Saturday, December 04, 2010

Today's Reading Assignment

...John C. Wholstetter, writing at NRO on-line, debunks eight major air security myths, often used to justify the TSA's current system of peek-a-boo scanners and intrusive pat-downs. In his point/counter-point column, Mr. Wholstetter finds that arguments used to support the new techniques are flimsy, and the security measures are unlikely to make us safer. A few excerpts:

The fact that there have been no attacks since 9/11 vindicates TSA.
The logical fallacy here is known as post hoc, ergo propter hoc (“after this, therefore on account of this”). There is zero reason to credit TSA’s new tactics with anything save annoying unlucky travelers. We can see this by looking at incidents in which governments actually foiled terror plots. None of them involved TSA-style measures.

Remember the 2006 ten-jetliner plot hatched at Heathrow? The 1995 “Bojinka” terror plot hatched by 1993 World Trade Center–bombing mastermind Ramzi Youssef? The 2006 plot was broken up by the Brits, and the Filipinos broke up the second. Neither used TSA’s methods. The Brits used shoe-leather investigating, phone taps, and intelligence from a Pakistani interrogation of one detainee. And in 1995, Youssef was interrogated by the Philippine government, and confessed.

No other government uses the TSA scanners. No one — including the Israelis — uses intimate patdowns.


Each method terrorists use requires a targeted response.

Because terrorists have hidden stuff in their underwear, we must pat them down. So when terrorists use body cavities to conceal things, as surely they will, will TSA attempt to search everyone’s orifices? Not a chance: Americans will not stand for anything like this. Which is why the excuses for today’s patdown molestations are so infuriating and phony.

We need to catch people before they bring down planes. But we do not do this by making flying, already a grim business since 9/11, a humiliating ordeal. Making travelers cringe gives terrorists a victory even without bringing a plane down.


Americans won’t tolerate profiling.

Does anyone really believe that Americans, if given a choice between intimate patdowns and Israel-style interviews, would choose being groped?

The bottom line is that Israel’s methods work. Instead of having ill-trained TSA agents search for bad things, have well-trained agents search for bad people. Profile by behavior and circumstance (cash ticket, one-way trip, etc.), and leave most of us alone. Compile accurate no-fly lists. Heed credible warnings. Ignore political correctness.

Instead, Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano reportedly has two more Bright Ideas: unionizing TSA employees and special reduced screening for Muslims in traditional garb. The former, rejected when the Department of Homeland Security was established, would make it harder to fire incompetent employees. The latter would have the unintended impact of so enraging most Americans that they will insist lawmakers make TSA apply uniform rules.

Wholstetter's final point is particularly telling. Amid the public furor over TSA's new security rules, Ms. Napolitano is actually considering reduced measures for individuals who are most likely to hijack or bomb aircraft (based on their religion and ethnic background). When the new techniques were unveiled a few weeks ago, some observers predicted that the government would do something that would prompt public demand for full enforcement of the screening techniques. At the time, I dismissed those claims as the rantings of conspiracy theorists. Now, I'm not so sure.

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