A controversial Transportation Security Administration program that uses “behavior indicators” to identify potential terrorists is instead primarily targeting undocumented immigrants, according to a document obtained by The Intercept and interviews with current and former government officials.
The $900 million program, Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques, or SPOT, employs behavior detection officers trained to identify passengers who exhibit behaviors that TSA believes could be linked to would-be terrorists. But in one five-week period at a major international airport in the United States in 2007, the year the program started, only about 4 percent of the passengers who were referred to secondary screening or law enforcement by behavior detection officers were arrested, and nearly 90 percent of those arrests were for being in the country illegally, according to a TSA document obtained by The Intercept.
Nothing in the SPOT records suggests that any of those arrested were associated with terrorist activity.
Those results aren’t surprising, according to those involved in the program, because the behavior checklist was, in part, modeled after immigration, border and drug interdiction programs. Drug smugglers and undocumented immigrants often exhibit clear signs of nervousness and confusion, or may be in possession of fraudulent documents.
“That’s why we started rounding up all the Mexicans,” said one former behavior detection officer.