My first reaction to this article was “They elected a Democrat to Congress in Mississippi?” My second reaction was “I wonder what that letter says?” Here it is, composed on my birthday last year, no less. It’s in the news this week because Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) has yet to hear back from Transportation Security Administration (TSA) head John Pistole about anything his letter requested. My libertarian friends are already salivating over this newest excuse to slag the TSA.
Thompson suspects that the behavior detection program used by the TSA results in ethnic profiling. This arises from a 2011 news report out of Honolulu, accusing TSA officials of targeting Mexican passengers in an effort to look productive. He would like to see proof that the TSA’s head office has taken steps to alleviate this behavior within their ranks, and he would like the Screening of Passengers by Observation Technique (SPOT) program to be suspended until he gets it. Pistole has not provided this proof, though his previous letters insist it exists.
The news report cited two whistleblowers at the Honolulu International Airport who accused two other detection officials of intentionally targeting Mexican passengers, resulting in a substantial number of arrests of illegal aliens. The detection program is intended to spot potential terrorists, not illegal immigrants. From the outset, it appears that this controversy amounts to two TSA officials in the same airport who happen to be either zealous in their hatred for illegal immigrants, or incredibly stupid.
But it raises questions about management on the ground, and even management in Washington, ultimately accountable for the mistakes of management on the ground. After the first few arrests of illegal immigrants using SPOT tactics, shouldn’t these dumbasses have been told to look for people lighting their shoes on fire? And why is productivity their end game? Are they supposed to fill some sort of quota?
In theory, behavior detection at airports has its merits; as one blogger who is particularly scornful of the TSA has noted, Israeli airports have used it with great success – and no body scanners. Unsurprisingly, their system does involve a measure of ethnic profiling, which makes sense when you look at the ethnicities of all their foreign entanglements over the years. Nonetheless they use it for one purpose: keeping the planes and their passengers safe. Checking for illegal immigrants does nothing to this end.
The SPOT program is innocent until proven guilty. But we might consider behavioral profiling of TSA officials. If these two in Honolulu are any precedent, they’re not all that concerned with safety either.