their technique with some of the most thorough background checks and heavy racial profiling. Plus they have strict measures for searching of bags, and of passengers, along with armed and obvious crew, and armed and not obvious crew. If you are concerned about being hijacked, fly El Air. If you are sort of kinda concerned, but not worried, fly any US carrier. The threat of hijacking has been blown way out of proportion in order to keep the shrill danger, danger, danger idea going, and to keep allowing the government to concentrate more and more control. Which BTW is not the lead in to a conspiracy theory. Just a fact of life that power leads to more power if unchecked, along with he human trait of trying to make your job secure. Fuck all if I know how to stop it though. Anywhoo, I am not allowed to fly on US carriers or into or from US airports, so I don't care.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by vegiVamp (518171)
              "The impact on human physiology of planning a suicide" ?

              These people have not a single spot of doubt in their mind that they're boarding a direct flight to paradise, virgins included. They're not afraid, they're probably even happy. At best, they'll be a bit nervous, but that probably won't show any more than on someone who never flew before.
            • Re:If only. (Score:4, Insightful)

              by AGMW (594303) on Monday June 07, 2010 @05:43AM (#32482016) Homepage

              As securing all passengers with 100% failproof methods is far more intrusive than what's currently proposed, we need to look elsewhere.

              That's the problem right there. It is impossible to 100% guarantee safety. Once you accept the fact that travel is risky you are just quibbling about what level of inconvenience is acceptable for whatever level of safety is provided. For me, I'd prefer less inconvenience for a slightly higher risk, because the level of risk is actually really low anyway! More people die on the road just in the US per year than are killed worldwide by terrorism of _every_ kind, let alone just from flight-related terrorism.

              Let's take it to the limit and envisage some wonder-security that could guarantee 100% safety but that takes, say, 6 hours extra per flight and costs so much that flying is no longer an option for the vast majority of people (which is at least somewhat realistic!). OK, so flying is "safe" now, but no one can afford it. That is obviously never going to happen because the airlines all go out of business.
              ... and Tel Aviv is a special case because the risk is higher there, and it takes hours extra to get on a flight and they themselves will tell you it doesn't 100% guarantee your safety!

              So we have to accept some level of risk if we wish the convenience of air travel.

              During the height of the IRA bombing campaign in London we took reasonable steps (don't leave unattended bags anywhere, etc) to reduce the risks but in general we just got on with it. That is by far the best way for society to deal with these sorts of problems.
              Much like paying off hijackers/kidnappers - now we've learnt that lesson for air travel and yet the big shipping companies keep paying off the Somali pirates. That should be illegal. It is obvious, as an observer, that paying off hijackers/kidnappers is the wrong thing to do, so perhaps the UN should pass a resolution saying that no nation or organisation should ever pay them off. That will be bad for some individuals but will be good for society.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              There is one and only way to deal with plane hi-jacking: enforced cockpit doors and strict instructions to the pilot: fly to your destination no matter what happens with passengers.
              In fact, after 9/11 major flight companies have adopted such rules. Actually, they have adopted rules that were in effect in USSR for decades (US was the loudest to cry about immorality of such rules back then, by the way).

        • What becomes a violation of civil liberties is being detained because one looks suspicious. There are countless reasons why somebody could look suspicious to anyone's eye (trained or untrained.) Some examples are:

          Passenger looks anxious- turns out that they realized they forgot something important (their kid's birthday present) and don't have enough time to go home, return to the airport, and proceed through security again.
          Passenger looks uncomfortable - turns out that the person is claustrophobic and is

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Having an officer look at you is definitely not a violation of civil liberties.

          On the other hand, having an officer detain you for 4 hours without charge because of a baseless human lie-detector strategy that's not any better than a coin toss, is a violation.

        • Re:If only. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by skuzzlebutt (177224) <jdb AT jeremydbrooks DOT com> on Sunday June 06, 2010 @11:41PM (#32480610) Homepage

          Beard? You're suspicious.
          Dark skin? Pulled out of line.
          Head or face covering required by your religion? Come to the airport an extra hour early.

