Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), situation just 15 miles from Manhattan, is the fourth busiest international airport in the United States. Passengers of all races, religions, and ethnic backgrounds pass through the airports’ Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security checkpoints, flying to destinations on five continents, all day, every day.
In a recent disclosure of an internal TSA report, it has been revealed that the agency’s Behavior Detection Officers (BDO), who are supposed to ignore racial and ethnic factors to focus on the ‘involuntary micro–facial expressions’, and body language, of passengers to determine if they are terrorists instead focused on Mexican passengers, or those who appeared to be Mexican.
The internal TSA report, dated January 25, 2010, was created by two TSA Inquiry Officers brought in from Boston’s Logan Airport to investigate fellow TSA agents in Newark. What the report reveals is not only a massive lapse in management judgment and poor training and vetting of BDOs, but also how the BDO program needs to be significantly overhauled and reevaluated.
According to the TSA’s internal report, at the direction of program supervisors, BDO’s singled out Mexican and Dominican passengers to further review their identification and paperwork in an effort to increase their referrals of passengers to secondary screening. The increase in referrals to secondary screening allowed the BDOs to meet quotas, which managers indicated would lead to promotions, and create the appearance that the airports’ BDO program was producing results. The report indicates that George Schultz, TSA’s BDO Program Manager at Newark, devised a way for BDO’s to finesse a rating system intended to assess a passenger’s behavior so they could be selected for referral to Supervisor Transportation Security Officers (STSO) or law enforcement for questioning.
While the TSA’s internal report doesn’t specifically state how many of Newark’s BDOs were engaged in profiling passengers based on race and ethnicity, the practice of appears to have been carried out by a significant number of BDOs for nearly a two years, and clearly at the urging of those managing the program.
In the report, TSA BDO William Tappen explicitly states BDO program manager George Schultz, and his two immediate superiors, Robert Hakius and Joseog Yurechko, were using racial profiling, stating to the TSA Inquiry Officers “Schultz was basically telling all of us to go look for illegal aliens and make up behaviors to equal six points, which would result in a LEO call.” Tappen went on to state, “Many managers and STSOs and TSOs questioned Hakius and Yurechko about BDOs constantly pulling Mexicans and other South American male passengers because even to them it was that obvious the BDO unit was profiling. We were being called Mexican Hunters by our peers and coworkers in the airport.”
The development of the TSA’s BDO program, which is controversial and was untested prior to being implemented by the agency, is based on ‘Screening of Passengers by Observation Technique,’ or ‘SPOT.’ SPOT is intended to focus on a passenger’s bdy language and ‘involuntary micro-facial expressions’ to seek out potential terrorists or those with criminal intentions, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity. The role of BDO’s has never been to seek out illegal aliens, or be on the look out for those fleeting a warrant, the agency’s job is “The Transportation Security Administration protects the Nation’s transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce.”
While the TSA has handled this situation by sending all of Newark’s BDO’s back to training and removing Newark’s Federal Security Director at Newark, Barbara Bonn Powell, replacing her with Donald Drummer, in April of 2011, a 30 year veteran of the U.S. Army, who was previously the Deputy Federal Security Director and New York’s JFK International Airport … the agency has failed to address multiple effectiveness issues of its BDO program, or address the creation of a more effective non-racial, non-ethnic, based profiling procedure to provide an effective layer of security.
The TSA is not a law enforcement agency, nor are its front line Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) or Behavior Detection Officers investigators. The agency’s front line has a single purpose in airports, which is to ensure the safety and security of a flight, ensuring no prohibited items pass their checkpoint and referring those they believe to be a threat to security to law enforcement. The job of investigating the visa status or nationality of a passenger is that of law enforcement and Immigrations Officers … not to mention that the time a BDO spends stopping a person not legitimately deemed to be a threat is time they are distracted from their actual job of seeking out real threats.