Aug 20 2012

“Back To School” for the TSA

Just in time for the “back to school” crush of 300,000 students returning to classes at Boston-area colleges and Universities, and a week after the New York Times reported complaints by whistleblowers within the TSA and the Massachusetts State Police that the TSA “behavior detection” program at Logan Airport in Boston is functioning as a racial profiling program, the Times reports that the TSA says it’s going to send all its Logan staff to special classes about racial profiling.

The four-hour class for all TSA staff at Logan will cover “why racial profiling is not acceptable and why  it is not an effective way to spot terrorists.” Does that mean that racial profiling would be acceptable to the TSA if it were deemed “effective”?

“Officers [i.e. TSA checkpoint staff, who aren’t actually law enforcement officers despite the title] stationed at more than 100 airports will have to take an online refresher course to reinforce that racial/ethnic profiling will not be tolerated,” the Times also reports.

(Those commenters who suggest the best multiple-choice questions and answers for this online class will get extra credit on their “risk assessment” score.)

First we had online “driving school” to reeducate alcoholics. Now we have an online “groping and grabbing” school to re-educate racist bigots. Is this really going to solve the problems with the TSA?

Frankly, we think the best way to “reinforce that racial/ethnic profiling will not be tolerated” would be not to tolerate it, rather than to pay to send the perpetrators back to school at the TSA’s and the taxpayers’ time and expense. Fire them, fine them, and hold them personally liable for damages to those they detain and assault.

At least one victim of racial profiling by Mass. State Police, African-American civil rights lawyer King Downing, has already received damages from the officers involved after a Federal jury found that his rights were violated when he was detained at Logan in 2003, according to the Boston Globe. That’s good, but it’s obvious that neither Mass. State Police Troop F nor the TSA have learned their lesson yet.

There are two main reasons why we think that “retraining” isn’t sufficient and, in fact, misses the point:

First, police and TSA racism — especially at Logan — is far too widespread and ingrained to be cured in four hours in a classroom, much less by filling out an online form.

Both the Mass. State Police — especially at Logan where they provide the primary law enforcement patrol presence — and the TSA — also especially at Logan — have long been notorious for their culture and practice of racist bigotry.

And the cover-up culture that stigmatizes, ostracizes, deters, and retaliates against whistleblowing has been equally strong in both organizations.

More than 30” TSA staff and police officers made formal complaints to their superiors or contacted the Times about their colleagues’ systematically racist practices. Another “more than half a dozen” contacted the Massachusetts chapter of the ACLU, according to the Globe.

We celebrate the courage of those who went public with these reports, while recognizing that only the most egregious and offensive actions could have provoked such open dissent by so many people from within these organizations.

As Black Enterprise reporter John S. Wilson summed it up on Twitter, “When Massachusetts police complain that too many minorities are being detained by TSA, you know something’s wrong.”

Second, what happens at checkpoints at Logan is neither exceptional nor even ordinary but reflects the epitome of what the TSA and police have been trained to do.  The TSA’s “behavior detection” program is an expanded nationwide version of a program which was first implemented, and which continues to be prototyped, at Logan.

Rafi Ron, a former director of security at Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, relocated to the U.S. and hung out his shingle as an airport security consultant just before September 11, 2001. His first post-9/11 U.S. client was MASSPORT, which operates Logan. Ever since, as Ron’s client list has expanded to the Mass. State Police (the notorious racists who patrol Logan) and then the TSA, Logan has remained the cutting-edge U.S. testbed for Ron’s Israeli-style gospel of profiling, from the TSA’s first SPOT “behavior detection” program to the latest TSA “chat-downs“.

Nobody familiar with the TSA’s adoption from the Logan prototype of Ron’s profiling theories could possibility dismiss Logan as a “rogue” airport when it comes to profiling practices.  Whatever is happening with “behavior detection officers” and police at Logan should be taken as the measure of what all TSA staff and airport police have been trained to do — nowhere more carefully or intensely or over a longer period of time than at Logan — by Ron and his acolytes.

“Behavior detection” is voodoo security which GAO auditors found has no basis in scientific fact. The latest reports about what;s been happening in Boston are only the latest evidence that its  role as a rationalization for racist and other impermissible profiling is a feature, indeed its primary feature and raison d’etre, not a bug.

The way to “reform” behavior detection is to abolish it. That’s the real lesson we need to teach the TSA, Troop F, and MASSPORT.

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