In Saturday’s Joplin Globe (11/20/10) columnist Jay Ambrose says he has a problem with how the U.S. is handling anti-terrorism security, and I agree with him. He sensibly points out that the new screening methods for airline passengers are controversial and maybe
even unconstitutional. While he points out that the airline safety record is good, it seems to me that the more pertinent point is that there is a better way to make air travel, and the nation in general, safe. The way is the tried-and-proven Israeli way, i.e., profiling.
Thus far every single terrorist or would-be terrorist has been an Islamic ideologue. If we adopt the profiling method it will be easy and quick for well-trained screeners to separate and send on their way the vast majority of people who clearly don’t match the profile.
Are moderate Muslims going to feel unfairly singled-out? For sure some will, but perhaps the situation may inspire some of them to speak out more forcefully against the more radical members of their faith. Frankly, if I were a moderate Muslim I would rather be
interrogated for a few minutes than groped or irradiated.
Israeli profiling has been successful for 4 decades. How does it work? I found a good account of that HERE. Please don’t skip this link – it’s important.
Another example is the Fox TV series, “Lie To Me”, based on a real-life profiler. The technique works by asking pertinent questions and observing reactions from both the subject and her companions. I am absolutely convinced that by using profiling the vast majority of passengers can be cleared very quickly and sent on their way, all without taking off their shoes, being zapped or being groped. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Why haven’t we already adopted this proven method? Our government does not attempt to justify its decisions but several likely reasons come to mind:
1. Political correctness, or fear of being accused of ethnic bias. But this is a false fear. The added attention to Muslims is no slur against their religion any more than would be investigating unusually-large ammunition or nitrate shipments to survivalists in Montana. Muslims need to be protected too and the fact is that almost all of the terrorists so far have been Muslim extremists.
2. Bureaucratic momentum. The TSA is a child of DHS, an unnecessary layer added during the Bush 43 administration to demonstrate action against 9/11. As in big business, growth is a goal because it justifies extension of power and larger executive salaries. (Aside to the GOP: So you Promise to cut the size of government? Start with DHS and then go on to the DNI, another unnecessary government layer.)
3. Visible reassurance of safety to the flying customer base, in reaction to 9/11. In effect this is largely a government subsidy to shore up the business.
Then consider the weak link in the scanning system, the human being. Imagine having a TSA job where you sit at a monitor and look at naked body images all day. How effective is that going to be? My mind boggles at the idea of such a job. (Note: based on casual observation the percentage of the population with attractive bodies these days is actually rather low.) I don’t care if the viewers trade off, take breaks or whatever, human beings are going to find ways of fighting the boredom and I don’t want to think about it any further than that! Use your imagination.
Ambrose mentions another reason to adopt a more sensible approach to screening, and that is that the present method uses resources better reserved for the alternate but very likely future modes of attack, such as WMD’s and bombs shipped as cargo. Consider the absurdity of what is taking place in airport lines while half the cargo loaded under the passengers’ feet is unscreened. Ocean shipping is even worse. Thus far it is impractical to even inspect or scan most shipping containers. They go straight from ship to truck, contents unchecked.
Instead of developing methods to look for nukes and anthrax we are spending the money on body scanners. Ambrose mentions a cost of $200,000 per machine. Times 373 machines, that equals $74,600,000. For that you could hire and train more than 7,000 profilers at more than $100,000 per year! And that doesn’t even count the savings of the TSA jobs that would be replaced. (We wouldn’t need that many. According to Answers.com there are only 376 airports in the U.S. that have regularly-scheduled air service and most of those are very small.)
A Fourth Amendment issue has been raised regarding the new policy, and properly so. If groping and zapping doesn’t make you less secure in your person, I don’t know what will. That said, I would personally have no problem enduring the scans or searches if there weren’t a viable alternative, but we have one: profiling. As George Will notes in his column Sunday, not using profiling “. . . requires the amiable nonsense that no one has the foggiest idea what an actual potential terrorist might look like.” (Memo to the TSA: Step 1, announce, “All right, all you guys named Mohammed, step over there for some extra questions.”)