          White, clean-shaven, wearing a Yankees ballcap and a Tap Out t-shirt? We're cool, keep moving.

          That's why it potentially violates civil rights: it's a codification of reasons to discriminate based on outward appearance which, I absolutely guarantee, isn't limited to "flopsweat in 70 degree weather and looks like he's ready to bolt for an exit".

    • Re:Might as well (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Low Ranked Craig (1327799) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @11:34PM (#32480592)
      Yeah. Why not give them weapons and put them on planes? An officer a the back of the plane with a Glock would be a better use of resources.
  • Evidence (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, 2010 @10:05PM (#32480104)

    There's just one problem with all this: there's no evidence that SPOT is actually effective.

    And this matters to airport security because?

    • Re:Evidence (Score:4, Funny)

      by Sulphur (1548251) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @10:19PM (#32480186)

      Dogs are very important to airport security.

    • Re:Evidence (Score:4, Insightful)

      by digitalunity (19107) <digitalunityNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Sunday June 06, 2010 @10:21PM (#32480204) Homepage

      It seems to matter not to law enforcement in general. The mere pretense that something is being done is good enough.

    • by pete6677 (681676)

      The hot ladies will be a lot more likely to get additional visual patdowns.

      But seriously, does anyone really think the TSA is capable of pulling this off? And the UK government seems especially good at adopting whatever kind of security theater stupidity Americans come up with and then making it even worse over there.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by TapeCutter (624760) *
        "And the UK government seems especially good at adopting whatever kind of security theater stupidity Americans come up with and then making it even worse over there."

        Last time I went through Heathrow I had a five hour wait for a connecting flight. I walked up to an empty customs desks and said - "Can I check in to the country just to have a smoke", the officer replied "Of course you can" and stamped my passport. OTOH my missus has sworn never to go to the US on holiday again because of the bullshit she w
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by milkmage (795746)

      well, how may airliners that take off from Israel have been hijacked since the 70's?

      they "SPOT" people too.

      I'm not saying it's practical (in a place like OHare).. but apparently it works.

      we could learn something from the Israelis as far as airport security goes.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by 0123456 (636235)

        well, how may airliners that take off from Israel have been hijacked since the 70's?

        How many terrorists have been caught by Israeli airport security since the 70s? More importantly, since I believe the answer is a handful in the 70s and 80s, how many have been caught since 2001?

        they "SPOT" people too.

        Which is easy when the targets are Jewish, anyone who's not Jewish is a potential threat, and they don't give a crap about whether those people ever fly in or out of Israel again. People visiting Britain and America would not put up with the kind of intrusive measures taken in Israeli airports and would find an alte

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by milkmage (795746)

          apparently you've never been through Ben Gurion. I am an American, but Asian.. so I don't look Jewish. They "interviewed" me but it's not what you think. Some dude just walks up and starts talking to you.. how are you, where are you going.. it's VERY passive... they're watching for body language as I give my answers. your not being interrogated it's in the terminal, they don't haul you off to an office or anything. it takes about 2 minutes per person.

      • Well, that and the fact the all passengers flying in or out of Israel have their checked and carry on baggage inspected, right in front of you.

        Perhaps you can avoid this if you can pass as a rabbi, but otherwise, all passengers.

      • by zz5555 (998945)

        Unless "SPOT" is the only security measure the Israelis use, this doesn't show that "SPOT" works at all. All the other measures could be doing the real work while "SPOT" is just security theater for the Israeli masses.

    • by Kitkoan (1719118)

      There's just one problem with all this: there's no evidence that SPOT is actually effective.

      And this matters to airport security because?

      Its to make you think that someone is watching out for you, even if they aren't really doing anything. It gives the illusion of security which helps some feel safer, like having a gun makes some people feel safer even though they could never bring themselves to shoot someone with it even in defense. Sometimes pseudo-security is better then no security to many people.

