TSA Detection Program SPOT is Found as Ineffective and Costly

TSAThe Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is a massive undertaking, using more than 200 million tax payer dollars per year. For the last ten years, they have been participating in a program, referred to as SPOT, to help detect detrimental passenger conduct that has costs more than $900 million. Now the GOA, or Government Accountability Office, says that this program is ineffective and should be defunded.

A study which researched the programs methods in more than 400 specific activities, while also reviewing the lists of arrests that have been made as a consequence of steps made by this detection program, concluded that it was ineffective and made no sizeable impact on passenger safety. This conclusion was supported by the findings that of all the arrests made by the direct result of this program none were directly linked to terrorism.

Meanwhile many Congressman are eager to take a stance against this ineffective program as an example of inefficient appropriation of tax payer dollars. Republican Representative Richard Hudson (NC), chairman of the House transportation subcommittee said,  “It doesn’t provide deterrence, and I’m not convinced it really makes us safer in its current form.” Democrat Rep. Bennie Thompson (MS) aggreed citing evidence that the TSA system “is fundamentally flawed, cannot be proven effective, and should no longer be funded with taxpayer dollars.”

However, the Department of Homeland Security (DSA) was not in agreement with the GAO’s findings. They claim the GAO’s study has led to “misleading” conclusions and should not be taken as a sign that SPOT should be discarded.

Head Administor for TSA, John S. Pistole, met with GAO Director Stephen M. Lord to give testimony before this research committee Thursday. He responded, “I know behavoir detection works. I don’t want to take a lawyer away that may identify the next terrorist.”

At 49 airports over the last wo years, 61,000 passengers have been taken asside for additional screening by SPOT trainees. Of those 61,000 only 0.6 percent have proven to contain evidence that has led to an arrest. SPOT operates by reviewing approaching passengers, conducting short verbal interviews and looking for certain verbal behavoirs. These actions are given points. If a passenger is chosen, because his behavoirs have given him an overall score that appears suspicious, than he is passed on to another agent who proceeds with further questioning and, if finding anything, will pass the passenger on to a law enforcement officer.

As members of the Senate and the House are increasingly looking for ways to trim the country’s budget, the TSA may have a tough time defending a program that costs large amounts of money and is having trouble to empirically justify its existence. Even though the program’s aim, safety against terrorism, is one that is highly favorable in the eyes of the US voters, its current reputation as a program that is flawed for its ineffectiveness and high cost of operation could lead to being permanently ended as a result of the GAO’s findings.


By Nick Manai



Washington Post,


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