TSA to investigate racial profiling claims

TSA behavior analysis officers have accused some colleagues of inappropriate screening.

Story highlights

  • TSA behavior analysis officers have accused some colleagues of inappropriate screening
  • Officers say some agency employees target travelers based on race or ethnicity
  • The agency says it will investigate the claims
  • TSA says profiling is discriminatory and ineffective in detecting threats

A federal program designed to uncover potential terrorists before they board airplanes is under internal investigation after employees claimed some of their colleagues at Boston's international airport are engaged in racial profiling.

Transportation Security Administration officers at Logan International Airport say that fellow employees in the agency's Behavior Detection Program have been targeting minorities for questioning based on their race or ethnicity. The claims, first reported in The New York Times, prompted the TSA to open an internal investigation.

"If any of these claims prove accurate, we will take immediate and decisive action to ensure there are consequences to such activity," the TSA said in a statement.

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"Racial profiling is not tolerated within the ranks of TSA, including within the Behavior Detection Program. Profiling is not only discriminatory, but it is also an ineffective way to identify someone intent on doing harm," the statement said.

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Behavior detection is employed at airports across the country. Boston Logan launched a pilot expansion of the behavior detection program last year, adding casual conversation with passengers as a means to detect behaviors that may indicate security threats.

The TSA says officers should flag passengers for additional screening based only on observed behaviors.

Some Boston officers have complained to the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. ACLU attorney Sarah Wunsch, who has spoken with 10 officers accusing their colleagues of racial profiling, told CNN that officers are targeting racial and ethnic groups including Mexicans, African-Americans and Brazilians for secondary screening.

On Tuesday, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson of Mississippi called for the TSA to suspend the behavioral screening program and requested a congressional hearing. Thompson is the ranking Democrat on the House committee on homeland security

Rep. Bill Keating of Massachusetts, a top Democrat on the House oversight and investigation subcommittee for homeland security, has also called for a probe into the allegations.

"These allegations have more weight because they come from people who are knowledgeable about the requirements and training and see something going wrong in the screening process," Keating said.

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