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Protecting the Public

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," August 1, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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BRIT HUME, HOST: In New York City, they are searching every fifth subway rider, no matter if it’s a 5-year-old or a grandmother on crutches. In American airports, it’s not uncommon for an elderly man to get the full frisk while younger men pass through.

Some people say these practices are nuts. But what would more effective procedures look like? For answers, we turn to Aaron Cohen, who is a private security consultant based in Los Angeles and a former counterterrorism specialist with the Israeli Defense Force (search ).

Mr. Cohen, welcome. And give us your sense, if you would, about, if you were advising the U.S. authorities on how to go about searches in places like subways and airports — I realize they are separate cases — how would you set it up? How would you do it?

AARON COHEN, IMS SECURITY CONSULTING: Well, the first thing I would do is I would approach it in terms of trying to build a multi-tiered system. A multi-tiered system would involve many, many layers, which means it would take a multi-failure event for a terrorist to reach its target.

One of those layers in the system would obviously be looking at the individual, looking at the clothing, looking at the types of vehicles that pull up to and around the place. And basically, what we’re trying to do is, we’re trying to do everything we can to reduce risk.

We can’t be 100 percent, but again, multilayered system, undercover security would definitely be a deployable option, in conjunction with uniformed security or police, again, to put as many layers between us and the terrorists.

HUME: All right. Obviously, when you’re talking about subways and bus stops, you’re talking — particularly subways — you’re talking about a situation where you’ve got a lot of stops, and a lot of people coming through, and a lot of entrances and exits to cover. Bus stops would seem almost beyond reach in terms of this sort of thing.

You talked about looking at the individuals, looking at modes of transport to the spot. You’re talking about a kind of profile that’s created. We hear all the time talk about racial profiling, as if that’s all there is to it.

From what you suggest, it sounds like a profile you would create for authorities to be on the lookout for would be a lot broader than simply a person’s race or color?

COHEN: Yes. It’s important for people to remember that, with security operations against terrorists, the key is preemptive. Being preemptive means doing everything we can beforehand.

This would involve, before anything else, looking at the person before determining whether or not we should check his bag or check his person. We need to look at the individual in the eye and then decide exactly who it is we’re dealing with.

And then, from there, we continue with our next series of questions. But we definitely need to look at the individual.

HUME: All right. So describe for me a set of criteria that might apply to the uniformed and perhaps undercover security officers assigned to guard a subway stop or perhaps even an airport terminal. What kinds of things might we be looking for, beyond what we look for now? I mean, obviously, now, it’s random, correct?

COHEN: Absolutely. It’s...

HUME: So what would you recommend looking at and for?

COHEN: Well, what we want to look at, is we want to first — we want to look for an individual who — basically what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to build a prediction here.

The first thing we’re going to be looking at is somebody who is simply out of place. We’re also looking for clothing that’s mix-matched for a particular time of year. We’re going to be looking at body language, based on questions.

We want to be talking to people, engaging in active conversations, to find out who they are. Once we find out who they are, we then can check them or not check them. It just depends on the types of reactions we’ve gotten from them.

If we have someone, let’s say, who is clearly innocent and has absolutely no business of doing anything other than just travel...

(CROSSTALK)

HUME: Can you ever imagine a situation in the United States of America where an elderly woman, you know, walking with a cane, coming through an airport, would be a likely suspect?

COHEN: It’s absolutely bogus. Unless there was specific intelligence about a terrorist cell planning on — and, again, specific intelligence about a terror organization using an old woman for this type of operation, it’s a waste of time.

HUME: How about little kids and old men?

COHEN: Again, it’s a complete waste of time. To find a match between good security and being able to continue with your life, which is someone — you know, we’ve been dealing in, you know, in Israel for years, we have to be realistic about who we’re going to be looking at.

And there is a category of people, and there is a category of personality. And there is a way to do it while reducing risk but focusing on being good with time. You have to find a good match in between.

HUME: You talked about interviews. Obviously, in a situation in a subway, where you’ve got streams of people coming and going, much more so than in airports, it’s a little hard to see how you could do very many interviews, or could you?

COHEN: It is possible. Israel deploys a government-certified security program with private security personnel that are trained through the Israeli government, which reduces costs, but also gives us the ability to be effective.

The way to make it work is, is to use a combination of — deploy a combination of, again, undercover uniformed police — the undercover security would be able to go into the crowd, find someone who they think might be a potential red flag, and then point them out to the actual uniformed security via radio.

The uniformed police officer person can then come up to the person, ask him for identification, possibly check their purse and their bag, and then let them go very quickly. It’s a way to keep the security process expedient, again, while risk, because what we’re trying to do is reduce risk.

That’s why we want to check as many people as possible. It’s completely doable; it’s just got to be in and out very quickly.

HUME: So what you’re talking about is, you’d have a fair number of undercover personnel in the area around a subway terminal or an airport security — or a boarding area or something like that, or a concourse, and these people are on the lookout and radio contact with the people who might ultimately stop them as they’re going through and give them greater attention, is that the idea?

COHEN: Absolutely. And...

HUME: And what kinds of characteristics are you looking for? You said somebody out of place. Obviously, it’s been mostly Middle Eastern men. Sooner or later, you are going to get down to — at least part of it has to relate to characteristics that can be identified and are visible. And certainly — I think it’s manifestly clear — skin color is one of those things, is it not?

COHEN: Skin color is absolutely one of those things. It’s important for the American people to remember that profiling is a fact of security, but it’s also a fact of life here in America, whether we want to admit it or not.

Major corporations and marketing firms profile people in order to sell their product. Casinos profile in order to look for troublemakers who might be stealing. It’s a fact.

And yes, skin color is an issue. There is a higher chance that there is going to be a dark or a Middle Eastern look for the potential terrorist, based on the evidence that we’ve had.

HUME: Got you.

COHEN: It’s a fact. And again, but beyond the skin tone, we’re also looking for behavior, because we have to be careful.

HUME: All right, Mr. Cohen. Thanks very much. Hope to have you back.

COHEN: Thank you very much for having me.

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