Leaked doc proves what we’ve been saying for years: TSA is nuts

Everyone’s been sending me the article from First Look/The Intercept about the latest “confidential” TSA document.

Though I’m a huge supporter of Glenn Greenwald and his journalistic endeavors—and have written so here—and am glad for any light that is shed on the TSA’s myriad abuses, I have to say this latest article is a bit on the day-late-dollar-short side.

The article in question is titled “Exclusive: TSA’s Secret Behavior Checklist to Spot Terrorists.” Okay, yes, it’s exclusive in that the reporters actually got their hands on a document that outlines the TSA’s so-called behavior detection procedures. But we’ve been writing about these procedures for years now, calling attention to their inanity, fraud, and complete lack of scientific support.

Here’s one example, from June 6, 2013 a post called “From the No Kidding Dept: auditor rates TSA epic fail.” Excerpt:

Meanwhile, TSA Administrator John Pistole is, of course, downplaying the report and continuing to spout mind-numbing PR pabulum about the many-times-discredited program. Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up:

TSA doesn’t reveal what suspicious behavior will trigger additional screening. But security experts say shifty eyes and sweating are among the traits that raise suspicions.

“Shifty eyes and sweating.” Really? Really?? And “experts say”? Who writes this shit?

Here’s another excerpt, from March 14, 2012, in a post called “How to rat out your fellow citizens as terrorists“:

Do you fidget? Have an annoying tick? Like to wear baggy clothing? Do you ever get lost and stumble down the wrong corridor? Do you like to take pictures? Have you ever gone into a rest room to change your clothes? Congratulations! You could be a terrorist! And if your fellow travelers are “vigilant,” they should report you to the authorities.

Read the entire article for howlers on how the TSA is “trained to be on the lookout for bad guys.” Or how the agency’s voodoo practitioners—oops, I mean Behavior Detection Officers—are likewise on the lookout.

Here’s another, from February 22, 2012, post titled “TSA lied about 2008 incident“:

As for the BDO program, the research on which it is based has been discredited. Devised by a retired psychology professor named Paul Ekman, the “micro-expression” theory has never been proven or thoroughly tested. Yet the TSA spends $250 million a year to continue the BDO program.

What do we get for all this money? BDOs who spend 4 days in the classroom and get 24 hours of on-the-job training. Then they question you at the airport and try to determine whether your raised eyebrow is a sign of terrorism or just impatience.

Here’s another one, from April 8, 2014. There are many more. I’m not going to list all of them. If you’ve been following this blog, even in a minor way, you already know that the TSA bullies and harasses people based on whim, on caprice, on mood, on which side of the bed they woke up on, on the most crude kind of racial profiling (another 2012 post).

Anyway, if you want to see the complete list of Scary Terroristy Clues and “tells” the TSA is supposedly looking out for, here it is from The Intercept. Thanks to Sai for translating the hard-to-read PDF into legible text:

Behavior / Physiological

“Adam’s Apple” jump

Change in voice pitch, rate, volume, choice of words, dry mouth

Cold penetrating stare

Covers mouth with hand while speaking

Exaggerated yawning

Exaggerated, repetitive grooming gestures

Excessive fidgeting, clock watching, head-turning, shuffling feet, leg shaking

Excessive perspiration inconsistent with the environment

Excessive throat clearing

Face becomes flushed

Face pale from recent shaving of beard

Fast eye blink rate

Gazing down

Gestures that don’t match the verbal message

Increased breathing rate, panting

No or little direct eye contact

Powerful grip of a bag and/or hand inside the bag

Protruding or beating neck arteries

Repeatedly pats upper body with hands (not associated with divesting objects at X-ray or Walk Through Metal Detector (WTMD)

Repetitive touching of face

Rigid posture, minimal body movements with arms close to sides

Rubbing or wringing of hands

Scans area appearing to look for security personnel

Shows unusual interest in security officers and their work routine

Strong body odor

Sweaty palms


Whistling during the screening process

Widely open staring eyes



Bag appears to be heavier than expected or bag does not suit the individuals appearance


Bulges in clothing

Global position system (GPS) unit

Individuals who are seemingly unrelated but display identical dress or luggage

Liquids or gels (in excess of 3.4 oz or 100 ml)

Numerous prepaid calling cards or cell phones

Photographs/diagrams of high profile targets

Rope, wire, duct tape, loose batteries, loose electronic components

Training manuals such as flight, scuba, explosive, or military

Wearing improper attire for location


Appearing not to understand questions

Appears to be confused or disoriented

Asks the BDO security-related questions

Constantly looking at other travelers or associates

Delayed Responses to questions

Displays arrogance and verbally expresses contempt for the screening process

Distracted or inability to pay attention to present situation

Does not remember significant facts when answering questions

Does not respond to authoritative commands

Downplaying of significant facts when answering questions

Evasive or vague responses

Exaggerated emotions or inappropriate behaviors to the location such as crying, excessive laughter, or chatter

Excessive complaints about the screening process

Gives non-answers

Hesitation/indecision on entering checkpoint or submitting to screening process

Lacking details about purpose of trip

Maintains covert ties with others (maintaining consistent eye contact with others, exhibiting hand gestures to others or passing objects to others)

Movement away from official towards exit

Overly specific with answers that would appear to indicate the information is memorized

Placing objects between self and official

Repeating back questions instead of answers

Unfamiliar with passport/ID or ticket data

Well-rehearsed answers that may not respond to questions or that may appear to be memorized


Appears to be in disguise

Arrives late for flight, if known

Males 20-40 years old traveling together who are NOT part of a family

As I’ve said before, you can’t make this shit up.

Lisa Simeone is a writer, editor, political activist, Glamour Girl, and radio host. She publishes ABombazine, where this originally appeared.

One Response to Leaked doc proves what we’ve been saying for years: TSA is nuts

  1. Tony Vodvarka

    My favorites from the lovely list above are “displays arrogance and verbally expresses contempt for the screening process” and “Does not respond to authoritative commands”. A couple of years ago as I was approaching the metal detector at the beginning of the shake-down, a young couple with a toddler, probably about two years old were being searched by a TSA agent. The child, barely able to walk, was put through the magnetic field and then told he had to do it again. The child did as told but hesitated and was then told to go through a third time. I stared with open-mouthed incredulity (but silently) at the uniformed fool which did not go unnoticed. After I passed through the metal detector a loud alarm magically went off and the fool said with great satisfaction, “nitrates!”, and I had twenty minutes of personal interview to endure. Forty hours a week of looking for something that isn’t there makes some of these folks a bit touched. Body searches, “stop and frisk” on our urban streets, thousands shot by police annually, what a nasty fascist bedlam we have become.