Stephen M. Lord, director of homeland security and justice issues at the Government Accountability Office, told the House Science Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight today that the Transportation Security Administration failed on at least 23 occasions to stop subsequent terror suspects who boarded planes at U.S. airports.
Lord’s testimony presented the subcommittee with analysis of the TSA’s “Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques” program, which goes by the acronym SPOT. Under SPOT, TSA agents known as Behavior Detection Officers (BDOs) attempt to detect potential terrorists at airports by observing their behavior.
The Department of Homeland Security, TSA’s parent agency, began pilot-testing the SPOT program at several New England airports in 2003 and 2004, expanded it to 42 airports in 2006 and 2007, and now uses it at 161 airports, according to previous congressional testimony by Lord. The program cost $211.9 million in fiscal 2010 and the administration would like $232 million for the program this year, Lord told the subcommittee today.
According to Lord, at least 16 different people who were later charged or pleaded guilty to terrorism-related offenses were able to slip through 8 different U.S. airports where TSA had been employing the SPOT program. These 16 terrorists evaded detection at these airports a total of 23 times.
“Using CBP and Department of Justice information, we examined the travel of key individuals allegedly involved in six terrorist plots that have been uncovered by law enforcement agencies,” Lord said in written testimony presented to the committee. “We determined that at least 16 of the individuals allegedly involved in these plots moved through 8 different airports where the SPOT program had been implemented.