The poker-faced traveler; is there such a thing?

By John Keller

Posted by John Keller

Next time you're out at the airport, you had better watch your facial expressions, because the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will be, too.

The TSA reportedly is sending out to dozens of major airports across our nation "teams of TSA behavior-detection officers specially trained to discern the subtlest suspicious behaviors ," according to a story that appeared last week in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer .

TSA officials will not reveal specific behaviors identified by the program -- called SPOT (Screening Passengers by Observation Technique) -- that are considered indicators of possible terrorist intent. But a central task is to recognize microfacial expressions -- a flash of feelings that in a fraction of a second reflects emotions such as fear, anger, surprise or contempt, said Carl Maccario, who helped start the program for TSA.

The story, headlined Airport profilers: They're watching your expressions , is by P-I reporter Paul Shukovsky . TSA officials can ask a few questions to gauge facial expressions and, hopefully, weed out potential terrorists. I was alerted to the story by Slashdot .

I have to admit that news like this makes me a little nervous, but not for what you probably think. I could lecture on here about privacy, human rights, and the evils of government invasiveness, but that's what the Democratic Primaries are for, and like me you've probably had your fill. Confidentially, if we can nab terrorists at airports by their nasty facial expressions, I'm all for it.

No, what I'm worried about is me.

I'm trying to remember the last time I was standing in any line in any airport when I wasn't really PISSED OFF about something. I can't recall even one time. All I can remember are the different levels of distress, frustration, anger, exhaustion, and anxiety that are the delights of modern air travel.

I can't imagine what my airport facial expressions have been, but I know this isn't good. According to the Post-Intelligencer story, TSA officers ask simple questions like "How are you today?"; "Where are you heading?"; and "Is this all your property?" It's how passengers respond that makes all the difference (check out the comments to this story).

If one of these guys catches me at a perfect moment, well I shudder to think.

"How are you today"
"Aw, fer crissakes, I don't think you really want to know."
"Where are you heading?"
"Please, God, just get me home! I'm begging you, just get me home!"
"Is this all your property?"
"It's looking like it. I can't even remember WHERE I live anymore."

Well, maybe they'll cut me some slack. Then again maybe the next blog you read from me will be datelined Guantanamo Bay. Nonetheless, I think we're all ready to find out.

Some people have a poker face. Others put on their game face. Now I think we need to add the airport face to our repertoires. It could make the difference between getting home on time and experiencing a very long delay.

Stay tuned for future accounts of travel nightmares. We'll give you all the gory details. Feel free to share yours with us.

Easily post a comment below using your Linkedin, Twitter, Google or Facebook account.

Previous Blog Posts

Capital Hill budget deal could restore tens of billions of dollars to the Pentagon

December 17, 2013

Hacker drone story a cautionary tale about the need for unmanned vehicle data security

December 10, 2013

Lack of money for systems upgrades threatens to maintain wind-farm radar dead spots

December 3, 2013

Engineering support contracts indicate the Pentagon is sinking into the Mothball Strategy

November 26, 2013

The revenge of COTS: an ageing commercial technology base complicates military supply chain

November 19, 2013

Navy's newest destroyers evolve to fill traditional battleship roles

November 12, 2013

International suspicions of U.S. encryption technology putting defense companies in a bind

November 5, 2013

Defense industry left guessing as Army struggles forward with an unclear mission

October 29, 2013

These are tough times for the combat vehicle and vetronics industries

October 22, 2013

Is the government shutdown a harbinger of more ominous things to come?

October 15, 2013

Government shutdown reduces military contracting, increasing pressure on U.S. defense industry

October 7, 2013

Potential good news: has U.S. defense spending finally bottomed-out?

October 1, 2013

Is robotics revolution the first glimpse of a fundamental change in human evolution?

September 24, 2013

Obsolescent parts: are we enhancing military readiness or creating a hollow force?

September 17, 2013

For the high-tech warfighter, the future of electronics-laden uniforms is here

September 10, 2013

New generation of embedded computing thermal management in development at GE

September 3, 2013

Trading bus stops for credit cards: how far embedded computing has come in three decades

August 27, 2013

Unmanned vehicle industry stands at the doorstep of a fundamental transformation

August 20, 2013

AUVSI 2013, one of the biggest unmanned vehicles shows in the world, opens this week in Washington

August 13, 2013

The Washington Post, under Jeff Bezos, could lead the way for media in the 21st Century

August 6, 2013

Are costs and vulnerabilities making military leaders nervous about satellite communications?

July 30, 2013

Unmanned aircraft carrier that travels beneath the waves may be in the Navy's future

July 23, 2013

Electronic warfare programs kick into high gear with a flurry of contract activity

July 16, 2013

How vulnerable are U.S. Navy vessels to advanced anti-ship cruise missiles?

July 9, 2013

First came VHSIC, then came MIMIC, and now comes ACE to push electronics technology

July 2, 2013

The Mil & Aero Bloggers

John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

Ernesto Burden is the publisher of PennWell’s Aerospace & Defense Media Group, including Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence and Avionics Europe.  He’s a father of four, a runner, and an avid digital media enthusiast with a deep background in the intersection of media publishing, digital technology, and social media. He can be reached at and on Twitter @aero_ernesto.

Courtney E. Howard, as executive editor, enjoys writing about all things electronics and avionics in PennWell’s burgeoning Aerospace and Defense Group, which encompasses Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence, the Avionics Europe conference, and much more. She’s also a self-proclaimed social-media maven, mil-aero nerd, and avid avionics geek. Connect with Courtney at, @coho on Twitter, and on LinkedIn.

Mil & Aero Magazine

January 2014
Volume 25, Issue 1

All Access Sponsors

Download Our Apps




Connect with Us


Military & Aerospace Electronics

Weekly newsletter covering technical content, breaking news and product information

Defense Executive

Monthly newsletter covering business news and strategic insights for executive managers

Embedded Computing Report

Monthly newsletter covering news on embedded computing in aerospace, defense and industrial-rugged applications

Unmanned Vehicles

Monthly newsletter covering news updates for designers of unmanned vehicles