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Boston TSA racially profiled minorities

Published time: August 12, 2012 23:02
Edited time: August 13, 2012 21:26
Massachusetts National Guardsmen 192nd MP's observe passengers at a boarding gate at Logan International Airport in Boston (Reuters / Pool)

Massachusetts National Guardsmen 192nd MP's observe passengers at a boarding gate at Logan International Airport in Boston (Reuters / Pool)

Boston’s TSA officers complained that some of their colleagues have been racially profiling "suspicious" looking minority passengers, including Middle Eastern nationals, blacks and Hispanics as part of their behavioral detection program.

­The program, launched in 2003 in the wake of 9/11, requires officers to profile a large number of people every day. To meet the demand, some officers are reported to have been frequently targeting minorities in the belief that those stops were more likely to yield drugs, arrest warrants or immigration problems.

“The behavior detection program is no longer a behavior-based program, but it is a racial profiling program,” an officer, working for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at Logan International Airport in Boston, wrote in an anonymous complaint.

Thirty-two of his colleagues have submitted written complaints to the TSA over the targeting of minorities by their co-workers, the New York Times reported.

The racial profiling is linked to TSA’s pilot behavior detection program, which subjects passengers at pilot checkpoints to a “casual greeting” conversation with a Behavior Detection Officer (BDO) as they go through identity verification.

If based on the conversation the BDO finds the passenger “suspicious,” he or she will undergo further screening. The officers look for inconsistencies in answers and other signs of strange behavior, like avoiding eye contact, sweating or fidgeting.

But several BDO officers estimated that 80 percent of passengers searched at Logan International Airport are minorities.

“They just pull aside anyone who they don’t like the way they look – if they are black and have expensive clothes or jewelry, or if they are Hispanic,” one BDO officer said.

African-American psychologist and educational consultant, Kenneth Boatner, 68, said he was humiliated when he was detained for nearly 30 minutes as agents looked through his personal belongings – including his checkbook, cell phone and clinical notes.

TSA officers at Logan International Airport claimed that two dozen of their colleagues have consistently targeted minorities.

To this day, there is no scientific basis proving that behavioral detection is an effective way to find terrorists. The Government Accountability

Office says the method allows officers to detect simple emotions like happiness and sadness, but has not been proven to determine “when individuals hold terrorist intent and beliefs.”

Moreover, as one Boston officer said, this method “takes officers away from the real threat, and we could miss a terrorist we are looking for.”

“There is no place for racial profiling in any security program,” said TSA Executive Director David Mackey. “It is illegal, and it is not effective.”