The Department of Homeland Security has flooded airports, cruise ports, subways and bus stations with posters and recorded announcements for its “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign.
We all know Transportation Security Administration officers are trained to be on the lookout for bad guys, but what should regular travelers be looking for?
In a new book, "See Something? Hear Something? Say Something!: A Guide to Identifying Terrorists Through Body Language," retired FBI agent, D. Vincent Sullivan, a 28-year veteran who served on the Joint Terrorist Task Force, teams up with body language expert Lillian Glass to give us some clues.
The book, available as an eBook now and in paperback in a few weeks, details the latest research on profiling, the newest technologies in detecting terrorism and the ways in which the body language and “tells” of terrorists offer clues to their actions. It also offers a list titled “Tips and Techniques for Vigilant Travelers” that includes, but goes way beyond, “report unattended bags.”
“It’s very easy to be distracted by all the last-minute details of a trip, but the first thing to do before you leave home is to commit yourself to being more vigilant.” Sullivan told msnbc.com. “It should be like any other pre-travel task, like packing a bag or looking at a map.”
Here are some of the tips Glass and Sullivan suggest to travelers:
Look for people wearing clothing that is out of sync with the weather, temperature, or situation for no apparent reason. Yes, these days some travelers may wear several layers of clothing in an effort to avoid having to check a bag, but Glass and Sullivan point out that baggy and oversized clothing can be a used for weapon-concealment purposes and that “people don’t generally wear trench coats on a clear August day in any city where it is hot and humid unless something’s up.”
Watch for anyone who appears to be tampering with security devices or who appears to be testing the response to unauthorized passage. “There are usually two phases to a terrorist event,” said Sullivan, “the actual attack and the preparation for that attack. Testing doors in an airport may be part of intelligence gathering.” His advice: If something doesn’t seem right, record pertinent identifiers on a piece of paper or your smartphone. “The information you gather may come in handy later.”
Pay attention to what people around you are photographing and when. Photographing a family in front of a tourist spot or an airplane on the tarmac is one thing, but photographing a building’s security shift change is another. “Watch for people taking pictures of things people wouldn’t normally be photographing,” said Glass. “Things like exits and entrances or ceilings and doors.”
Keep an eye out for anyone changing, adding or removing clothing in an unusual manner. Not everyone changing from long pants into shorts in an airport bathroom is a terrorist, of course, but Glass and Sullivan remind us that in the spring of 2010 a New York Police Department surveillance video showed a man removing his shirt before walking away from a car bomb in Times Square and that “the would-be bomber changed clothing as he exited the area so as to stymie descriptions of him, in case he had been observed parking or exiting the car.”
Observe quick-movers. Someone running usually gets our attention, but our curiosity fades fast. Glass and Sullivan tell us that staying alert longer is now the order of the day. “If you see a man running toward the gates in an airport, you can guess he’s running late. But if you see a man running away from the gates in an airport, you might pay much more attention to the whole scenario and for a longer amount of time.”
The TSA currently has more than 2,800 Behavior Detection Officers at more than 160 airports. Their job is to monitor passenger body language to identify risks and, according to TSA spokesperson Greg Soule, more than 2,000 arrests have been made based on the observation of suspicious behaviors.
“They’re looking at the whole picture and are headed in the right direction,” said Glass. “What our book does is tell travelers what to look for, because we now live in a society where we all have to watch out for the other guy.”
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