Boston To Test New Security Technique

August 18, 2011

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Along with luggage scans and removing shoes, getting through the security check at Boston's Logan Airport may now include a brief conversation with a specially trained agent.

Beginning this week, all passengers in Logan's Terminal A will be peppered with questions by a Behaviour Detection Officer just after they have their identification verified at the security checkpoint.

Officers will chat with passengers in what the Transportation Security Administration has dubbed a "casual greeting" conversation.

Based on physical cues or answers to questions during the dialogue, specially trained officers may detect suspicious behaviour, said TSA spokesman Greg Soule.

This analysis will help determine if a passenger should go through additional screening at the security checkpoint and identify "potentially high-risk travellers," according to the TSA.

Soule declined to elaborate on any of the questions or responses that would warrant further action.

Looking nervous and averting eye contact, however, are not the tell-tale signs of deception, said Richard Bloom, an aviation security expert and professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

He, too, declined to give away the cues he believed detection officers will analyse.

Experts often credit Israeli security specialists with doing much of the initial work on behavioural detection, said Bloom.

The expanded behaviour detection programme now underway at Logan is based on other international and domestic programmes, said Soule, and will be tested over the next 60 days.

The TSA will consider the pilot programme's results and wait times at security check points in order to determine if and how to expand it more broadly, Soule said.

In Boston, Terminal A is home to Continental and Delta airlines. Logan serves up to 50,000 passengers daily.

Critics have said screening methods like this could promote discriminatory profiling, but TSA's Soule said it would actually be prevented by having conversations with every single passenger in Terminal A and taking action based solely on reactions and answers.

"This programme in no way is profiling passengers by race or ethnicity," he said.

Logan was the first airport to implement an observational screening technique in 2003. In those cases, a trained officer would look for passenger behaviour that was suspicious. Then, based on a quick conversation, the officer might administer further security checks.

That programme has rolled out to more than 160 airports and resulted in more than 2,000 arrests nationwide, Soule said.