Thursday, February 18, 2010

News Talk Online February 18, 2010: TSA To Swab Hands - But It Misses The Point

Paltalk News Network Correspondent

The latest tool in the war against terrorism at airports - airline passengers in the United States will be subject to random palm swabs for explosives. It would be a good idea if were not for the random part.

The truth is, random screening at airports do little or nothing to really protect the flying public. What are the chances that a random search would have caught the Christmas Day underwear bomber? I'm not a mathematician, but I'm certain that a statistical analyst could answer the question based on the number of people on the flight and the number of passengers who would be randomly selected for the palm screening.

It's all because in the name of protecting the security process from accusations of profiling - the screening will be random in nature.

Imagine if the cops in your city or town started randomly stopping people for interrogation. There actually have been stop and frisk laws in some cities in the United States that allowed for the police to do this in high crime areas. Laws that have been stuck down - and with good reason.

Instead, a good cop senses when someone needs investigation. Sometimes a car that looks out-of-place draws his or her attention. Sometimes it's the demeanor of someone walking down the street.

Put yourself in the place of an officer who is patrolling an area known for street crime. Someone he spots acts nervously as the officer approaches. The cop stops and asks the person some questions. The individual becomes evasive. His palms are sweaty. There are other indications - perhaps a shifting of the eyes - that a trained interrogator picks up as a sign that the person is worthy of further investigation.

A pat-down reveals narcotics. Or a weapon. Or a quick call on the police radio determines the person is wanted.

It happens every day on the streets of America. We trust trained officers to make decisions like this each time they put on their badges and report for work. But the same proven techniques aren't used when it comes to stopping someone bent on bringing down an airplane with perhaps hundreds of people on board.


For fear of being accused of profiling.

But getting back to the cop scenario - didn't the officer profile the suspect? He chose a suspicious person to question - not some woman randomly pushing a baby stroller down the street.

Of course, racial, ethnic or religious profiling is wrong. It's not only illegal - but it's as counterproductive as random screening.

What is needed is training of TSA officers so that they can spot - like the cop on the beat - people who fit certain profiles.

The Israelis do it all the time. It happened to me on a flight from Tel
Aviv. Something in my manner - or perhaps the way I answered his questions - caused the screener to pull me aside and subject me to a battery of questions. Why was I in Israel? What was my purpose? How can I prove this? Who packed my bags? Who was I flying with? What are their names, their relationships to me. It was pretty personal and intrusive questioning.

Clearly he didn't choose me because I'm an Arab - because I'm not. Nor because I'm a Muslim - because I'm not that either. But he did profile me - based on something I said or did.

In the end, though slightly embarrassed by the incident, I was impressed with the level of security and the vigilance shown by the screener. As I settled back in my seat for take off, I felt confident that everything possible had been done (including far more extensive and intrusive baggage screening than we have in the U.S.) to insure that the flight would be free of a terrorist attack. And isn't that what the screening is supposed to be all about?

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