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Think Twice Before Frowning In The Security Line

There are some things business travelers just shouldn't do. Tug on Superman's cape, Spit into the wind. Pull the mask off the ol' Lone Ranger. And you don't mess around with the Transportation Security Administration, more fondly known by its acronym, TSA, which some wags insist stands for Touching Sensitive Areas.Don't frown. I mean, it's OK to frown at Totally Spurious Acronyms (TSA); please just don't do it in front of the real TSA.

Why not? you may ask. It's simply because in security lines the act of frowning is, well, frowned upon—this according to a recent eFlyer-Intelligence story at Global Traveler USA online, which notes that the TSA is now monitoring passenger behavior—yes, including facial expressions. Start practicing your best Chauncey Gardiner pose.

In so doing, the TSA invested a few taxpayer dollars in coining one of the most memorable job descriptions to come out of any federal agency: "behavioral indicator officers." Might this be an indicator of things to come? These officers — shall we call them BIOs? — are, according to news reports, now in face-saving mode at 161 airports across the Land of the Free and Home of the Naked Scanners.

BTW—if you wondered, the TSA has 486 of the millimeter wave and backscatter imagers in operation at 78 airports. Meantime, there is a move afoot in Congress to stop deploying these devices, which many consider an invasion of personal liberty. Some also worry about the radiation dosage that the x-ray backscatter devices deliver.

All of this would cause me to frown too. But never in an airport.

That's because in the security line, in proximity to the intrepid BIOs, looks count. Imagine getting hauled away because you grimaced at the guy groping you. Remember, you are your smile. So ladies, check your mascara. Careful of the eyeliner. Add more blush. (Is it me, or has the TSA given a whole new meaning to the term "face time"?)

Fortunately, the security folks have stepped in with yet another acronym that encapsulates this new procedure: SPOT, for Screening Passengers by Observation Technique. I kid you not. I mean, do the feds derive a Misplaced Achievement Nerdiness In All Caps, or what?

And the acronym for that of course would be MANIAC.

Of course, most business travelers have long taken comfort in the fact that any TSA agent worth his salt knows what they're looking at when they see your "draw," i.e., your well-honed technique for laying out your possessions on the baggage conveyer belt. Methinks that very few terrorists can pull out their laptop, pop out their three-ounce bottles, strip off their belt, flip off their shoes, and stash their watch in their jacket pocket with the practiced polish of a true road warrior. (And wouldn't only a bona fide road warrior know that the TSA now requires that shoes must be placed on the belt, not in a bin?)

But let not your hearts be troubled. AOL Travel's Kate Auletta offers this advice on how you and I can avoid face time jail time: "Be wary of seeming too cocky or verbally express displeasure with long lines. Don't look fearful or impatient." Frankly, I find this a bit preposterous, as do many road warriors. In fact, I think I feel a scowl coming on.

Business travelers have enough challenges already. Adding to the insecurity of the security line is just one more hurdle we'll have to deal with. Adding to the downside of the TSA's move to adopt behavioral detection is that it may start popping up elsewhere in our business lives. As USA Today's Thomas Frank points out, "The technique could be used in anything from interrogations to job interviews." Perfect.

Ironically, despite all of the taxpayer dollars lavished on it, despite all the infringements on personal liberties ceded to it, the TSA does not exactly possess a sterling record when it comes to detecting subsequent terror suspects. Recently, Stephen M. Lord, director of homeland security and justice issues at the GAO (that would be the Government Accountability Office), testified to the House Science Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight that the TSA botched at least 23 occasions to stop 16 people who boarded planes at U.S. airports and were later charged with or pleaded guilty to terrorism offenses.

Doubly ironically, those 16 terror folks evaded detection at SPOT-equipped U.S. airports. SPOT has been in the testing phase since 2003, with the SPOT program costing $212 million in fiscal 2010.

Thankfully, I think we invented an acronym for this long before we invented the TSA. Yet, like former acronyms RADIO, SCUBA, and RADAR, we no longer capitalize the word that is SPOT-on: snafu.

Road Warrior • Miami • Madrid • • Twitter: @tentofortysix

[Front Image: FLickr user kalleboo]

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