Lie to Me: Is the TSA using science in airport security?

A great news feature in Nature, Airport security: Intent to deceive?, by Sharon Weinberger, goes through the Transportation Security Administration's use of trendy but unvalidated interview techniques called "Screening Passengers by Observation Technique" (SPOT). The TSA is relying on decades-old research, none of which appears to be reproducible, to engage travellers in casual conversation in an attempt to find terrorists.

The article does mention Israeli airport screening techniques at the end. That's important, but it might have been better to mention them first because they're the first thing most people will think of in this context. Israeli airport security is famed for using passenger interviews to screen out threats, with an enviable record of success. But, as the article and Bruce Schneier and his commenters point out, the Israeli techniques are different than SPOT and those differences may make them impossible to implement in the USA.

Is it right to blame this on the previous administration? The article ends with one researcher pointing out the nine years lost in doing basic research on human deception after 9/11. I'd say that's confirmed, but if the Obama administration doesn't want to own this one, they have to stop chatting up passengers and talk to real researchers.

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