John Pistole defends indefensible behavior detection scam, makes threats

VoodooJokerByDave Gough
TSA Administrator John Pistole was called on the carpet again this week by the House Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Transportation Security, this time over the agency’s squandering of nearly one billion dollars on its ineffective behavior detection program. After Pistole suggested that the program was affordable at 50 cents per passenger screened, Rep. Mark Sanford replied, “Or you could say it in the reverse. You could say a billion dollars with no result.”

The Government Accountability Office reiterated in a recent report that behavior detection is a fraudulent pseudoscience. (We’ve been saying so at TSA News for years.) The GAO report mirrors what a DHS audit found in June. It has been shown repeatedly in hundreds of studies over 60 years that people, whether trained or untrained, cannot sense deceptive intent. The hucksters of behavior detection, including Paul Ekman, about whom we wrote here, are no different from phrenologists, astrologists, and flat-earthers in their refusal to accept scientific evidence refuting their claims.

John Pistole is proud to be a pseudoscience dupe. In his prepared remarks, he asserts:

“We are concerned that its [GAO’s] most recent report relies heavily on academic literature regarding the detection of individuals who are lying. The report, however, fails to recognize all of the available research or that S&T, which conducted a validation study with an independent review process, relied in part upon unpublished studies not included in literature reviews.”

Science is an enterprise built on peer review and reproducible results. Unpublished studies are unconvincing because they have not been critically challenged. I can write you a thousand unpublished studies this week making any number of wondrous and fatuous claims.

The behavior detection program has already failed in its mission to detect terrorists. The GAO detailed 23 separate occasions on which 16 different known terrorists, including David Headley and Najibullah Zazi, passed through airports staffed with behavior detection officers. Not one of these terrorists was spotted by the “trained behavior detectors,” not even Faisal Shahad whom they missed just hours after he attempted to bomb Times Square.

Last year, the TSA employed more than 3,000 full-time TSA workers to do behavior detection. Those employees, in total, identified only 183 suspects who were arrested, the majority of whom were immigration violators. The TSA spends $200 million dollars a year on this program. In 2012, 3,000 full-time employees could locate only 183 people who had broken any law in an airport – and of course, none of those identified were a danger to the aircraft. That’s more than one million dollars spent to find each arrestee.

These numbers are damning. It should be simple for Congress to shut down an obvious boondoggle like behavior detection.

As a last-ditch effort to keep the gravy train rolling to his low-skilled workforce, Pistole resorted to threats:

“Defunding the program is not the answer,” he said. “If we did that, if Congress did that, what I can envision is, there would be fewer passengers going through expedited screening, there would be increased pat-downs, there would be longer lines, and there would be more frustration by the traveling public.”

Did you hear that correctly? Pay up, or we’ll molest your kids.

(Photo: Voodoo Joker by Dave Gough/Flickr Creative Commons)

  • Susan Richart


  • Fisher1949

    Pistole has the gall to lie to Congress that this program, which has less validity than a psychic hotline, is an essential part of airline security and then threatens them with additional groping and harassment if they don’t comply.

    This is astounding and Pistole should be prosecuted for contempt of Congress and criminal malfeasance.

  • 1amWendy

    Excellent, as always, Dr. Gentry.

  • apeman2502

    I think John Pistole would be much happier making gay porn movies. He is a boob. Here, a million dollars per wetback. Pistole STILL refuses to arrest the 9-11-2001 attack insiders, though he and his molestation divisions have pissed away over $300 billion. ‘Pistol’ even sounds like the name of a featured gay porn star. I think he will do well there instead of making airport public molestation videos for the Bush cabal.

  • Susan Richart

    Thanks to someone at FlyerTalk who pointed out that BDOs have little to do with people getting expedited screening. Also, do they walk around pulling people for gropes? I don’t think so.

    Does Pistole even know what BDOs do? His threat would tell us no, he doesn’t.

  • Chris Bray

    According to the scientific literature, precisely 94.6% of TSA employees, including John Pistole, have a sexual predilection for livestock. I base this claim upon a number of unpublished studies, all of which are filed in my sock drawer. They are very very rigorous, in the sense that I made them up while making my face look somber.

    Bring on the world where we get to argue this way.

  • Susan J. Barretta

    How about we all write our political reps and demand that they defund the BD program and not give in to Pistole’s threats? Cite the GAO report as well as the Israeli security expert’s opinion.

    I understand the agent murdered at LAX was a BDO. How’d that work out for him?!?

    • Susan Richart

      Will get right on that – sadly Leonard Lance is a wimp and a strong supporter of the TSA.

      • TestJeff Pierce

        NJ from your post. I have a friend who knows Lance and says he used to be good until he became beholden to the Republican party when he became a House Rep at Federal level.

        • Susan Richart

          Thanks for that bit of info.

          • TestJeff Pierce

            To expound: By good, I mean a very straight shooter, very “clean” politician (no ethics problems), and objective in analyzing stuff. However, at the Federal level, if you don’t follow the party line, you get punished.

            An example is Chris Smith, nearby in NJ, who was pulled from his longterm Chairing of the VA Committee in the House for ticking off someone in the Republican House leadership.

            None of this helps us with the GeTSApo.

  • Susan Richart

    “Defunding the program is not the answer,” he said. “If we did that, if
    Congress did that, what I can envision is, there would be fewer
    passengers going through expedited screening, there would be increasedpat-downs, there would be longer lines, and there would be more frustration by the traveling public.”

    When all else fails, Pistole resorts to fear-mongering, but this time he’s done a two-fer in order to get his way: fear of those pesky terrorists and fear of a TSA grope.

    • TestJeff Pierce

      NOTE THIS! He DIDN’T SAY the threat from terrorists would increase…..he said the THREAT FROM THE TSA would increase ! He threatened us with criminal touching pat downs, more waiting, and more ‘frustration’ by the public (didn’t that cause a fatal attack on the TSA?) !! Could we please arrest him for treason now?

      • Dolt

        Also note that he did not say fewer BDO’s would result in the increase of these things, but that he “can envision” more pat-downs and longer lines. This means he will CREATE these situations as retaliation, not in relation to fewer BDO’s.

        Mostly, the threat is about the reduction of money not the reduction in clerks. He will not be able to skim some of that cash off the top for “administrative needs” anymore and that, in Pistol’s mind, is probably akin to a “terrorist attack” in itself.

  • Thank you, Sommer, for another brilliant, devastating post. John Pistole is a liar. The policies he has implemented are criminal and he should be prosectued.

    • Chris Bray

      I’d settle for unemployed.

      • TestJeff Pierce

        People in jail are considered unemployed. You both can get your wish.

      • Dolt

        Unemployed means someone else will take his place and continue the same policies. Prosecuted means the person replacing him will at least think twice about implementing the same policies. One would hope.