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Steven Frischling
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Fish has been covering aviation and transportation security issues since September 15, 2001, after walking away from Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan following four days of documenting the worst aviation security disaster in history.

Having spent more than a decade-and-a-half as a full-time photojournalist, Fish now divides his time between building social media and social commerce strategies and solutions for global travel brands, along with researching aviation and transportation security.

Growing up at the end up New York's JFK International Airport's Runway 4R/22L probably explains Fish’s enjoyment of watching planes fly overhead. When not working or shooting photos, Fish can be found playing with (and cleaning up after) his three kids, chasing his dogs, standing in the kitchen cooking, monitoring radios public safety and federal radios and of course cheering for the Red Sox.

You can find Fish on Twitter at @flyingwithfish …and … join Fish every Thursday at 3:30pm EST as he hosts the weekly #TNI #Travel Chat on Twitter.

TSA Behavior Detection Officers Adopt Direct Interaction

Since the inception of the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) Behavior Detection Officers (BDO) program in 2003, it has been less than effective by design and deployment.


Currently, TSA BDOs seek out potential security threats through Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT). SPOT focuses on involuntary physical and physiological reactions, such as micro facial expressions, that people exhibit in response to a fear of being discovered … but this technique leaves out a critical factor that is employed effectively by high level security agencies around the world … it fails to actually interact with people.


To address the significant lapse in the effectiveness of the BDO program, the TSA will begin training BDOs to directly interact with people passing through TSA screening checkpoints.  The technique being implemented by the TSA involves BDOs learning to approach people in a non-threatening manner and casually asking non-invasive questions to gauge passenger reactions.


People reacting to TSA BDOs with the inability to quickly answer questions, providing inconsistent answers or avoiding eye contact may be pulled aside for additional screening by TSA Transportation Security Officers (TSO).


The approximately 60 BDOs set to begin training at Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) in mid-August are likely to face an interesting twist to their training … confused or confrontational passengers put off by TSA BDOs approaching them and questioning them. Presently passengers are not required to answer any questions asked of them by TSA BDOs and given the open hostility towards the TSA by many travelers can cause confrontations.


The TSA’s decision to adopt a direct interaction as a threat indicator is a step in the right direction for the agency to provide thorough security rather than the appearance of security.


Happy Flying!

13 Responses

  1. I had my first experience with this a few weeks ago. At the security checkpoint I handed my boarding pass and ID to the TSA agent. He said “What’s your name?”. My reply: “It’s on the boarding pass.” TSA: (sigh) “I mean do YOU know what it says?” Me: “Of course I do, it’s my name!”

    (At this point, I finally caught on to what they were doing, and quickly told them my name, city on my ID, etc.)

    It just felt like a strange question to start with. I sincerely hope that *those questions* weren’t what they are using to detect terrorists. (gasp)

  2. Ellis,

    That is funny!

    Your encounter however is not part of the TSA BDO training for advancing the SPOT Program. I don’t believe what you encountered is even in the play book for Travel Document Checkers (TCD).

    Happy Flying!


  3. I believe Ellis was at SFO. They have been required to make sure passengers say their own name out loud to make sure it matches what’s printed on the boarding pass. This is punishment for the TSOs at that location who in the past didn’t pay close attention to the people they were screening.

  4. I hope this program takes into consideration cultural differences when making calls about suspicious behaviors.

    For example: I have lived in Japan now for a number of years, and have learned that Japanese people think it’s rude to look people in the eye.

    It would be sad that innocent tourists start becoming the target of interrogations and in depth screenings because they are behaving in a culturally appropriate manner.

  5. John,

    if Ellis was questioned at SFO it would make sense as SFO is not a TSA airport. SFO’s security is provided by Covenant Security.

    Happy Flying!


  6. Andrew,

    There are many cultures where looking people in the eye is considered rude. I would sincerely hope the TSA does take into account cultural differences … but their prior track record unfortunately would indicate differently.

    Happy Flying!


  7. I got the “What’s your name?” and “Where are you going?” at DEN a few weeks ago, but not earlier this week.

  8. Under what authority can they compel me to answer their questions?

    I know they can retaliate by sending me into ‘that’ line…..

    Seriously though, what can they do when I don’t play chatty-cathy with them?

    Now while you are contemplating your answers, what is going to happen when someone who is heard of hearing (like me) or completely deaf stands in front of the Blue Shirt not answering their questions because they don’t even look up when they are speaking?

  9. Chip,
    From what I have read they either let you go through as though you answered them, worst case scenario you go through extra screening, which isn’t all that bad.

  10. At more than one airport, there’s already been a conversational name-checking protocol similar to the one Ellis describes — for children, oddly enough. Anybody who doesn’t have an ID document gets the Mr. Rogers treatment: “Hello, Ellie!” “Is that your brother? What’s his name?” Who knows, maybe it’s part of some Amber-Alert kidnapping-interdiction program instead…

  11. Moderate: Merge and substitute for angle-brackets above:
    “Hello, Ellie! (wait for child to look up or acknowledge)
    “Is that your brother? What’s his name?” (wait for child to answer “Ellis” and check against travel documents)

  12. […] with TSA TSOs searching for prohibited items, the agency’s Behavior Detection Officers (BDO) watch and interact with passengers to determine passengers that they determine to be a threat to aviation security … […]

  13. […] the TSA, at JFK Terminal 5, revealed that Mr. Mukerjee appears to have been flagged by the Behaviour Detection Officer (BDO) while in line for what appeared to be unusual behaviours.  As the official Incident Report […]

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