Yes, The TSA Scanners And Gropedowns Are Outrageous. No, They Are Not An Excuse To Revert To Ethnic Profiling

What is it about conservatives that they manage to take every real and legitimate issue Americans face and not only propose, but adamantly pursue, policies that reflexively rely on lizard-brain idiocy guaranteed to make things worse? Take as the

What is it about conservatives that they manage to take every real and legitimate issue Americans face and not only propose, but adamantly pursue, policies that reflexively rely on lizard-brain idiocy guaranteed to make things worse?

Take as the latest example the TSA scanner/patdown controversy, which raises real and very legitimate civil-liberties concerns (the ACLU has much more on this). Yet in joining in with the raised voices, right-wingers are using the controversy as an opportunity for pushing forward one of their favorite xenophobic tropes -- namely, that we should instead institute ethnic-profiling measures to deter acts of terrorism.

Leading this particular parade has been the reliably execrable Ann Coulter. This weekend, Charles Krauthammer codified it:

We pretend that we go through this nonsense as a small price paid to ensure the safety of air travel. Rubbish. This has nothing to do with safety - 95 percent of these inspections, searches, shoe removals and pat-downs are ridiculously unnecessary. The only reason we continue to do this is that people are too cowed to even question the absurd taboo against profiling - when the profile of the airline attacker is narrow, concrete, uniquely definable and universally known. So instead of seeking out terrorists, we seek out tubes of gel in stroller pouches.

Today on Fox, Neil Cavuto hosted famed lizard-brain Bo Dietl to give the boot-camp sergeant version of this. Later, Cavuto added: "Should we get back just to profiling? ... El Al, if you think about it, that's what they do."

As we've explained several times, this is a load of bollocks. In fact, it's a recipe for disaster:

If you want to profile every "known Muslim," you're going to have a hell of a time in countries like Indonesia and the Philippines, considering that their populations are a mix of the world's religions, and any Muslim who wanted to pose as a member of, say, a Christian church in order to fool authorities could do so with ease.

This just underscores how foolish the whole notion of racial profiling actually is, because when you embark on such policies, they actually make you more vulnerable, not less.

That's because terrorists are not that stupid. If you begin profiling for Middle Eastern men, they will find Indonesian or African or European operatives to perform the same task. If you begin profiling for Muslims, they will find ways to conceal their religious preferences.

We know two things about profiling, especially ethnic, religious, or racial profiling: 1) These policies expose the profilers to being gamed by terrorists; and 2) They are always a tremendous waste of resources and inevitably are counter-productive.

Sounds like your classic conservative solution: Hey, let's just make matters worse!

They're actually quite gifted at it.

Meanwhile, Bruce Schneier has a rundown of the non-lizard-brain discussions of the problem. I especially noted this piece of advice from the Netherlands:

The security boss of Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport is calling for an end to endless investment in new technology to improve airline security.

Marijn Ornstein said: "If you look at all the recent terrorist incidents, the bombs were detected because of human intelligence not because of screening ... If even a fraction of what is spent on screening was invested in the intelligence services we would take a real step toward making air travel safer and more pleasant."

Schneier also wrote this awhile back:

"Security theater" refers to security measures that make people feel more secure without doing anything to actually improve their security. An example: the photo ID checks that have sprung up in office buildings. No one has ever explained why verifying that someone has a photo ID provides any actual security, but it looks like security to have a uniformed guard-for-hire looking at ID cards.

Airport-security examples include the National Guard troops stationed at U.S. airports in the months after 9/11 -- their guns had no bullets. The U.S. color-coded system of threat levels, the pervasive harassment of photographers, and the metal detectors that are increasingly common in hotels and office buildings since the Mumbai terrorist attacks, are additional examples.

... Our current response to terrorism is a form of "magical thinking." It relies on the idea that we can somehow make ourselves safer by protecting against what the terrorists happened to do last time.

... It's not security theater we need, it's direct appeals to our feelings. The best way to help people feel secure is by acting secure around them. Instead of reacting to terrorism with fear, we -- and our leaders -- need to react with indomitability, the kind of strength shown by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill during World War II.

About David Neiwert

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