My first detection of a behavior detection officer!

So we’re all looking fairly grim as we go through the security line at the airport, but then waiting at a bend in the line is a pretty cute guy with a diamond earring and “TSA” all over his  uniform.  You know the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) people; they’re the ones who have brought misery to thousands and maybe millions of travelers coming in and out of US airports.

So not only is he cute and has a diamond earring, but he is very friendly and jokey!  How suspicious can you get!?!  As I went past, totally ignored by this warm sociable guy, I said “I work in cognitive science and I’m really interested in how you all are trained.”

“Look up behavior detection officer,” he said.  And so I did.  Here it  is, from their point of view.

USA Today had an article in November that details a number of concerns about the violation of privacy.  The bottom line is that the science of reading faces and behavior  is not well enough developed!  Hmmmm.  Sounds like a line for a grant application.

“We do not do profiling,” the guy said.  Alas, I didn’t have time to tell him about implicit biases.

13 thoughts on “My first detection of a behavior detection officer!

  1. I have a friend who was interviewed years ago by an Israeli Behaviour Detection Officer (or equivalent). He had just given a paper on Frege at a conference. Everyone was interviewed before boarding the plane. The officer, a woman who looked about 16, asked to look at his paper, then proceeded to flip through it, skimming and asking intelligent questions about it for 30 minutes. She also asked very sensible questions about UK academia. He was deeply impressed. Basically, if he’d been lying about anything he would have stumbled or hesitated at some point.

  2. thanks, Jender; your comment brings out, I think, that there are complex trade-offs in privacy and safety and justice. My many foreign – esp Arab – colleages will have a different experience still.

  3. The implicit bias link reminded me of the research I rediscovered over the weekend: Project Implicit. Clearly, we have a lot of implicit biases, including the bias that we’re unbiased, which is probably the most dangerous of them all… I found taking those tests very humbling.

  4. One of the things I found interesting about my colleague’s story was that he wasn’t chosen on the basis of profiling– *everyone* was questioned as he was. I think that changes things a lot.

  5. Another perspective, from Bruce Schneier:

    Like sky marshals, the real benefit of behavior detection isn’t whether or not you do it but whether or not the bad guys believe you’re doing it. If they think you are doing behavior detection at security checkpoints, or have sky marshals on every airplane, then you don’t actually have to do it. It’s the threat that’s the deterrent, not the actual security system.

  6. Last week, I was selected for a body search at a fairly small American airport. The person who ran his wand over my body was in training, and when I asked why I was picked out, I was told that I looked like someone who wouldn’t be bothered by the procedure (which they were correct in presuming). They were quite cordial about the whole affair.

  7. I am a BDO at a very large airport. I have to say this, we are in front of every checkpoint in our airport doing are job. The training that we go through is very intense. I take my job very seriously there is a number of things we look for. Behavior analysis is based on the fear of being discovered. People who are trying to get away with something display signs of stress through involuntary physical and physiological behaviors. You tend to notice a lot when you are standing in front of a crowd of people trying to get in an airport, weather it’s at the airport or just standing in line at the super market or just at a waiting in line to get in a night club. Whether someone’s trying to sneak through that bag of candy into the movie theater or trying to steal something from the store, or a knife they forgot they had in their carry-on luggage and they can’t turn back to check it in and they want to try to see if they can’t get past security. People with out know will give off behaviors that they don’t relies that they are doing or think no one is watching them but behavior detection officers like me self are trained to spot certain suspicious behaviors out of the crowd. Once we make our determination, we refer these passengers for additional screening or directly to law enforcement.

    It hurts when I see my own fellow American’s giving the TSA a bad rep. We are doing our jobs, don’t hate us because we pick you. Remember we don’t know you, and we don’t know what a terrorist looks like they have been many terrorist many of them were American’s. So the next time you get pulled to the side for additional screening just go with the flow and be happy that we are doing our jobs, because we are just trying to keep everyone safe. We don’t want any harm to happen to America, we are all brothers and sisters and we should have each others back at a time like this when you don’t know who to trust.

