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The Men Who Stare At Airline Passengers, Coming To the UK

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the setting-aside-american-senators dept.

Security 468

An anonymous reader writes, "The Economist's Gulliver reports on a story in Nature that questions the current airport security regimen," excerpting: "Over the past four years, some 3,000 officers in America's Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have been specially trained to spot potential terrorists at airports. The programme, known as SPOT, for Screening Passengers by Observation Technique, is intended to allow airport security officers to use tiny facial cues to identify people who are acting suspiciously. The British government is currently launching a new screening regime modelled on the Americans' SPOT. There's just one problem with all this: there's no evidence that SPOT is actually effective. The whole thing is mostly based on pseudoscience, Sharon Weinberger reports in Nature." Happily, Nature's original article is available in full, rather than paywalled.

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468 comments

Might as well (4, Insightful)

Xacid (560407) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480086)

Chalk it up as a boondoggle and consider it part of the economic recovery plan.

If only. (2, Informative)

Interoperable (1651953) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480216)

The government can regain money through taxation. The violation of a civil liberty is a loss that cannot be regained.

Re:If only. (4, Insightful)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480300)

The violation of a civil liberty is a loss that cannot be regained.

Can you explain how having an officer look at you is a violation of civil liberties?

You're in public, after all. It's not like you're being observed in your home. While I don't see how the SPOT program actually accomplishes anything, I really don't see how it's going to violate our freedoms. Law enforcement doesn't need a warrant to check you out as you stand in line to check your luggage. And it might just be that having trained observers in airports would force terrorists to work a little harder.

We've got to be careful of crying wolf when we complain about intrusion into our lives. We gave away most of our liberties in the US with the PATRIOT Act and the warrantless wiretapping. For us to now say "you can't look at us" is taking our eye off the ball, which is to reverse the outrageous parts of PATRIOT and return some sanity to counter-terrorism.

Re:If only. (5, Insightful)

Andorin (1624303) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480354)

The point is not that an airport official will be watching passengers in an attempt to spot terrorists. The point is that there is a possibility that someone stressed, sick, distracted or socially inept- all of which could make a person seem "suspicious"- will be accosted or even held despite complete innocence of terrorism. It's "security theater" to a T: it gives the appearance of safety and security without actually providing any of the substance.

Re:If only. (1)

r_jensen11 (598210) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480412)

What becomes a violation of civil liberties is being detained because one looks suspicious. There are countless reasons why somebody could look suspicious to anyone's eye (trained or untrained.) Some examples are:

Passenger looks anxious- turns out that they realized they forgot something important (their kid's birthday present) and don't have enough time to go home, return to the airport, and proceed through security again.
Passenger looks uncomfortable - turns out that the person is claustrophobic and is scared of flying
Passenger looks angry - turns out the person is constipated.

Even the following example:
Passenger looks nervous (has a very slight twitch) - turns out the person is cheating on their spouse and is meeting the 3rd wheel.

None of these examples are of the passenger conspiring to do anything illegal (note that I am not implying morality for the last example, just legality), let alone in the process or carrying out terrorism. Yet each of these 4 passengers (or one terribly unlucky one) could be detained by TSA or whichever 'security' agency long enough for the person to miss their flight. And the next one. And the one after that. And then possibly even the 4th due to the airlines overbooking. All because the 'security' agent either thought they were doing their job or just were in a really bad mood (or is just a dick [wikia.com] .)

Re:If only. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32480572)

or:
Passenger looks annoyed, angry, uncomfortable - turns out they have to go through pointless security jumps that could be made to be efficient and less invasive but then the terrorists win, so person is hassled to the point of breaking and is made late by a line that can't possibly move slower. Also they had to leave home really early to get to the airport hours in advance.

Honestly, how do you not look "suspicious" by their guidelines when the process is the most annoying part of flying to some people. Self fulfilling prophecy.

Re:If only. (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32480450)

Having an officer look at you is definitely not a violation of civil liberties.

On the other hand, having an officer detain you for 4 hours without charge because of a baseless human lie-detector strategy that's not any better than a coin toss, is a violation.

Re:Might as well (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32480252)

We do stupid pretend security. Now you can do it too!

No surprise here (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32480266)

Seeing as US and Iraqi troops use forked sticks to "detect" bombs at roadstops in Iraq (with disastrous results), SPOT seems pretty normal.

