SPOT-On Officer Thwarts Gunman at BWI

Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT), a program the Transportation Security Administration began in June 2003 at select airports as a non-intrusive security measure and means of identifying potentially high-risk individuals, was in the spotlight again recently when a TSA behavior detection officer at Baltimore/Washington International Airport used the techniques to thwart a man carrying a loaded gun and more than 30 rounds of ammunition. The officer was working in the ticketing area of the airport when he observed a man exhibiting suspicious behaviors in front of an airline ticket counter. The officer immediately referred the man to law enforcement who found the weapon and ammo. Airport police also discovered that he did not have a permit to carry a concealed weapon and arrested him.

The behavior detection officer was trained through the SPOT program, which TSA says is a key part of its multi-layered approach to security. TSA adds that the incident illustrates the agency's focus on pushing security measures to all areas of transportation systems and identifying people who may have harmful intent before they get to secure areas. The behaviors this individual exhibited at BWI are similar to those a terrorist could show before an attack, the agency says.

The SPOT program is employed at BWI and other airports to identify individuals who exhibit behaviors that indicate high levels of stress, fear, or deception. TSA says SPOT adds an element of unpredictability that will be easy for law-abiding passengers to navigate but difficult for terrorist to manipulate. The program, which focuses on behavior and not physical characteristics, is expected to be deployed to dozens of the nation's busiest airports. To date, there have been thousands of referrals to law enforcement officials and for additional screening by TSA through the program. More than 500 behavior detection officers are expected to be working in all modes of transportation by the end of 2008.

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