The worrisome part of Sunday's big New York Times expose on TSA racial profiling at Boston's Logan Airport is that some in the agency look to be expanding their role into everyday police work, when they still can't get the hang of actually securing airports. The Transportation Security Administration said on Monday it was investigating the agency after Times reporters Michael Schmidt and Eric Lichtblau reported that a program at Logan (which was the pilot for a program shared across 161 airports nationwide) was designed to work as an extra layer of enforcement, but turned out to be more like an excuse for TSA officers to profile minorities at the airport.
The program, called "behavior detection," basically involves officers watching and talking to people in the airport in the hopes of spotting suspicious behavior. But anonymous officers told the Times reporters that it had become rife with racial profiling. "They just pull aside anyone who they don’t like the way they look — if they are black and have expensive clothes or jewelry, or if they are Hispanic," one officer told the reporters. "Officers said managers’ demands for high numbers of stops, searches and criminal referrals had led co-workers to target minorities in the belief that those stops were more likely to yield drugs, outstanding arrest warrants or immigration problems," they reported. The focus on making criminal busts, instead of identifying potential terrorists, "takes officers away from the real threat, and we could miss a terrorist we are looking for," one officer told The Times.
The TSA has faced similar charges in Hawaii and New Jersey, which suggests profiling and "mission creep" isn't limited to Logan. But as a separate incident at JFK Airport in New York over the weekend highlights, the security apparatus still hasn't mastered the task of actually securing airports — the job it was established to do in the first place. In the JFK incident, a jet-skier whose craft started taking on water in Jamaica Bay, swam to safety at the airport's shore, then scaled a fence and walked across two runways, flouting the airport's high-tech Perimeter Intrusion Detection System, designed specifically to prevent people getting onto the airport's runways from the water. The TSA has already been blasted as ineffective by U.S. representatives on both sides of the aisle after a poor Government Accountability Office report in March. The news that its officers are trying to expand their mission without achieving their primary goal certainly supports their concerns.