Given all the hub-bub about the TSA and full body scanners recently I thought I might throw my hat in the ring too. Terrorism like everything else is a matter of numbers. According to Nationmaster.com Canada has the 4th highest deaths to terrorist act ratio in the world with 11.66 deaths/act. Surpassed only by Kenya, Chad and Barbados. Ya, Barbados that wonderful sandy beached island everyone wants to go to for Christmas.
The US by comparison is 8th on the list with half as many deaths 5.89 deaths/act. The funny (or not so funny) thing is Rwanda only has 2.4 deaths/act which means either most oft the terrorist attacks are non-lethal or shit is so bad there you have to do something really extreme before they will call it a “terrorist act”.
Now with stats like that it’s no wonder we want screening. The funny thing is, we want screening for everyone else. We know that we are not a threat but because we don’t want to single anyone out we subject ourselves to ridiculous procedures. Here’s the truth. Profiling works. It might not be politically correct or pretty but it works; which is why the FBI does it, why the CIA uses it and why there are shows like CSI, Criminal minds and…the Profiler.
But I digress, the issue with the TSA and security in airports in general is the people hired are unskilled, untrained, minimum-wage earners. They are told to follow orders and that is about all they can do. They are also not empowered to make decisions. For example, in one airport I was in recently there is a pad on the the floor that points an arrow either left or right. If the arrow goes right, you go through regular screening. If it goes left, you get the special treatment.
Are you telling me you couldn’t have picked this guy out of a line up as someone you might want to screen? This random selection is how we end up with the TSA strip searching a kid,
And padding down a screaming, terrorized three year old
And is that really how we want our security determined? By a random number generator? We have known for almost 40 years that random security does not work.
There is an interesting article on Homeland Security Watch (via @sladner) by Deirdre Walker. She was the Assistant Chief of the Montgomery County, Maryland, Department of Police. Ms. Walker refuses to go through the “puffer” the machine that blows air at you and apparently sniffs for bombs. She ends up talking with some agents and supervisors and notes:
By this time, my belongings had already passed through the x-ray and sat oddly unattended on the belt. They had aroused no suspicion, either as they passed through the x-ray or as they sat completely unattended. I thought it odd that my initial refusal to be subjected to the ‘puffer’ now rendered the x-ray examination effectively flawed. I was being cajoled and was then offered the opportunity to change my mind, which, again, I thought rather odd. If I posed such a risk by refusing the secondary screening, why would that risk be now mitigated, if only I were to change my mind?
I did not change my mind. So, I stepped between two glass walls and was subjected to what my police training would allow me to conclude was a procedural vacuum.
For the most part agents are there to ensure everyone goes through the procedural motions of getting screened. Any refusal to do so results in a break with procedure.
In my case, I believe I was subjected to a haphazard response in order to effectively punish me for refusing secondary screening and to encourage a different decision in the future.
So how do we fix it?
First of all, if a bomber, shoe or otherwise gets to the point of entering an airport with a bomb, we are fucked anyway. That means the CIA, FBI, NSA did not do their jobs. Now if these HUGE departments with vast resources didn’t stop a threat, some high school drop out with a wand isn’t going to save us. Keep in mind the shoe bomber pictured above was captured by passengers, not the TSA.
Secondly, we introduce Israelification. Israel has dealt with these sorts of threats for decades and, as many people are beginning to take note of, has extremely efficient checkout points.
“Israelis, unlike Canadians and Americans, don’t take s— from anybody. When the security agency in Israel (the ISA) started to tighten security and we had to wait in line for — not for hours — but 30 or 40 minutes, all hell broke loose here. We said, ‘We’re not going to do this. You’re going to find a way that will take care of security without touching the efficiency of the airport.”
The Toronto Star reporter Cathal Kelly notes the differences between Canadian and Israeli airports beginning with simple things like asking people who drive to the airport “How are you? Where are you coming from?” The questions are not important, what is the reaction to them. Officers are looking for a reaction. They have been trained to look for a reaction. This is profiling.
You then go through additional screening to get into the actual airport. Again more questions and more watching behaviors. More profiling. Read the Ms. Kelly’s article and it details some of the measures that the Israelis use, none of which seem onerous.
And from a statistics point of view, Israel has 1.54 deaths/incident putting them38th on the list and #7 on the list of countries with the most incidences. Personally, from what I have read, I would rather go through the Israeli type of security then leave my safety to a random number generator and some one who is only thinking of their next coffee break.