The federal government is planning to introduce new behavior detection techniques at airport checkpoints as soon as next month, Transportation Security Administration chief John Pistole said Thursday.
TSA already has “behavior detection officers” at 161 airports nationwide looking for travelers exhibiting physiological or psychological signs that a traveler might be a terrorist. However, Pistole said TSA is preparing to move to an approach that employs more conversation with travelers – a method that has been employed with great success in Israel.
“I’m very much interested in expanding the behavior detection program, upgrading it if you will, in a way that allows us to….have more interaction with a passsenger just from a discussion which may be able to expedite the physical screening aspects,” Pistole said during an appearance at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado. “So, we’ve looked at what works around the world, some outstanding examples and we are planning to do some new things in the near future here.”
Pistole declined to elaborate on the enhanced behavior detection program but said it would “probably” be announced in August. During an on-stage interview with CNN’s Jeanne Meserve, Pistole acknowledged that the Israeli techniques have been carefully examined.
“There’s a lot-under that Israeli model-a lot that is done that is obviously very effective,” he said. However, critics have said the Israeli program is too time consuming to use consistently at U.S. airports and may involve a degree of religious and racial profiling that would draw controversy in the U.S.
Pistole also said TSA is planning to test out some new methods for screening children in the wake of highly-publicized videos of children screaming as they were patted down at airport checkpoints. The TSA chief said adults have used children as suicide bombers before in other contexts and could do so through an airport, but there may still be better ways to screen kids.
“I think we can do a different way of screening children that recognizes that the very high likelihood they do not have a bomb on them,” Pistole said. “I think under our new protocols we would see very few patdowns of children.” Instead, parents would be more involved in the process of helping TSA personnel figure out why a child is setting off alarms.
Pistole said adjusting screening for the elderly is more complicated because a large number of people on terrorist watch and enhanced screening lists are older. However, another pilot program is underway underway to identify people who have traveled very frequently for years and who could get an expedited screening.