Profiles in airport security

In the aftermath of the latest Islamo-terrorist plot to blow up airplanes, we can now look forward to enhanced airport screening procedures to ensure that no one is carrying on shampoo, toothpaste, and the like. So I suppose we should plan on getting to the airport three hours early for the next few months or longer.

But perhaps there’s a better way — increased use of profiling (I’m going to give the government the benefit of the doubt and assume that we’re already using profiling to some degree). As today’s Examiner editorial puts it:

There is no room left for the blind politically correct procedures that ignore this reality — our enemy is nearly always a young to middle-aged man from a Muslim nation or culture, and it is madness not to focus mainly on those who most readily match the known profile.

If the increased use of out-and-out profiling is too politically incorrect for this administration, there’s a third way. When our family flew from Israel during the 1990s, trained agents interviewed each set of passengers for up to a few minutes. The premise was that terrorists would betray themselves through the content of their answers and/or their body languages. In our experience, the interviewers were courteous and did not ask intrusive questions. The experience was not unlike questioning by customs officials, though of course there was no inquiry into what we purchased. This approach appears to have been totally successful, and last night I heard the former security chief at Israel’s international airport recommend it.

The Israeli approach, to be sure, would cost passengers a few extra minutes, but overall should entail less delay than cumbersome new search procedures. A more forceful objection stems from the fact that the Israelis were dealing with a comparatively small number of passengers and so, I imagine, could easily recruit, train, and adequately compensate people competent to conduct the interviews. In our situation, it may be easier to find folks who can examine shampoo than folks who can effectively examine people. So I guess I vote for enhanced profiling.

SCOTT adds: Laurcence Zuriff writes:

This is a true story.

Two weeks ago I was flying back to NYC from WDC with a business colleague on the Delta Shuttle. We purchased our tickets at the gate 45 minutes before flight time. On our ticket was a code ssss. When we pulled up to the security check point, my friend and I were escorted into a holding area, a 10 by five foot plexi-glass box. We were told to wait because we had been tagged for additional screening. About a minute later, two more individuals were put in our box, a fully uniformed US Marine Colonel and Dan Rather. We were all put through extensive screening and then allowed to leave. While I can understand why my friend and I were put to additional screening, we fit a profile of two male on site buyers of one way tickets, the other two seemed like a complete waste of valuable time.

I do appreciate the irony of Dan Rather being searched, but still think it is a colossal waste of resources.

JOHN adds: I second Paul’s suggestion. My wife and I had the same experience when we traveled to Israel around eleven years ago. A security person chatted with us for perhaps a minute; he asked who we were, why we were visiting Israel, etc. It was immediately obvious that we were not terrorists, and he moved on. Shortly after September 11, I read an interview with an Israeli intelligence official who contrasted this practice with the way we screen air travelers in America. “The difference,” he said, “is that you look for the weapon, while we look for the terrorist.” He added that when they are curious about a traveler they will often search his luggage, but this is more for the purpose of getting additional time to talk to him than in hopes of finding a weapon.

This approach may not be foolproof, but it would be a lot more effective than trying to figure out all of the ways in which terrorists might smuggle ingredients from which an explosive could be assembled onto an airplane.

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