Passengers` Nonverbal Behavior TSA Should Limit Future Funding For Behavior Detection Activities Contents

Passengers’Nonverbal Behavior: TSA Should Limit Future Funding For BehaviorDetection Activities



Introduction 3

Background to the Topic 4

Significance of the Study 6

Research Questions 7

Research Objectives 7

Research Synopsis 8


Literature Review 9

Theoretical Literature Review 9

The Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) and Theory of Reasoned Action 9

Psychosocial Traits and Criminality Theory 11

The Labeling Theory 12

The Lifestyle Theory of Criminology 13

Empirical Literature Review 15

Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) Program by TSA 18

References 22


Inthe past few years, stakeholders in the US Department of HomelandSecurity and researchers have questioned the efficacy of thenon-verbal behavior detection techniques employed by TransportSecurity Administration (TSA). The Screening of Passengers byObservation Techniques (SPOT) involves the use of Behavior DetectionOfficers (BDOs) to identify “suspicious” passengers foradditional screening based on certain observed characteristics. Inthe past few years, the few cases of attempted terrorism even withthe use of SPOT methods have led stakeholders to question theefficiency of such methods and especially due to the outrageousfunding allocated to TSA for implementation of the program. Moreover,there are concerns that the BDOs may use the program maliciously tohead hunt for specific individuals. Traditionally, airport safety andsecurity was focused on identifying the threat item rather than thepotential terrorist, as is the case with the cognitive loadapproaches used today to detect deception and elements of criminality(Frank et al., 2009, p. 147Blandón-Gitlin, 2014, p. 441-444).However, terrorists changed their style of attack and stopped usingitems as instruments of terrorism. This evolution of terrorism attackis what culminated in the SPOT program as a sophisticated mechanismcomplete with a framework for discerning the potential terroristsduring the security screening at the airport. The SPOT technique wasanchored in the belief that potential terrorists often displaycertain suspicious but identifiable behaviors at the airport.However, there has been an increased scrutiny on the sustainabilityand efficiency of the program especially due to the finding thatexisting empirical evidence does not provide any evidence to theeffect that behavioral indicators can be relied upon in identifyingaviation security threats (GAO, 2013, p. 15). This study seeks toundertake an extensive review of the empirical literature and employqualitative techniques to determine if the SPOT techniques areeffective therefore, if the outrageous funding by TSA for thenon-verbal behavior detection is justified.

Backgroundto the Topic

TheScreening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) is aculmination of the persistent evolution of criminal activities at theairports that necessitated for a more sophisticated and effectivescreening for potential terrorists by TSA officers. Traditionally,screening for potential criminals only focused on identifying theitems that could be used by terrorists without due regard to any“strange” behaviors that may be exhibited by such individuals.However, following the September 11 attacks, where terrorists used anairplane rather than an item to carry out their attacks, airportsecurity screening began focusing on the behavioral activities ofindividuals during airport screening as much as they did thescreening for any weapons that could be used by the terrorists. TheTSA responded by devising a screening technique based on behavioralscience. In October 2003, the airport safety authority conducted apilot program of the SPOT techniques in a number of airports in theUS. Five years later, TSA created several positions in the disguiseof behavioral detection officers (BDOs), ostensibly signifying thesuccess of the program in the few airports in which it had beenimplemented. Moreover, the BDOs were to identify suspiciousindividuals at the airports using behavioral indicators includingfear, deception and stress (GPO, 2011, p. 3). The BDOs were toundertake this task using a checklist that contained correspondingvalues complete with behavioral parameter thresholds. The BDOs wereto use the outlined parameters to evaluate passengers while on thequeue awaiting security screening and any individuals who exhibitedbehaviors that surpassed the set limits were referred for intensivesecurity screening. The SPOT program was sequential and systematicin the sense that the identified passengers who exhibited behavioralvariables surpassing the thresholds of the secondary screening werereferred further to law enforcement officers (Blandón-Gitlinet al., 2014, p. 441-444).

