Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Profiling Question

Joe Carter is the web-editor of First Things, a journal.

He carried on for a while about the necessity for nudiepix and crotchgrabs, swiping at Krauthammer (!!) and Drudge in the process, and generally moaning softly in the direction of Incompetento, Dominatrix of DHS.

He was taken apart by a combox response, which I will re-post in full because it is dead-on.

I've been a defense and security analyst for more than thirty years. I've studied terrorism and counterterrorism for a good many of those. My principal objection to TSA is not that its inspections are intrusive, but that their inspections are ineffective, amounting to--as George Will put it--"security theater". That is, nothing TSA does is likely to stop a determined terrorist plot, but does waste a lot of resources that could be applied better in other ways. A good case can be made that TSA creates a false sense of security and actually creates more targets for terrorists in the form of long lines of vulnerable passengers densely queued in the security line. After all, none of the people in the line have been screened, and a couple of guys with exploding backpacks and/or submachine guns could create carnage.

Aside from that, TSA screening is generally capricious and has not proven useful in thwarting real terrorists--though it has proven all too good at humiliating and occasionally terrorizing innocent passengers. The most effective line of defense against terrorists to date has been alert and active airline passengers themselves.

It is also false to characterize what Charles Krauthammer and other have advocated as "racial profiling". Most of them advocate behavioral profiling, which is what Israeli security does. They have built up a very comprehensive taxonomy of behavior and activities that characterize likely terrorists. From the moment a passenger enters the Tel Aviv airport, he is questioned and observed, and not just the perfunctory "Did you pack your own bags?" questions. Those meeting the profile are selected for additional interviews, which might--ultimately--result in a bag and body search. Note that while Israel uses metal detectors, it does not use--and has no intention of using--full body scanners. Nor does it comprehensively search every passenger who comes through the door.

Now, you may not like it, but your basic terrorist to date has been a single Muslim male, aged 20-30, traveling alone, without checked bags, on a one way ticket, usually paid for in cash. Most have visited countries of dubious reputation, such as Yemen, Egypt and Afghanistan. Yes, there has been a spate of home-grown terrorists, but while these do not meet the criterion of Middle Eastern appearance, they do meet the other factors.

Yet we do not focus on such persons, but in the name of fairness, subject all to the same degree of scrutiny, pulling people out of the line for "random" checks. These may actually not be so random, but are frequently dictated by non-operational criteria, such as the number of male and female screeners on duty at a particular moment. Since TSA does not permit cross-sex patdowns, when there are more women than men on duty, more women are screened than men. Yet men are by far the more prominent terrorist risk. Women wearing skirts are also, apparently, subject to searches more than those wearing slacks, on what? The assumption that it's easier to hide weapons under a skirt than inside pants? Then why search men, most of whom do wear pants? I also note that in all my years of flying, I have never seen TSA pull over a woman wearing a burka or chadour. Why is that?

My wife theorizes that the most unlikely targets are frequently selected for enhanced screening precisely because they are not threatening. A middle aged woman, an old man with a cane, small children--these are most unlikely to be terrorists or to resist a search, therefore they are also the least likely to beat the snot out of an offensive TSA screener or to blow themselves to smithereens if pulled aside.

The bottom line is this: behavioral and ethnic profiling does work, is highly effective when employed properly, and focuses the full weight of the security apparatus on the most likely subjects. As Frederick the Great noted, "He who defends everything defends nothing", and that is precisely the situation at airports today. By assuming everyone is a threat, resources are spread too thin--and this forces a reliance on high technology fixes which are relatively easy to circumvent.

Of course, to apply Israeli style profiling properly, one must follow the Israeli lead, and assign the job to highly trained (and highly paid) professionals, and not to the minimum wage, brain dead mouthbreathers who comprise the bulk of TSA employees--who are soon to be unionized, or so I understand.

Is it any wonder, then, that al Qaeda laughs at our pathetic airport screening processes? In their line of work, any time one of their actions imposes costs, inconvenience and social disruption on us, they win.

So much for Joe, (probably a kindly soul) and the Idiots of TSA. It was never, really, the nudiepix and crotchgrabs.

It was the plan-design. But with The Regime, that's what one expects.

1 comment:

Tim Morrissey said...

But the media have now told us that because people spent money the day after Thanksgiving, the recession is over; and because the mass protests against backscatter and groping never materialized the day before Thanksgiving, Americans now look forward to being radiated or groped. To expect that the TSA would ever even consider behavioral profiling, much less employ the kind of people who could actually do it, would be as wrong as to expect that the popular media will not continue to draw simplistic, shortsighted, and incorrect conclusions regarding the daily flow of events.