Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Body Bombs and the TSA

TSA has released a warning that terrorists are attempting to bring explosive devices onto planes by surgically implanting them into the bodies of suicide bombers.  While no specific plot has been discovered, TSA has released the statement in order to bolster airport security.  This is in spite of the fact that experts say current security measures are largely unable to detect explosives under the skin.

While discussions of these methods in terrorist circles is not new, the desire to employ such extreme tactics draws into question the entire approach to security that we currently rely upon.  The TSA is constantly playing catch-up to an innovative and determined network of terrorists.  This not only puts us on the defensive, able only to respond, but has steadily placed greater restrictions on our freedoms.  With TSA removing the diapers of 95-year old grandmothers and excessively and unsympathetically patting-down little girls, it is becoming questionable if our security methods are really protecting us - or letting the terrorists win by forcing us to drastically change our way of life.

Security is essential and we should all be willing to give up some freedoms to protect ourselves - that is the primary role of government.  Little girls can, unfortunately, not be exempt from pat-downs as such a rule would inevitably lead to terrorist use of children to carry their weaponry.  However, there is a need to find balance between security and freedom.

The first thing to understand is that we cannot continue to have knee-jerk reactions that restrict passengers behavior after every "chattered," or even attempted, terrorist plot.  A determined enemy will always strive to find new ways around our security.  While we should attempt to stay ahead of them, thwarting plots and instituting new security measures, security officials must be careful to understand the probability of such terrorist schemes actually working.  For instance, the terrorist liquid plot failed yet travelers are still burdened with not being able to bring liquids on planes.

The response to discovered or thwarted plots does not always need to result in greater restrictions for the traveler.  The more we continue to restrict ourselves in fear of that rare one-time event, the less the terrorists have to succeed to severely alter our way of life.  Instead, there must be a greater focus on winning the offensive battle.  Dedicated terrorists will never cease trying to destroy or injure the West.  Probability alone dictates that in playing a defensive game of catch-up we will lose at some point.  Instead we must rid the world of dedicated terrorists, both by directly killing or otherwise stopping current terrorists and preventing the creation of new ones through the use of our soft- and hard-power. 

Admittedly, this alone is insignificant to protect us.  Some will always be "out to get" the West and the TSA needs to continue doing a good job maintaining security.  However, in order to achieve this we need to jettison the outmoded thinking of non-profiling.  As Isaac Yeffet, former head of security at El Al, has said, it is essential to use profiling tools to screen for the greatest threats.  Random searches of, say, grandmothers are a waste of time and resources and ultimately a threat to our security. 

Such use of profiling is not about racial discrimination but about being smart in our approach to security, creating the least amount of inconvenience, and appropriately using our resources.  Profiles are not a simple call to perform invasive searches on every Muslim- or Arab-looking man, but the use of a compilation of looks, behaviors, actions, and other statistically- and expertly-derived characteristics to screen for the most obvious threats.  Such a profile will indubitably change, and it is the responsibility of security services to adapt accordingly.  Our terrorist enemies would be foolish to present their foot-soldiers in the same readily identifiable form.  Nevertheless, profiling will help us stop the clear threats while easing the burdens on the vast majority who offer no threat.  Since technology seems to offer little to solve the problem of "body bombs" we seem to be left with a choice to reevaluate our methods or turn to drastic measures, such as invasive surgery, to maintain our security.

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