Published November 24, 2010
Some TSA dude named Frank got to third base with me the other day while I was on a business trip. Neither Frank nor I were thrilled with the experience... it was all a bit rushed and kind of awkward. I doubt we'll be seeing each other again.
Which clearly didn't bother Frank because, by the time I had put my belt and watch back on, he was all about the next fella' in line. Security makes for strange bedfellows to be sure.
I report this in a rather clinical manner because honestly I could care less about the intrusive nature of the pat downs or the new body scanners with super X-ray vision. I spent the better part of middle school wishing for super X-ray vision that would allow me to look through girls clothes... particularly Melody's clothes. She was the object of my imaginary pat downs.
My point being... Give the drama and hysteria a rest. We have an enemy that has tried repeatedly to blow up airplanes. They look for new and creative ways to do that... we've seen shoe bombs, underroo bombs, printer bombs, bombs shoved up terrorist backsides, efforts to create bombs using liquids and assorted other plots and plans in various stages.
In response, we've seen various responses from TSA and others to layer on what is deemed appropriate security given whatever information we have regarding terrorist methodologies, plans and intentions. Often times we are in a reactive mode... We get a shoe bomber so get your shoes off... we learn of plots involving liquids so out goes my big tube of toothpaste... it's been an unfortunate aspect of our transportation security procedures.
How do we move from reactive to proactive? How do we limit the intrusive pat downs and exposure to the all seeing pervy scanning devices? By the way, anybody who can get titillated by the screen shots off those scanners should seek medical attention.
The answer is profiling. While I find the drama surrounding the latest TSA procedures all a bit much, I'm hopeful it will force us to have a common sense nonemotive discussion about instituting practical profiling procedures.
Have you noticed that ever since the grope-fest began there's been a contest by the media to see how many ex-Israeli security specialists can be interviewed to tell us what we're doing wrong. To hear tell, the Israelis are the Justice League of aviation security. Okay, setting aside the unique circumstances that exist in Israel, and the significant differences in volumes of passenger traffic between the two nations, a key takeaway is that the Israelis profile.
Call it behavioral profiling if it makes you feel better, but its profiling. The fundamental idea is that not everybody is considered equally suspect. Unfortunately, we've been so preoccupied for the past decade with demonstrating our political correctness that we've never implemented elements of profiling into our layered security. That, of course, has played right into the hands of our enemy and continues to be the weakest link in our defenses.
Unfortunately, there are those who cry "bigotry" every time you discuss some form of profiling. What a load of crap. These are the same folks who hijacked the interrogation debate...arguing that anything other than chatting with a terrorist detainee must be torture. Well, the world's not black and white.
You can design a security system that incorporates aspects of profiling without being racist. Will it statistically target more travelers from the Middle East? I suppose it might in the odd event most of the terrorists have statistically come from the Middle East. We'll have to check the numbers. If that dynamic changes then I suppose the system will start targeting the next relevant region.
The system is based on intelligence collection, behavioral science and common sense. It's not based on random questioning, political correctness or the belief that if we don't treat everyone as equally suspect then the world will hate us. If certain countries protest because their citizens get a bit more of a look-see, then maybe we should toughen up and suggest they collectively spend more time and effort condeming extremism and terrorism.
You want less exposure to X-rays and a little more say about who sticks their hands in your pants? Then let's grow up and agree that profiling in some form needs to be part of the process.
In the meantime, there's a TSA guy named Frank in a midwest airport who owes me a drink.
Mike Baker served for more than 15 years as a covert field operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency, specializing in counterterrorism, counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations around the globe.
Since leaving government service, he has been a principal in building and running several companies in the private intelligence, security and risk management sector and has recently returned to Diligence LLC, a company he cofounded in 2000, as president.
He appears frequently in the media as an expert on counterterrorism, intelligence and homeland security.
Baker is also a partner in Classified Trash, a film and television production company. Baker serves as a script consultant, writer and technical adviser within the entertainment industry, lending his expertise to such programs as the BBC's popular spy series "Spooks," as well as major motion pictures.