TSA blows a billion bucks on unscientific "behavioral detection" program, reinvents phrenology


Hey, you gotta get a good slice of the pie before the debt ceiling, right?


This would be the planned outcome of the rights destruction of education in usa. Now selling snake oil is easy peasy.


Stress and fear in a US airport? They should be looking for people who don’t exhibit those signs. They are the ones who are obviously dangerous!


The quote from today’s GAO report said that there were “400 studies over the past 60 years” that have shown it’s all nonsense.

But! When this was voted on and funded, there were only 50 years’ worth of evidence against it. 50 years just…isn’t…enough.


This was originally proposed here after decades of effective use in Israel.

From Wikipedia on “Predictive Profiling”- “The methodology is based primarily on methods used by El Al Israel Airlines Ltd, and other Israeli security agencies. In Predictive Profiling, these methods have been adapted to western cultural, social and economic conditions that differ from those of Israel.[4],
This kind of targeting has proven very effective and has resulted in the prevention of many illegal activities. The sheer number of people and freight passing through borders requires that the focus be on identifying indicators of intent. This is accomplished via targeting and behavioral observation.”

I wonder- Did we screw up the implementation or the assessment? Or both.


More or less anything connected with Psych is doomed to failure.

What an enormous waste of money!

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A couple of possibilities spring to mind:

  1. I gather the Israeli temperament is perhaps conducive to performing ‘justice’ Guantanamo style - if you’re accused, you’re guilty. Or at least you’ll be punished in any case… I could be well off the mark there, but the notion gels with my limited experience with Israelis.

  2. Maybe (what am I talking about, maybe) they just picked on Palestinians or Arabs in general, the demographics of the region increasing the point at which they’re no better than chance.

It doesn’t seem particularly likely that El AL Israel Airlines brought a great deal of scientific training and rigour to the table, and it’s not uncommon for actual trained scientists to stuff up by failing to account for one of the many possible confounding factors you need to be on top of to do valid science… reckon I’ll favour the half-century of proper research over those guys.


Follow those links in the Wikipedia article: you’re citing an advertisement.


If Behavioral Detection didn’t work, I’ve got a shipment of ADE 651 Detectors for sale.


the agency risks funding activities [that] have not been determined to be effective."

Surely that applies to the vast majority of the TSAs policies, not just this one…


no I think they are on the lookout for that too… I always get pulled aside for a little closer inspection and I suspect it’s because I look like I’m aware of my surroundings but I really don’t give a f$ck

Phrenology would work just fine, if we lived in a Phrenocracy.


Perhaps this would work better if we applied the principles of Retro Phrenology to the heads of the TSA and the DHS.

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Anyone who would disparage phrenology probably has the brain-pan of a stagecoach tilter!


My guess would be both and neither. The State of Israel has plenty of staff who are very familiar with the nature of the threats they face and the nature of the risk involved due to decades of direct experience and very dedicated intelligence professionals. For them the threat is local even when the threat agents originate outside the neighborhood.

The US seems to be facing a wider spectrum of threat agents operating on different frameworks so its a bit trickier to get the assessment or the implementation right. That plus a more bloated set of intelligence agencies which even after big tenting probably don’t communicate optimally. Getting a large organization to tackle a complicated problem is always tricky at best.

Yep. Well, completely off the mark really. See here for basic info on the judicial system in the State of Israel.

They have the advantage of not having to pay lip service in the area of profiling. They know the most likely threat agents so it makes sense to focus there. Your snarky appearing comments don’t change that.

Sometimes real world knowledge works better than lab coats. See also my comments to hugh_gilmartin above in this post.

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Those who shit in the road will find flies on their return. You can always tell who did because their face is is permanently frozen in a down-turned frown from the strain of squatting and giving birth to their turds. Most of the racketeers in the US Congress look like this. Their secretly constructed machine world is constantly disintegrating, constantly insecure.

I remember reading about this in the past. Someone was proposing the Israeli model of airport security as an effective (in a country where you’re much more likely to come across terrorists and bombs than in North America) way of implementing security, in place of what the TSA currently does.

I think the difference is competence: the Israel security agents relied a lot on common sense and instinct, but with the kind of people the TSA hires, you have to, instead, provide stricter guidelines and reproducible processes. And that’s where such a security method fails, because it has to rely on the experience, instinct, intelligence and common sense of the security agents.

Better to throw $900 million down the drain than to offer high enough pay to attract the kind of people this security model requires.

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I think, first and foremost, the Israelis rely on racial profiling as step one.

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I’m not sure what evidence proves that this works.

How could you determine if a security program like this was effective? Do it at one airport and not another and see if there is a difference? Even then, in the entire world there are about 2 large-scale aviation disasters a year. You would have to gather data for thousands of years to see if you were actually reducing the number of terrorists getting on planes. If the program produces arrests, how do you know the same number of arrests would not have happened if the program were replaced with true randomized screening? And how do you know that those arrests are important to airport security?

All security everywhere look for people who are acting strangely and keep an eye on them - non-security people do that too. What the studies show is that this is not effective. We look for threats of people acting strangely when most of the time harm comes from people who we know.