Itis important to note at this point of the paper that the initialintention of the SPOT program was to identify the potentialterrorists in the aviation sector. Over time, the scope of theprogram has been broadened to include the detection of specificbehaviors indicative of criminal activity (GPO, 2011, p. 3). Thisexpansion of the program’s scope has drawn a lot of criticism assome pundits point out that the move shows the inefficiency andfailure of the program to achieve the primal objectives for which itwas established. The argument is that TSA expanded the objectives ofthe program to include criminal activities as a way of retaining theprogram’s credibility since it has a higher probability ofoccurrence (Meyer, 2010, p. 289-339). However, the fact that theexpanded program required more staff and capital when the relevanceof the program was questionable is what informs the endeavor of thisstudy. More aptly, the expansion of the program in 2012 saw the TSAemploy over 3000 BDOs in 161 airports at a cost of about $200 millionannually. Moreover, a budgetary proposal for the program in fiveyears (2012-2017) is estimated to cost $1.2 billion, a program thatwill see the TSA recruit about 175 more BDOs (GPO, 2011, p. 16). Themost significant setback to the program was in May 2011 when theGovernment Accountability Office (GAO) noted several problems withthe program even concluding that the program was deployed without anyscientific validation (GAO, 2013, n.p). Essentially, the SPOT programcame to be conceived by many as an expensive program that had beenimplemented without any form of empirical validation. In the recentyears, SPOT has become the first behavioral science program to besubjected to evaluation and empirical outcomes have differed in theirfindings, which has necessitated increased and more rigorous researchin the use of behavioral science in criminal behavior detection.Essentially, the inquiry into the efficacy of the SPOT program hasbeen necessitated by the perceived inefficiency of the program, thequestioning of the empirical mechanisms through which the TSA did itsfeasibility study and the inconclusiveness in the empiricalliterature concerning the applicability of behavioral science incriminal detection. Moreover, the program requires massive resourcessince the training and hiring of BDO’s and compensation-relatedcharges are very high. Therefore, tracing the origin of the programand its evolution from when it was first piloted in 2003 to datereveals a combination of factors that need an extensive empiricalstudy especially to ascertain if the outrageous funding of theprogram is necessary, and thus the research question of this paper.

Significanceof the Study

Designedto evaluate the economic sustainability of SPOT as a criminaldetection mechanism, this study seeks to provide invaluable insightsinto the most appropriate action that should be taken by theDepartment of Homeland Security (DHS) concerning the continued use ofthe program. Moreover, by reviewing a variety of empirical studiesand GAO reports, this paper seeks to evaluate the costs related toSPOT and if such costs can be minimized without compromising airportsecurity. This study will particularly be important especially giventhat in 2013, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted areview of over 400 studies on behavioral science and detection ofcriminals and provided outcomes that questioned the use of BDOs todetect behaviors suggestive of criminals. In the report, GAOestablished that on average, a BDO officer can only tell if anindividual is lying with a 54% probability (GAO, 2013, n.p). In thisrespect, the study that came after a similar one by GAO in 2010recommended that the funding for SPOT be suspended until someempirical evidence is provided showing that BDOs can indeed ascertainif an individual is lying with a convincing probability. Moreover, ithas been noted that a review of the SPOT data has revealed that ameager 1% of the 30, 000 individuals referred for secondary screeningannually are found guilty and guilty for drug possession and othercrimes other than terrorism (Dickerson, 2015, n.p).

Thisstudy is expected to provide useful information that can be employedto evaluate the sustainability of the SPOT program by reviewing someof the most recent empirical studies linking behavioral science andcriminal detection mechanisms. This is particularly important sinceTSA itself has limited information to evaluate the effectiveness ofthe SPOT program, such as data used to measure high-risk passengeroutcomes (GAO, 2013, p. 30). The study also seeks to investigate thespending on SPOT by TSA to establish if such spending is necessary inlight of the perceived benefits of the program. For instance, thereare studies that have confirmed that the TSA spends $200 millionannually on SPOT but also that the consequent benefits of thisspending are minimal if not totally absent (Edwards, 2014, n.p).Therefore, the outcomes of this study will be crucial in providinginformation on the economic sustainability of the SPOT program basedon the identified mechanisms through which the program works and theassociated efficiency of the program.


