Airline security: signs of intelligent life?

In “Profile Away” (h/t: Pi Guy), John Stossel argues in favor of adopting the “El Al approach” to airline security, which I have discussed here earlier.

I like what David Harsanyi writes:

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.

From the evidence, it is clear that it is impossible to cover every base, but the wasted billions shaking down the average passenger offers little more than psychological comfort.

And comfort in knowing that no special interest will complain.
The anti-profiling people are usually worried that terrorist profiling will lead the TSA slippery slope to profiling based on skin color.  But that hasn’t been the case with the Israeli airline, El-Al, which aggressively profiles for terrorism.  Here’s one blogger’s experience:

I flew El Al from Los Angeles to Israel. I was a male in my 40s, traveling alone. Even though I was an American Caucasian and wasn’t anything close to even looking like a Muslim, I was pulled out of the line by a security official with the Israeli airline and interrogated – in an unfriendly manner, I might add – for about 10 minutes before I was allowed to board. I was pulled out of line for interrogation because I fit a key part of the El Al profile – a male of a certain age traveling solo.

This is such common sense that it’s unbelievable that the TSA won’t utilize this tool.  Then again, in government, common sense is often uncommon.

Some observations are due here. It’s not entirely true that El Al does not engage in ethnic profiling: it does seem to occur at “initial presorting” stage, and there’s no denying that my “cousins” (as Jews call Arabs, cfr. Isaac and Ishmael) disproportionately get subjected to in-depth screening.  (Note that this is still not profiling by race or skin color, as will shortly become clearer.)

By the same token, El Al knows that profiling by ethnicity alone would not work for a number of reasons. For one thing — while Americans think of Jews as “white” because the American Jewish community is 90% descended of Central and especially Eastern European Jews — about half the Jewish population of Israel descends from immigrants or refugees from Arab countries, and many of those could easily pass for Arabs and conversely. Second, many of the attempts that came close to succeeding have involved Western ‘patsies’ agreeing to bring luggage or parcels that contains bombs (such as the pregnant Irish chambermaid that was unwittingly smuggling a bomb for her terrorist ‘fiancé’), or indeed Western converts to Islam (e.g., search for “Stefan Smyrek” in this page).

The main tool, aside from profiling for unusual behavior patterns (long trips without luggage, paying tickets in cash, one-way tickets,…) is the study of microexpression during interrogation. The background of the traveler may determine the subject of the interrogation: an American Jewish tourist may be asked about his bar mitzvah as a child, an Xian tourist about the religious places (s)he visited/intend(s) to visit and what they mean,…, while an Israeli citizen will be expected to produce their national ID card and be interrogated about their family details and/or some peculiarities of their town of residence. The content of the answers isn’t even important: expressions that suggest “something to hide” are.

Incidentally, what I’ve picked up from Israeli Arabs is that they are ambivalent about them getting screened in-depth more often: they do know that if one of their coreligionists blows himself up on a plane that they happen to be on, it’s their hide as well… “Depend upon it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” (Samuel Johnson)

Via a thread at The Blogmocracy, here is another example of Samuel Johnson’s Law in action:  Headscarf-wearing Muslim ‘privacy advocate’ who was on board Flight 253 changed her tune, now advocating mandatory body scans.

“I’m always standing up for rights and privacy concerns, but now I hope that body scans will be mandatory,” [Heba] Aref, 27, said Wednesday. “Balanced against national security, it’s worth the invasion of privacy. And I acknowledge the fact that there has to be attention paid to Muslims.”

Our Grace After Meals contains the phrase: And grace and good sense will be found in the eyes of G-d and man. May it be so, speedily and in our days.

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