Digg Del.icio.us Facebook Fark Google Newsvine Reddit Yahoo Print Reprints Post comment Text size: Something about Kevin Brown's mannerisms, facial expressions or behavior as he wandered the airport terminal Tuesday just didn't sit well with Cleveland Laycock.
Laycock -- who manages a group of Transportation Security Administration officers at Orlando International Airport who look for unusual behavior among travelers -- called for backup, and his crew tracked Brown's movements closely. Within 90 minutes, Brown, a Jamaican citizen, was detained, and the bomb-making components in his luggage were in the custody of federal agents.
It was the first time since the 2006 creation of the Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques program -- SPOT -- that behavioral experts were able to thwart a passenger with "hostile intent" who had bomb-making components, said Lee Kair, federal security director at OIA.
Brown has since been charged with attempting to place an explosive or incendiary device on an aircraft, and he is being held without bond inSeminole County Jail.
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To the untrained eye, Brown, who showed up for his Air Jamaica flight long before the ticket counter opened Tuesday, probably looked like a typical tourist.
But the men and women trained to pick up on microfacial expressions and unconscious actions who work around the clock at 40 major U.S. airports know how to differentiate between stressed-out families who are running late and those who could be a potential security threat.
"You do have that normal stress factor in the airport; what you are looking for is something that is deviating from that," Laycock said of his Behavior Detection Officers.
Both TSA and airport officials said that on Tuesday everything worked perfectly on all security fronts.
"It just went fantastic from my perspective," Kair said.
About midday, Brown, wearing a backpack, walked into the airport with two bags loaded with pipes, end caps, a flammable liquid and an Internet printout on how to piece the materials together to make a bomb.
Almost immediately, Brown's behaviors were noted by Laycock, who was on his way to a meeting. He called for Jose Zengotita, a uniformed officer who became a behavioral expert earlier this year.
After Brown checked his bags at the Air Jamaica ticket counter and carried them over to a screening station, Zengotita called for a thorough check. That's when the bombmaking materials were discovered.
Within seconds, Bomb Appraisal Officer David Platt -- a bombing expert who designed an armed robot currently being used in combat in Iraq -- was called over. He immediately knew it was a situation that warranted "calling out the cavalry."
Within minutes, a perimeter was set up around the explosives, and officers who were tracking Brown led Orlando police officers to him. He was taken into custody near the retail area before getting to the security checkpoint, Kair said. By then, dozens of security officers from several agencies were swarming the airport.
Behavior-detection officers have prevented people with guns from getting on airplanes at other airports across the nation. They were once credited with finding a murder suspect at a Minnesota airport.
The need for keen observational skills on airport grounds became clear after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, as investigators learned how easy it had been for the hijackers to enter the United States.
Four Sept. 11 hijackers had passed through immigration screening at OIA in the months before the attacks. A fifth traveler thought to have been part of the plot -- a man later captured fighting in Afghanistan -- was turned away by a veteran Orlando immigration inspector who disliked the man's explanations and attitude.
But the success at stopping one would-be hijacker illustrated that the system relied heavily on the skills of airport workers who watch and interact with travelers.
SPOT helps beef up security in airports using the behavior specialists to bolster traditional security methods.
Tuesday was "probably the proudest day I've had here in TSA," Zengotita said. "It went perfect in every way you can imagine."
Bianca Prieto can be reached at 407-420-5620 or firstname.lastname@example.org.