Thisstudy seeks to address the following research questions:

  1. How effective is the passenger screening through the use of nonverbal behaviors?

  2. Is it advisable that the TSA limit funding for behavior detection?

  3. Is there any alternative and effective mechanism for criminal detection at airports?


Bythe end of the study, this paper should be able to address thefollowing objectives:

  1. To assess the efficacy of passenger screening using non-verbal behaviors

  2. To determine if the TSA should limit funding for the SPOT program

  3. To provide recommendations on a possible (viable) mechanism of criminal detection at airports


Giventhe controversy that TSA’s SPOT program has drawn in the past fewyears, this study seeks to ascertain if the TSA should reduce thespending on its SPOT program by evaluating the efficiency of theprogram and its perceived costs against the benefits. The rest of thepaper is organized as follows.

  1. Literature Review: This is the second part of the paper that provides a review of the theoretical and empirical literature on the efficacy of using behavioral science in detecting criminals. Studies that have assessed the efficiency of the SPOT program in particular, including GAO and TSA reports will be very critical to this part. The review of the literature yields the study hypotheses.

  2. Methodology: This part of the study presents the approaches that will be used to achieve the study objectives. It provides a description of the instruments used in data collection and analysis.

  3. Results: This part presents the study outcomes and a brief discussion of such outcomes relating them to theory and empirical outcomes of previous studies.

  4. Conclusion: The final part of the report that presents the general outcomes of the study and provides recommendations based on the outcomes discussed in the preceding section of the report.


Thissection of the report provides a review of both theoretical andempirical literature on the efficacy of using non-verbal behaviordetection techniques in identifying criminals. This part of thereport is divided into two sections: Theoretical Literature Reviewand Empirical Literature Review.

TheoreticalLiterature Review

Humanaction is a structured process that is a culmination of internalthoughts and can be predicted using certain approaches in what isreferred to as the identity thesis (Goldman, 2015, p. 2). Thissection analyzes some of the theories of identifying human behaviorsdiscussing their significance to the endeavor of this paper.

TheTheory of Planned Behavior (TPB) and Theory of Reasoned Action

IcekAjzen proposed the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) in 1985 as animprovement to the predictive power of the theory of reasoned actionsince the TPB takes into account the perceived behavioral control inpredicting human actions. This theory proposes that an individual’sattitude towards a behavior, perceived behavioral structures andsubjective norms determine an individual’s behavioral intentionsand by extension, behaviors (Ajzen, 2011, p. 438 Cornally, 2014, p.69 Infinedo, 2012, p. 83-95). In this theory, human action isdetermined by the individual’s evaluation of the possibleconsequences of the planned action together with the subjective normsthat comprise the social pressures exerted on an individual as aresult of the expectations of moral action from the society (Morriset al., 2012, p. 5). This theory is relevant to the endeavor of thispaper because of its wide application in predicting behavior andretrospective analysis of individual behavior (Taylor et al., 2006,p. 1-215). The figure below provides a conceptual framework of theTheory of Planned Behavior.

Figure1.0:Theory of Planned Behavior

Source:Munroe et al. (2007), Figure 7

Figure1.0 shows the constructs that structure behavioral intention (wherephysical signs are likely to manifest) before a certain action(behavior) is committed. TPB proposes that an individual willmanifest certain discernible behaviors prior to performing a certainaction that is due to the behavioral intention and behavior.Behavioral intention is a key concept of this theory that refers toan individual’s readiness to undertake a certain action. As forbehavior, Ajzen posited that the behaviors exhibited by individualsprior to committing certain actions depend on the compatibility ofperceptions and intentions and any diversion manifests in physicallyobservable signs (Ajzen, 2011, p. 438-440). According to Morris etal. (2012), the Theory of Planned Behavior and the Theory of Reasonedaction can be used to predict individual behavior to a probability ofbetween 20 and 30% (p. 5). This theory is significant to the endeavorof this paper because it proposes that individual behavior can bepredicted due to the behavioral intention which can cause animbalance in the cognitive processes of human beings as a result ofthe diversion of the planned behavior from the social (subjective)norms. The form of “internal discomfort” that may be occasionedby failure to reconcile the planned action with the societal normsmay cause individuals to behave abnormally therefore, exhibitcertain actions that may be detected by BDOs in the SPOT program.