And now I'm even thinking that they hunt Bin Laden with pendulums over maps of Pakistan!

Re:Might as well (1)

isaacconway (1255072) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480350)

God bless you sir, for applying logic to insanity.........

Evidence (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32480104)

There's just one problem with all this: there's no evidence that SPOT is actually effective.

And this matters to airport security because?

Re:Evidence (4, Funny)

Sulphur (1548251) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480186)

Dogs are very important to airport security.

Re:Evidence (3, Insightful)

digitalunity (19107) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480204)

It seems to matter not to law enforcement in general. The mere pretense that something is being done is good enough.

Re:Evidence (1)

pete6677 (681676) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480246)

The hot ladies will be a lot more likely to get additional visual patdowns.

But seriously, does anyone really think the TSA is capable of pulling this off? And the UK government seems especially good at adopting whatever kind of security theater stupidity Americans come up with and then making it even worse over there.

Re:Evidence (2, Interesting)

milkmage (795746) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480256)

well, how may airliners that take off from Israel have been hijacked since the 70's?

they "SPOT" people too.

I'm not saying it's practical (in a place like OHare).. but apparently it works.

we could learn something from the Israelis as far as airport security goes.

Re:Evidence (2, Insightful)

0123456 (636235) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480322)

well, how may airliners that take off from Israel have been hijacked since the 70's?

How many terrorists have been caught by Israeli airport security since the 70s? More importantly, since I believe the answer is a handful in the 70s and 80s, how many have been caught since 2001?

they "SPOT" people too.

Which is easy when the targets are Jewish, anyone who's not Jewish is a potential threat, and they don't give a crap about whether those people ever fly in or out of Israel again. People visiting Britain and America would not put up with the kind of intrusive measures taken in Israeli airports and would find an alternative destination in future.,, nor would politically correct British or American governments put up with similar screening measures that concentrated on Muslims.

Re:Evidence (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32480482)

You are shooting off the hip and apperantly you haven't flown with El Al or have been flying out of Israel on another airline. They screen EVERYONE. Not everyone's name sounds jewish.

...and they don't give a crap about whether those people ever fly in or out of Israel again...

and you know this how?

Re:Evidence (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32480470)

You should see how they inspect ships delivering food and supplies!

Re:Evidence (1)

squidinkcalligraphy (558677) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480474)

Well, that and the fact the all passengers flying in or out of Israel have their checked and carry on baggage inspected, right in front of you.

Perhaps you can avoid this if you can pass as a rabbi, but otherwise, all passengers.

Re:Evidence (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32480518)

Hehe... I take it you've never flown El Al have you? I flew a few years ago out of heathrow, and the only thing missing is an anal probe (which I'm pretty sure some unfortunate people have gone through). To say that SPOT is the reason they prevented attacks is total bullshit.

Why not say that all potential terrorists were caught by Jews, so TSA should only hire jewish people to screen passengers since they have such a impeccable record. Anyone flying into Israel has to go through a insane process to say the least, and they have specific checkpoints for that. Applying this to everyone would mean people need to arrive at the airport 4 days before their flight.

To conclude, your argument is pure, unadulterated bullshit of the first order.

Re:Evidence (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32480562)

Pirates are good at spotting terrorists.

Hehe... I take it you've never flown El Al have you? I flew a few years ago out of heathrow, and the only thing missing is an anal probe (which I'm pretty sure some unfortunate people have gone through). To say that SPOT is the reason they prevented attacks is total bullshit.

Why not say that all potential terrorists were caught by Jews, so TSA should only hire jewish people to screen passengers since they have such a impeccable record. Anyone flying into Israel has to go through a insane process to say the least, and they have specific checkpoints for that. Applying this to everyone would mean people need to arrive at the airport 4 days before their flight.

To conclude, your argument is pure, unadulterated bullshit of the first order.

I don't think Israeli necessarily equals jewish though. One is citizens of some country, the other is just another kooky religion.

Re:Evidence (1)

zz5555 (998945) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480534)

Unless "SPOT" is the only security measure the Israelis use, this doesn't show that "SPOT" works at all. All the other measures could be doing the real work while "SPOT" is just security theater for the Israeli masses.

Re:Evidence (1)

Kitkoan (1719118) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480452)

There's just one problem with all this: there's no evidence that SPOT is actually effective.

And this matters to airport security because?