  • Effective... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Sarten-X (1102295) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @10:08PM (#32480118) Homepage
    Not effective? How is that different from any other aspect of the American airline security policy?
    • Re:Effective... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by ColdWetDog (752185) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @10:10PM (#32480124) Homepage
      Salon's Ask the Pilot [salon.com] has a great logo for the TSA. I'd love to make some decals or patches and stick them on my luggage.
    • Re:Effective... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by lorenlal (164133) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @10:13PM (#32480152)

      Well, the stronger cockpit door was an improvement... But for everything else, it's all about "appearing" to be more secure.

      The post-9/11 airport has been all about security through showmanship.

      • Re:Effective... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by hedwards (940851) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @10:25PM (#32480220)
        Well, that and sexual abuse. Having to decide whether to be patted down or viewed naked is more or less the definition of sexual abuse.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Totenglocke (1291680)
          Since I refuse to be treated like a criminal just because I'm going from point A to point B, I simply refuse to fly.
          • Flying is still pretty nice if you can get your employer to spring for chartered. The security people wait for *you* instead of the other way around. I'll never go back...
          • by hedwards (940851)
            To be honest, that's my decision too. But I'm bothered by the fact that I've got aging relatives and I really don't want to have to decide between getting their too late and having to put up with TSA abuse.
          • I just avoid flying to or through US territories. Saves me anal probes and getting patted down by overweight, smelly wannabe cops.
          • Re:Effective... (Score:5, Informative)

            by apoc.famine (621563) <apoc.famine@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Monday June 07, 2010 @12:31AM (#32480868) Homepage Journal
            I severely limit my flying because of this. But last week, I got a "most expenses paid" trip to France courtesy of the school I work for. My observations:

            The most stressful part of the trip, as an American who DOES NOT SPEAK FRENCH, was US customs and security. French customs and security? Not a big deal. They treated me like a guest. Even though I spoke about 3 phrases of French, they were kind, friendly, and open.

            US security and customs? I was a first-class criminal. "Welcome Home", said the sign above security, after I had gone through customs, AFTER I went through the second, "baggage customs", and stood around for 20 minutes to get my luggage so it could get re-checked, all under the watchful eye of a few police officers. Listening to constant, "recording audio or video in this area is prohibited"...and the rest of the asinine security messages. "Welcome home - please remove your shoes, take everything out of your pockets, show your ID, your boarding pass, put electronics into a separate bin, have your shoes double-checked for explosives, and your bag examined because you....put the second bag of peanuts from the plane in the pocket. Now get patted down for a "secondary security measure, random check". Went to my connecting flight, had been up for 22 hours, 12 hours in the air, 8 hours of lay-over. Collapsed in a chair. Flight started boarding, I said "fuck it", and waited till most people were on. Got up, went to line as the LAST DAMN PASSENGER on a puddle jumper flight, and got selected for a "random search". Really? After I got into that same damn airport, I went through 2 customs checks, a regular "screening", along with an extra random pat-down, and extra "swab shoes for explosives", and an extra "bag check due to suspicious peanuts". After all that shit, I had to take all my crap out of my pockets to be patted down before I hopped a puddle-jumper with 90 people on it to get home.

            I went to France. Walked off the plane, through "customs", where I showed my passport, and the guy smiled and waved me on through. The end.

            Fuck US security. It's the biggest load of shit ever. And at the end of the day? The hang a fucking "Welcome Home" sign out. If I didn't mind anal probes, I'd attach a "Hope your ass is lubed" sign under that one.

            I was pissed at TSA before this trip. Now? If it's not paid for and at least 1000 miles away, or my sister's wedding, I'm not flying. Fuck that shit. Want to know why airlines are hurting? I'll give you a clue...
    • Seriously though, isn't this similar to some of the security screening techniques used by El Al (Israel's national airline)? From what I understand it is one of the most secure air carriers you can fly on. They don't just rely on searches of people, they look at the people themselves, as well. How they act, what nationality they are, etc. They do profile people.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mishehu (712452)
        They actually interview every single passenger though. That's the difference.
  • by Tackhead (54550) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @10:10PM (#32480128)

    There's just one problem with all this: there's no evidence that SPOT is actually effective.

