Payne Presses Administrator Pistole on TSA SPOT Program that Has Led to Racial Profiling at Newark Liberty International Airport

Payne Presses Administrator Pistole on TSA SPOT Program that  Has Led to Racial Profiling at Newark Liberty International Airport

Washington, D.C. – Today, in the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security, Rep. Donald M. Payne, Jr. (NJ-10) pressed TSA Administrator John Pistole on a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that concludes that the TSA Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) program, a $878 million endeavor, has been ineffective in identifying terrorists, and may have even led to racial profiling, including at Newark Liberty International Airport. 

Congressman Payne, Jr. specifically asked Administrator Pistole about a Behavior Detection Officer (BDO) manager at Newark Liberty International Airport who was fired for making racial comments and giving inappropriate direction to other BDOs regarding the profiling of passengers.  Rep. Payne expressed concern about the nature of the program and the fact that BDOs were encouraged to identify and refer more passengers to be promoted.  Administrator Pistole admitted that there was a perception amongst BDOs that the more referrals they made, the more likely they would be promoted.  Payne said it harkens back to a time in a state like New Jersey that has had its fair share of issues with racial profiling in the past. Watch the exchange here.

Payne:  The GAO report released yesterday cites to an incident where a BDO manager at Newark Liberty International Airport, which is my home airport, gave inappropriate direction to Behavior Detection Officers regarding profiling of passengers and made racial comments.  It is my understanding that this BDO [manager] has been fired.  It has also been brought to my attention that BDOs have been promoted based on the number of referrals they made, which has encouraged BDOs to racially profile to increase their referral rate. What degree of confidence do you have that no other BDO managers are encouraging or directing racial profiling through the SPOT program? 

Pistole:   One of the lessons learned from these multiple reviews that have been done is we could have done a better job in training and retraining and ensuring that there is no notion of profiling taking place. In fact as part of our retraining that we have done since these [GAO] reports have been done is required each BDO to take a pledge against profiling which I have and can share with the subcommittee. Every BDO other than those who are out on extended leave have taken that pledge to ensure that they understand that profiling has absolutely no place in a BDO’s work. It’s not good law enforcement.  It’s not good security work. And it’s unconstitutional. So anyone that is found to have been profiling will be investigated and dealt with appropriately….Any violation of somebody’s civil rights and civil liberties is a significant issue for [TSA] and just undermines the entire program so that’s why it won’t be tolerated.

Payne:    I hope it is not a culture that has been created because I am sensitive to this issue. Being from a state where my uncle is the author of the racial profiling bill in New Jersey, we have had many instances where this problem is an issue.  So to see this here harkens back to issues that we have been dealing with in New Jersey, and now this at Newark Airport is troubling.


Payne:    [What about] the point of BDOs being promoted on a number of referrals? 

Pistole:  I think there was a perception among some BDOs…that BDOs may be promoted more readily if they made a higher number of referrals. That is not the case, so we have gone back to retrain and clarify because we don’t want BDOs referring because they think they’ll be more readily promoted.