As our nation becomes increasingly aware of the new and extremely controversial "naked body scanners" and "enhanced pat-down" procedures at our airport security stations, it’s time to ask ourselves some hard questions and acknowledge the elephant in the room. In this case, the purple pachyderm is our apparent refusal, under any circumstances, to consider profiling as an effective means by which to enhance air travel security. To say that our attitude is one of political correctness doesn’t go far enough. To me, it is more accurate to describe the current invasive security measures as posing, posturing and some pretty good theater. Further, we seem to be unable to move past perception and pride. We seem more concerned about how we might be viewed by other nations than we are concerned about real safety. What would be the result if we accepted reality and instituted profiling?
The answer to that depends upon the type of profiling we use. Here’s why racial profiling would be no more effective than the "pat-down or peepshow," as I’ve been calling it. None of these methods work because they do not address the underlying cause of the problem. We must treat the disease, not just the symptoms. Our prescription pad mentality does not acknowledge that there is a person at the core of every act of terror. In the case of the body scanners, they do not detect all of the materials used to make explosives. Second, they do not detect what has been inserted or implanted or ingested. Finally, each new threat requires a retool of our system, dictating incrementally more invasive measures.
The same is true, however, of racial profiling. Right now, we know who our enemy is, but that may not always be the case. Desperation and isolation from the mainstream can leave any person from any walk of life vulnerable to criminality. Racial profiling fails to address the potential for recruitment of other nationalities, including Americans. What if the next bomber is a middle-aged, blonde, blue-eyed American woman? So much for the racial profile.
The problem with the racial profile is that it assumes a commonality: Race. That is why it will not work.
However, there IS a commonality that we can exploit through a different kind of profiling: Behavioral profiling.
Not all terrorists look Middle Eastern, but all terrorists are criminals, and criminals behave in very specific ways that a trained, skilled profiler can detect. We must seek to examine the behavior of the flying public rather than seek to examine our private parts. It is criminal behavior that is the common thread of criminals, and a behavioral profile along with other security measures will prove to be a more effective and less invasive solution.
Ultimately, though, we must accept reality. The reality is that at any time the technology of terror may be sufficiently advanced so as not to require human participation. I suppose it is that way now, if you consider the possibility of a shoulder launched missile, or the currently favored roadside devices used in Iraq and Afghanistan. Besides, there’s always our water supply.
We cannot allow ourselves to be ruled by fear. We are losing the psychological war here. We are also losing the perception war, which has other nations laughing at us for our ineptitude. We must overcome our pride and abandon political correctness, if we are going to truly be secure. Perhaps the widely-held sentiment that the events of September 11th, 2001, was a loss of our nation’s innocence was only the beginning of a rude awakening: We must stop living in a child-like dream world where our government protects us from all calamities. It is simply not possible, we must face our mortality, embrace our manifest destiny, and accept reality with our eyes wide open. Behavioral profiling is the proactive and effective approach we need. Terrorists have successfully managed to alter the behavior of the entire American flying public. Turnabout is fair play. Now, that would be something to be proud of.