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2010 November 26 Friday
Identifying Dangerous People At Airports

NY Times Op-Ed columnist Roger Cohen has a column complaining about how ex-Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is making money promoting the selling of body scanners to airports. Buried way down in his column he says improved intelligence can be used to more precisely target who gets searched.

Intelligence has improved beyond measure since 9/11. It can be used far more effectively at airports. Instead of humiliating everyone, focus on the very small proportion of travelers who might present a threat.

He's writing in what Roissy calls The New York Beta Times. So we have to decode into common sense English. Is he seriously saying the government has so much meaningful intelligence about people before they arrive at an airport that very precise focus on known dangerous people is possible? That is obviously not true and it seems unlikely that he means this. Or is he trying to sell profiling as acceptable by relabeling it as driven by intelligence?

I've come across arguments on the web that since Muslims come from Eastern European, Middle Eastern, Central Asian, African, South Asian, and many other ethnic groups that profiling is not practical. Supposedly Muslims look like too many people who are not dangerous. Well, that argument does not hold up. How many people with American accents have tried to blow up an airplane? How many immigrant US citizens have tried to blow up an airplane? Just from accent alone we can start to divide between lower and higher risk groups.

If we wanted to get really fancy about it then if a database of every driver's license was tagged with a citzen/non-citizen flag that alone would allow a big division of people. A database of all people who are naturalized citizens with country of origin would allow low and higher risk US citizens to be distinguished.

Profiling is about odds. If we focus on the highest risk people (young adult males with accents or passports or other ID checks that put them as coming from the highest risk countries) then security personnel could look more thoroughly in directions that matter. 70 year old ladies with an Alabama accent are not high, medium, or even low risks. They are extremely low risks. Hot babe teenage girls in short skirts are also extremely low risks (at least for terrorism). Most people can easily be seen to be very low risks. Why not use this information?

The argument that the terrorists can recruit people who look like us misses the point that if we force them to do that we greatly reduce the size of their recruiting pool and the frequency of their attacks. At the same time, we force them to try to recruit where US law enforcement and intelligence people are more likely to detect them. A terrorist attack has to line up many things to make it work. Profiling makes the odds of success lower. Look how well it works for the Israelis.

By Randall Parker    2010 November 26 08:52 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
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