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9 Investigates: Major security failure at Central Florida airports

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The Transportation Security Administration has spent nearly $1 billion in tax dollars on behavior detection experts meant to spot terrorists.

But investigative reporter George Spencer discovered that known terrorists have still sneaked through, sometimes more than once.

As passengers at OIA await the screening process many know too well, so-called behavior detection officers work unnoticed. They're at Sanford's airport, too -- discreetly looking for suspicious behavior.

"A nuisance, but a necessary nuisance," traveler Harbey Asher said.

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Related: TSA response to this report

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Our major tourist attractions may make Central Florida a target, and we know terrorists have trained at local flight schools.

But WFTV found that the SPOT (Screening Passengers by Observation Technique) program did not arrest a single person on terrorism charges for years, and still the TSA has spent $800 million on it at our airports, and others nationwide.

U.S. Rep. John Mica said the program is not working like it should.

"It's supposed to be layered security. Instead, it's layers of failure," Mica said.

SPOT officers cruise the areas looking for behavior indicating that someone might be a security threat, sometimes even chatting with travelers. They're looking for subtle signs of stress, fear or deception in someone's body language. But they've found very little.

The U.S. House of Representatives Joint Majority Staff report that between 2004 and 2008, two billion travelers passed through SPOT program at airports. But only 1,100 passengers were arrested, including at least one in Central Florida. All of the arrests were on criminal charges, not terrorism charges.

Meanwhile, we discovered that 17 known terrorists slipped past the program undetected, several of them more than once.

That includes Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad only days before his attempted bombing.

Mica has not pushed to defund SPOT and believes in its goals, but has asked for a follow-up review, and more "out of the box" thinking at the TSA.

"By every estimation the program is a failure. It hasn't caught one terrorist," Mica said.

The TSA claims that SPOT is one of its most effective programs since it's based strictly on behavior. It avoids racial profiling, and now, SPOT arrests now total 2,200.

The TSA has filed a response to WFTV's investigation. Read it here.