‘Science’ and America’s Police State

So, you’re sick and tired of being hassled by Transportation “Security” Administration (TSA) thugs, who fondle your “junk” and force 95-year-old grandmothers to take off their adult diapers?

Well, that’s tough – because it’s about to get worse.

Since 2006, the TSA has been developing a $1 billion program called “Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques” [.pdf] (SPOT) whose proponents – notably, one Rafi Ron, an Israeli airline security “expert” – claim it enables screeners to detect dangerous passengers via nonverbal signals, including facial expressions. The program is undergoing a test run, starting today [Tuesday] at Boston’s Logan airport. So before you wrinkle your nose at that Epsilon-Minus Semi Moron rifling through your suitcase, please be aware that the “micro-expressions” you exhibit can and will be held against you.

As the TSA gropers assaulted Americans at airports, the outraged response of the public was taken up by some conservatives, who promptly declared that we need to organize our air safety campaign along Israeli lines – and now they’ve gotten their wish. Which just goes to underscore the old aphorism about being careful what you wish for.

Because what the Israelis do is pry and probe into every aspect of every airline passengers’ life: questions about their politics as well as their itinerary, about personal issues – you name it. Indeed, every passenger aboard the El Al state-owned Israeli airline is subjected to an extensive interrogation, but it’s hard to see how the relatively small-scale Israeli operation is going to be implemented in the US, which deals with multi-millions of airline passengers every day. The Boston Herald, however, gives us a preview:

“Under the SPOT program, as passengers hand over their boarding passes and identification, specially trained agents will ask three to four questions — from ‘Where have you been?” to “Do you have a business card?” and “Where are you traveling?” — while looking for “micro expressions,” such as lack of eye contact, that might hint at nefarious intent.

“Suspicious individuals will be pulled aside for more questioning, full-body scans and pat-downs. If the encounter escalates, agents will call in state police.”

If you fail to look that plug-ugly TSA moron in the face, and meet his beady-eyed gaze head on, you can look forward to a full-scale assault, which – don’t forget – could “escalate” if you bat an eyelid, in which case the Fullerton Police Department will be called in to do to you what they did to Kelly Thomas.

Oh, but don’t worry, folks:

“At Logan, about 70 agents — all with college degrees — are undergoing training by an international consulting firm that includes a four-day classroom course and 24 hours of on-the-job experience, said TSA spokeswoman Ann Davis.”

College degrees? Well, then, never mind: it’s all going to be okay.

Speaking of college degrees, the “theory” behind this nonsense is based on the work of Paul Ekman, a clinical psychologist, who originated the SPOT training program. According to Ekman, human facial expressions are not learned behavior, but innate reactions – instincts – which are universal. He’s got it narrowed down to expressions signaling anger, disgust, sadness, joy, fear, and surprise. Wikipedia notes that “findings on contempt are less clear, though there is at least some preliminary evidence that this emotion and its expression are universally recognized.” Contempt is the reaction of most scientists to the Ekman theory, exemplified by the authors of this scientific paper, who debunked Ekman’s claims and averred that one would get better results “flipping a coin” than utilizing Ekman’s methods. With Dr. Maureen O’Sullivan, Ekman initiated the so-called Wizards Project, which “tested” 20,000 people, concluding that only 50 of them were what Ekman calls “Truth Wizards,” i.e., those who have the natural ability to spot liars without going through his training program.

C’mon, all you Truth Wizards out there – there’s a job at the TSA waiting for you!

Ekman’s “Facial Action Coding System” is just the sort of scientistic mysticism governments are inherently in favor of: its presumption of certainty and schematic reductionism is typical of the sort of “systems” favored by government bureaucrats, who love to believe – have to believe – they can understand the infinite complexity of human beings – when in fact they don’t have a clue. Just as some addle-brained “economist” of the modern school thinks he can reduce human economic interactions to a few mathematical formulas, so the “scientists” over at the TSA think they can map the human mind with a glance and a few impertinent questions. Such “scientific” hocus-pocus is laughable – and you’re paying for it, in more ways than one.

Until and unless the United States government stops killing, torturing, and otherwise enraging the world outside our borders, we will be forced to subject ourselves to increasingly intrusive police state tactics by our own “protectors” every time we get on a plane, a train, or, indeed, travel anywhere further than the corner store. Of course, Washington will never give up its prerogative to invade and slaughter overseas, so we’ll be treated like cattle here on the home front – and don’t you dare complain about those cattle prods.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].