Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Time to embrace proper profiling at U.S. airports

Is there any bigger prize for a Jihadist terrorist than an Isreali plane or airport? Probably not. Yet, in thirty years there has not been a successful attack on an El Al plane nor has a plane from the Tel Aviv airport been hijacked. One would think that in a post-9/11 world, we might want to consult with Isreali airport security and see if we could pick up some pointers.

However, there is a great fear of profiling here in the USA. I don’t believe it’s so much a matter of being afraid of being labelled “racist” as the fear of liability. Isreali airport security profiliing is not about race. It’s about behavior. Obviously a 22-year old from Saudi is going to attract a bit more attention than a 64-year old Irishman. But the Isreali’s don’t strip search every 20 something Arab. It’s not necessary and would only serve to alienate paying customers. What they do focus on is conversation, speech patterns, facial expressions, eye movement, body language. Security is both uniformed and covert. Agents engage people in trivial conversation. They are trained to be attentive to things that don’t make sense. Ask a similar question twice during the course of a lengthy conversation. Get two different answers. That’s a red flag. It’s similar to the type of security at major casinos. Everyone is being watched by someone, yet most aren’t conscious of it.

So why don’t we employ some of the same techniques here??Because it would necessitate the most feared thing in the American system of justice; the judgment call. Here in the most litigious society on Earth, the most dangerous thing you can do is employ logic and reason on your own. In Isreal, if you’re pulled out of line and subjected to higher scrutiny and turn out to be innocent, you get your things together and proceed to your flight. Here, you call your attorney and start preparing the lawsuit, and you’ll probably win or at least settle out of court. So, we attempt to make all security procedures a matter of uncontestable fact checking or strict adherance to detailed procedures. We confiscate shampoo, remove shoes and ban nail clippers. Furthermore, there’s no rhyme or reason to who we subject to higher scrutiny. The more random the better. We don’t want to be accused of singling somebody out. Then we’d have to explain our reasoning. Reasoning is frowned upon.

The other drawback is training. You can’t just hire somebody off the street, give them a two-week orientation and expect them to be an expert profiler. Learning to read the “tells” of a would-be terrorist takes continous and long-term training, as well as sound reasoning ability. It’s expensive and time consuming. High tech equipment is also expensive, but much easier to deploy quickly. That’s why it is favored. Also, there is less liability exposure from a false positive from a machine, than from a human being.

Another, I think lesser, factor is that there are a lot of people in America who have convinced themselves that the Jihadists only want to destroy us because they don’t really understand us. It’s an appealing prospect. It simplifies the situation considerably. All we have to do is show the Jihadists how cool we really are, and everything will be groovy. The fact is, the Jihadists see the direction that the “civilized” countries are taking the world in and they don’t like it one bit. If Mr. Rogers were our president, they’d still want to take him out. Democracy, equal rights, tolerance of opposing views and lifestyles are simply not consistent with the world they’d like to create, and they never will be. Lax security in the name of demonstrating our civility is just going to get more people killed.

We can effectively employ profiling without being racist and without turning air travel into shear torture. We need to consult with our Isreali friends, casino security experts and perhaps some of the most successful poker players in the world. Bombs don’t blow up planes. Crazy people do.

No comments: