Friday, January 1, 2010

Transportation Security Theater

Transportation Security Theater, or something like that, was how I heard TSA (Transportation Security Agency) described.  Don't get me wrong.  There are some hard working and pretty bright people in TSA uniforms (and some dunces).  I was going through security to get on an airliner in Vermont and there was my old crew chief from the 86th Tactical Fighter Wing checking out passengers.  I trusted her to crew my single seat, single engine aircraft.  She was the person who helped me pass the Unit Colors to my replacement, Colonel Joe Rodero.  If anyone is doing a good job, she is it.  But, she is, sadly, part of the Security Theater.

Free lance reporter Michael Totten writes in Commentary magazine on this issue, with the title "Profile Me If You Must":
I don’t want to be profiled at the airport.  It has happened before, and I hate it.  Volunteering for more isn’t what I feel like doing right now, but our airport security system is so half-baked and dysfunctional it may as well not even exist, and flying is about to become more miserable anyway.  So rather than doubling down on grandma and micromanaging everyone on the plane, we might want to pay as much attention to people as to their luggage, especially military-aged males who make unusual and suspicious-looking travel arrangements.  That’s what the Israelis do, and that’s why security agents take me into a room and interrogate me every time I pass through Ben-Gurion International Airport.

Israeli airport security is the most thorough and strict in the world, as one might expect in one of the most terrorized countries.  No plane leaving Ben-Gurion has ever been hijacked or otherwise attacked by a terrorist.  The system works, yet you don’t have to take off your shoes in the security line, no one cares if you pack perfume from the duty-free in your carry-on, you can listen to your iPod 55 minutes before landing, and you don’t have to stand in front of invasive and expensive body-scanning machines.
Sure, there is the ACLU in the United States, but one would think that if there was a reasonable program in place it would pass muster with the Federal Judiciary.  Judges have to fly too, and they had to be smart enough to make it through law school.

If one wishes to make an argument against profiling it should be that eventually terrorist organizations will learn to recruit and train people who don't meet the profile. However, that simply complicates their problems and also makes it easier for the US to infiltrate agents into the terrorist organization.  Move, counter-move, counter-counter-move.  Remaining static is not the path to success for either side.

At this time we need to have a debate about profiling.  If you are a male US citizen of "military age" and you showed up and paid cash for a one-way ticket you should be prepared to answer a few questions and you should accept it.  Not everyone that gets pulled over will be a Muslim.  Way back in the mid-1970s, when Italian airports were patrolled by men with sub-machine guns, I was pulled out of line and taken into the "room" by two guards who went over my briefcase and my story.  I don't think they thought I was a terrorist.  I think they thought I was smuggling money.  It singled me out and it took about six or seven minutes.  I was profiled.  But, they were doing their job.

One argument against profiling that I have seen is that TSA is not capable of doing it correctly and it will become harassment.  An EMail came into my in-basket with this paragraph:
The thing is, it does depend who's doing the profiling and whether they are trained well. If there were a few highly talented people per airport who knew what they were doing, who profiled based on attitude and intel warnings rather than race or religion, then we'd have a good program. But we all know that the federal government never does the smart thing when it comes to homeland security. We can't afford to train all those TSA slugs...
Well, I don't "know" that the Federal Government is incapable of getting this right.  But, we aren't going to do it hiring folks at Pay Band G (out of A through M) at $38,776 per annum.

In a way, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was correct.  The system worked.  The Christmas bomber wasn't able to get an effective weapon on board the aircraft, but he proved that he could get a fair amount of PETN explosive on board the aircraft.  Now the terrorist confederation only needs a better way to shape it and detonate it.

Profiling is not the sole answer, but for right now it would help avoid nuisances like Mr Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab trying to blow himself up.

Profiling is not the be-all and end-all of airport security, but it has a role to play and should not be ignored.

In the mean time, I think restricting knives and guns from airline flights still continues to be a good idea.  Who knows what the passengers might have done to Mr Abdullmutallab if they had been armed.

UPDATE:

Here is an article on Israeli airport security, "Security and Defense: Learning to fly, Israeli-style", from the Jerusalem Post.

