From its inception, skeptics have claimed that the Behavior Detection System touted by the DHS was useless and impossible to implement. Now, as many have suspected, it is not being used to detect suspicious behavior but as a means to justify racial profiling at some of the nation’s airports. The biggest problem, is seems, is at Boston’s Logan Airport where Blacks, Hispanics, Middle Easterners and other minorities are regularly stopped for extra screening.
In interviews and internal complaints, officers from the Transportation Security Administration’s “behavior detection” program at Logan International Airport in Boston asserted that passengers who fit certain profiles — Hispanics traveling to Miami, for instance, or blacks wearing baseball caps backward — are much more likely to be stopped, searched and questioned for “suspicious” behavior.
“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,” said one white officer, who along with four others spoke with The New York Times on the condition of anonymity.
At a meeting last month with T.S.A. officials, officers at Logan provided written complaints about profiling from 32 officers, some of whom wrote anonymously. Officers said managers’ demands for high numbers of stops, searches and criminal referrals had led co-workers to target minorities in the belief that those stops were more likely to yield drugs, outstanding arrest warrants or immigration problems.
The practice has become so prevalent, some officers said, that Massachusetts State Police officials have asked why minority members appear to make up an overwhelming number of the cases that the airport refers to them.
“The behavior detection program is no longer a behavior-based program, but it is a racial profiling program,” one officer wrote in an anonymous complaint obtained by The Times.
The Behavior Detection Program was supposed to catch those who act suspiciously as a means to fight terrorism. Instead, it’s become a program that harasses minorities in an effort to catch what usually turns out to be minor legal problems. It has proven itself to be another line of security theater that wasn’t meant to stop terrorism. It’s a program that placates the public while continuing to profile people based on stereotypes.
The officers identified nearly two dozen co-workers who they said consistently focused on stopping minority members in response to pressure from managers to meet certain threshold numbers for referrals to the State Police, federal immigration officials or other agencies.
The stops were seen as a way of padding the program’s numbers and demonstrating to Washington policy makers that the behavior program was producing results, several officers said.
Instead, the officers said, profiling undermined the usefulness of the program. Focusing on minority members, said a second officer who was interviewed by The Times, “takes officers away from the real threat, and we could miss a terrorist we are looking for.”
The TSA’s mandate is to find bombs and terrorist plots. If that’s what they are there to do, then that’s what they should be doing. Instead, they find use any measure they want to make themselves look good, including breaking the law.
That is what happened last month at Logan airport to Kenneth Boatner, 68, a psychologist and educational consultant in Boston who was traveling to Atlanta for a business trip.
In a formal complaint he filed with the agency afterward, he said he was pulled out of line and detained for 29 minutes as agents thumbed through his checkbook and examined his clients’ clinical notes, his cellphone and other belongings.
While it is questionable as to whether the TSA can randomly thumb through someone’s cell phone and checkbook, it is certainly illegal to examine, in any way, clinical notes that are confidential. If they really suspected Boatner, they should have taken him to a private room and obtained the proper paperwork in order to search through his personal and confidential information and paperwork.
“Thus, because TSA screeners are limited to the single administrative goal of searching for possible safety threats related to explosives, the constitutional bounds of an airport administrative search require that the individual screener’s actions be no more intrusive than necessary to determine the existence or absence of explosives that could result in harm to the passengers and aircraft.” Id. at 831 (citing $124,570 U.S. Currency, 873 F.2d at 1245).
If the TSA employees do not even understand what their mandate is or how to properly execute it, how are they to be taught to not racially profile passengers? The TSA doe not keep records, at least at Logan Airport, of the racial makeup of the passengers that they do stop and are, thus, hiding behind the fact that they have to statistics to back up complaints. They have, as usual, assured the public that, if they find evidence of racial profiling, they will deal with it accordingly.