    That's not a problem, it's a solution. It means there need to be more studies, and bigger contracts, to figure out which bits of SPOT do work (read: "none, but who cares if it works as long as we can keep getting funding"), until such time as the political winds shift in favor of some other crackpot in the bureaucracy who's got more money to spend than brains to care about what it's being spent on.

    Meanwhile, life once again imitates art:

    SPOT agent: English or American? State Security. Your papers, please.
    Clint Eastwood: Can you wait a minute?
    SPOT agent: Very well. Quickly. (pause) Your papers, please. (pause) Are you ill, or maybe frightened?
    Clint Eastwood: I've been having stomach problems.
    SPOT agent: Your papers are not in order.
    Clint Eastwood: They're in order. Look at them again.
    SPOT agent: No. They are not in order.

    Without giving away a spoiler to a movie that's 28 years old, Gant's papers were in order: the KGB goon was bluffing, trying to provoke a reaction.

    Every time I travel by air, I watch the first half of Firefox [imdb.com], and every year, the part where Clint Eastwoodfails to bluff his way through Moscow's airport seems a bit less like an American director's 1982 portrayal of the USSR, and feels a little more like home. Problem is, there's nowhere left to fly to, even if you did get your hands on a Mach-5 capable thought-controlled stealth plane.

    • by Ethanol-fueled (1125189) * on Sunday June 06, 2010 @10:19PM (#32480176) Homepage Journal
      The sociopaths and other determined criminals will slip through the cracks. If you were looking forward to seeing 72 virgins or having the opportunity to stick it to your arch-enemy, would you not greet them with genuine smiles and cheer in anticipation?

      Particularly, it makes me sad when people say that aversion of gaze is an indicator of dishonesty. Autistic or Asperger-types would be treated like crooks simply because eye contact is too overwhelming for them. Visual people may glance away after a question because they are diverting their resources to minimize distractions to use visual memory answering the questions(many people like to say that looking up == honest while looking down == dishonest -- sounds like a lame generalization to me).

      Others may glance away because being preemptively treated like a crook is intimidating, especially because dealing with the DHS is often a staring contest. Questions asked are rapid-fire, meaning that a person appears to be in the wrong if analytical or insecure types have the honesty to give a complete answer. Microexpressions are often ambiguous and the interpretation of them is tanted by the subject being under pressure.

      In short, it's a dumb idea and it makes me angry.
  • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Sunday June 06, 2010 @10:11PM (#32480136) Homepage Journal

    from January 2006 through to November 2009, behaviour-detection officers referred more than 232,000 people for secondary screening, which involves closer inspection of bags and testing for explosives. 1,710 were arrested. Those arrests are overwhelmingly for criminal activities, such as outstanding warrants, completely unrelated to terrorism. The program has never resulted in the arrest of anyone who is a terrorist, or who was planning to engage in terrorist-related activity.

    Shut it down!! This is an incredible waste of passenger time and taxpayer money. I wonder where they got those numbers from.. I'd love to see more numbers.. like how many actual terrorist arrests there have been for all passengers screened.

    • The thing is, there are a VERY small number of actual terrorists. How do you know if there were even any terrorist attempts during the sampling period?

      But catching 1710 criminals is meaningful, for the slight inconvenience the others faced. What's wrong with catching criminals? Aren't terrorists criminals too?

      It's absurd to complain about any one security feature not being 100% effective, when defense is depth is always the best approach and this program seems to have caught more criminals that doing no

      • by hedwards (940851) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @10:30PM (#32480244)
        The fact that there were no attempts or successes during that period is evidence that it's not needed. Terrorism is a very small threat compared with things like cancer, dieing in a non-terrorist plane crash and any number of real problems. Terrorism happens to be very flashy, but the reality is that even with the policies in place prior to 9/11 it was a very unlikely event that terrorists would have any meaningful luck.