Its to make you think that someone is watching out for you, even if they aren't really doing anything. It gives the illusion of security which helps some feel safer, like having a gun makes some people feel safer even though they could never bring themselves to shoot someone with it even in defense. Sometimes pseudo-security is better then no security to many people.

Welcome to the Academy (-1, Troll)

tpstigers (1075021) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480112)

This pretty much describes the entirety of academia - all theory, no practice. Nothing new here.

I can do it too! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32480114)

Look! An Arab! Go gettem!

Re:I can do it too! (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32480224)

More like: Look! An old lady! Let's check her out too so nobody thinks we're profiling!

Re:I can do it too! (1)

M. Baranczak (726671) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480408)

I recently got to hang out with an older gentleman of the redneck persuasion. He was bitterly complaining about the harassment that he received from airport security the day before. Upon further questioning, it turned out that he wasn't actually upset about getting harassed himself, but about the fact that they didn't visit enough harassment on the 'motherfucker in a turban' who was in line in front of him.

Effective... (3, Insightful)

Sarten-X (1102295) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480118)

Not effective? How is that different from any other aspect of the American airline security policy?

Re:Effective... (3, Interesting)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480124)

Salon's Ask the Pilot [salon.com] has a great logo for the TSA. I'd love to make some decals or patches and stick them on my luggage.

Re:Effective... (1)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480316)

Must be the same genuises who designed the EFF NSA shirt. [eff.org]

Can you spot the AT&T logo?

Re:Effective... (4, Insightful)

lorenlal (164133) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480152)

Well, the stronger cockpit door was an improvement... But for everything else, it's all about "appearing" to be more secure.

The post-9/11 airport has been all about security through showmanship.

Re:Effective... (3, Insightful)

hedwards (940851) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480220)

Well, that and sexual abuse. Having to decide whether to be patted down or viewed naked is more or less the definition of sexual abuse.

Re:Effective... (2, Interesting)

Totenglocke (1291680) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480226)

Since I refuse to be treated like a criminal just because I'm going from point A to point B, I simply refuse to fly.

Re:Effective... (1)

clang_jangle (975789) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480270)

Flying is still pretty nice if you can get your employer to spring for chartered. The security people wait for *you* instead of the other way around. I'll never go back...

Re:Effective... (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480280)

To be honest, that's my decision too. But I'm bothered by the fact that I've got aging relatives and I really don't want to have to decide between getting their too late and having to put up with TSA abuse.

Re:Effective... (1)

Concern Is A Faggot (859837) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480330)

Since I refuse to be treated like a criminal just because I'm going from point A to point B, I simply refuse to fly.

Since these days you have to spend the whole day at the airport just to get on a plane, for a lot of destinations you'll probably get where you're going faster taking a train or driving anyway.

Re:Effective... (1)

Rakshasa Taisab (244699) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480512)

I just avoid flying to or through US territories. Saves me anal probes and getting patted down by overweight, smelly wannabe cops.

Re:Effective... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32480524)

what I do is just not shower for a few days before, that way it's "in soviet russia, I abuse airport security"

Re:Effective... (0, Troll)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480336)

The post-9/11 airport has been all about security through showmanship.

Yet, somehow, there haven't been any more planes bringing down skyscrapers or smashing into the Pentagon. Maybe the showmanship is having the desired effect?

When I think about those that would say that we're "just lucky" the underwear bomber or Times Square bomber were unsuccessful, I think about how my Dad used to tell me that "luck" is what happens to those who are prepared. If only incompetents are getting through, it might mean that the competent ones are being interdicted. Either way, when I fly I'm a lot more concerned about how narrow the seats are than the fact that some Fed with sunglasses looked me over as I boarded the plane. In fact, I'm OK if every other passenger on the plane was an armed Fed wearing sunglasses. At least that means there won't be any crying babies.

Re:Effective... (3, Insightful)

Andorin (1624303) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480406)

Yet, somehow, there haven't been any more planes bringing down skyscrapers or smashing into the Pentagon. Maybe the showmanship is having the desired effect?

Right, because that sort of thing was so common until the post-9/11 airport security crackdowns. So clearly, since it hasn't happened since then, the mass inconveniences- to put the TSA's tactics lightly- have been worth it, right?

Re:Effective... (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480432)

... some Fed with sunglasses looked me over as I boarded the plane.