PsychosocialTraits and Criminality Theory

Thisis an umbrella theory proposing a positive and significantcorrelation between certain personality traits and crime. In thisframework, it is proposed that there are certain specific personalitytraits (characteristics) that are often manifested by criminals `muchas it remains controversial whether these characteristics arenaturally present in criminals (Lyman &amp Potter, 2007, p. 63).This theory is significant to the objectives of the current studysince it focuses on individual’s personality traits, intelligenceand temperament (Walsh, 2006, p. 170), all of which can be observedusing certain specific abnormal (or suspicious) behaviors as is thecase with the SPOT program. Moreover, this theory proposes thatcriminal activities can be detected by observing certain elements ofpersonality, intelligence or temperament that are typical ofcriminals. This is especially possible since the theory outlines thelikely constructs of individuals that may be observable in predictingcriminal activities such as mood (sad/ happy), activity level, effect(warm/ cold), sociability and reactivity (excitable/ calm) (Walsh,2006, p. 174). The theory proposes that identifying psychopaths(potential criminals) requires one to look for callous and hedonisticindividuals. Moreover, such individuals often exhibit emotionalimmaturity, a relentless effort to justify their mistakes and displaya lack of sound judgment (Lyman &amp Potter, 2007, p. 63).Essentially, this theory proposes that criminal activities can bepredicted by checking out for certain specific actions indicative ofcriminal minds. Using this theory to discern criminals from innocentpersons is a situation that calls for a delicate balance betweenisolating the characteristics typical of criminals andinstantaneously provoked traits. The major weakness of this theory isthat it assumes that criminals cannot divert from the physicallyobservable traits inherent in the nature of their personalities.

TheLabeling Theory

Thistheory of criminology that was very prominent in the 1960s. Itproposes that the probability of individuals to commit a crime isdetermined by the self-identity attached to them by the society. Inthis framework, deviance (read criminal activities) depends on thetendency of the majority in a society to negatively label theminority as not conforming to the standard norms of the society. Moreaptly, specific individuals or groups of individuals labelednegatively usually develop some kind of a stigma that alters anindividual’s social identity and self-concept. With respect to theendeavor of this paper, this theory is significant because itadvances that when certain groups in a society are labeled ascriminals, they are likely to commit a crime as a form of aself-fulfilling prophecy. Intuitively, the labeling theory prescribesthat criminal activities in the society can be prevented if thesociety avoids social shaming and negative stereotypes directed atother groups in the society. This mechanism of crime prevention asprescribed by the theory requires any form of moral indignationmanifest in the society to be replaced by the tolerance of eachother. According to the labeling theory, individuals who associate acertain undesirable label with some sections of the society are veryunlikely to change their perceptions of such individuals (Crossman,2015, n.p). Similarly, the “labeled” individuals also find theirvictim status irreversible (Kennedy, 2002, p. 237). The essence ofthis statement in the current report is to provide an explanation(though partial) of the reported cases of bias towards Muslimpassengers who most behavior detection officers (BDOs) have alwaysassociated with terrorist activities. Moreover, given that a meager1% of the 30, 000 individuals referred for secondary screening inSPOT annually are found guilty and guilty for drug possession andother crimes other than terrorism (Dickerson, 2015, n.p), thepossible explanation for the small percentage of criminals (out ofthe passengers referred for secondary screening) could be due to thisbias. The logical application of the labeling theory of criminologyto the US airports by the TSA officers would imply screening forpassengers along stereotypes of criminology but at the same timetaking into account the fact that most stereotypes have no scientific(empirical) basis. Nonetheless, since the theory proposes that the“label” attached to a particular group (or individual) to asociety determines their actions, the theory’s implication fornon-verbal behavior detection techniques employed in the SPOT programis clear. Stereotyped individuals (potential criminals), whensubjected to any form of security screening, will always struggle tomaintain consistency in their feelings of self-worth. It is in thisstruggle to balance between conformity and self-identity as imposedby the society that is likely to manifest in certain “suspicious”behaviors that may be picked up by BDOs. It is important to note atthis point, however, that such behaviors may or may not be apredictor of criminal activities. This theory is strong for itscomprehensiveness concerning the likely causes of individuals tocommit a crime and for its provisions on how the society can preventcriminal activities. The theory, by identifying the role ofstereotypes in causing criminal activities therefore, a factorconsidered by criminal detection officers provides insight into thefew cases of criminals identified from large samples referred forsecondary screening.

