I flew 120,000 miles last year -- though for these my carbon footprint sins I am repenting in 2010 by taking to the air far less often. But I'm quite practiced at the clumsy art of making it through security screening at airports. I even know which airports are most likely to quibble about this or that item in my carry-on luggage. With very few exceptions, I have found the TSA personnel to be professional and courteous. They get no complaints from me. But those who administer the program appear to have been asleep at the controls. So I found the Denver Post's
David Harsanyi's piece on airport security refreshing.
"I'm going to have to confiscate that tube of Crest," the agent informs you. "The packaging exceeds the 3-ounce limit on liquids." ...
(This is what 40 billion dollars will get you in what was once called "the war on terror," one of the Bush administration's most ridiculous official locutions.)
In the face of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's underwear bombing attempt, you can be sure we will ratchet up precautionary measures. Most will be useless. All will be annoying. ... if someone like Abdulmutallab can circumvent security, why are you being shaken down over a shampoo bottle?
As Bob Poole, director of transportation policy at Reason Foundation, recently wrote, this failure reflects the flawed thinking of aviation security policy, namely a fixation "on keeping bad things -- as opposed to bad people -- off of airplanes."
It is an unavoidable fact that these "bad people" tend to come from certain places and subscribe to a certain religious affiliation. Focus on them.
Those who think "profiling" the equivalent of racism or fascism, Chuck Hustmyre, an award-winning journalist and a retired federal agent, offers this
In the 1980s, an anti-government, neo-Nazi group called The Order committed a string of deadly bank and armored car robberies in the Pacific Northwest. All of the members of the group were white men. Had the police and FBI squandered their investigative resources by including black men, Jews, and members of the Swedish bikini team in their search for members of the white supremacist group, the investigators could have rightfully been accused of criminal negligence.
What is absurd is to pretend that profiling doesn't work at all, and that the mere mention of it is racist.
While it is possible that a fifty-year-old man in a business suit might pull a gun and rob a convenience store, it is much more probable that a twenty-year-old man in a hooded sweat jacket will do it. And if a store clerk casts a more wary eye on the twenty-year-old than on the fifty-year-old, is he discriminating? Is he profiling? The answer to both is yes. But is it reasonable? Is it justified? Again, the answer to both questions is yes, because the collective experience of tens of thousands of convenience store robberies is that a young man in a hooded sweat jacket is much more likely to be an armed robber than an older man in a business suit.
Profiling isn't a panacea. It's a tool. And it works, especially if it's used in conjunction with other investigative techniques. The danger in profiling is that investigators may lean too heavily upon it. They may exclude without further consideration anyone who doesn't meet the profile's basic parameters.
Here's a situation. Two people are trying to pass through security to board a plane. One is a sixty-year-old Danish woman carrying a Bible and traveling abroad for the first time. The other is a 28-year-old Muslim man carrying a Qu'ran and a passport indicating he recently returned from Pakistan. Both are traveling alone on one-way tickets.
On whom do you cast a warier eye?
If you don't believe that there exists a statistically higher probability that one of them is a terrorist and legitimately deserves more scrutiny than the other, then you are either grossly delusional or you believe that a certain number of deaths by terrorism is an acceptable tradeoff for not offending anyone.
To which I would add: If fanatical Christians were setting fire to the world the way fanatical Muslims are, as a Christian I would urge security officials to focus their limited resources accordingly -- perhaps as much out of contempt for those who were profaning my faith as out of legitimate regard for public safety.
“To allow the truth to be obscured is invariably a cause of scandal somewhere" wrote Henri de Lubac, "even if one has been tempted to prevaricate in order to avoid scandalizing this or that individual.”
I don't know how many fanatics will murder innocent people this coming year by blowing themselves up, or how many people they will manage to murder, but my guess is that not one of these murderous fanatics will be a non-Muslim. That is not a slander or a slur; it is a falsifiable prediction. I could be wrong, but even if only 99% of the suicide murderers are Muslims, it would be unconscionable for those responsible for the public safety to look the other way. Their job after all -- and their moral and social responsibility -- is to protect the lives
-- not the delicate feelings
-- of the innocent. The feelings should be protected as best they can by a sober and respectful explanation of the procedures necessary in these perilous times to protect lives.
I'm leaving for the airport in ten minutes for a flight to Australia. Wish me luck.