When Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted the in-flight bombing of Northwest Flight 253 on Christmas day the immediate fall out was a demand for mandatory backscatter X-ray machines in U.S. airports. On the counter side of the coin privacy advocates have continually argued that this type of technology not only violates personal privacy but may prove to be the end privacy as we know it.
Aviation Security officials have responded that if we are to be secure in our travel that we must all be willing to sacrifice some personal liberty for “safety's sake”. The problem is that the air travel situation in this country is an amazing first world nightmare. Airlines are constantly in a poor financial state year end and year out. And it seems five years can not go by with out one major air carrier seeking protection from bankruptcy.
There is the constant problem of planes being late, passengers stranded on board for hours, and additional fees for having the audacity to pack luggage. Add to it the ineffective bureaucratic and politically correct nightmare of federally controlled aviation security. The band-aid on the band aid solution of treating the cancer that is terrorism.
I will contend immediately that I am not an expert in aviation security. However, one must realize that the security issues that passengers contend with prior to boarding airplanes is not in itself aviation security. Rather it is access control, and when done effectively it is also target hardening. The second thing we must remember is that terrorism is theater.
Whatever the body count is at the end of the day whether it is a suicide bomb in Falujah or the attacks on 9/11, the concept is to use fear, dead bodies, and streaming television to grind the target audience to a dead stop. To the point that everything stops. Whether it's the fruit market or the financial one.
Fourteen years in the private security industry I have at times been retained by various corporations to conduct physical security auditing in order to look for holes in their already implemented security procedures. The first thing I tell them is that every system has points of failure, but this does not necessarily reflect that the entire system is in and of itself a failure. The second thing that I do is let them know that between two sets of dates I will attempt to physically breach their security.
When weak and vulnerable areas are exposed the clients will almost immediately request the latest technology to solve the problem, and in some cases technology is the answer.
However there is no such thing as a 100% solution in the world of security. And like any other ongoing fight adapting to the situation is the key to finding, and then exploiting your enemies weaknesses. And that is precisely what is being done to us. Because to some we are the enemy they are fighting.
The problems, and there are many. Begin with feel good politics. You can rely on technology only so far, but ask any security professional for a real answer in preventing terrorism in the skies and they will tell you profiling.
We have demonized this word on the already too large alter of political correctness. If you say profiling then automatically it is insinuated that you mean “racial” profiling. In truth what Hollywood calls profiling and the media demonizes the F.B.I. calls “criminal investigative analysis”. Which is in effect the third wave of investigative science.
The first wave, developed by Scotland Yard in the 1800s was the study of clues left by the criminal themselves, the second wave is the study of the crime itself. Whereas the “third” wave is the study of the criminal's psyche.
Profiling (in my own opinion) suffers from its own prejudices within the criminal investigative community. For instance, when the Beltway sniper was shooting people the F.B.I. “Profilers” believed they should be looking for a white male who was disgruntled against the U.S. Government and was also a gun rights advocate. They further felt that he may be apart of a larger group (militia) and that this may be part of a domestic terrorism program being delivered.
Analyst were shocked to discover that the Belt Way Sniper was in fact a pair Muslim black males. The ring leader John Allen Muhammad when finally caught stated that he was waging a “jihad”.
This is not to say that profiling is a failure. Quite the contrary Ted Bundy and Gary Ridgway (the Green River Killer) were caught through criminal investigative analysis. So we know that “Profiling” does in deed work, however one must keep an open mind about the unknowns they are investigating. Local law enforcement also needs to step out of the dark ages and embrace the fact that not only are we in a war, but that it is not just a military problem to contend with overseas. And so do rank and file civilians.
The problem we face with this new backscatter 3d imaging in that not only is it still in its early years, where we can not be sure of what health implications after long term and prolonged exposure. It also is one more “thing” that leads us to become complacent, lulled into a false comfort where technology begins to replace the intense hard work of criminal detection.
While backscatter technology can inform the screener that a person has something in their pocket that is non-metal in nature it can not say whether it is hand sanitizer or fertilizer, or C-4.
The fact of the matter is we already have some of the best bomb detection “technology” available to us, that would lead to more job opportunities and long term employment. It has an amazing rate of success, is able to give an immediate profile with no prejudices inherited to its system. And for every new scanner placed in an airport ten-twelve explosive detection “systems” could be deployed. I am of course talking about K-9 bomb detection units.
It would put more man power in the airports, provide long reaching job opportunities in every way from breeders, trainers, educators, to officers/handlers. Yet since it isn't “new” or “glamorous” we won't pursue it as an idea
If the United States was committed to fighting the war-on-terror-in-the-skies posters of wanted terrorists would line the numerous bare walls in airports giving people a heads up to be on the look out for these suspected individuals. This would be akin to the highly successful television series America's Most Wanted (as of the date of this writing has led to the capture of 1,099 individuals).
Instead we have a nebulous “no fly list” of suspected individuals which according to Homeland Security's Michael Chertoff only contains the names of 2,500 people while the ACLU contends that the number of individuals suspected and listed to varying degrees actually numbers around one million. Including persons who have criticized the TSA publicly (bloggers included).
The time as come that we must realize that while the rank and file TSA agents have a difficult job, we need to do away with the men an women in nice blazers and clip on ties and replace them with well trained highly motivated armed men and women in BDUs. It is also time that we employed our National Guard on the exterior of our airports and began giving them mass education in civil liberties.
Someone needs to lead the charge to turn our airports into money making business enterprises instead of bureaucratic city controlled chaos. The result would be efficiency, profitability, and security. Imagine if Lee Iacocca ran Laguardia.
As presented to us now, the powers that be have no intention of making air travel any safer (or more convenient for that matter) only a politically correct appearance of doing something. Unless of course the idea is to frustrate the terrorists with delays and inefficiency.
We need our elected officials to step up and stop this continual interruption of free commerce by delaying business persons who need to move about the country in order to restore our economy and end this concept that it is better to inhibit the personal privacy of all rather than offend the sensibilities of some.
Because the last time I checked the war out there that continually comes to our soil from the air is not being waged by old women in orthopedic shoes and five year olds with apple juice containers. It is being waged by Muslim Extremists who seek to kill, murder, destroy....and terrorize.