Skip to comments.New airport agents check for danger in fliers' facial expressions
Posted on 08/15/2007 7:39:06 AM PDT by Dan Evans
WASHINGTON Next time you go to the airport, there may be more eyes on you than you notice.
Specially trained security personnel are watching body language and facial cues of passengers for signs of bad intentions. The watcher could be the attendant who hands you the tray for your laptop or the one standing behind the ticket-checker. Or the one next to the curbside baggage attendant.
They're called Behavior Detection Officers, and they're part of several recent security upgrades, Transportation Security Administrator Kip Hawley told an aviation industry group in Washington last month. He described them as "a wonderful tool to be able to identify and do risk management prior to somebody coming into the airport or approaching the crowded checkpoint."
The officers are working in more than a dozen airports already, according to Paul Ekman, a former professor at the University of California at San Francisco who has advised Hawley's agency on the program. Amy Kudwa, a TSA public affairs specialist, said the agency hopes to have 500 behavior detection officers in place by the end of 2008.
Kudwa described the effort, which began as a pilot program in 2006, as "very successful" at identifying suspicious airline passengers. She said it had netted drug carriers, illegal immigrants and terrorism suspects. She wouldn't say more.
At the heart of the new screening system is a theory that when people try to conceal their emotions, they reveal their feelings in flashes that Ekman, a pioneer in the field, calls "micro-expressions." Fear and disgust are the key ones, he said, because they're associated with deception.
Behavior detection officers work in pairs. Typically, one officer sizes up passengers openly while the other seems to be performing a routine security duty. A passenger who arouses suspicion, whether by micro-expressions, social interaction or body language gets subtle but more serious scrutiny.
A behavior specialist may decide to move in to help the suspicious passenger recover belongings that have passed through the baggage X-ray. Or he may ask where the traveler's going. If more alarms go off, officers will "refer" the person to law enforcement officials for further questioning.
The strategy is based on a time-tested and successful Israeli model, but in the United States, the scrutiny is much less invasive, Ekman said. American officers receive 16 hours of training far less than their Israeli counterparts_ because U.S. officials want to be less intrusive.
The use of "micro-expressions" to identify hidden emotions began nearly 30 years ago when Ekman and colleague Maureen O'Sullivan began studying videotapes of people telling lies. When they slowed down the videotapes, they noticed distinct facial movements and began to catalogue them. They were flickers of expression that lasted no more than a fraction of a second.
The Department of Homeland Security hopes to dramatically enhance such security practices.
Jay M. Cohen, undersecretary of Homeland Security for Science and Technology, said in May that he wants to automate passenger screening by using videocams and computers to measure and analyze heart rate, respiration, body temperature and verbal responses as well as facial micro-expressions.
Homeland Security is seeking proposals from scientists to develop such technology. The deadline for submissions is Aug. 31.
The system also would be used for port security, special-event screening and other security screening tasks.
It faces high hurdles, however.
Different cultures express themselves differently. Expressions and body language are easy to misread, and no one's catalogued them all. Ekman notes that each culture has its own specific body language, but that little has been done to study each individually in order to incorporate them in a surveillance program.
In addition, automation won't be easy, especially for the multiple variables a computer needs to size up people. Ekman thinks people can do it better. "And it's going to be hard to get machines that are as accurate as trained human beings," Ekman said.
Finally, the extensive data-gathering of passengers' personal information will raise civil-liberties concerns. "If you discover that someone is at risk for heart disease, what happens to that information?" Ekman asked. "How can we be certain that it's not sold to third parties?"
Whether mass-automated security screening will ever be effective is unclear. In Cohen's PowerPoint slide accompanying his aviation industry presentation was this slogan: "Every truly great accomplishment is at first impossible."
"Surveillance 4: Winston thinks about how dangerous it is to allow your thoughts to wander when you are in public or facing the telescreen. Your facial expressions are watched closely and the wrong expression can have dire consequences. For example, looking disbelieving when a victory is announced would be facecrime."
