Profiling is the only sane way to go
Screening everyone leads to bankruptcy, not safety
By Barry Rubin
The Washington Times
5:02 p.m., Thursday, December 2, 2010
A passenger at Palm Beach International Airport is patted down by a TSA worker on Wednesday in West Palm Beach, Fla. Security lines moved quickly the day before Thanksgiving. (Associated Press)
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Security checks at American airports have become America’s most controversial topic. Most people assume the current system is doing a good job fighting terrorism but is merely too intrusive.
In fact, this system is ineffective and even counterproductive.
Terrorism on American internal flights is a low-frequency threat. It is hard to mount a sophisticated attack from within the United States in the post-Sept. 11 period. The number of potential suicide terrorists on planes is limited, as is the number of good bomb makers.
Out of 14 million passengers during the year, there might be zero to five or so terrorists. To find them by checking everyone else in that huge group more or less equally is virtually certain to fail, especially because terrorists have the choice of so many tactics.
The goal of U.S. internal airport security: To be so impressive that it scares off terrorists, to catch any terrorists who are trying to board and to persuade the citizenry that it is secure. Most of the emphasis in practice is put on the last of those goals.
At a railroad station in California, one of my colleagues was asked by a security screener to show his driver’s license. He started laughing and asked, “Why?”
The guard said back sarcastically, “Haven’t you heard of September 11?”
But that’s why my colleague was laughing. Any terrorist can easily get a valid drivers’ license. Asking for such a document makes the guard (and the public) feel better, but it is worthless.
No doubt, the U.S. government will claim it has kept terrorists out of airports. But this is misleading. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has never caught a terrorist at an airport. And why go through an airport nowadays with any reasonable level of security when you can look for relatively unguarded targets?
That’s what terrorists do. Get your enemy to send all of his troops to guard someplace, then hit at a weak point. For good reason, then, terrorists have moved to other methods and targets. Attackers board passenger planes outside the United States or send freight on unchecked cargo planes.
© Copyright 2010 The Washington Times, LLC.
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