Let's say Mr. Sunglasses decides that he doesn't like you. You look a little twitchy (maybe it's the Miter). He asks you to step aside and talk the Mr. Sunglasses-and-plastic-ear-accessory. He's concerned about you staff. You all troop off to some back room in the airport. You miss your plane. You get asked pointless and annoying questions for several hours, then they decide you're just weird and not a threat.

You go back to the ticket counter. The nice airline person says they can get you on a flight, oh, sometime tomorrow and by the way, it's going to cost you extra since you bought a discount ticket that wasn't refundable.

Feel safer now?

Re:Effective... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32480516)

The underwear bomber and the Times Square bomber cases demonstrate that the general public is now alert and prepared, not that the official security apparatus is effective. Rather the opposite - the police and airport security failed to notice either of the bombers.

Re:Effective... (2, Funny)

Stolovaya (1019922) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480578)

Homer: Not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol must be working like a charm. Lisa: That's spacious reasoning, Dad. Homer: Thank you, dear. Lisa: By your logic I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away. Homer: Oh, how does it work? Lisa: It doesn't work. Homer: Uh-huh. Lisa: It's just a stupid rock. Homer: Uh-huh. Lisa: But I don't see any tigers around, do you? [Homer thinks of this, then pulls out some money] Homer: Lisa, I want to buy your rock. Taking more precautions, good. Security theater, racial profiling, etc, bad.

Re:Effective... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32480444)

What has changed is that passengers are much more likely to take situations into their own hands and act on instinct. Sometimes that has very good results and they stop the bad guys from doing the wrong thing - in a post 9/11 world, it was the passengers that reacted to the shoe guy and the underwear guy first.

The downside is that there have been people acting only slightly weird who still arouse their suspicions, and flights get diverted so they can check out what is essentially nothing. However since we all know the alternative (9/11) it still seems worthwhile.

Air Marshals are great but they are only on a smattering of flights. Airport security on the ground is terrible as they deliberately hire ex-cons and other people who just don't care about their job. So what is the new force that is keeping planes safe and stopping the bad guys? Passengers!

Personally I am quite proud of John and Jane Q. Public for shouldering this huge responsibility to keep planes safe.

Re:Effective... (0, Redundant)

Interoperable (1651953) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480236)

Reminds me of this [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Effective... (1)

theshowmecanuck (703852) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480268)

Seriously though, isn't this similar to some of the security screening techniques used by El Al (Israel's national airline)? From what I understand it is one of the most secure air carriers you can fly on. They don't just rely on searches of people, they look at the people themselves, as well. How they act, what nationality they are, etc. They do profile people.

Re:Effective... (2, Insightful)

mishehu (712452) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480378)

They actually interview every single passenger though. That's the difference.

That's not a problem, it's a solution. (5, Interesting)

Tackhead (54550) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480128)

There's just one problem with all this: there's no evidence that SPOT is actually effective.

That's not a problem, it's a solution. It means there need to be more studies, and bigger contracts, to figure out which bits of SPOT do work (read: "none, but who cares if it works as long as we can keep getting funding"), until such time as the political winds shift in favor of some other crackpot in the bureaucracy who's got more money to spend than brains to care about what it's being spent on.

Meanwhile, life once again imitates art:

SPOT agent: English or American? State Security. Your papers, please.
Clint Eastwood: Can you wait a minute?
SPOT agent: Very well. Quickly. (pause) Your papers, please. (pause) Are you ill, or maybe frightened?
Clint Eastwood: I've been having stomach problems.
SPOT agent: Your papers are not in order.
Clint Eastwood: They're in order. Look at them again.
SPOT agent: No. They are not in order.

Without giving away a spoiler to a movie that's 28 years old, Gant's papers were in order: the KGB goon was bluffing, trying to provoke a reaction.

Every time I travel by air, I watch the first half of Firefox [imdb.com] , and every year, the part where Clint Eastwoodfails to bluff his way through Moscow's airport seems a bit less like an American director's 1982 portrayal of the USSR, and feels a little more like home. Problem is, there's nowhere left to fly to, even if you did get your hands on a Mach-5 capable thought-controlled stealth plane.

Re:That's not a problem, it's a solution. (5, Insightful)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480176)

The sociopaths and other determined criminals will slip through the cracks. If you were looking forward to seeing 72 virgins or having the opportunity to stick it to your arch-enemy, would you not greet them with genuine smiles and cheer in anticipation?