Sounds like we’ve been getting some training from El Al security.
I feel safer already.
| I guess from now on
John will have to get around
on a Greyhound bus!
Frightening stuff. What if someone is having a really bad day. Besides, since traveling these days is usually a nightmare to begin with, how could they even tell?
-- George Orwell, 1984
What's particularly galling is none of these TSA measures make anybody any more safe than merely allowing fellow passengers to notify somebody of suspicious activity.
The biggest danger to commercial aircraft is shoulder-fired missiles, but good luck getting them to admit.
The TSA is as useless as mammary glands on a boar hog.
Yes. It’s a good thing. Of course. We need to be safe. They won’t abuse the authority. And we can trust them.
Learning to read people is a skill that security personnel ~should~ have. "Having a bad day" is easy enough to spot, especially in airports, and it's pretty normal. This is a technique that El Al has been using for many years, and they're pretty good at it. It's one of the best and most useful ways to "profile" people that have a different agenda than merely getting to a destination.
This is a good thing.
Who would be unhappy after waiting in line for two hours to get on a plane? Who would show fear as several Imams rant about the Great Satan? Who would be disgusted at an elderly woman in a wheelchair getting a body cavity search?
You mean like the cop who arrested a guy because he looked too buff?
Abuse the authority? Nonsense. This is the sort of thing that security ~should~ be doing. Too much time and energy is spent trying to keep “things” off of airplanes when it’s not the “things” that are necessarily the problem. It’s the terrorist ~people~ that need to be recognized, not the nail clippers.
It’s not the gun. It’s the shooter.
Yeah, but who's watching the watchers? El Al isn't hiring Muslims to look for the terrorists like we do. They still have a bit of sanity left.
...and... isn't suspicious at all. Just like everybody else. You almost had it there.
But the guy planning to hijack the plane is going to act a bit differently and when you know what to look for, will stand out from the crowd.
What? You mean that you don’t trust TSA to keep us safe? The agency that won’t let you take water on a plane, and intrusively checks granny in a way that makes her cry? The agency which is forbidden to profile the way that Israel does?
Different problem. But you’re right about that.
Why is the family newspaper describing new airport security methods in detail? This is mostly a heads up for terrorists and other Democrats.
This is exactly profiling the way Israel does it. And it's about time.
I think we’ve gone way overboard with TSA security. We should leave it to the people and the private sector. Our federal government is stupid and way too incompetent to be left in charge of such an important issue.
We asked one of the fashionable dressed attendants about the open door.
He said that he looked at each passenger when they boarded and if he was comfortable he left the door open.
I guess flights in and out of Palermo probably have additional insurance from local community groups.
Anyone with these "facial expressions" should be strongly considered for a the full frisking.
The Isrealis have been doing this a whole lot longer than we have. Right now, the controls that we have in place are really just designed to annoy people (I've never heard of anyone being attacked with nail clippers, for instance....). Bringing in some people that really know what they're doing is a good start, IMHO.
Analyzing the people that are actual threats (PROFILING!!!) is a good, IMHO. Maybe this will introduce a little sanity....searching little old ladies and 6 month old babies because people "need to be randomly selected..." might finally go away.
Of course, this *is* the TSA. I'm not sure that some the people I've dealt with in Airport Security could find their own ass with both hands and map in broad daylight.
Yikes. What happens when you have been standing in a 2 hour line, and finally get to the checkpoint? Your face might not be so happy. How about adding that you’re flying to a relative’s funeral?
Who knew how prescient ‘1984’ would be?
I was never in favor of creating the TSA. But that’s a question for another session of congress. Private security would be fine with me, though having been flying for many years I remember also the complaints pre-TSA about the pitiful quality of employees that were doing screening at airports. It was a joke. Few even spoke english. While the TSA is the bloat-ware solution, and overboard just like anything that government does, it is better than it used to be back then. But sure, there’s room for improvement.
