Ways to Spot a Terrorist


Ever thought of going into counter terrorism?

A recently published document has revealed how counter terrorism experts sniff out the terrorists in our midst. Discover below the “stress factors”, “fear factors” and “deception factors” that are used in counter terrorism by the Transport Security Administration’s Behaviour Detection Officers, as part of the SPOT programme (Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques), which you can also read about in its full glory in the original document called the Spot Referral Report.

See also: Learn how to Fight Cyber Crime for a Living

About SPOT

SPOT is the Transport Security Administration’s programme to identify potential terrorist suspects. It has been described as a controversial programme and, indeed, the document itself was provided to The Intercept, who originally published it, by a “source” who had reservations about its quality. SPOT is a 92-point checklist divided into a number of categories, including an “observation and behaviour analysis” category, another category to determine whether the suspected individuals have “unusual items” – for example, a large number of prepaid phone cards or mobile phones – and a category for “signs of deception”. Points can also be deducted if the TSA deems an individual to have characteristics that make them less likely to be a terrorist – for example, women aged over 55 and men of over 65 years.

17 stress factors (each worth a point):

  • Arriving late for a flight
  • Not making eye contact with security personnel
  • Yawning too much
  • Lots of fidgeting, watching the clock, looking around, feet shuffling, and leg shaking
  • Excessive sweating, inconsistent with the environment
  • A pale face
  • A flushed face, especially during the screening process
  • Increased blinking when asked to undergo screening
  • Increased breathing
  • Bobbing Adam’s Apple when asked to undergo screening
  • Protruding of the neck arteries
  • Constant face touching
  • Hand wringing
  • Pronounced body odor
  • Sweaty palms
  • Shaking with fear
  • Whistling on approaching screening

15 fear factors (each worth two points), including:

  • Bag seems heavier than expected or doesn’t seem to ‘fit’ the individual
  • Clothes bulging
  • Cold, intense looks
  • Continuously looking at other people
  • Exaggerated behavior such as crying or laughing too much
  • Pronounced and repeated “grooming” behaviors
  • Hesitating at checkpoints
  • Individuals who are appear to be unrelated to each other but who are wearing the same clothes or have the same luggage

6 deception factors (worth three points each):

  •   Dazed and confused appearance
  •   Suspect appears to be in disguise
  •   Asks questions about security matters
  •   Pays no attention to authoritative commands
  •   Maintains secretive associations with others
  •   Frequently pats his/her upper body with hands

Many of the behaviors identified are commonly exhibited by those who travel, especially people visiting countries with “more complex” immigration processes such as the U.S. If you’re a nervous traveller, you may well display some of these behaviors, for example: hesitation. Still, behavior detection is but a means to an end, and many of us would rather there was a process in place to screen potential terrorists than if that were not the case.

Over to you: do you think SPOT is a worthwhile addition to the counter terrorism arsenal or do you, like one "unnamed source", see it as a “license to harass” regular travellers? Share your comments in the box below…