    Thank you,

  8. I am a BDO also in a fairly large Airport. We do this job because we want to catch those passengers that are posing a threat to airline security. We don’t know who a potential terrorist is, and we do not know who has criminal intentions, all we know is that these criminals will display behaviors that we are trained to look for. We get daily intelligence reports that inform us of passengers throughout the U.S who have tried to bring drugs, guns, weapons, explosive devices, bullets, knives, anything you can think of people are still trying to bring these items on. We don’t just go out to the floor blind to what is going on throughout the airline industry, we know that a threat is out there and we are trained to look for it.

    We can determine if you are anxious about flying, compared to you being anxious about bringing drugs on the plane or trying to smuggle a weapon on the plane, you will do more than just show anxiety because you don’t want to fly. My airport alone over the past two years that the BDO program has been with us, out of 38 BDO’s we have had over 100 passengers arrested because of Drugs, Fraudulent Travel Documents, Warrant for Arrest, Illegal Aliens, Malicious behavior that poses a threat to other passengers, Smuggling Money.

    When we talk about people being arrested or questioned for their money we are not talking about $1,000-2,000 dollars, we are talking about people taping over $200,000 dollars to their bodies or more, and when they get caught and are questions they have no reason for having the money. Any normal human being that has that kind of money is going to travel with money orders, or they are going to keep it in the bank, e.t.c. A normal everyday passenger doesn’t tape over $200K-300K to their bodies and then have no reason for having it, the story does not add up, this is when we refer them to other Law Enforcement agencies who can dig deeper into the story.

    Please do your homework and go to TSA and Department of Homeland Security websites and see that the threat is real, then maybe you can understand why we do what we do. Trust us there is a evil threat out there that still wants another 9/11, if we don’t continue to do our part then it will happen again.

  9. The only people who complain about the screening process are the one’s who are innocent. Terrorist don’t have the time to complain about the TSA screening process. They are busy looking at how to beat the system and the only one they can’t beat is the BDO program.

    By getting complaints, it only improves security.

    You can act weird all you want coming into an airport, the BDO’s know how to distinguish a threat from a non-threat. It’s common sense. Take example, your kids, you know when they have done something bad, you can see it and it shows!

    So far, there has not been a significant attack, so things must be working.

  10. To BDO – Please tell me that English is your second language, I hate to think that you are the person protecting the flying public.

  11. To BDO: this is the kind of reasoning that lies behind the most horrendous superstitions (e.g., isolating menstruating women and the like). The sky doesn’t fall down, so our [FILL IN WEIRD SUPERSTITION] must be working… Note that as a European, the only terrorism I have so far encountered is *not* air travel, but bombings in the London tube, trains etc. Do they do body scans in the metro, or do they even bother to check large rucksacks? Do they do any form of screening at railway stations? They don’t because it’s not practical. The meekness of the flying public, combined with the fact that for most of us flying is still so infrequent that we are willing to sacrifice hours of our precious time at the airport, is the only reason why full body scans and other preposterous ‘safety measures’ are accepted.

  12. To H…. I am not a BDO and I say DRIVE, DON’T FLY!!! You have that option to drive to your final destination and follow your own rules, as you are the only one in the car. Or, you also have the option to fly with TSA rules. I’m sorry I choose TSA rules. I want EVERYONE on the plane to be safe. ZERO chances. Maybe you did not read above what Mr. BDO wrote. DAILY all over the nation, they find thousands of weapons, drugs, etc. Are you seriously ok riding on a closed plane with all of those weapons, drugs and liquor. NO THANKS. KEEP it up TSA as I for one feel safe when I fly. I will take that extra 1/2 hour and be ORGANIZED to fly. You do not have the RIGHT to fly……. Wow….. I feel sad for people who think like you…. You don’t have time???? Take time and think about someone else for a change… THIS WORLD IS SELFISH!!!!!!! Are you one of them???????

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