My view: Defending profiling: another option for TSA

By Brian Taylor

Published: Monday, Nov. 29 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

TSA security procedures are a sham. Analysis of recent bombings reveals a good enough method for defeating TSA security. A terrorist willing to conceal explosives in a body cavity and decline the scanner in favor of the pat-down would walk right on any commercial flight. A TSA pat-down does not now include a cavity search (but stay tuned to their website). Current screening procedures are calibrated to stop the likes of shoe bomber Richard Reid and underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and would not detect a body cavity bomb. Once aboard a body cavity bomber could detonate at altitude.

In case you think this is extreme or that no self-respecting jihadist would do such a thing, remember they already have. Last August, Al Qaeda bomber Abdullah Asieri detonated a pound of explosives concealed in his rectum near Saudi Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef, nearly killing the prince. Asieri killed himself, but not before penetrating several layers of palace security, including scans and pat-downs. If the TSA is serious about stopping these guys, they need to take very invasive measures. They say they're committed to doing what it takes. If making us safe means using yesterday's terror plot as the basis for screening procedures, then why isn't the TSA cavity searching everyone?

As a personal matter, I have no particular objection to be being scanned or frisked, although I would strenuously object to a cavity search. I'm a police officer and I routinely frisk people. It seems hypocritical to complain about my turn. Unlike the TSA, I need articulable cause before I put hands on someone. I flew out of Salt Lake City the other day, and I was frisked. When I flew home from Dallas I was scanned. Either is fine with me, but I don't confuse those things with real security. Security obliges us to be mindful of our threats, something the TSA seems determined not to do. Like the Chinese proverb says, "The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names." But did anyone notice that all nineteen 9/11 terrorists had similar profiles?

So here is the alternative to cavity searches and pat-downs. Create a profile of likely threats, and select travelers that fit for enhanced screening. That's the way the Israelis do it. They secure airports in a region awash with people who would gladly bring down an El Al flight. This, of course, raises howls about the evils of profiling and its incompatibility with the equal protection clause, etc.

Why the apoplexy about equal protection, but not a word about turning airports into Fourth Amendment free zones? Whatever happened to the right to be secure in our persons? How can that right be the basis for legal abortions, yet be insufficient to keep the government from patting-down my teenage daughter? Profile away, TSA. Look at the nationalities, height, weight, sex, dress, hair style, education, occupation, pulse rate, erratic eye movement, perspiration patterns, jewelry preferences, Amazon.com purchases, travel itineraries, religion, politics and yes, race of every known terrorist since 9/11 and see what trends emerge. Then focus your security efforts on those that fit the profile, even loosely.

Threat-based profiling would catch the body cavity bomber guy because we would actually be looking for him. Instead of real security, the TSA engages in the ridiculous charade of harassing people who are not threats. Instead of real security, the TSA maintains deliberate blindness to the people most inclined to hurt us. They believe if they search enough innocents they will eventually nab a bomber in the mix.

Abdullah Asieri demonstrated that the underwear bomber is yesterday's news. Profiling is the only way to stop Asieri's kind without getting the TSA deeply into everyone's, er, business. Profiling focuses on actual threats. Let's abandon the ineffective public show of searching all the wrong people in all the places they expect to be searched. Until then, let's hope TSA is not really serious about effective screening.

Brian Taylor lives in American Fork

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