Lifestyle & Belief

Boston airport pilot program expands TSA behavior screening

TSA officers at Boston's Logan International Airport began training Tuesday in a pilot program that uses conversation to identify potential security threats. The program, which will be in place for 60 days at the airport's Terminal A, is the only one of its kind in the U.S., according to CNN.

As they talk with passengers, officers in the program will monitor behavior and facial expressions.

"The majority of passengers will experience a casual conversation with a behavior detection officer after they provide their boarding pass and ID," TSA spokesman Greg Soule told CNN. "A small portion of passengers may get selected for an extended conversation and if the behaviors are still being exhibited, they may receive additional screening. In some cases, they may be referred to law enforcement."

Soule did not give details on the types of questions passengers will face, but CNN reports that "the process will involve a casual greeting."

Soule further said that there would be no profiling of passengers involved in the pilot program.

"Officers are specifically trained to keep questions purposeful and related to detecting a passenger's intent. This program is in no way related to passengers' race or ethnicity," Soule said.

Soule pointed to the success of the 3,000 behavior detection officers employed at U.S. airports as part of the agency's Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) program. The spokesman said SPOT has resulted in more than 2,000 arrests. The new program expands on SPOT's techniques by actually engaging passengers directly, as opposed to merely observing them.

The TSA's website says that the "vast majority" of passengers in Logan's Terminal A will have a "casual greeting" conversation with an officer.

"These BDOs [behavior detection officers] have undergone additional specialized training in interviewing methods designed to identify travelers who display characteristic at the security checkpoint by engaging them in conversation," the TSA says. "During the test phase these officers will focus on passenger interaction and behavior analysis in conjunction with the Travel Document Checking (TDC) process."

In an interview with MSNBC, Soule said the TSA “will evaluate how the program will impact security, screening operations and passenger through-put," and could expand the program to other airports by fall.

Last year, the TSA faced public backlash against new full-body scanners and enhanced pat-downs used to screen passengers at security checkpoints.