Ekman trained staff are 50 times more effective at spotting high risk passengers

Evidence given to the United States House of Representatives in 2011 during a Congressional Testimony hearing for the 'Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques'(SPOT) Program in relation to the efficacy of this training at airports showed that trained staff markedly outperformed their untrained counterparts.

On average they were nine times more successful in correctly identifying a 'wrongdoer' from the travelling public and on occasions this rose to as much as 50 times more successful. 

So much so that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) requested $236.9 million to fund 3,336 Behavioral Detection Officers (BDOs) , including 350 new positions to further enhance TSA's Screening of Passengers by Observational Techniques (SPOT) program at high-risk airports and expand coverage to smaller airports. BDOs serve as an additional layer of security in airports by providing a non-intrusive means of identifying individuals who may pose a risk of terrorism or criminal activity. (Ref: Dept Homeland Security)

This huge investment request was made following the Hearing on Behavioral Science and Security, April 6, 2011 where Dr Ekman presented evidence at the US House of Representatives in support of the initiative where border control officials were recruited and trained using Ekman's methods to identify high risk passengers. Ekman has worked with TSA for the past eight years to develop and improve SPOT.

The Behavior Detection Officers do a better job at identifying high risk travelers than random screening measures, an official with the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Science and Technology  branch reported. (Defense Daily, 2011).

A study by the American Institute for Research (AIR) that examined referrals for random screening at airports as well as referrals made by BDOs found that on average personnel trained in techniques to observe select behavioral indicators are NINE TIMES more likely to identify a high risk traveler than random methods, Larry Willis, the program manager within DHS who is overseeing the study effort, told the Subcommittee.

TSA established the SPOT program in 2003 to add another layer of security to its screening efforts. BDOs are trained to look for certain clues given by people that may indicate harmful intent, whether for terror or criminal purposes.

Willis also said whereas nearly 72,000 travelers were selected at 33 airports through random screening during the 11-month test, BDOs identified a little more than 23,000 for additional screening. Moreover, of the 72,000 selected randomly, 9 ended in arrests versus 151 arrested through the behavior detection techniques, he said.

"These results indicate that the SPOT program is significantly more accurate than random screening in identifying high risk travelers by using the metrics that we employ", Willis concluded.

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