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Fewer Than 1% Arrested From TSA's "Behavior Detection" 412

Posted by kdawson
from the department-of-funny-walks dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Fewer than 1% of airline passengers singled out at airports using the much vaunted 'suspicious behavior detection' techniques are arrested, Transportation Security Administration figures show. The TSA program, launched in early 2006, looks for terrorists using a controversial surveillance method based on behavior detection and has led to more than 160,000 people in airports receiving scrutiny, such as a pat-down search or a brief interview. It has resulted in only 1,266 arrests, often on charges of carrying drugs or fake IDs, the TSA said. The TSA has not publicly said whether it has caught a terrorist through the program." In related news, the odds of sanity coming to the TSA plummeted today when Schneier said he's not interested in the top job there.
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Fewer Than 1% Arrested From TSA's "Behavior Detection"

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  • by cosmocain (1060326) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @09:04AM (#25816019)
    Not all flying things are ducks.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by n3tcat (664243)
      Flying toasters... the next step in mobil improvised explosive device technology.
    • by bondsbw (888959)
      It is not publicly said whether any flying things are ducks.
    • seems to me (Score:5, Insightful)

      by thermian (1267986) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @09:56AM (#25816455)

      The summary used a lot of words to say it doesn't work. Not that they'll stop using it unless they are made to. Honestly, all this 'using a Buick to swat a fly nonsense has to end sometime.

      The thing is, if you know your entering a country that starts off on the assumption your probably a terrorist, that doesn't make people relax.

      Personally I find airports immensely stressful, seriously so, to the point that I take the train if at all possible. Flying is bearable, but all that waiting around in the airport buying overpriced coffee and getting 'approved as terror free' is a deeply unpleasant experience.

      • by compro01 (777531) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @10:54AM (#25817345)

        Honestly, all this 'using a Buick to swat a fly nonsense has to end sometime.

        Why end it? It's likely helping keep GM afloat.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by PMuse (320639)

        The summary used a lot of words to say it doesn't work.

        What do you mean, it doesn't work?!! They caught 1266 criminals!!! Of course they can't reveal whether they caught any terrorists--that would endanger job^H^H^H national security!!!!

  • by bjackson1 (953136) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @09:09AM (#25816047)

    If you were convinced that you were morally right and upholding 'God's Law' would you really act suspiciously? Those who act suspicious know what they are doing is wrong.

    Terrorism is a different animal all together from faking IDs and drug carrying.

    • by Jellybob (597204)

      Those who act suspicious know what they are doing is wrong.

      Not necessarily. Most people look worried while walking through a security check, because they don't want to be the person who gets pulled out of the line, one of the tests used is apparently to look for people who look to confident.

  • by LighterShadeOfBlack (1011407) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @09:14AM (#25816083) Homepage

    How does that figure compare to random searches? Without that figure for comparison it's completely pointless saying "OMGZ TSA FAIL" because nobody ever claimed that everyone stopped would be arrested. If it gets higher arrests than random searches what's the problem?

    • by fotbr (855184)

      The problem is that it is still security theatre, and there were still 150k+ people wrongly harassed because of this policy.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        "Harassed"? Harassed how exactly? They were searched. Everyone gets searched every time they get on a plane. My hand luggage goes through a scanner, I walk through a metal detector, have I been harassed? Several times I've been taken aside and patted down too, was that harassment?

        I'm wondering where valid searches stop and this "harassment" you speak of starts. Is it being taken into a room? A finger down my throat? A finger up my arse? I might agree with you when we get to those last couple, but are those

        • by HungryHobo (1314109) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @10:29AM (#25816863)

          So you wouldn't mind if police pulled up to you every now and then on the street to pat you down, pass a metal detector over you, let the sniffer dog check you.
          And if every few months they knocked on your door and searched your home in a similar manner?
          If 1% of such searches turn something up it's fine right?

        • by Rob the Bold (788862) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @10:35AM (#25816971)

          "Harassed"? Harassed how exactly? They were searched. Everyone gets searched every time they get on a plane. My hand luggage goes through a scanner, I walk through a metal detector, have I been harassed? Several times I've been taken aside and patted down too, was that harassment?

