Life Hack: How to Avoid Getting Searched at an Airport

In an exclusive from The Intercept (the news agency that brought us the Edward Snowden leaks), an anonymous source from the TSA has disclosed a checklist used for identifying suspicious behavior. While not actually classified information, documents regarding the controversial Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) have been a closely held by the TSA, until now.

Based on a shaky scientific foundation, SPOT uses a checklist system of behavioral cues to weed through the masses in an attempt to catch would-be terrorists. Specially trained Behavior Detection Officers look for gestures that range from completely normal to downright cartoonish.

Arriving late to the terminal, excessive clock watching, sweaty palms and bad body odor can each land you with one stress point on you SPOT Referral Report. Improper attire, wide-open, staring eyes and exaggerated or excessive grooming gestures can get you two “fear factor” points, while appearing confused or disoriented could get you three “deception factor” points.

What else could land you in an interrogation room with Homeland Security? Behavior Detection Officers are trained to look for “whistling as the individual approaches the screening process,” “rubbing or wringing of hands” and for people that “appear to be in disguise;” just in case the Boris Badenov decides to hijack a plane.

Check out the original document for a full list of the ridiculousness.

While the TSA boasts SPOT has led to 1,710 arrests during its first phase from January 2006 through November 2009, critics point out that of the 232,000 people that were pulled aside for further questioning, less than 1% actually led to an arrest. What’s more, these arrests were mostly related to separate criminal activity like outstanding warrants.

According to the Government Accountability Office, TSA officials don’t know whether “the SPOT program has ever resulted in the arrest of anyone who is a terrorist, or who was planning to engage in terrorist-related activity.” Costing more than $900 million and counting since it began, we’re still waiting.

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