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TSA’s secret checklist of behaviors to spot a terrorist is lame

If you have sweaty palms or clear your throat excessively, you might be a terrorist.

Jeff Foxworthy jokes aside, The Intercept has gotten its hands on a secretive list used by the TSA SPOT (Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques) program to identify someone who might potentially be a terrorist. The SPOT uses what they call a “Behavior Detection Officer” to study the list and identify suspicious travelers.

The program is controversial, and an anonymous source who is concerned about the program’s effectiveness provided the list to journalists.

The SPOT program has been criticized by many because individual behaviors, like an “Adam’s apple” jump, certainly don’t make anyone a terrorist, and law enforcement applying such unscientific means to catching criminals violates all sorts of civil rights and protections. The list includes 92 identified suspicious behaviors, including the following:

  • Fast eye blink rate
  • Exaggerated yawning
  • Sweaty palms
  • Trembling
  • A cold, penetrating stare
  • Widely open, staring eyes
  • Wearing improper attire for location

Sure, a real-deal terrorist might display any of these behaviors, but so would a grandmother with a fear of flying. Or someone like me, who never seems to pack warmly enough for San Francisco in June. It’s not exactly easy to get through airport security, and trembling could be a way to cope with the rage of waiting for an hour with no shoes or belt. Simple common sense would tell you this list is just another ineffective knee-jerk reaction to 9/11 paranoia.

One former TSA “Behavior Detection Officer” who spoke to The Intercept under the condition of anonymity was more blunt about the list’s effectiveness.

“The SPOT program is bullshit,” he said. “Complete bullshit.”

Agreed. Read the whole secret TSA list here.

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