TSA's Behavior Detection Officer : Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

January 6, 2012

Minnetta Walker, 44, Buffalo, NY,  was employed by the United States Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration (TSA), as a behavior detection officer, assigned to the Buffalo Niagara International Airport (Buffalo Airport) in Cheektowaga, New York.  And what, exactly, does this impressive sounding "Behavior Detection Officer" (a BDO in the lingo of the TSA) do?  I actually went to theTSA's website and looked it up. Here's some of the details of the BDO job:

[U]tilizes non-intrusive behavior observation and analysis techniques to identify potentially high-risk passengers. BDOs are designed to detect individuals exhibiting behaviors that indicate they may be a threat to aviation and/or transportation security. . .

TSA's BDO-trained security officers are screening travelers for involuntary physical and physiological reactions that people exhibit in response to a fear of being discovered.. . determining if an individual presents a higher risk or if his/her behavior has a non-threatening origin. Individuals exhibiting specific observable behaviors may be referred for additional screening at the checkpoint to include a handwanding, limited pat down and physical inspection of one's carry-on baggage. . .

BDOs add an element of unpredictability to the security screening process that is easy for passengers to navigate but difficult for terrorists to manipulate. . .

My oh my!  How impressive!

Non-intrusive behavior observation.  Ya gotta love those bureaucratic wordsmiths. Imagine if they simply replaced that characterization with "half-heartedly watch thousands of passengers while day-dreaming about a better job with more pay."

Screening travelers for involuntary physical and physiological reactions that people exhibit in response to a fear of being discovered. And those involuntary reactions differ how, exactly, from the fear of being delayed for an important business meeting or connecting flight?  Assuming that these BDOs are so highly trained that they can spot these involuntary tells, I'm assuming that they're all qualified psychologists/psychiatrists earning six-figure salaries. Yeah, Bill, sure - assume away.

BDOs add an element of unpredictability to the security screening process. Okay, fill me in on this one.  Just what is "predictable" these days about airport security screening? I'm sure that those of you who recently travelled during the holidays saw the result of all that observing, detecting, and analyzing.  Perhaps you waited on backed-up lines at Southwest, Delta, United Continental or JetBlue  as the TSA agents went about their work.  After they got done strip searching all the highly suspicious grannies, maybe they pulled you aside, had you step out of your shoes, take off your clothes, and perhaps bend over?  Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining about the searches. I'd much rather be safe than sorry. On the other hand, I got to admit it, I'm often  more than a tad suspicious as to why some folks seem to get stopped and others just fly by.

All of which brings me back to BDO Minetta Walker. Speaking of the BDO's much vaunted "element of unpredictability," according to federal prosecutors, Walker assisted certain individuals in bypassing the Buffalo Airport's security protocols.  In the case of a suspected narcotics trafficker, Walker facilitated his ability to travel under a fictitious name, and permitted him to bypass the ticket document checker, who is supposed to examine persons, property and other articles entering aircraft and the airport area.  At times, Walker directed the suspected narcotic trafficker to bypass the body image scanner/pat-down security line and interfered with a screener's ability to monitor the x-ray of his belongings.

As much as you would like to think that this was an isolated, one-time-only thing, turns out it wasn't.  In the case of another suspected drug trafficker, our corrupt behavior detection officer alerted the criminal to the fact that police officers were conducting undercover surveillance of him.  Of course, given my hard-boiled cynicism, I'm also wondering whether Walker didn't also arrange for this guy to get unearned frequent flyer benefits or she comped him into the elite VIP lounge.  Hey, you never know.

In any event, the two suspected narcotics traffickers are pending indictment on unrelated narcotics conspiracy charges. I'm obligated at this point to remind you that an Indictment only contains allegations  and that defendants are presumed innocent unless and until convicted in a court of law.

As to that presumption of innocence stuff,  in August 2011, Walker pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States and on January 4, 2012, was sentenced to 24 months in prison followed by one year supervised release.

SIDE BAR: Also named in connection with public corruption aspects of this investigation are

both of whom provided one of the suspected narcotics traffickers with fraudulent travel and identification documents, respectively.

Also, on August 1, 2011, Miguel Guzman pleaded guilty to narcotic conspiracy charges in connection with this case, and is awaiting sentencing.