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TSA Agents Are Making Fun of You in Their Secret Bimonthly Newsletter

The TSA’s Jedi-mind-trick-like Behavior Detection Officer (BDO) program, while so far having identified exactly zero terrorists, has been a subject of controversy for years, but according to a series of documents obtained by The Intercept, it’s also been providing fodder for an employee newsletter that pokes fun at nervous and inexperienced travelers.

Passengers are understandably nervous going through airport checkpoints manned by officers renowned for their invasive screenings, yet unbeknownst to them, some of their uneasy experiences are getting published bimonthly in BDOs IN MOTION. The Intercept obtained six issues of these internal newsletters, each of which identify different behaviors as ones potentially indicative of terrorist motivations, including “excessive yawning” and “wringing of hands.”

The newsletter is reportedly part of TSA’s highly controversial billion-dollar Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) program, which profiles passengers at security checkpoints across the U.S.

In one section of the newsletter — “BDO Funnies” — members of the BDO swap stories about nervous passengers, including one anecdote about a nervous passenger who believed the swab used on her hand was being used to test her DNA, not explosive residue. One entry talks about a “sweet little old lady” who mistook the dish for metallic objects at the checkpoint for a tip jar.

Aside from poking fun at passengers, BDOs IN MOTION has featured a TSA employee’s poem about Alaska, as well as some of the ways in which behavior-detection techniques helped one agent spot potential buyers for their dog breeding business.

Peter Neffenger, newly appointed TSA Administrator, faced hard questions from lawmakers earlier this week about the TSA’s failure to spot weapons, explosives and dangerous materials 96 percent of the time in recent trials conducted by undercover Homeland Security agents, and whether the BDO training was worth the money being invested in it. Neffenger says that further information and study is necessary before deciding whether to maintain or discontinue the BDO program.

The following BDOs IN MOTION are available in redacted form:

April 1, 2014

June 1, 2014

August 1, 2014

October 1, 2014

December 1, 2014

February 1, 2015

[Photos: The Intercept]

Comments are Closed.
JMKSTL August 2, 2015

Given my experiences with the TSA I'm a little surprised that they are able to read a newsletter, much less recount funny anecdotes.

abaheti August 2, 2015

Am I missing something? The title implies something nefarious. I'm no fan of the TSA, but who cares if the employees have a newsletter? A quick skim revealed pretty banal content. As for making fun of customer incidents, that isn't uncommon or unexpected in any environment.