Friday, November 26, 2010

One Pat or Two?

Some thoughts about the TSA body scan/radical pat-down drama.

Change you can believe in. It's ironic that the same people who squalled on and on about the Patriot Act think it's okay to conduct revealing body scans of every person who passes through certain airports whether there is probable cause or not. Of course, the safety and security argument prevails; it's just interesting to see these people use that argument.

Let's be dignified about this. Of course, we need to conduct these expensive and technologically elaborate full body scans because we believe it's beneath the dignity of our national security initiative to extract a template of our enemies and apply that profile to travelers.  We have the odd sense that it is better to impose radical search techniques on the general public than it is to know our enemy well enough to recognize him, his behaviors, his patterns, etc.

True believers. I wonder to what extent the commercial interests of former politicians and scanner manufacturers influence public policy on profiling.

Offense versus defense. The U. S. government admits the reason we need body scanners is to protect against future underwear bombers. Wouldn't we be better off if we employed a strategy that identifies threats before they fail? Sorry, that sounds like profiling again... It's difficult for us to buy into the idea of going on the offense in our own county, but doing so would help seize the creative initiative from our enemies. I hope we eventually figure out that the trick is to own the initiative rather than react to someone else's.

Desperate measures. Is there any reason we should not believe a bomber who is willing to destroy not only the aircraft, but also himself might not be opposed to the idea of having a bomb implanted into his body out of the view of body scanners? How shocked will we be to learn that's where this is headed. We'll either learn it before that happens or afterward.

Last one standing. Will our enemies run out of tactics before we run out of ways to discover them? When we ultimately discover it's far more prudent to find bombers than it is to find bombs, we will have taken the first step in shutting these guys down. Sorry, that sounds like profiling again... I hope we figure it out before we learn these guys bomb things other than airplanes.

Budget-buster. I remember how the mere threat of the development of Star Wars technology in the United States drove the Soviet Union to massive spending on its defense infrastructure. As an already highly skittish regime before Star Wars, the Soviets had already redirected a generous portion of its wealth and national attention to its security interests to the extent that it severely strained its economy and overburdened its citizens. Competition with Star Wars drove it even deeper into trouble. How heavy will the burden of an increasingly expensive reaction to a persistently evolving terror threat be on the American purse and psyche?

Full body scans of every passenger are predictable and expensive. The next generation of airport security measures will be just as predictable and even more expensive. I'm completely supportive of doing what it takes to keep us safe, but I think it's time for us to be more creative, exercise more initiative, and go on the offense against these people in our own country. Sorry, does that sound like profiling again?