        Whereas you've got the government scaring the crap out of people without terrorist help. Of course terrorists aren't bothering to do it, the US government is doing a superb job of keeping people terrified.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Zerth (26112)

        But catching 1710 criminals is meaningful, for the slight inconvenience the others faced. What's wrong with catching criminals? Aren't terrorists criminals too?

        If the number of criminals caught is barely over half of the number looking for them, we're paying 60-120k/year/criminal when we could just roll a d100 vs warrants check and do a better job for less.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by apoc.famine (621563)
          Damn. I'd TOTALLY sign up for that job. Rolling a d100 vs warrants? SWEET!!!!

          Only one question....could I use 2d10 instead sometimes, if there are a lot of people? I know they don't work out the same, but they are close, and d100 takes a DAMN long time to come to a halt....
      • by Namarrgon (105036)

        It's absurd to complain about any one security feature not being 100% effective

        Can we complain if it has a false-positive rate of 99.3%? That's got to raise the costs significantly for all concerned.

        this program seems to have caught more criminals that doing nothing at all would have

        Since this method is so inefficient, with no evidence yet that it's actually fulfilling its stated purpose, perhaps we should be looking at other methods that might be more effective for the cost in time & money.

      • by NF6X (725054) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @10:47PM (#32480340) Homepage

        But catching 1710 criminals is meaningful, for the slight inconvenience the others faced. What's wrong with catching criminals?

        0.5% of the people selected for secondary screening by the SPOT officers ended up getting arrested, and thus 99.5% of them did not. Is there any data that suggests that such an arrest rate is substantially higher than could be expected from any random sampling of air travelers? If not, then the SPOT officers don't appear to be doing anything worthwhile.

        What you really need is a truly random selection, and figures for how many criminals were caught that way to see if what they are doing is making a statistical difference from truly random additional screening.

        Agreed. Given the mere 0.5% arrest rate, I'm pretty skeptical that such figures would show that the SPOT officers earn their pay.

    • by Mashiki (184564)

      Considering in policing the rate for which you are able to "catch and identify an individual to a crime"(I'll use those terms loosely) is between 1-15%(depending on the crime) on average, the number reported...that's lower then I'd expect but not really that surprising. In the wonderful world of law enforcement(despite what TV likes to show), most of it comes down to stupid people, luck, or being in the right place at the right time, or due to the observant public.

      We should just shut down policing too, rea

  • I've got a bad feeling about this.

  • tiny oxymoron (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rastoboy29 (807168) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @10:14PM (#32480154) Homepage
    Anyone who is that good at reading people,
    has a better job than TSA screener.
  • Psychics (Score:4, Funny)

    by Culture20 (968837) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @10:18PM (#32480172)
    From the title, I was expecting it to be psychically trained TSA agents.
  • When it comes to matters of the government, pseudoscience is the best kind of science!
  • Lie To Me (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ZZZMaestro (1827506)
    So, this is basically the same thing that the premise of the show "Lie to Me" is based on. Intriguing.
  • coming into the airport, i had a lot of crap in my carry on, so i decided to reorganize on a bench just inside the airport on a bench by a trash can. at one point i even reached into the garbage can and retrieved something out i had just chucked that i had a second thought about. some little vials and stuff: the freebie ointments and lotions and crap you get in hotels

    i was very much hung over, miserable, unshaven and unwashed. my facial expressions were grim. at long last after my strange behavior over the trash can, i decided to furtively move into a corner and twiddle under my clothes: i was applying deodorant, but if someone was looking at me through a security camera, i can imagine where their imagination might have gone

    long story short, when i got the screening area, 3 guys eyeballing the whole time i was in line called me over to a special room. the other passengers looked at me like i was a osama himself. i started laughing, because i kind of figured out why i was being singled out, but i don't think sudden laughtewr helped in the suspicion department. they gave ma a thorough screening, asked a lot of questions, asked some of them again later (consistency?), and sent me on my way. they even had dogs sniffing around. i guess maybe i profiled more as drug mule?

