(WASHINGTON) — The head of the Transportation Security Administration on Thursday defended his embattled SPOT behavior detection airport security program before Congress.
A Government Accountability Office report said lawmakers should consider cutting funds to the $200 million a year Screening of Passengers by Observation Technique (SPOT) program, which has TSA officers observing passengers to look for potential terrorist behavior.
The report concluded the program works no better than random chance. But TSA Administrator John Pistole told a House Homeland Security subcommittee that behavior detection is an important part of the agency’s risk-based security plan.
“Defunding the program is not the answer,” Pistole testified. “If the Congress did that, what I can envision is there would be fewer passengers going through expedited screening, there’d be increased pat-downs, there’d be longer lines and there’d be more frustration by the traveling public.”
Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Richard Hudson (R-SC) was skeptical. “We need layers of security, but those layers have to make sense,” he said. “They can’t be based on a hunch; they must be proven.”
Ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) called the SPOT program misguided. “We do not have the luxury of spending hundreds of millions of dollars per year on programs for which TSA cannot prove their effectiveness of or scientifically validate,” he said. “We cannot continue to fund programs with the hope that they will work.”
Homeland Security Committee chairman Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) said he favors behavior assessment programs as part of airport security, but this one may need some tweaking. “If this program isn’t working, we need to find something that will work more effectively,” he said. “I am concerned that TSA will continue to spin its wheels with this program instead of developing a more effective and efficient approach.”
Some members of the subcommittee were concerned about racial profiling being used as part of the behavior detection methods. Pistole assured them that TSA policies forbid racial profiling and screeners have to take a pledge not to use it.
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Kelly Bazzle, CNN
MC2 Amanda L. Owens, U.S. Navy
Kathryn Vasel, CNN