Friday, 5 November 2010

"How to keep terrorism grounded"

How do you view profiling?  Something common-sense, or an infringement of human rights?
I watched a TV show while in Koh Samui in June this year.  I forget which channel it was on, but it was a several-part series on Al-Qaeda and the pre-911 work on tracking terrorists in the US. It was a pretty good program, nicely balanced, I thought.
One of the comments by an FBI guy stuck in my mind.  Commenting on the suggestion that the FBI should have monitored people taking flying lessons -- the suggestion being that that could have stopped the plot -- he said something like "well, you know there are just so many people taking flying lessons at any one time, we just couldn't justify the time and effort to do that."

And he was not challenged on that by the interviewer.
[cartoon thanks to Dry Bones]

My immediate thought: yes, there are thousands taking flying lessons at any one time.  But how many with the name Muhammad, Mohad or Hamza?  Given that there are about 2 million Muslims in America, mostly Arab, that's about 2/307 or 0.65% give or take.
Thus, if they had not been crippled by political correctness and had profiled -- and they knew, by the way that there was something in the works -- and they had focussed only on those with Arabian names taking flying lessons, that would have cut down those "thousands" to some, what, couple of dozen, a score, a hundred?  In any case, a number that would have allowed close focus.
There's a lot around on profiling, and the split of views is pretty much right vs left.
I've read a fair amount on it, and concluded that it makes sense and would help in the search for potential terrorists.
Malcolm Gladwell in "Outliers" gives some figures that show profiling would be effective in following the money trail of potential terrorists.
The Israelis know profiling works.  Instead of all the technical and intrusive rubbish we face at US, Australian, European airports, they rely on the human factor, looking closely at people and even more closely at "certain people". It seem to work, as El-Al is one of the safest airlines in the world, when there are plenty of people (Muslims!) who want to kill them.
The International Herald Tribune, the international edition of The New York Times, is left-leaning, so it's a touch surprising -- given the Left's distaste for profiling -- that they ran a piece on Wednesday, "How to keep terrorism grounded", arguing for profiling of cargo, instead of physically screening every package (which Heifetz claims checking every package is impossible).
"It simply makes sense", he says, "to decide which packages and flights are most likely to be dangerous, and focus on them."
Hear, hear.
Now if only the New York Times would get on board for profiling of passenger flights.
Then perhaps the human rights of the vast majority of air travellers would take precedence over the human rights of the minority who are adherents of the Religion of Peace. Because now, the more the latter's rights are given precedence, the more the former's are infringed.