The latest information from Paul Ekman International

Behavioral Detection Officers & the SPOT programme
Behavioral Detection Officers & the SPOT programme

Written testimony of TSA Administrator John Pistole for a House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Transportation Security.

TSA has completed extensive studies in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) and the academic community to examine the validity of the BDA program. An S&T validation study in partnership with the American Institutes for Research (AIR) completed in 2011 represents the most thorough and rigorous analysis of a behavioral screening program completed to date. The study included over 70,000 random samples at 41 airports. Notably, the validation study found that TSA’s behavior detection identifies high-risk travelers at a significantly higher rate than random screening. The study concludes that a high-risk traveler is nine times more likely to be identified using behavioral detection versus random screening. The 2011 independent Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) Validation Study Technical Advisory Committee composed of respected subject matter experts from academia, law enforcement, and the intelligence community concurred with the study’s main conclusion 1. Without behavior detection, TSA would have had to randomly subject over 50,000 more travelers to additional invasive screening to achieve the same results as did the BDOs during the timeframe of the two-year study…

Risk Based Security

The BDA program is a critical part of TSA’s Risk Based Security (RBS) efforts, which moves TSA’s checkpoint screening away from a “one size fits all” approach to more effective security measures that use the best available intelligence to differentiate levels of screening based on risk. As concluded in a recent RAND National Defense Research Institute report, “[T]here is current value and unrealized potential for using behavioral indicators as part of a system to detect attacks [1].TSA behavior detection procedures, including observational assessments and the equally important verbal interaction with passengers, are an essential element in a dynamic, risk-based layered security system.

One key element in expanding RBS is the Managed Inclusion concept, which routes passengers into expedited screening lanes using passenger screening canine teams or sampling with explosives detection technologies to screen passengers and their belongings for explosives while BDOs assess passengers for suspicious behaviors. If the explosives detection teams do not alert on an individual and a BDO does not observe suspicious behavioral indicators, the individual may be eligible for expedited screening through a TSA Pre✓™ lane.

Zero Tolerance for Unlawful Profiling

Racial profiling is not part of the TSA’s BDA program and is not tolerated by TSA. Not only is racial profiling generally prohibited by Federal law and under Department and agency policy, but it is also an ineffective security tactic. TSA has zero tolerance for this kind of behavior and has taken several steps to reinforce the agency’s nondiscrimination and anti-profiling policies with our workforce…

Government Accountability Office (GAO) Recommendations

TSA appreciates input and recommendations to enhance its programs including the GAO’s feedback on the BDA Program. Its recommendations have led to significant improvements in program management and deployment, including the risk-based allocation mentioned above. In addition, GAO’s comments on the behavior indicator set have helped shape TSA’s efforts to strengthen detection and evaluation methodologies, including the following actions:

  • Condense and strengthen the behavior indicator list and optimize the weights and protocols used, which will likely result in significant changes to behavior detection procedures and include a simplified scoring and referral process.
  • Explore additional performance metrics that could be used to examine overall program effectiveness, individual and combinations of indicator effectiveness, and reliability across individuals and locations.
  • Incorporate more robust data collection and authentication protocols similar to those used in TSA operational tests of screening technologies in any future studies.

While TSA appreciates GAO’s partnership in improving the BDA program, we are concerned that its most recent report relies heavily on academic literature regarding the detection of individuals who are lying. The report, however, fails to recognize all of the available research or that S&T, which conducted a validation study with an independent review process, relied in part upon unpublished studies not included in literature reviews. It is important to note that TSA’s behavior detection approach does not attempt to specifically identify persons engaging in lying; rather, it is designed to identify individuals who may be deemed high-risk based on objective behavioral indicators. The National Research Council’s (NRC) 2008 report[2]cites scientific evidence that supports this method.

Based on TSA’s objective to identify individuals who may be deemed high-risk based on objective behavioral indicators, TSA believes the program should continue to be funded at current levels while the improvements outlined below are implemented…

Strong program management is critical to any program and this includes performance metrics, strategic planning, and quality assurance measures. The BDA program is currently undergoing rigorous review to further improve TSA’s vital behavior detection capability, which is consistent with many of the OIG recommendations made in their May 2013 report. Within ninety days of the report issuance, TSA closed half of the recommendations and is working on closing the remainder. Specifically, TSA has taken the following actions:

  • Strategic Planning and Performance Measurement: Finalized a strategic plan and performance measurement plan and began implementing many of the objectives in these framework documents.
  • Data Accuracy: Implemented controls to ensure completeness, accuracy, authorization, and validity of referral data entered into the Performance Management Information System.
  • Training: Implemented a plan to provide mandatory recurrent/refresher training to all BDOs and BDO instructors. In September 2013, The National Training Team Academy, which trains BDO instructors, graduated a class of 25 trainers on September 26. TSA also finalized a plan to assess BDO instructor performance in required core competencies on a regular basis.
  • Monitor and Evaluate BDO Activity: Developed and implemented an automated tool to help evaluate airports’ use of BDO resources.
  • Employee Engagement: Implemented processes, including focus groups, for identifying and addressing issues raised by the workforce that may directly affect the success of the BDA program.

TSA anticipates optimized behavior detection procedures to begin testing by the third quarter of Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 using robust methods similar to the operational testing conducted in support of technology acquisitions. TSA should have sufficient information on the performance of the new processes to update the national behavior detection deployment strategy within six months of the commencement of the tests. Additionally, TSA has established an Optimization effort in partnership with S&T and academia, industry, and other government and community stakeholders to enhance behavior detection principles and provide the tools to quantify its effective contribution to transportation security…


The nation continues to face evolving threats to our transportation system, and TSA’s BDA Program provides a critical security capability to defend against our adversaries. TSA appreciates the work of the GAO, DHS OIG, and this Committee to identify opportunities to strengthen the program as we move forward. Our ongoing progress demonstrates our continuing commitment to TSA’s mission of securing our nation’s transportation systems in the most effective way. Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. I look forward to answering your questions.

Extracts from a Department for Homeland Security Article

[1] Davis, P. K., Perry, W. L., Brown, R.A., Yeung, D, Roshan, P., and Voorhies, P. (2013). “Using Behavioral Indicators to Help Detect Potential Violent Acts: A Review of the Science Base”. RAND Corporation, National Defense Research Institute.

[2] National Research Council (2008). Protecting individual privacy in the struggle against terrorists: A framework for assessment. National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.

Release Date:
November 14, 2013
311 Cannon House Office Building
Key Extracts by C A Lansley

Posted on: Saturday, July 23rd, 2011

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Get updates on our courses:

Find out more about Paul Ekman Internationals Training Courses below...