    who knows. regardless, flying sucks

  • SPOT (Score:2, Funny)

    by PPH (736903)
    Stupid Procedures for Opressing Travelers
  • Nature and paywalls (Score:4, Informative)

    by damn_registrars (1103043) <damn.registrars@gmail.com> on Sunday June 06, 2010 @10:55PM (#32480394) Homepage Journal
    The editor mentioned that the Nature article for this news item was not paywalled. It is worth noting that this is the case because this is a Nature news article, not a Nature research article. Had this been original research it would have still be paywalled.
  • by edibobb (113989) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @11:51PM (#32480668) Homepage
    When you have access to virtually unlimited budget and manpower, you have to be creative when coming up with new ways to expand your empire. I think homeland security in the U.S. and the U.K. would be much more efficient and quite possibly more effective if we cut their budget by 50%.
  • by bmo (77928) on Sunday June 06, 2010 @11:57PM (#32480702)

    From the fine article:

    Basically, Ms Weinberger suggests, they made the whole thing up. Some other scientists have been unable to replicate some of the work of Paul Ekman, the psychology professor on whose work the SPOT program (and the television series Lie to Me) is based. Most of Ekman's peer-reviewed work was published decades ago. He says he now avoids peer-reviewed journals because they're read closely by scientists in countries that America considers to be threats.

    And:

    But he's opposed to anyone actually trying to test SPOT scientifically. That would be "totally bogus,"

    You have got to be kidding me.

    This is the new phrenology.

    I'll state his real reason for avoiding peer review, it's taken from the above quote:

    He says he now avoids peer-reviewed journals because they're read closely by scientists

    Soon, someone is going to revive the phlogiston theory of fire.

    --
    BMO

  • by EEPROMS (889169) on Monday June 07, 2010 @12:16AM (#32480796)
    The laugh is terrorist organisations know about SPOT and train what is called "clean skins" to get past all this crap. Usually they use well educated young people and dress them in designer western clothes and train them to use mental triggers so they never look nervous or out of place. The only thing SPOT will find is some poor bastard who hates flying or is worried when he gets were ever he is going will he be on time.
    • by 1s44c (552956) on Monday June 07, 2010 @12:45AM (#32480928)

      The laugh is terrorist organisations know about SPOT and train what is called "clean skins" to get past all this crap. Usually they use well educated young people and dress them in designer western clothes and train them to use mental triggers so they never look nervous or out of place. The only thing SPOT will find is some poor bastard who hates flying or is worried when he gets were ever he is going will he be on time.

      The only thing SPOT will find is zen meditation masters who can endure any hardship without emotion and medicated people. Everyone else that goes though the current airport fake security fascism, terrorist or not, will have the same pissed off look.

  • by Paolone (939023) on Monday June 07, 2010 @02:05AM (#32481288)
    I fly to and from Britain about 10 times a year and I actually lived in Scotland for 5 years. I get stopped quite often by those guys, probably on the ground that I'm quite fair skinned but have a bushy black beard and hair and look quite intellectualish-nerdish. Then I hand over my Italian passport and they start asking if I've been to Syria, Lebanon or Palestine or the Middle East. I answer with my best possible Glasgwegian accent that no, i've never been there and that I'm a software developer living on the continent catching up with my dearest mates and girlfriend back in Maryhill and that mainland europe is terrible and i'm moving back the soonest, honest. Then they laugh and let me go. On the other side, when I go through border control wearing a palestinian kefiah they never stop me. They're a leftover of the civil war in Ulster, apparently trained in remembering all the mugshots of IRA-affiliated people. Now they're a bit useless I guess.
  • by Rogerborg (306625) on Monday June 07, 2010 @04:50AM (#32481830) Homepage

    Actually, it sounds like exactly the sort of expensive worthless voodoo techno-babble scam run by Scientologists.

    Hmm, it makes sense. Why go to all the bother of fleecing individuals one at a time, when the government's has already got a system in place to do it wholesale? It's far more efficient to go after a cut of the big cake.

    Coming to an airport near you: the E-Meter Thetan-Terrorist Detectorator [wikipedia.org]?

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