          Inconvenienced, insulted, accused, annoyed. Take your pick. I do find being searched demeaning. It's all harassment. Therefore, I would like as little of it as possible. As a feeling animal, I seek pleasure and avoid pain. Clearly, not everyone is equally annoyed by these things. Perhaps some are just Authoritarian Personality Types. Perhaps some feel the tradeoff is "worth it".

          I don't agree that the tradeoff is worth it, so I feel harassed every time I fly. I'm not the only one. So before anyone asks, yes, I'd rather see hundreds of planes in flames and the establishment of a Caliphate and I'm gonna marry a carrot.

    • by Boogaroo (604901)

      If it gets higher arrests than random searches what's the problem?

      Because, even if it is higher, it's still 99% wrong.
      Would you consider a 99% false positive rate on traffic stops to be "acceptable?"

    • by TripMaster Monkey (862126) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @09:24AM (#25816179)

      If it gets higher arrests than random searches what's the problem?

      Because this program was supposed to find terrorists, not people with fake IDs or people trying to sneak a couple of ounces through security.

      If some villagers are mauled by a tiger, and I promise to catch the tigers, and I implement a system of nets and snares around the village, and I don't catch any tigers, then I have failed to keep my promise, regardless of how many snakes and wild boars I do catch.

      • If some villagers are mauled by a tiger, and I promise to catch the tigers, and I implement a system of nets and snares around the village, and I don't catch any tigers, then I have failed to keep my promise, regardless of how many snakes and wild boars I do catch.

        If there haven't been any tiger attacks in the whole time the net has been up then there's no basis to say that it has been a success or a failure. You might even claim that the absence of attacks is a result of the nets being put up and therefore they have been a success.

        Now, I ask you: How many terrorist attacks have there been on planes since this system was put in place?

        Note that I'm not saying it actually has been a success, I'm saying I see no example of it having failed and I don't see how some rando

        • by TripMaster Monkey (862126) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @09:41AM (#25816315)

          If there haven't been any tiger attacks in the whole time the net has been up then there's no basis to say that it has been a success or a failure.

          Well, that's a relief. I thought you were going to point to the absence of attacks as some sort of proof that this system is working, despite the complete lack of any definitive evidence, like arrests.

          You might even claim that the absence of attacks is a result of the nets being put up and therefore they have been a success.

          Now, I ask you: How many terrorist attacks have there been on planes since this system was put in place?

          Oh my...looks like I spoke too soon.

          On a related note, if you're worried about tiger attacks, you can borrow my tiger repelling rock. It, like the snares, doesn't actually catch tigers, but it's guaranteed to keep them away. I myself haven't so much as seen a tiger since I began carrying it.

          Note that I'm not saying it actually has been a success,

          No, but you're certainly insinuating it rather loudly...

          I'm saying I see no example of it having failed

          As I made clear above, the complete lack of any terrorism related arrests clearly spell out the failure of this program. Either the terrorists are there, and are not being caught, or they aren't there at all, in which case the program is pointless...assuming, of course, that "capture of terrorists" was its actual goal...

        • by pla (258480) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @09:41AM (#25816319) Journal
          Now, I ask you: How many terrorist attacks have there been on planes since this system was put in place?

          True, but that little or nothing to do with the TSA. You see, I have this "anti-terrorist" rock I found a few years ago, and as long as I give it a lucky pat before bed every night, it keeps the entire US safe.
          • I suggest you read the rest of my post before responding next time. I made it abundantly clear that the lack of terrorist wasn't proof of success, merely that it meant the absence of terrorist arrests was not proof of failure.

            • I suggest you read the rest of my post before responding next time. I made it abundantly clear that the lack of terrorist wasn't proof of success, merely that it meant the absence of terrorist arrests was not proof of failure.

              I'm still not clear, are you saying his rock works, or just that we can't be sure it's failed?

      • by SirGarlon (845873)

        Because this program was supposed to find terrorists, not people with fake IDs or people trying to sneak a couple of ounces through security.

        I don't think it was ever supposed to catch terrorists; that was just a pretext to set up a dragnet without that pesky Bill of Rights getting in the way.

