Saturday, August 12, 2006

Now, can we start profiling?

If we can profile Abraham Lincoln (on the penny), why can't we profile airline passengers?

Okay, stupid joke. But not as stupid as our politically correct, nondiscriminatory Transportation Security Administration.

It was a sure thing that, 10 minutes after the plot to blow up airliners by mixing liquids into a potentially explosive blend was revealed, the national security establishment would immediately react — because it never acts with forethought, always reacts — by making all passengers check or throw out whatever liquids they had in their hand luggage. And then, for good measure, making everyone go through security at two different points.

And, in overwhelming part, passengers reacted to the enhanced crowding and delays stoically in the belief that the authorities were "doing what they had to do to make air travel safe." With such encouragement, the new regime of prohibitions and more searches will probably become standard operating procedure. Allow plenty of time: best to arrive at the airport the day before your journey. For international flights, show up for check-in two days early.

React and Inconvenience: that should be the TSA motto, sewn on their uniform patches. Richard Reid tries to set off a bomb in his shoe: got it! Make every passenger take off their shoes and run them through the X-ray. Plotters try to mix explosive liquids: got it! Ban all liquids!

Next time it may be terrorists who figure out how to wire their teeth with explosives. Got it! Recruit dentists to X-ray the teeth of every passenger. Percussive contact lenses: got it! Uniformed ophthlamologists, next stop in security clearance. As the list of attempted sabotage methods lengthens to include every possible possession, prosthesis, and body cavity, the security maze will begin to resemble a teaching hospital: ear, nose, and throat this way ("Have your ears, nose, and throat open and ready for inspection"); musculo-skeletal examination to your left ("Please remove all casts, metal plates from your head, metal pins from arm and leg fracture sites, and artificial limbs and place them in the tray"); urinology to the right ("grab a plastic cup, provide a sample -- keep moving! Keep it moving!").

The TSA, like most government agencies, cannot be reformed. Airline security has become an enervating, time-consuming chore for everyone because the government must adhere to the ludicrous principle that terrorists are randomly distributed throughout the population. To acknowledge anything else would be discrimination, our modern version of the seven deadly sins all packed into one.

Smoke was still rising from Ground Zero when Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, a holdover diversity hack from the Clinton administration, announced that there would be no profiling to determine which passengers posed the greatest risk. He even declared that no more than two people who appeared to be Muslims could be given extra scrutiny on any flight. Fat lot of good that would have done on 9/11.

The Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS II), a perfectly reasonable proposed airline profiling and background check system, would have eliminated most of the reactive and mass-produced security madness. It was based on the intelligent idea that airport security should be the last line of defense, not the one and only defense. The best security screening could have taken place in a relatively unhurried and efficent manner, not in the pressured atmosphere of huge numbers of people trying to board flights. I probably don't have to tell you what happened to CAPPS II. It was killed because of protests from the ACLU and other so-called "civil liberties" groups, horrified that members of some groups might have been given more thorough attention than Amish grandmothers.

So, next time you're shuffling forward at 2.7 feet per minute toward the checkpoints for further nondiscriminatory humiliation, be thankful you live in a country where everyone is equal, including jihadists.


David Foster said...

I wonder if the members of the ACLU, etc ever think about what would happen to civil liberties in America is there were multiple successful terrorist attacks on a scale resembling the planned attack that was just stopped. It seems very probable to me that there would be widespread civil disorder, and there would be public calls for martial law, or something very like it, on a level that would not be possible for politicians to resist. The constriction of civil liberties would dwarf the things the ACLU & friends are now squawking about.

Anonymous said...

The more 'welcoming' and 'open' we are as a country, the less freedom we have, seemingly.
The rights of citizens take a back seat to the rights of hostile outsiders not to be 'profiled' or offended.
All this could have been avoided, if only we had never had the 1965 Immigration Act which opened up the floodgates. And now political correctness hamstrings us in dealing with the complications.

Anonymous said...

While I agree with part of what you said, I'm not sure about the conclusion. You're right, the TSA is reactive, and every time they close a particular avenue for sneaking deadly weapons onto passenger planes, those who are interested can just find a new method.

But if they were to start outwardly profiling, what makes you think terrorists wouldn't find a way to sneak deadly weapons onto passenger planes via Amish grandmothers?

Rick Darby said...

I might have discussed profiling more thoroughly, but I try to keep postings to a reasonable length. Anyway, as you may know, profiling doesn't mean just singling out people of certain nationalities or appearance. It involves aggregating a constellation of factors, including many not related to ethnicity: for instance, travel history, last-minute ticket purchase or cash purchase, and various kinds of background information.

All of this, in the proposed CAPPS II program, was derived from publicly available databases. It was already recorded somewhere — the system required no rooting around in people's trash cans, hidden microphones or other invasions of privacy.

Yes, terrorists are inventive and it's conceivable they could recruit someone unlikely to appear suspicious. But I'm not suggesting that innocent-looking passengers receive no security screening. New developments in hardware such as scanners that detect molecular emanations from potentially explosive materials will help, as will much-needed 100 percent cargo screening.

No system can be absolutely effective, but it would help a great deal if we could concentrate resources on the core population from which aviation terrorists have historically been drawn.

Anonymous said...

Ah. Thanks for the clarification. Now I agree. Nice posts.

PD111 said...


What a great post. By extending the principle of non-profiling principles of securty measures, you have exposed its absurdity.