Particularly, it makes me sad when people say that aversion of gaze is an indicator of dishonesty. Autistic or Asperger-types would be treated like crooks simply because eye contact is too overwhelming for them. Visual people may glance away after a question because they are diverting their resources to minimize distractions to use visual memory answering the questions(many people like to say that looking up == honest while looking down == dishonest -- sounds like a lame generalization to me).

Others may glance away because being preemptively treated like a crook is intimidating, especially because dealing with the DHS is often a staring contest. Questions asked are rapid-fire, meaning that a person appears to be in the wrong if analytical or insecure types have the honesty to give a complete answer. Microexpressions are often ambiguous and the interpretation of them is tanted by the subject being under pressure.

In short, it's a dumb idea and it makes me angry.

Re:That's not a problem, it's a solution. (4, Insightful)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480364)

If you were looking forward to seeing 72 virgins or having the opportunity to stick it to your arch-enemy, would you not greet them with genuine smiles and cheer in anticipation?

Of course, that would give them away. No one goes through a US airport with genuine smiles and cheer anymore.

Re:That's not a problem, it's a solution. (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480382)

But also some bombers don't know they are carrying a weapon. They may genuinely believe they are innocent.

Re:That's not a problem, it's a solution. (3, Informative)

adbge (1693228) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480430)

Particularly, it makes me sad when people say that aversion of gaze is an indicator of dishonesty. Autistic or Asperger-types would be treated like crooks simply because eye contact is too overwhelming for them.

Not looking someone directly in the eye is, in some cultures, a sign of respect. Specifically, the indigenous tribes of northwestern Ontario believe that you only look an inferior in the eye.

Re:That's not a problem, it's a solution. (1)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480528)

In Asian cultures, aversion of gaze is a sign of respect. You don't want to stare an Asian boss down.

In Arabic cultures, you don't want to make eye contact with anybody's wives. Introductions to Arab wives are a brief nod, if even that, and you might as well pretend they don't exist afterward.

Re:That's not a problem, it's a solution. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32480558)

And that will change? You being angry won't change anything because democracy is a pathetic fallacy and is just the government of pathetic retarded morons electing pathetic stupid corrupt criminals.
See, we got this moron now in the White House funding those ridiculous programs and in 2014 we will have another moron, this time a retarded soccer mom who keeps making sexy face tricks as a dumb teenager.
Dumbcrap is: the average joe and jane are just retarded and will always elect the worse option.That is why I don't vote anymore. Don't want to give my contribution to a messed up system.

Re:That's not a problem, it's a solution. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32480434)

The stupid thing is - Israel has been using this system since the 70s and has not had one hostage or airline related terrorist situation since they started doing this. I think that's effective enough to do it - period. It's far better than racial profiling - we don't all want to live in Arizona.

Re:That's not a problem, it's a solution. (2, Insightful)

0123456 (636235) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480466)

It's far better than racial profiling - we don't all want to live in Arizona.

Do you seriously think that Israeli security don't pay far more attention to Arab passengers than others?

The numbers sicken me (5, Insightful)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480136)

from January 2006 through to November 2009, behaviour-detection officers referred more than 232,000 people for secondary screening, which involves closer inspection of bags and testing for explosives. 1,710 were arrested. Those arrests are overwhelmingly for criminal activities, such as outstanding warrants, completely unrelated to terrorism. The program has never resulted in the arrest of anyone who is a terrorist, or who was planning to engage in terrorist-related activity.

Shut it down!! This is an incredible waste of passenger time and taxpayer money. I wonder where they got those numbers from.. I'd love to see more numbers.. like how many actual terrorist arrests there have been for all passengers screened.

Seems like it actually worked (1, Troll)

SuperKendall (25149) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480208)

The thing is, there are a VERY small number of actual terrorists. How do you know if there were even any terrorist attempts during the sampling period?

But catching 1710 criminals is meaningful, for the slight inconvenience the others faced. What's wrong with catching criminals? Aren't terrorists criminals too?

It's absurd to complain about any one security feature not being 100% effective, when defense is depth is always the best approach and this program seems to have caught more criminals that doing nothing at all would have.

What you really need is a truly random selection, and figures for how many criminals were caught that way to see if what they are doing is making a statistical difference from truly random additional screening.