TheLifestyle Theory of Criminology

GlenWalters, a renowned American psychologist proposed this theory ofvictimology. The theory proposes that criminal behavior is astructured pattern of life characterized by discernible constructs ofirresponsibility, impulsiveness, negative interpersonal relationshipsand impulsiveness (Walsh, 2006, p. 184-185). According to GlenWalters, criminal activity is a function of the interaction betweenpersonality traits of criminals and the environmental factors. Thistheory focuses more on the underlying patterns of criminal thinkingrather than how such patterns come to be created. The theory can beconceived in light of its three fundamental tenets of explainingcriminal activities namely choice,conditionsand cognition(Walters, 1994, p. 159-182). By choice,Walters implies that criminal activities begin when criminals makethe decision to commit crime, decisions that are influenced byexperience and environmental forces. The conditionsunder which criminals make decisions are mostly based on the level ofIQ and impulsiveness. The third construct, cognition, implies theadaptive techniques that individuals acquire because of theenvironmental circumstances that confronted them in the precedingstage of crime commission. This theory is very significant to theobjectives of this study since the theory proposes that in theidentification of criminals, there are certain attributes that shouldbe screened for in passengers. The behaviors include “rulebreaking, interpersonal intrusiveness (intruding into the lives ofothers when not wanted), self-indulgence and irresponsibility”(Walsh, 2006, p. 185). In essence, the lifestyle theory ofcriminology prescribes that non-verbal behavior detection can beemployed to discern criminals at public spaces.

EmpiricalLiterature Review

Researchershave conducted several empirical studies concerning the efficacy ofusing behavioral science techniques in identifying criminals.Additionally, there are specific studies that have been conducted toassess particularly the efficacy of the SPOT program and TSA spendingon the program since its implementation in US airports by theDepartment of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2003. According to Edwards(2014), TSA spends an outrageous $200 million annually on the SPOTprogram despite the inconclusiveness of studies examining theefficacy of the program in identifying terrorists. The concernsaround the use of the program by TSA have majorly been shaped by thefindings of empirical studies on the efficacy of using behavioralscience in identifying terrorists. Empirical studies have establishedthat in general, the psychology of terrorism mostly comprises theoryand opinions rather than empirical evidence making it difficult toimplement terrorist identification strategies that are objective andreliable (DeAngelis, 2009, n.p). Better still, there are studies thatare skeptical about the use of behavioral techniques as well as othermechanisms of identifying terrorism. Such studies have delved intoexamining what we in common parlances conceive as “terroristpersonality” and interesting outcomes have been obtained. Accordingto Borum (2004), using behavioral science or other mechanisms ofidentifying criminals is inherently ineffective because “there isno terrorist personality” and that there is neither an accurateprofile that can denote a terrorist (Borum, 2004, p. 3). According toGPO (2011), there is no scientific consensus as to whether behaviordetection principles are appropriate for use in counterterrorismespecially since there has never been a behavioral detectionmechanism that have ever been validated (p. 4). However, there arestudies that have also noted the inconclusive nature of research onthe behavioral science-terrorism nexus but as much registered theneed for an integrative approach. For instance, it some of theearliest studies in the discipline proposed that the efforts toidentify criminals should be influenced by both scientific knowledge,empathy and other broad concerns (Schmideberg, 1947, p. 476). Thepropositions of these studies seem to recognize that just like anyaspect of human beings crime (terrorism) is an abstract andsubjective construct of individuals for which there can never be auniversal approach to identify.

Behavioralscience has however identified certain specific actions resultingfrom different emotional and psychological states that are associatedwith constructs of crime such as violent intent and deception (Daviset al., 2013, p. 23). However, much as literature materials haveidentified such behaviors as predictors of criminal activity thereare studies that question the probability with which such actions canbe manifested by potential terrorists. There are researchers whocontend that criminals are also aware that their psychological andemotional states are likely to manifest physically in theirnon-verbal cues and will, therefore, act in a manner to conceal suchsigns (Kocsis, 2009, p. 97). The literature on crime behavioralpsychology lay a greater emphasis on the role of internal andexternal conditions within which criminals find themselves. Moststudies seem to propose that the environment (condition) is the mostsignificant factor that determines whether the internal states of acriminal will manifest physically therefore, enable the detection ofsuch criminals. To this extent, two broad factors have been found tobe precisely crucial in enabling detection of criminals usingnon-verbal techniques namely, an individual’s self-control (extentof vulnerability to conditional temptations) and crime opportunity(Longshore et al., 1996, p. 209). However, such studies have oftenbeen refuted based on the stability of the identified constructs ashuman constructs. Additionally, there is the ever-persistent concernof whether such characteristics will manifest in a similar manner toall criminals.

