Wednesday, 13 October 2004
USA airports and TSA adopt Israeli-style profiling
By the end of this month, USA Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents at two or more airports in the northeastern USA (presumably Boston's Logan International Airport, IATA code BOS, and at least one other as yet unnamed airport) are preparing to start Israeli-style profiling, stops, and questioning of airline passengers on the basis of appearance and behavior, according to reports in Time magazine and elsewhere.
After two weeks, there's still been no official announcement or confirmation by the TSA or airports of the "SPOT" ("Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques") program, but neither has there been any denial of the news stories. I can't confirm the SPOT stories, but I find them highly credible.
The Time report on the TSA tactic refers to the "racially-neutral profiling program in place at Boston's Logan Airport, on which it is based." But as I've discussed previously, Logan's program uses "appearance" or "behavioral" profiling as euphemisms for Israeli-style ethnic and racial stereotyping. The scheme is the product of Massport and Mass. State Police consultant and former Ben-Gurion Airport (TLV) security director Rafi Ron, who also apparently advised the MBTA in their warrantless searches of Massachusetts transit passengers, starting shortly before the Democratic Convention in Boston.
Ron retired from his job with the Israeli Airports Authority just before 11 September 2001, and started his new career as a freelance consultant just a few weeks later in Boston. Ron has been the leading advocate in the USA of collecting additional data on airline passengers as a tool to assist human, rather than robotic profiling, and has based his consulting career on his claimed skill at uncovering would-be terrorists through review of data collected about them in advance, combined with visible attributes (mainly visible race and ethnicity) and personal "interviews" (interrogations).
The one time I met Ron at an airline industry conference, he sneered -- quite literally -- at my question of whether concerns for civil liberties would justify any limitations on measures which might otherwise, to any degree, reduce the risk of terrorism. Anyone who would even ask such a question, he said dismissively, clearly doesn't understand the situation we are in -- we are at war, and can afford no limits on the tactics of war.
The TSA may want to claim that its employees can be given discretion to detain and question people on the basis of "suspicious appearance" without risk that their biases will lead them to find some racial and ethnic identifiers of appearance more "suspicious" than others. But other supporters of these schemes are more honest about their intentions: the primary reason to authorize "profiling" by appearance and behavior is to provide a legitimizing rubric for ethnic and racial stereotyping and discrimination.
Richard Pipes, for example, in an op-ed article in the Jerusalem Post , cites the TSA's SPOT program as putting into practice the views of Philadelphia talk-show host Michael Smerconish , who has declared himself an expert on aviation security and the need for racial and ethnic profiling and discrimination. According to Pipes:
Smerconish writes, "We're fighting a war against young Arab male extremists, and yet our government continues to enforce politically correct 'random screening' of airline passengers instead of targeting those who look like terrorists."
He calls for a change in policy: "Logic dictates that airport security take a longer, harder look at individuals who have ethnic, religious, nationality, and appearance factors in common with the Islamic extremist Middle Eastern men who have initiated war against us."
This is a step in the right direction.
The TSA will, I presume, respond to any challenges to this new (and clearly illegally and unconstitutional discriminatory) profiling scheme by claiming simultaneously (1) that it isn't based on race or ethnicity (possibly true on its face, but unlikely as applied), (2) that agents will be able to apply it without unconsciously falling into ethnic or racial profiling (not a credible likelihood for anyone familiar with the history of racism and bigotry of the Mass. State Police, the first to use these tactics), and (3) that they can't disclose the profiling criteria, to prove that they aren't explicitly racist or ethnically biases, because to do so would reveal sensitive security information (i.e would-be terrorists might figure out, "Oh, no: I fit the profile as a South Asian. I better change my skin color before I try to hijack an airplane."). It will be interesting to see how well that argument holds up in response to a Federal civil right lawsuit.Link | Posted by Edward on Wednesday, 13 October 2004, 12:08 (12:08 PM) | TrackBack (2)