Re:Seems like it actually worked (4, Insightful)

hedwards (940851) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480244)

The fact that there were no attempts or successes during that period is evidence that it's not needed. Terrorism is a very small threat compared with things like cancer, dieing in a non-terrorist plane crash and any number of real problems. Terrorism happens to be very flashy, but the reality is that even with the policies in place prior to 9/11 it was a very unlikely event that terrorists would have any meaningful luck.

Whereas you've got the government scaring the crap out of people without terrorist help. Of course terrorists aren't bothering to do it, the US government is doing a superb job of keeping people terrified.

Re:Seems like it actually worked (1, Insightful)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480386)

The fact that there were no attempts or successes during that period is evidence that it's not needed.

what kind of fail logic is that? In what upside down world does running a program to prevent something, and having no instances of what your trying to prevent happen, constitute failure??!!

Re:Seems like it actually worked (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480420)

In what upside down world does running a program to prevent something, and having no instances of what your trying to prevent happen, constitute failure??!!

In late news, the US Government's Anti-Invisible Pink Unicorn Defence Program has been a tremendous success because no invisible pink unicorns have been sighted in the United States since the program was founded.

I agree with you somewhat; clearly increased security measures have had some impact on those who might otherwise have tried to attack airliners... but given the vast holes behind the security theater, clearly there are very few terrorists wanting to attack airliners or they'd have done so by now; OK, there have been a handful, but they were mostly inept and several of them managed to get past the security theater anyway.

Re:Seems like it actually worked (1)

Andorin (1624303) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480422)

Can you demonstrate that we haven't had any more 9/11s because of the TSA, instead of some other factor?

In fact, how many actual terrorists has the TSA caught?

Re:Seems like it actually worked (1)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480542)

you can argue about how effective it's been till your blue in the face. however, it's RETARDED to default to saying it's ineffective and should be shut down because they haven't caught a terrorist. it must be somewhat effective because it helped them nab 1700 criminals that otherwise would have slipped though. the total number of actual terrorists capable of blowing up a plane is pretty small compared to the number of people flying in planes, which makes it a tall order to actually catch one.

given that just looking at people is the most passive and unobtrusive and cheap method for catching them that i can think of, i'd say it's a good outcome.

Re:Seems like it actually worked (1)

Andorin (1624303) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480582)

however, it's RETARDED to default to saying it's ineffective and should be shut down because they haven't caught a terrorist.

You're correct, but it's anything but to suggest that it ought to be reconsidered, if not shut down, because they haven't caught a terrorist and because the program is having serious ramifications for privacy rights and other individual liberties.

Re:Seems like it actually worked (2, Informative)

Zerth (26112) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480296)

But catching 1710 criminals is meaningful, for the slight inconvenience the others faced. What's wrong with catching criminals? Aren't terrorists criminals too?

If the number of criminals caught is barely over half of the number looking for them, we're paying 60-120k/year/criminal when we could just roll a d100 vs warrants check and do a better job for less.

Re:Seems like it actually worked (1)

Namarrgon (105036) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480298)

It's absurd to complain about any one security feature not being 100% effective

Can we complain if it has a false-positive rate of 99.3%? That's got to raise the costs significantly for all concerned.

this program seems to have caught more criminals that doing nothing at all would have

Since this method is so inefficient, with no evidence yet that it's actually fulfilling its stated purpose, perhaps we should be looking at other methods that might be more effective for the cost in time & money.

Re:Seems like it actually worked (3, Insightful)

NF6X (725054) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480340)

But catching 1710 criminals is meaningful, for the slight inconvenience the others faced. What's wrong with catching criminals?

0.5% of the people selected for secondary screening by the SPOT officers ended up getting arrested, and thus 99.5% of them did not. Is there any data that suggests that such an arrest rate is substantially higher than could be expected from any random sampling of air travelers? If not, then the SPOT officers don't appear to be doing anything worthwhile.

What you really need is a truly random selection, and figures for how many criminals were caught that way to see if what they are doing is making a statistical difference from truly random additional screening.

Agreed. Given the mere 0.5% arrest rate, I'm pretty skeptical that such figures would show that the SPOT officers earn their pay.

Re:Seems like it actually worked (1)

Pulzar (81031) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480584)

Agreed. Given the mere 0.5% arrest rate, I'm pretty skeptical that such figures would show that the SPOT officers earn their pay.

Well, until such a research is done, you're talking out of your ass. The random sampling could result in 0.0005% arrest rate, for all you know. 0.5% means one in 200 was arrested -- do you really think that random sampling of 200 people at the airport will yield one criminal on average?

