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Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers at Boston’s Logan International Airport were alleging that a programme intended to help flag possible terrorists based on passengers’ mannerisms had led to rampant racial profiling, a newspaper reported on Saturday.

The New York Times reported on its website that in interviews and internal complaints it had obtained, more than 30 officers involved in the “behaviour detection” programme at Logan contend that the operation targets not only Middle Easterners, but also passengers who fit certain profiles – such as Hispanic people travelling to Miami, or black people wearing baseball caps backwards.

The TSA told the newspaper on Friday that it was investigating the officers’ claims. At a meeting last month, officers provided written complaints from 32 officers. “The behaviour-detection programme is no longer a behaviour-based programme, but it is a racial-profiling programme,” one officer wrote.

The programme, which has been billed as a model for other airports across the country, is intended to allow officers to stop, search and question passengers who seem suspicious. Specially trained behaviour “assessors” observe security lines for unusual activity and speak individually with each passenger, looking for inconsistencies in the passenger’s responses to questions and behaviour such as avoiding eye contact, fidgeting or sweating.

Passengers considered suspicious can be taken aside for more intensive questioning.

At least one passenger has filed a formal complaint with the TSA. Kenneth Boatner, a black psychologist and educational consultant who was travelling to Atlanta on business last month, said he had been detained for nearly half an hour as agents examined his belongings, including his patients’ clinical notes.

In an interview with The Times, Boatner said he felt humiliated, and that the officers had never explained why they were singling him out, but he suspected it was because of his race and attire. He was wearing sweat pants, a white T-shirt and high-top sneakers.

“I had never been subjected to anything like that,” Boatner said.

The TSA said the programme at Logan “in no way encourages or tolerates profiling”, and that passengers could not be subjected to behaviour assessments based on their nationality, race, ethnicity or religion. “If any of these claims prove accurate, we will take immediate and decisive action to ensure there are consequences to such activity,” the agency said.

The TSA said it did not compile information on passengers’ race or ethnicity, and could not provide a breakdown of passengers who might have been stopped on either basis through the programme. – Sapa-AP