Inmost empirical literature materials, detection of criminals is mostlymanifested by deception especially when certain individuals arereferred for secondary screening. Studies have investigated thepossibility that criminals can experience effective processes andstill conceal them (GPO, 2011, p. 75). Empirical studies have furtherinvestigated the reliability and validity of micro-expressions bysuspected criminals observing that innocent individuals can manifestsome of the outlined characteristics of “typical criminals.” Themost common finding of most empirical studies is to the effect thatthere is no common personality profile that fits all terrorists, mostof who appear to be normal and that terrorists are sane rather thaninsane people (Borum, 2007, p. 3). The use of technology as asupplement to the effort of detecting criminals at airports has alsobeen studied. Such studies have proposed the use of technologies suchas electroencephalography (EEG) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)to enable the detection of changes in brain processes associated withfeelings, thoughts and behaviors of individuals (GPO, 2011, p. 7).The approaches that entail the use of technology can also be employedin the detection of criminals through investigations since lying isconsidered to be more difficult than telling the truth and as suchresults in a more cognitive load that manifests in individuals in theform of nervousness (Kocsis, 2009, p. 97). Reviewing most empiricalstudies show that criminals usually experience certain specificinternal process than mostly result due to the incompatibility of thesubjective norms and their behavioral intention. A further analysisof such literature, however, fails to provide the exact mechanismsthrough which such internal “discomfort” results in the behaviorsthat can be physically observed. Additionally, literature shows thateven if such internal processes and changes in brain functioning ofcriminals were to manifest physically as hypothesized, they would notmanifest uniformly and in the same degree in all criminals thusmaking the detection of criminals using non-verbal techniques asophisticated procedure that calls for an integrative mechanism basedon both science and subjective approaches.

Screeningof Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) Program by TSA

TheSPOT program has attracted a lot of research attention as anon-verbal behavior detection technique with some empirical studiesportraying it as grossly inefficient. Moreover, correlational studieshave been conducted seeking to assess if there is any relationshipbetween the funding for the program and its perceived benefits. Anempirical report of 400 surveys by the Government AccountabilityOffice (GAO) noted several problems with the program even concludingthat the program was deployed without any scientific validation (GAO,2013, n.p). The TSA uses the SPOT program alongside other normalscreening techniques to screen for “high risk” individuals as anextra security measure in U.S airports (Mock, 2009, p. 216). Casestudies have also been undertaken to evaluate the efficacy of SPOTprogram and the results have been presented to various policy centersand legislative bodies like the GPO report presented to the Congresssubcommittee on investigations and oversight on April 6, 2011. Thereport showed that TSA’s SPOT program has clear opportunity coststhat had to be taken into account. For instance, it was found thatfor every single BDO employed, there is a security staff not lookingat the x-ray of baggage, a security analyst not employed and probablyno air marshal in the sky. Moreover, the report showed that theprogram’s implementation had raised serious security and privacyconcerns other than the foundation of the science behind it (GPO,2011, p. 18). Another phenomenal report released by the GovernmentAccountability Office (GAO) in May 2010 also showed grossincompetence at TSA especially with regards to the implementation ofthe SPOT program. The report indicated that TSA was facing manychallenges in implementing the non-verbal behavior identificationprogram. Failing to use the resources at its disposal to utilizeinformation collected from passengers by BDOs was found to be onegreat undoing of the TSA. The report showed that the TransportationSystem Operations Center of TSA had the capacity to investigate thethreats to the aviation sector but did not utilize the intelligenceand law enforcement databases for necessary information to initiatethe investigations. Additionally, it was found that the traininggiven to the BDOs was not adequate and that there were some BDOs wholacked fundamental skills required to input information on suspiciouscriminals into TSA databases for security analysis (GAO, 2010, p. 1).Additionally, empirical research also shows that the TSA shouldemploy cognitive task analysis to structure a high levelorganizational cognitive task assessment to understand the BDOsprofessional life cycles and make them more competent (Kittinger &ampBender, 2015, n.p).