Re:The numbers sicken me (1)

Mashiki (184564) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480416)

Considering in policing the rate for which you are able to "catch and identify an individual to a crime"(I'll use those terms loosely) is between 1-15%(depending on the crime) on average, the number reported...that's lower then I'd expect but not really that surprising. In the wonderful world of law enforcement(despite what TV likes to show), most of it comes down to stupid people, luck, or being in the right place at the right time, or due to the observant public.

We should just shut down policing too, really no need.(sarcasm) The real problem I have with the system is that it's very loosely defined on the ideas of kinesics, cops here in Canada get a bit of training on it when they're doing their 12-16 weeks at either DEPOT(federals like RCMP), or various police colleges. I like kinesics, it's useful, does the job but even with that you need to know the culture context for it to be really useful. For the guys who really like it, services regularly have 3-6mo programs again at the police college or at DEPOT, or at the canadian police college that specialize in teaching more.

Personally, either put them through a 3-6mo kinesics program, or stop using the muddy junk that this is.

Re:The numbers sicken me (4, Insightful)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480514)

Sorry.. if police were grabbing 200k+ people a year to do searches and only charging less than half a percent of them with crimes you would shut down the police... or at least enact laws that protect people from unlawful searches.. hey, wait a minute, that's a great idea!!

Pseudoscience? (0, Redundant)

Vinegar Joe (998110) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480138)

there's no evidence that SPOT is actually effective.

Seems it works pretty go for El Al.

http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23795196-heathrow-staff-taught-new-way-to-spot-a-plane-bombers.do [thisislondon.co.uk]

Re:Pseudoscience? (1)

AHuxley (892839) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480248)

A boondoggle for the private/public military-industrial complex.
The training, refresher courses, guest speakers, books, media ect.

Re:Pseudoscience? (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480414)

Seems it works pretty go for El Al.

I'd venture a guess that El Al spares no expense when it comes to hiring competent security people.

Racism (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32480140)

airport security officers ... use tiny facial cues to identify people who are acting suspiciously.

For example, the facial cue of being Arabic.

Re:Racism (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32480302)

For example, the facial cue of being Arabic.

Wrong......they check their left hand for the fecal cue of being Arabic.

Re:Racism (1)

Vectronic (1221470) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480338)

Pretty much, it's more like facial hue... even the best "watch dogs" are bound to eventually get bored with their duties since there's no real, or immediate threat. If they have some sort of quota, even if it's just to "look busy", they'll just pick people at random with whatever bias they have (sex, race, age, etc). Then there's the ones that have a sort of ego/erotic desire to dominate, they couldn't give a damn about facial cues, they'll come up with whatever reason necessary to go f**k with "that person!"

Generally the only time people really pay attention is when they need to, when was that exactly? I'm not even sure if 9/11 qualifies, especially since apparently there was a whole swarm of people... "19"... if there was one hijacker/assassin/etc, it might work... if there is 2 or 3... that aren't walking in the same group, it's bound to fail... if one gets caught, everyone flips out and either runs towards, or away from this person... ignores everyone else... the one guy is arrested etc... everyone feels safe, "omg what if?", laughs, jokes about it... meanwhile the other 2 going about their intended plan...

Feelings (1)

Dan East (318230) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480142)

I've got a bad feeling about this.

tiny oxymoron (5, Insightful)

rastoboy29 (807168) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480154)

Anyone who is that good at reading people,
has a better job than TSA screener.

Botox (1)

ThatsNotFunny (775189) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480166)

Great, now all the terrorists will be getting botox to make themselves look expressionless.

Re:Botox (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32480326)

Or plastic surgery done to make themselves look like Keanu Reeves. The horror!

Psychics (3, Funny)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480172)

From the title, I was expecting it to be psychically trained TSA agents.

Re:Psychics (1)

masterwit (1800118) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480254)

Nice "The Men Who Stare at Goats" took me a second to get it too... Funny.

It's OK, (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32480182)

I did a visual patdown.

There's just one problem with all this.. (1, Redundant)

qwerty8ytrewq (1726472) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480188)

Just one problem? This system is like parapsychology clairvoyance crossed with plain old applied gut-instinct prejudice. These SPOT crews are using humans in a pyscological 'sniffer dog' role. Sniffer dogs cannot be called to testify, and can be trained to 'find' things anywhere. The only upside seems to be as a redundant fail-safe system that might be a little independant from tech.

