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$878 Mil Later TSA Behavior Program Can’t Spot Terrorists

Written by Judicial Watch

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In yet another egregious example of government waste, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) continues funding an ineffective 6-year-old program that’s ITSA insignia pin ntegritysupposed to spot terrorists at airports but has failed miserably despite burning through a ghastly $878 million.

Incredibly, the feds seem to have no intention of killing the costly experiment, known as Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT), which is used by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to single out terrorists. SPOT was launched in 2007, has 2,800 workers—special Behavior Detection Officers—and is supposed to identify potential terrorists through behavioral clues. It was implemented with great fanfare as an innovative way to enhance aviation security after Islamic terrorist slammed commercial planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

 Instead, it has accomplished little though it keeps getting boatloads of taxpayer money. A new federal audit outlines the program’s latest problems but it’s hardly the first time the failures are officially documented. A few years ago a separate federal probe found that SPOT failed to detect terrorists at U.S. airports on nearly two dozen occasions. As a result the terrorists slipped right through “security” checkpoints and actually boarded commercial airplanes, the investigation found.

In fact, federal investigators discovered that at least 16 of the terrorists who evaded the specialized Behavior Detection Officers were later charged or pleaded guilty to terrorism charges after slipping through eight different U.S. airports with SPOT programs. Making things worse, most of the airports where terrorists boarded planes ranked among the top 10 highest risk on the TSA’s Airport Threat Assessment list. Read more about this scandal in this Judicial Watch report.

Years later nothing has changed, according to the latest federal report released just days ago by the DHS Inspector General. It says that $878 million dollars later the TSA cannot ensure that its behavior detection program is cost-effective or that it even works. In fact, the agency’s watchdog flat out says in its report that the “TSA has not implemented a strategic plan to ensure the program’s success.” SPOT is in such disarray that the TSA doesn’t even have a comprehensive training program or a financial plan, the DHS IG says.

This is simply the latest of many scandals to rock the TSA, the multi-billion-dollar government agency created to secure the nation’s transportation system—mainly aviation—after 9/11.  More than a decade later the massive, 65,000-employee Homeland Security agency is so inept that the county remains inexcusably vulnerable to a repeat of 9/11, according to a federal report released last summer.

Over the years the TSA has failed to do its job of adequately screening luggage, passengers and properly vetting foreign flight students. Remember the Islamic terrorists that slammed passenger jets into the World Trade Center and Pentagon trained as pilots at U.S. aviation schools. Among the TSA’s duties is to screen foreign nationals who enroll in U.S. flight schools via an Alien Flight Student Program (AFSP).

Last summer’s audit focused on the AFSP and revealed that, all these years later, it still fails to screen foreign nationals who enroll in American flight schools and doesn’t bother to determine if candidates are in the country legally. In fact, the agency doesn’t even keep an updated database of background checks and investigators found that records were missing for 25,000 foreign nationals who trained as pilots here.

The TSA has committed a number of other transgressions, which have been well documented over the years. They include regularly missing guns and bombs during random tests at major U.S. airports and failing to meet federal standards by not screening cargo and passengers on hundreds of thousands of planes that fly over the U.S. annually.

 A few years ago a scathing report issued by a House Transportation Committee called for an overhaul of the TSA, saying that the inept and bloated agency has failed miserably to fulfill its mission. The TSA has “grown into an enormous, inflexible and distracted bureaucracy” that has lost its focus on transportation security, according to the committee’s report. It further states that the TSA “lacks administrative competency” and “suffers from bureaucratic morass and mismanagement.”

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Judicial Watch, Inc., a conservative, non-partisan educational foundation, promotes transparency, accountability and integrity in government, politics and the law. Through its educational endeavors, Judicial Watch advocates high standards of ethics and morality in our nation's public life and seeks to ensure that political and judicial officials do not abuse the powers entrusted to them by the American people. Judicial Watch fulfills its educational mission through litigation, investigations, and public outreach.

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