      • by ebuck (585470) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @12:10PM (#25818595)

        Right, the true numbers should be:

        160,000 people searched under the new anti-terrorist behaviour screening, 0 terrorists found. 1,200 arrests made for completely non-terrorist activity.

        This doesn't indicate a ~1% success rate, it indicates a 100% failure rate; no terrorists were found.

        Perhaps there are no terrorists to find, perhaps there are; but in either case, this method has found to be a complete failure over a sample size of 160,000 individuals.

    • Actually, IMHO it's not as clear-cut as you claim. The summary (no, I didn't RTFA) says 1300 arrests from 160.000 "incidents", but not how many of those arrests were terrorist-related. Assuming that say 10 of those arrests were terrorists (a high number, I know) - THAT would be the number to compare to random screenings. After all, DHS doesn't exist to arrest college kids carrying a bong, is it? The effectiveness should be measured by how much safer it has actually made us, i.e. how many terrorists it has s

      • After all, DHS doesn't exist to arrest college kids carrying a bong, is it?

        You're not too far off, dude. DHS exists to keep the American public in a constant state of fear so we'll comply with whatever asinine, insane laws our masters want to push on us. If that requires arresting college kids carrying a bong, so be it. /half-hearted response //coffee hasn't kicked in yet... please excuse me.

    • by cp.tar (871488)

      Do you think someone could get the TSA perform random searches based on a d20 die roll? On a 1, you get searched, on a 20, you get smiled at and let through. In-between rolls just get you through, with no smile unless you also sport a nice pair of boobs.
      This idea was, of course, invented by Shampoo.

    • I suspect a purely random search of people would actually result in a higher arrest rate - they'd likely find more people with drugs or whatever if they just rolled the dice and every time they rolled a 20 they searched a person. Of course, I have nothing to support that opinion so feel free to ignore it, but 1%? Come on. That's pathetically low.
  • by pla (258480) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @09:15AM (#25816087) Journal
    The TSA has not publicly said whether it has caught a terrorist through the program

    Of course not - That would presume the TSA (and DHS in general) actually has the goal of stopping terrorists.

    Don't make the mistake of taking their name and stated goals literally. The DHS exists solely for the purpose of keeping the US populace in fear, making us easier to control and more tolerant of increasingly draconian laws relating to "security". For proof, you need look no further than how well FEMA (once an actually useful agency) has handled various disasters since they got sucked into the DHS... Or for that matter, the TSA's record at catching weapons carried by various reporters.

    The second amendment grows increasingly relevant to our society every day... And not for protection from dark-skinned foreigners, but the real "terrorists" running our country and our world.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Aladrin (926209)

      Last I heard, they had -not- ever caught a terrorist with these methods or even random searches. It is only an inconvenience to the customer.

      This is partly because there just aren't that many terrorists out there, but mainly because the tactics are useless against people that know the tactics... And you know the tactics if you've ever flown. Or talked to someone who has.

      Instead of harassing the customers, they could pay a couple armed guards to sit on every flight and things would go smoother all around.

      • by Ioldanach (88584)

        Instead of harassing the customers, they could pay a couple armed guards to sit on every flight and things would go smoother all around. And actually have a chance at stopping the terrorists that get by.

        You mean like air marshals [officer.com]?

        "Police reports, court records, internal memos and e-mails indicate that air marshals have been convicted of bribery, bank fraud and abducting a hired escort while on layover. They've slept on planes and lost diplomatic documents on a whiskey-tasting trip in Scotland."

    • by v1 (525388) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @09:56AM (#25816467) Homepage Journal

      The TSA has not publicly said whether it has caught a terrorist through the program

      That actually speaks volumes. You can bet your last penny that if they had caught anyone they could paint as a "terrorist", it'd be like their poster child and would be all over the media, "see, THIS is why you need us! This is why we NEED to make flying total hell and have you take off your shoes and strip down at the airport every time!"

      Since we haven't seen any examples, it's very safe to assume there are none.

      I'm sure it'll happen eventually. Either they''ll genuinely identify a terrorist, or will get lucky. Then the media will have a field day and we'll really be stuck with it. Here's to hoping they don't get lucky in time before enough public inertia gathers to dump them on the curb.

      • "public inertia gathers to dump them on the curb."

        When has public displeasure ever resulted in a government program getting dumped?

        Sure, we got out of Vietnam, and you may argue that public opposition had a lot to do with it, but the exact same programs are now active in Iraq.

    • by JPLemme (106723)

      I completely disagree. The purpose of FEMA, DHS, security screenings, etc is NOT to keep people in fear, but to keep them feeling safe and secure in the knowledge (?!) that their government is working hard (?!) to protect them from the bad guys (!?).

      It reminds me of an old episode of Yes, Prime Minister regarding Trident submarines for the UK. The purpose of the subs isn't to protect the UK from the Soviets--the Soviets already know that the Britain can't defend herself. It's to make the British people BELI

  • by usul294 (1163169) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @09:29AM (#25816213)
    How many people that get pulled out of the metal detector line actually get arrested? Its the same basic idea as this system, see a sensor reading that potentially represents something harmful, pull them out of line, check to see what's going on, keep going.
  • by squoozer (730327) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @09:50AM (#25816387)

    This is just another case of statistics being used to try to manipulate the story. Saying that this detection method only managed about a 1% arrest rate is meaningless unless we also know what the arrest rate was with previous / other methods. If other methods were only achieving 0.1% then this is fantastic improvement.

    On a more personal note though I think any technique that can only manage a 1% success rate probably needs scrapping. There are obviously far to many false positives for the system to be trusted and of course you can't count the number of false negatives. The fact that it was specifically brought into catch terrorists and it would seem it hasn't succeeded speaks even worse of it (I imagine if they had caught a terrorist they would be shouting it from the roof tops).

    • How is arrest rate a valid statistic to consult regarding effectiveness of ANY security system?

      "We are now arresting 97% of all passengers detected by this system, usually on unrelated petty charges." == success??

  • Yeah well (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SirGarlon (845873) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @10:04AM (#25816585)

    McCarthyism resulted in less than 1% of the citizens of Hollywood being blacklisted from the movie industry (on hearsay and specious evidence). So that was OK, then?

    Numbers don't matter. Justice matters. What ever happened to "probable cause?"

  • statistical anomaly (Score:4, Informative)

    by sorak (246725) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @10:12AM (#25816675)

    The fact that less than 1% of the people caught were doing something illegal would make sense if we can assume that the vast majority of the people flying are not criminals.

    Let say that the detector was accurate 90% of the time, and 5% of the people who passed through the airport were doing something illegal. If one million people came through that airport, we could assume that:

          1,000,000 people
                50,000 criminals
                        - 45,000 detected
                        - 5,000 not detected

              950,000 innocent people
                        -855,000 not flagged
                        - 95,000 falsely accused

              140,000 people accused
                        - 67.8% are innocent
                        - 32.1% are guilty

    Granted this is just a hypothetical situation, not based on actual statistics, but the example shows how that even a reasonably accurate system can look unreliable when searching for a needle in a haystack.

    Of course issues of fairness and privacy are something else entirely is another issue entirely.

    • by danzona (779560) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @12:10PM (#25818605)
      the example shows how that even a reasonably accurate system can look unreliable when searching for a needle in a haystack.

      I went ahead and read TFA to get the actual numbers: 160,000 flags, 1,266 arrests for a 0.79125% "success" rate.

      Your example illustrates your point well, however there is another possible conclusion. Imagine that 0.79125% of people at airports have drugs or fake IDs (or whatever else people can be arrested for) and the system is a scam and is just randomly selecting people. Then of a random sample of 160,000 people at airports, we would expect 1,266 arrests.
  • by buddyglass (925859) on Wednesday November 19, 2008 @11:00AM (#25817441)

    Have there been any terrorist attacks? No. So they couldn't have stopped actual terrorists "in the act", because there haven't been any.

    To judge whether 1% is actually decent, we'd need to know what percentage of *all travelers* are guilty of the offenses they're arresting the 1% for. If the number for all travelers is, say, 0.001%, then 1% is fairly significant.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mweather (1089505)
      The reason there haven't been any terrorist attacks is because of the terrorist repelling rock every TSA employee keeps in their pocket.

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