PUBLISHED: 00:42 EST, 12 August 2012 | UPDATED: 08:16 EST, 12 August 2012
The TSA told the New York Times, which reported the story on Friday, that it is investigating the claims made by more than 30 officers involved in the ‘behavior detection’ program who claimed that the operation targets not only Middle Eastern nationals, but also Hispanics traveling to Miami, or blacks wearing baseball caps backward.
At a meeting last month with the agency, officers provided written complaints, some of them anonymous, from 32 officers.
The officers said their co-workers were increasingly targeting minorities, believing that the stops would turn up drugs, outstanding arrest warrants and immigration problems, in response to pressure from managers who wanted high numbers of stops, searches and criminal referrals, the Times reported.
‘The behavior detection program is no longer a behavior-based program, but it is a racial profiling program,’ one officer wrote in an anonymous complaint obtained by the newspaper.
As part of the program, which has been billed as a model for other airports across the U.S., officers are allowed to stop, search and question passengers who appear suspicious to them.
Specially trained ‘assessors’ observe security lines for unusual activity and speak individually with each passenger, looking for inconsistencies in the passenger’s responses to questions and behavior such as avoiding eye contact, fidgeting or sweating.
Passengers considered suspicious can be taken aside for more intensive questioning.
At least one passenger has filed a formal complaint with the TSA over the alleged racial profiling.
Kenneth Boatner, a 68-year-old black psychologist and educational consultant who was traveling to Atlanta on business last month, said he was detained for nearly half an hour as TSA officers went through his belongings, including his checkbook and his patients’ clinical notes.
In an interview with the Times, Boatner said that the experience has left him humiliated, and that the officers never explained why they were singling him out, but he suspected it was because of his race and attire. He was wearing sweat pants, a white T-shirt and high-top sneakers.
‘I had never been subjected to anything like that,’ Boatner said.
The TSA responded by saying that the program at Logan ‘in no way encourages or tolerates profiling,’ and that passengers cannot be subjected to behavior assessments based on their nationality, race, ethnicity or religion.
‘If any of these claims prove accurate, we will take immediate and decisive action to ensure there are consequences to such activity,’ the agency said in a statement.
The TSA said it did not compile information on passengers’ race or ethnicity and could not provide a breakdown of passengers who may have been stopped on either basis through the program.
Some of the Boston officers approached the American Civil Liberties Union with their complaints of profiling, and Sarah Wunsch, a lawyer in the group’s Boston office, interviewed eight agents.
‘Selecting people based on race or ethnicity was a way of finding easy marks,’ she told the Times. ‘It was a notch in your belt.’
Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates Logan, is eager to review the findings of the TSA probe into the racial profiling allegations, according to the agency’s Executive Director David Mackey.
‘There is no place for racial profiling in any security program,’ Mackey said. ‘It is illegal, and it is not effective.’