Regards  —  Cliff

  I have linked to Michael Totten's web page so that (1) you can see the comments and (2) so you can see the tip jar.  Mr Totten is "reader-funded".
  If the thought of being profiled bothers you, you shouldn't drive your car out of state. Nor should you rent a car at an airport where the odds are that you will get one that has plates from "out of state".  Aside from the State Trooper who might note that you are five miles an hour over the speed limit and are from—wait for it—out of state, if you go to New Hampshire you might find, some day, that the Massachusetts State Policy are checking you to see what you bought up there, so they can later make sure you pay tax on it.  I don't know if they are still doing it, but at one time the Virginia revenue folks would sit outside DC package stores and then follow Virginia tagged cars back into Virginia and then pull them over for avoiding the Virginia liquor tax.  Nor should you move to Lowell, Massachusetts, where you will be profiled and forever known as a "Blow In".

4 comments:

ncrossland said...

One major correction to your blog Cliff.......the system DIDN'T work......the kid WAS able to get a functional weapon on board the flight....but like TSA....he fumbled the USE of the weapon thus doing more harm to himself than anyone around him. In short.....the system didn't work......luck was just with us.

Why is it that boarding a plane in Israel gets you a thorough pat down especially when you meet "a profile." Nobody complains there......and if you do...you simply do fly.....ever again.

In defense of very targeted profiling......."TOUGH." Not all Arabs are terrorists, but so far, all terrorists are Arabs. I would think that there is a clear message there. And if the Arabs who aren't terrorists are offended....as they surely will be if only because it is great racial and cultural theater.......then I would suggest to them that the rid the maggots from their midst....as only they can do. Put another way.......if you are Muslim......and you are offended by being clumped together with extremists of your faith and culture......you are either with them, or actively against them...there is no conditional gray area.

If we play stringently against extremists, they will endeavor to "break the code" and come at us from another angle. OK...and when they do.....perhaps we will have discovered it in time using HUMINT that simply doesn't exist today because of American PC.....and if we discover it when it is implemented, we'll change our game accordingly.

Fighting terrorism is not the domain of "community organizing."

jotrud said...

Well Cliff I am sure glad that you are a "Blow In". Happy New Year

The New Englander said...

Multiple-layered irony noted here -- the very same credentialed leftist who can wax eloquently about why anti-terrorism profiling is bad sees no inherent contradiction in welcoming any person of overseas birth to Lowell with open arms, but uses a derisive label to describe those of us who were born somewhere else in the U.S. and made it here in some roundabout way.

I've finally realized the point I've been trying to articulate to you, Kad Barma, and others in the blogosphere. I'm going to parallel John McWhorter (Losing the Race, Authentically Black) who argues that although racism exists in the U.S., it's not an overwhelming obstacle to whatever dreams an individual person of color might have (i.e. to become an astronaut, heart surgeon, trial lawyer, President, etc.)

I see something similar here. YES, I will concede, there are some people who will never accept a Lowellian who is not a native and whose parents didn't both go to Lowell High School. Fine, point conceded.

But my next question -- is nativism here strong enough to prevent non-natives from attaining whatever their goals are?

My argument -- no, it isn't.

If I define my goal as becoming a *player* in local events (extremely loosely worded by design, as that could accomodate an almost limitless number of paths), then I don't see how not being from Lowell can stop me.

C R Krieger said...

Greg

I think you are absolutely correct.  There was a comment made in passing about a week ago which I just loved.  It was after Christmas Eve Mass and John Cox and I passed by each other and he and I were both exchanging greetings with others and with each other and he said Merry Christmas to me and then said, frankly, in the nicest sort of way, in a very Christmas sort of way:  "You were a bad boy this year."  I took that to mean that some of the things I did were crossways with his own agenda.  At the same time, I felt no animosity in what he said.  I took it as a indication of some respect that he would joke about it in that way.

And, specifically to your point, there was an article by Air Force General Steve Lorenz, Commander of Air Education and Training Command (AETC) in the Association of Graduates magazine.  In it he talks about how tough it was for him to get an appointment to the Air Force Academy and then to make it through the four years of academics.  But, he used the motto "Never, ever give up" and it worked for him.  He is now a four star general.

There are a lot of "blow ins" doing very well in Lowell, and just as important, for Lowell, including on the City Council.

Thanks for the comment. And you too, Neal and Joanne.

Regards  —  Cliff