I see this as finally starting to get into the more advanced techniques that will actually work better.
Isn't that counter-intuitive? Wouldn't MORE training make you better at detecting without being detected?
Yes they have, and with very great success.
Oh joy! Surely these agents will protect us from the danger of the 80-year old granny from Oklahoma who’s nervous and apprehensive about being screened by a bumbling, surly TSA thug.
If granny flinches the wrong way for a millisecond, it’s a cavity search and a waterboarding.
Whew, I feel safer already!
And the human eye after 16 hours of "training" will be able to pick up on this?
Yeesh, people... this is NOT about looking for happy or unhappy people. It's about reading people. We all do it to one extent or another. Sometimes you can tell that somebody's mannerisms, expressions, personality... just doesn't fit right with who they are, what they're doing or what's going on around them...
It's not mind reading or thought police. It's seeing somebody in the line or in the waiting area that seems to have a different plan than everybody else getting on that plane.
KLM airlines out of Schipol use one on one interrogations for international passengers.
I do not have faith that the current TSA clerk could possibly have the skills to do this with 16 hours of training.
It is one thing to teach sophisticated techniques to enhance our security. This assumes those you are teaching have the mental capacity to truly understand and implement these techniques.
It is quite another thing to attempt to teach these techniques to the low IQ boobs they have working at the TSA.
This will do nothing to enhance security unless the very first thing they teach is to focus attention on middle eastern males. But, political correctness will not allow that. So, they will be using these face reading techniques on grandma, babies in strollers, priests, old white men, and hot looking babes they just want to impress with their power.
I have a better idea....
get rid of the long lines through security. Instead pull aside anyone that remotely resembles a Muslim and any “soft impressionable white boys” and grill them. Let the rest of us pass through and go on about our business.
Yah, since we all know that terrorists would never use children or babies to hide explosives. They’ve never done that, have they? We should only check middle eastern males. They’ll never catch on. Brilliant! :-)
Dang I didn’t realize it was so easy. This is really going to save a lot of time.
Your gobmint at work (no pun intended)...
Seems to me if they want to be LESS intrusive ..and MORE effective they should have MUCH MORE training.
An ACLU lawsuit may happen, just because they admit that this is a form of profiling. The ACLU prefers to search everyone so that we can prove to the terrorists that we aren’t profiling people.
Now the evil doers will be looking all around trying to guess who is observing their behavior.
Why not have "fake" passengers who can mingle in and wait in line next to suspects...?
First off, your reading skills need some improvement. I do not believe I mentioned children anywhere. I did mention babies in strollers and if you have any proof of babies in strollers being used by terrorists, let us all know. Maybe I was not specific enough.
But, since you wish to talk children lets do so. I have personally witnessed the TSA pulling children out of line for additional security. Oriental children, white children in the age range of 5-10 years old. Again political correctness at its worst and something that will not enhance our security. But then again, maybe I am wrong. Please let us all know all the times an oriental or white child was used in a bombing and I will be happy to admit my mistake.
I also see that you did nothing to dispute my contention that focusing on grandmothers, priests, old white men, etc. is a waste of time and resources, all in the name of political correctness.
The TSA has hired too many low life scum and given them enormous power over us, all in the name of security. But even if they were all Mensa members, the TSA does not have them focus on (profile) those types of people that history has shown are the most likely to carry out a terrorist act. That does not enhance our security whatsoever but actually diminishes it by stretching resources out.
You don't happen to work for the TSA or know people that do?
Those high school dropouts couldn’t tell if someone was farting much less was on a terrorist mission.
What if the ‘trainer’ is a bit wacko?
"I did not have sexual relations with that woman, (flinch) .....Mis Lewinsky, (flinch) and I never told anyone to lie, (flinch) not a once, (flinch) never. (flinch) These allegations are false, (flinch) and I need to go back to work for the American people."