Friday, January 15, 2010

THE DANGER OF SCANNING FOR A RED SWEATSHIRT

During my brief tenure as a police officer I responded once to an assault at a bar, and upon arrival I was told by a witness that the male offender had run away from the scene wearing a red sweatshirt. I relayed this information to the other cars on patrol and everyone circled around looking for the man in the red sweatshirt.

I would find out later that the man had cannily ditched his red sweatshirt shortly after fleeing the scene, and was thus able to temporarily elude us.

I read today that Nigeria has been added to a list of nations (Afghanistan, Algeria, Cuba, Lebanon, Lybia, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen) whose citicens will automatically face tougher screening before boarding U.S. bound flights. Some have raised objections that this is discriminatory. I disagree with that. It makes as much sense to me as scanning for a man in a red sweatshirt. It makes sense, but therein lies the danger- they know we're doing it.

I'm afraid that all Al Qaeda will have to do to elude our thin line of defense is ditch the red sweatshirt so to speak. I predict that it won't be long before we see an act of terrorism perpetrated by an Islamic extremist who does not look like one and who does not hail from one of these problem nations. Maybe she'll be a fair-haired college student from France or Canada. Maybe it'll be an elderly man from Greece or a troubled teenager from an American suburb. Major Hasan was a U.S. serviceman. The danger in profiling passengers based on their nation of origin is not that it unfairly discriminates against them, but that it lends itself to a certain myopia or tunnel vision. They're looking for that red sweatshirt, ya know?

I would feel better if those charged with our security would drop this nation of origin business and standardize their screening procedures to allow for the evil potential of each passenger.

5 comments:

Steve said...

But this is in addition to the current screening procedures, which already have more than their share of the useless component of grandma-hassling that you seem to want. Radical Islamist terrorists, by definition, are going to have something in common. We're still afraid of admitting it, but at least we're getting closer to identifying it.

barefootkangaroo said...

I'm not making the facile argument that we shouldn't view travelers from a certain background and from certain nations with an extra degree of suspicion on the grounds that it is discriminatory. I completely disagree with that line of reasoning. I think it makes sense. They are the ones we are at war with. I understand that and I have no qualms with the practice in principle. My concern is a logistical one. It makes Al Qaeda's next move obvious to me.

If I was in Al Qaeda I would reason thusly-

They're profiling people from country A, B or C.

We will recruit someone who doesn't look like that and who is from a "safe" nation of origin, but who shares our ideology.

As I said in my post, this screening practice lends itself to a dangerous degree of myopia. This isn't drug trafficking- it's war! We've advertised who and what we're looking for. You don't think the enemy will find some operatives who won't raise those kinds of red flags? Of course they will, and when they do it'll be all over the media how we were so focused on terrorists looking a certain way and being from a certain place that we didn't give so and so a closer look. Mark my words- It'll happen.

Rather than focusing our efforts and resources at a targeted group of travelers, which is a relatively easy deterrent for the enemy to sidestep, we should maximize screening and scrutiny across the board. This is my argument.

Novelismo said...

Don't we all just love the war at the crossroads of nowhere in Central Asia? And the millions of friends it helps us find amongst the world's largest religion?

Steve said...

Second-largest.

It's not just about what people look like or where they're from. There are a host of factors that should go into the screening process after the purchase of a plane ticket, many of which will be nearly impossible for a terrorist to eliminate. If you really think an organization as closed-minded and narrowly focused as Al-Qaeda is going to find a white Christian woman from Sweden to carry out an attack, those are odds I'm willing to take.

But I'm happy to have allowed you to further develop your argument.

barefootkangaroo said...

Mark my words...