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
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
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,
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?)
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
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
Road Warrior •
Miami • Madrid • www.amadeus.com • Twitter: @tentofortysix
[Front Image: FLickr user kalleboo]