By Bill Maher
Eleven years ago, I wrote a book called, When You Ride ALONE, You Ride with bin Laden: What the Government SHOULD Be Telling Us to Help Fight the War on Terrorism. I don’t wanna brag, but it was kind of the 50 Shades of Grey of its time. Anyway, in that book, I suggested that we adopt a “Secret Service for the people”: trained behavioral experts like the Israelis have, to scan the crowds at airports and single out those who are behaving suspiciously for further screening. It was a radical suggestion for its time – that maybe we should ask the twitchy guy with the sweaty brow and no luggage a few additional questions.
Well, it turns out we do that. And we do it poorly. The GAO (Government Accountability Office) has done areview of the TSA’s SPOT (Screening of Passengers by Observational Techniques) program and found that we’ve spent a boatload of money for a program that doesn’t identify bad guys at airports any better than just spot-checking people randomly.
We’ve spent $1 billion so far to train and field behavior detection officers, who, according to NBC News, are supposed to “recognize indicators like fear, stress or deceptive behavior that can be used to identify persons who may pose a risk to aviation security… [but] the training produces results that are the same as or slightly better than chance.” A billion dollars later and these guys aren’t any better at picking troublemakers out of a crowd than you or I would be.
SPOT has existed since 2007 and now has about 3,000 officers working in 176 of our airports. This raises a few questions for me. First, let me get this straight – we recognized our airports as the crossroads through which terrorists might attempt some kind of catastrophic attack back in 2001, and we didn’t get our airport “looking for terrorists” task force up and running until six years later? What was the rush?
Also, doing the math: $1 billion divided by 3,000 officers (or 176 airports) is $333,333 per officer or $5.7 million per airport. That’s throwin’ around a lot chicken feed to not end up with any chickens. Isn’t it looking more and more like Osama bin Laden is getting exactly what he wanted – for us to respond to his attack with a costly, ineffective overreaction that bleeds us dry?