John Pistole defends indefensible behavior detection scam, makes threats

By Sommer Gentry, first published in our sister blog,
TSA Administrator John Pistole was called on the carpet again this week by the House Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Transportation Security, this time over the agency’s squandering of nearly one billion dollars on its ineffective behavior detection program. After Pistole suggested that the program was affordable at 50 cents per passenger screened, Rep. Mark Sanford replied, “Or you could say it in the reverse. You could say a billion dollars with no result.”

The Government Accountability Office reiterated in a recent report that behavior detection is a fraudulent pseudoscience. (We’ve been saying so at TSA News for years.) The GAO report mirrors what a DHS audit found in June. It has been shown repeatedly in hundreds of studies over 60 years that people, whether trained or untrained, cannot sense deceptive intent. The hucksters of behavior detection, including Paul Ekman, about whom we wrote here, are no different from phrenologists, astrologists, and flat-earthers in their refusal to accept scientific evidence refuting their claims.
John Pistole is proud to be a pseudoscience dupe. In his prepared remarks, he asserts:

“We are concerned that its [GAO’s] most recent report relies heavily on academic literature regarding the detection of individuals who are lying. The report, however, fails to recognize all of the available research or that S&T, which conducted a validation study with an independent review process, relied in part upon unpublished studies not included in literature reviews.”

Science is an enterprise built on peer review and reproducible results. Unpublished studies are unconvincing because they have not been critically challenged. I can write you a thousand unpublished studies this week making any number of wondrous and fatuous claims.
The behavior detection program has already failed in its mission to detect terrorists. The GAO detailed 23 separate occasions on which 16 different known terrorists, including David Headley and Najibullah Zazi, passed through airports staffed with behavior detection officers. Not one of these terrorists was spotted by the “trained behavior detectors,” not even Faisal Shahad, whom they missed just hours after he attempted to bomb Times Square.
Last year, the TSA employed more than 3,000 full-time TSA workers to do behavior detection. Those employees, in total, identified only 183 suspects who were arrested, the majority of whom were immigration violators. The TSA spent $200 million dollars on this program. 3,000 full-time employees could locate only 183 people who had broken any law in an airport – and of course, none of those identified were a danger to the aircraft. That’s more than one million dollars spent to find each arrestee.
These numbers are damning. It should be simple for Congress to shut down an obvious boondoggle like behavior detection.
As a last-ditch effort to keep the gravy train rolling to his low-skilled workforce, Pistole resorted to threats:

“Defunding the program is not the answer,” he said. “If we did that, if Congress did that, what I can envision is, there would be fewer passengers going through expedited screening, there would be increased pat-downs, there would be longer lines, and there would be more frustration by the traveling public.”

Did you hear that correctly? Pay up, or we’ll molest your kids.
(Photo: Voodoo Joker by Dave Gough/Flickr Creative Commons)