Wednesday, September 19, 2007

TSA screeners trained to be con artists on your dime

First we discovered that DHS Secretary Chertoff’s guts were the tool of choice to gauge whether or not a terrorist attack is immanent; now an article from the Washington Post, and posted on MSNBC’s website, give us a look at the latest security tactic, cold readings. A cold reading, for those who aren’t familiar with the phrase, is a technique used by con artists, salesmen and psychics as a method to manipulate a person into believing that the cold reader holds a special power. One of the skills involved in cold reading is identifying the meaning behind the body language of their mark.

Our tax dollars are now being spent on training TSA employees in the art of cold reading. At the moment there have been 600 trained in this skill with another 1000 that will be trained by the end of the year. The success rate for their work? An abysmal rate of less than 0.75%. Of the 40,000 travelers detained because a government trained cold reader spotted something, less than 300 were found to be guilty of any crime. I think it’s safe to say that a cop could pull a random sample of folks off the street, frisk them and run a warrant check and get a higher rate of arrests than this program.

What are the TSA employees looking for? Well, that’s a secret (what isn’t a secret these days?) but according to the article former screeners, current screeners and consultants say they are looking for, “people traveling without bags, sweating and constantly checking out every person passing by, especially those with badges and guns. People who avoid eye contact or veer away when police approach also draw their attention.” They just described a large number of folks at an airport on any given day.

Since the airlines started becoming major dicks about carry-on bags, a lot of travelers don’t have bags to carry on unless they have their laptop with them. Sweating? Well since we have to race across the airport in an attempt to make flights because the screening lines take so long to get through and connecting flight times are synchronized far too closely together, of course we are sweaty. Try running from the T concourse in Atlanta all the way over to the B concourse because your plane leaves in 20 minutes and tell me your ass won’t sweat.

Constantly checking out every person passing by. That is one I do all the time. I’m always looking at the women who pass and I always look to see if I see someone of celebrity status or a level of importance. The airport is one of the few places where the unwashed masses like me have a chance of seeing someone big. I once saw former baseball player Rickey Henderson at the Atlanta airport, waiting to get on the same plane as me. Then again, doesn’t our government heavily promote that we civilians “stay vigilant” and watch everyone closely? Don’t they want us to spy on one another? So we are put in a Catch-22 situation. Do we bury our head in the paperback we brought with us or do we people watch for entertainment and “National Security” purposes?

This also leads me to wonder if any of those TSA employees will use the knowledge they gain from the training for purposes outside the workplace. While the training period itself is too short to be of any real value it does give them the foundation to learning the ropes of the con game. OJT is a part of this program, where they can hone their skills and become good at it. Possibly even attaining a degree of skill to actually manipulate the thoughts, beliefs and actions of a person. Will the less than ethical and immoral members of the TSA use these newfound skills to run confidence games?

Once again the disappointment of our government in action is just depressing when you dig deeper into what they are doing. I’m waiting for the President to perform a séance and bring forth the ghost of Abraham Lincoln. Knowing these sociopaths it wouldn’t surprise me if they tried.

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