A programme to spot potential terrorists based on passengers' mannerisms at airports being tried in Boston has led to racial profiling, airport security officers have alleged.
Transportation Security Administration officers at Boston's Logan International Airport allege that the "behaviour detection" programme has become a magnet for racial profiling, targeting not only Middle Easterners but also blacks, Hispanics and other minorities, The New York Times reported on Saturday.
The report said that in interviews and internal complaints, the officers asserted that passengers who fit certain profiles -- Hispanics travelling to Miami, for instance, or blacks wearing baseball caps backward -- are much more likely to be stopped, searched and questioned for "suspicious" behaviour.
"They just pull aside anyone who they don't like the way they look -- if they are black and have expensive clothes or jewellery, or if they are Hispanic," said one white officer, who along with four others spoke with The New York Times on the condition of anonymity.
The allegations by the Boston officers now put the agency and the administration in the awkward position of defending themselves against charges of profiling in a programme billed as a model for airports nationwide, the report said.
The officers provided written complaints about profiling from 32 officers at a meeting last month with TSA officials, it said.
They said that the managers' demands for high numbers of stops, searches and criminal referrals had led co-workers to target minorities in the belief that those stops were more likely to yield drugs, outstanding arrest warrants or immigration problems.
The practice has become so prevalent, some officers said, that Massachusetts State Police officials have asked why minority members appear to make up an overwhelming number of the cases that the airport refers to them.
"The behaviour detection programme is no longer a behaviour-based programme, but it is a racial profiling programme," one officer wrote in an anonymous complaint obtained by The Times.
The TSA said that it is investigating the allegations and if the claims are true, it will take "immediate and decisive action."
The agency emphasised that the behaviour detection programme "in no way encourages or tolerates profiling" and bans singling out passengers based on nationality, race, ethnicity or religion, the report said.