For the weaboos (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32480196)

Jiiiii~

That's the best kind! (1, Funny)

JorDan Clock (664877) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480200)

When it comes to matters of the government, pseudoscience is the best kind of science!

Lie To Me (2, Interesting)

ZZZMaestro (1827506) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480202)

So, this is basically the same thing that the premise of the show "Lie to Me" is based on. Intriguing.

Good Show (1)

aepervius (535155) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480586)

It certainly help everybody get better liar.

Keeping the idiots at bay (1)

tokyoahead (743189) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480214)

As we know from hacking DRM and many other things, there is no 100% secure system. There is only a question how much effort someone puts in succeeding to break it.

I guess any successful attempt from keeping idiots from blowing up an airplane is worth the money, specially because those who spend the money want to avoid the embarrassment to have someone to do something, and afterwards all the people who saw this person say "We all saw him. He was very suspicious."

Of course this is not necessarily effective. But it's the same security why we ask people to present a CV. If the guy you hired screws up big time, you can still say "But he had a PhD from Harvard!".

Of course all of this does not help you spot that someone is incapable/evil/criminal , but you have an excuse that you did what you could to prevent whatever bad happened.

To quote Benjamin Franklin (-1, Redundant)

Interoperable (1651953) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480222)

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

happened to me in las vegas (4, Interesting)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480240)

coming into the airport, i had a lot of crap in my carry on, so i decided to reorganize on a bench just inside the airport on a bench by a trash can. at one point i even reached into the garbage can and retrieved something out i had just chucked that i had a second thought about. some little vials and stuff: the freebie ointments and lotions and crap you get in hotels

i was very much hung over, miserable, unshaven and unwashed. my facial expressions were grim. at long last after my strange behavior over the trash can, i decided to furtively move into a corner and twiddle under my clothes: i was applying deodorant, but if someone was looking at me through a security camera, i can imagine where their imagination might have gone

long story short, when i got the screening area, 3 guys eyeballing the whole time i was in line called me over to a special room. the other passengers looked at me like i was a osama himself. i started laughing, because i kind of figured out why i was being singled out, but i don't think sudden laughtewr helped in the suspicion department. they gave ma a thorough screening, asked a lot of questions, asked some of them again later (consistency?), and sent me on my way. they even had dogs sniffing around. i guess maybe i profiled more as drug mule?

who knows. regardless, flying sucks

Re:happened to me in las vegas (0, Offtopic)

masterwit (1800118) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480290)

that sucks...but when it comes to those freebie lotions (that actually dry your skin) and the shampoo that attracts dirt, I'd say the trashcan was not worth it haha.

On another note, based on your account, a good place for a terrorist to hijack a plane would be in Las Vegas's airport...hell everyone looks hungover leaving there.

MiniEULA: I do not condone or recommend any sort of terrorism.

Oh well (-1, Flamebait)

DaMattster (977781) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480328)

Everyone knows TSA is a really big joke. Many of the TSA "officers" are really only one step above 711 clerks. If an 86 year old lady in a walker got around them, I feel more secure already.

Re:Oh well (0)

OrwellianLurker (1739950) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480446)

They're the rentacops of the airports except they actually have authority.

Re:Oh well (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32480456)

So if you guys are so fucking smart, why don't you join the TSA and change things?

SPOT (1, Funny)

PPH (736903) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480334)

Stupid Procedures for Opressing Travelers

Poker Players? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32480346)

So Ekman's claim is that the emotions involved in a high-stakes lie cause facial tics that are almost impossible to control. Why don't Ekman and his trainees to begin entering high-stakes poker tournaments and put their lie detecting money where their mouth is?

Re:Poker Players? (2, Funny)

garompeta (1068578) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480390)

Who says he didn't?

Nature and paywalls (3, Informative)

damn_registrars (1103043) | more than 4 years ago | (#32480394)

The editor mentioned that the Nature article for this news item was not paywalled. It is worth noting that this is the case because this is a Nature news article, not a Nature research article. Had this been original research it would have still be paywalled.

In UK they look for "terrorist-looking" terrorists (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32480508)

I get stopped EVERY FUCKING TIME you know why?

Because I have a beard.

I have no other distinctive features, I am caucasian and pale but I have a beard.

So they make the assumption bear=terrorist=mustbestopped.

And I do not even give a shit about the UK other than being in transit there.

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