Bruce Schneier writes:
Muslims are black, white, Asian, and everything else—most Muslims are not Arab. Recent terrorists have been European, Asian, African, Hispanic, and Middle Eastern; male and female; young and old.
He is supposed to be a security expert? Ofcourse there are all kinds of terrorists, but we are talking post-9/11 airport security, wich is all about preventing suicide bombers on planes. Save for some Tamil Tiger in the jungle of Sri Lanka, all suicide bombers are muslim. And sure there are Chechnyan and Indonesion terrorists, but the biggest threat to AMERICAN interests are ARAB terror organizations.
Yes groups like Al Qaeda will try to recruit blacks or whites to fly on american airlines, but they will have a much bigger difficulty finding willing suicide bombers than in the arab world, where “shaheeds” are blowing themselves up every single day. Thus, the least we accomplish by profiling is making it more difficult to perform a terror attack. Nobody is suggesting we ONLY look at young arab males, just that we give them more attention as a group than other groups.
Underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab was Nigerian. Shoe bomber Richard Reid was British with a Jamaican father.
A Nigerian with an Arab name is a perfect candidate for profiling, Richard Reid aka Abdel Rahim was a follower of radical cleric Al-Hamza and radical activist, so he should have been on a watchlist anyway.
The 2006 transatlantic aircraft plotters were Ibrahim Savant, Arafat Khan and Waheed Zaman (and a lot of other arabs arrested in connection with the plot).
Both Timothy McVeigh and the Unabomber were white Americans
Bruce tries to lump in a lot of irrelevancies to divert attention from the real issue. These weren’t suicide bombers, and they weren’t on planes.
Or perhaps Bruce is just playing dumb, just like the authorities in Britain:
Border staff stop and search white air passengers to ‘even up racial mix’
Report finds white passengers are searched to balance out other ethnicities
By JACK DOYLE
White air passengers are routinely stopped and searched by customs officials simply to ensure the right racial ‘mix’ of travellers are being approached, a report reveals today.
It found staff searching for illegal goods at Gatwick Airport selected white passengers to balance the numbers against black and other ethnic minorities they suspected to help avoid race discrimination complaints.
Excellent post! Are we, in fact, fighting a war on ‘terror’ or a war on radical islam, a very specific religious sect? Are there training camps hidden away in the U.S. training and arming future Timonty McVeighs or Unabombers? Is that a rational fear equal with the equal threat of a Taliban suicide bomber? After 9/11, we definitely lose sight of the a very tiny but real problem. Isn’t fighting islamic terrorism more like fighting a microscopic bacterial infection as opposed to a full-scale war?
Regarding Sam’s debate with Bruce Schneier: what a pleasure to read a thoroughly rational debate between two intelligent people trying to reach the truth through reason rather than ideology.
So who won? Having read the article twice - okay, I’m a masochist - it seems that it comes down to the old question of theory versus practice.
Sam’s position is that profiling is theoretically more effective, because the effort not dedicated to patting down grannies can be redirected toward hinkier-looking people. (Great word, hinky. Must use it again.)
Bruce’s position is that in practice, this is false because of externalities: primarily, that the greater complexity of Sam’s approach leads to greater costs elsewhere (so there are no net effort savings to be redirected) and to significant security holes (e.g., terrorists disguised as grannies).
On balance, then, I’d have to award Bruce Schneier the laurel wreath this time. Not that Sam is wrong: his arguments are correct, but they founder on implementation.
I think it was an interesting debate to read, although - im probably the only one saying this - I feel like it ended too soon. Sam points out in the end that if what Bruce says is true, then why wouldn’t it apply to other areas of security? I do not think that Bruce properly answered that question at all, which is a shame, since I think its a very good question.
Bruce’s main point in the debate was that profiling is not practically possible; or if it is, it will be more expensive. Sam’s main point is that Bruce exaggerates this problem of practicality.
A point that I did not think Sam hammered enough was the fact that we often let high risk profiles easily through the security, because we ought to distribute the scrutiny equally over the whole population (Sam’s example with the woman in the niqab). That has to be the main reason why profiling would work, if indeed it would work. This is one of the cases where I think Bruce’s pragmatic argument can’t possible be correct.
We all ought to note that most of this debate has been almost solely on the subject of practically implementing a profiling system. However, the fact that it might be difficult to implement, is not the reason why so many people were upset about Sam’s proposal; not even remotely. Although this is probably not where Bruce’s main expertise lies, the issue of fairness and political correctness should have been discussed more. In fact, while reading the debate, I actually got the impression that the main reason why Bruce opposes profiling is probably due to fairness and political correctness. In that light, speaking about the impracticality of the system might seem like an ad hoc explanation; an explanation that Bruce - and people who were generally outraged about Sam’s proposal - desperately hold on to, rather than defending political correctness per se.
If everybody had the view that the main reason why profiling does not work is simple because it wouldn’t be practically possible to do it right, there hardly would have been any controversy at all when Sam posted his first piece on profiling. Now there are a lot of people who still doubt that islam merits any special concern at all, and to be honest im not really sure where Bruce stands on that.
But on that note (and slightly off topic): What happend to the debate between Sam and Robert Pape? In light of this whole ‘profiling controversy’, it seems more important than ever.
This debate struck a note with me that had nothing to do with airport security, but gave me a new appreciation for the job of the screeners. You could substitute “rare disease” for terrorism, and “patient history” for profile and see what physicians go through. Do you MRI scan every headache and abdominal pain or do you “profile” your patients and risk letting the unlikely one go undiagnosed or “on the plane”? When medical “standard of care”(What would the other screener do?) is even less standard than airport screening procedures…well, maybe that’s why I retired early. Don’t have to worry about it any more.