In2011, the Government Accountability Office conducted a similar surveyto that of the previous year to evaluate the competencies of TSA’sSPOT program. The 2011 report provided much more positive results andan overall expansion of the program. By 2011, TSA had employed BDO’sin 161 airports across the United States in a fiscal year when theDHS funded the SPOT project at a cost of about $211.9 million andrequested a further $232 million for the same program to buildcapacity by sustaining 3,350 behavior detection officers (GAO, 2011,p. 1). Essentially, the SPOT program looked to be picking up withmore BDOs being employed utilization of information collected fromsuspicious passengers and increased use of strategically positionedcameras in the TSA controlled airports. However, despite the notableprogress, the program required more funds yet TSA had not providedthe scientific validation for its SPOT program as requested by GAO in2010. The 2011 report can be conceived as an evaluation report thatportrayed a controversial program on the rise despite the necessityfor its validation. What lacked grossly in the SPOT program by TSAwas the drive behind the program’s expansion across the UnitedStates. Moreover, the TSA had posited that the initiative was basedon scientific knowledge at the time of the program’s incubation.TSA also stated that at the time, there was an urgent need for amechanism that would enable security officers to cope with theevolving nature of terrorism in which terrorists resorted to takingover the airplane itself rather than using items as was the casebefore. This new style of terrorism was best evident in the September11 attack.

In2013, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released yet anotherinsightful report after evaluating the SPOT program. The key outcomeof the report that led to its recommendation to DHS to cut fundingfor the SPOT program was that the existing empirical evidence did notprovide adequate support to the extent that behavioral indicators canbe relied upon to detect aviation security threats, as is the case inthe SPOT program (GAO, 2013, p. 15). The report also revealed thatTSA lacked adequate information to assess the efficacy of itsbehavior detection activities since the information provided in theprevious year were inconclusive owing to some methodologicalweaknesses (p. 30). The GAO report concluded that from 2007, the SPOTprogram had made significant progress noting that the total fundingfor the program between 2007 and 2013 was approximately $900 million.However, despite the outrageous spending on the project over thefive-year period, GAO noted the TSA was yet to demonstrate that theadopted behavioral indicators could be used reliably to detecthigh-risk passengers. The 2013 report is particularly significant tothis paper since it investigated the sustainability of the SPOTprogram expressing concerns that the mechanisms adopted by TSA toprovide scientific backing for the SPOT program was an undertakingthat required massive resources as well (p. 47). The implications ofsuch a finding for the program sustainability cannot be mistaken.First, the program has already been funded to the tune of about $900million for five years despite the fact that it was not founded onany scientific facts thereby making it a very risky and anuncollateralized venture. Better still, in order to collect thenecessary information to provide a scientific validation, the programrequires yet more resources making it a very expensive venture sinceadditional capital is required to maintain the BDOs as well as sunkcosts in the disguise of research and validation expenses. It isimportant to note at this point that pursuing scientific validationfor an ongoing project is bound to be a very expensive andchallenging venture especially if the outcomes of such a validationsurvey do not favor the project. The report made a conclusion to theeffect that since the SPOT program had been in operation for aboutten years (since 2003) and had not provided any scientific validationindicating that the behavioral traits relied upon by the programcould be used to detect terrorists with a reasonable probability. Itwas, therefore, necessary for the DHS to reduce funding for theprogram (GAO, 2013, p. 47). This recommendation is reaffirmed byGAO’s policy concerning defense and advanced research projects,which require that technical projects be anchored on rigorousresearch in order to achieve clearly defined technical goals (GAO,2015, n.p).

Insummary, a review of theoretical and empirical literature bothsupport the premise that criminal activities are a form of deviancefrom the subjective norms of the society and that it is this deviancethat structures an internal discomfort in criminals that can manifestin certain observable behaviors. Environmental factors have beenfound to play a key role in this processes much as is the case withcognitive process. The empirical surveys of the efficacy of the SPOTprogram by TSA reveal that the program has achieved considerablesuccess over the past 12 years that it has been in operation onlythat the costs of the program by far supersede its perceivedbenefits.


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