Boston is first U.S. airport to test new security technique

BOSTON Wed Aug 17, 2011 4:40pm EDT

A passenger is scanned using ''backscatter x-ray technology'' at a security check-point at Logan Airport in Boston, Massachusetts November 22, 2010. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

A passenger is scanned using ''backscatter x-ray technology'' at a security check-point at Logan Airport in Boston, Massachusetts November 22, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Brian Snyder

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BOSTON (Reuters) - Along with luggage scans and removing shoes, getting through the security line in Boston's Logan International Airport may now include a brief conversation with a specially trained agent.

Beginning this week, all passengers in Logan's Terminal A will be peppered with questions by a Behavior Detection Officer just after they have their identification verified at the security checkpoint.

Officers will chat with passengers in what the Transportation Security Administration has dubbed a "casual greeting" conversation.

Based on physical cues or answers to questions during the dialogue, specially trained officers may detect suspicious behavior, said TSA spokesman Greg Soule.

This analysis will help determine if a passenger should go through additional screening at the security checkpoint and identify "potentially high-risk travelers," according to the

TSA.

Soule declined to elaborate on any of the questions or responses that would warrant further action.

Looking nervous and averting eye contact, however, are not the tell-tale signs of deception, said Richard Bloom, an aviation security expert and professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

He, too, declined to give away the cues he believed detection officers will analyze.

Experts often credit Israeli security specialists with doing much of the initial work on behavioral detection, said Bloom.

The expanded behavior detection program now underway at Logan is based on other international and domestic programs, said Soule, and will be tested over the next 60 days.

The TSA will consider the pilot program's results and wait times at security check points in order to determine if and how to expand the program more broadly, Soule said.

In Boston, Terminal A is home to Continental and Delta airlines. It's one of about a half dozen terminals at the airport, said Logan spokesman Phil Orlandella. Logan serves up to 50,000 passengers daily, he said.

Critics have said screening methods like this one could promote discriminatory profiling, but TSA's Soule said it would actually be prevented by having conversations with every single passenger in Terminal A and taking action based solely on reactions and answers.

"This program in no way is profiling passengers by race or ethnicity," he said.

Logan was the first airport to implement an observational screening technique in 2003. In those cases, a trained officer would look for passenger behavior that was suspicious. Then, based on a quick conversation, the officer might administer further security checks.

That program has rolled out to more than 160 airports and resulted in more than 2,000 arrests nationwide, Soule said.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Jerry Norton)

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