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Does profiling work? 8, January 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations.
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Comment Central has a great little round-up of a few sources answering the question of whether profiling works. In terms of automatic profiling – i.e. not behavioural profiling – Bruce Schneier highlights some serious problems.

The problem with automatic profiling is that it doesn’t work.

Terrorists don’t fit a profile and cannot be plucked out of crowds by computers. They’re European, Asian, African, Hispanic, and Middle Eastern, male and female, young and old. Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab was Nigerian.

Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, was British with a Jamaican father. Germaine Lindsay, one of the 7/7 London bombers, was Afro-Caribbean. Dirty bomb suspect Jose Padilla was Hispanic-American. The 2002 Bali terrorists were Indonesian. Timothy McVeigh was a white American. So was the Unabomber.

The Chechen terrorists who blew up two Russian planes in 2004 were female.

Palestinian terrorists routinely recruit “clean” suicide bombers, and have used unsuspecting Westerners as bomb carriers.

There is other evidence available too. Specifically, a study by the US’s National Research Council.

It must be said that this is not exactly breaking news. Though for those of a more Fox News variety, it will either be a bitter pill or yet more ‘liberal rubbish’ to be ignored.

Explosives found at Irish Airport 5, January 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Terrorism.
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Irish authorities have found 7 items of contraband including explosives in luggage at Dublin airport. The man who arrived from Bratislava, Slovakia, has now been released. It transpires that the illicit items were planted in his luggage by Slovakian authorities as a blind test of airport security. Very proactive…though they could have alerted the Irish authorities before the man was arrested and his house sealed off and searched for explosives.

Pondering the Israelification of our airports 31, December 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, UK.
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I wrote an article earlier this week for the Daily News Egypt looking at the trajectory of would-be suicide aviation hijackings. I concluded that authorities need to stop ‘fighting the last war’ as one commentator put it, recognize that our luck after two failed attacks has now ran out and that there needs to be some serious changes in the way that we ‘do’ security. I posited that the argument over profiling needs to be had again. When I say profiling – calm down – I do not mean picking out of a line ever ‘dark colored fellow with a beard’ but an intelligence led assessment by security staff of the people in the airport. In the back of my mind as I wrote this was Israel’s airport security. Cue, bang of time, an article on exactly this topic: the Israelification of western airports.

The article begins by claiming that Western airports should be more like Israel’s because they “deal with far greater terror threat with far less inconvenience.” Leaving aside the problematic question of whether Israel faces a greater threat of airline terrorism, it nevertheless offers an intriguing hypothesis. What is it that Israelis do at their airports? [Also see this]

The chirpy reporter discusses exactly this question with a cowboy of an Israeli security consultant. It is, it seems, all about the layers of security.

  1. Drivers arriving at the airport are automatically asked two questions: How are you, and, where are you from? The trained staff asking these questions are looking for signs of distress – this is the main criteria for their profiling, not race or gender.
  2. Armed guards at the terminal itself pay close attention to all the passengers, again, looking for distress or otherwise curious behavior.
  3. Some passengers are then taken aside and their things searched on a random basis for heavy metals or indeed anything else bizarre.
  4. Passengers then get familiar questions at the check-in counter. However, the article gives the impression that the staff trained in Israel are doing far more than running through the motions, staring into your eyes – apparently (?) – for one thing.
  5. Luggage is then immediately scanned in a bomb-proof area so that if something is seen it can be contained without the whole terminal or airport shutting down.
  6. Then, as you go through into departures, comes the body and luggage check. It is, apparently, very quick in Israel. Instead of focusing on shoes, liquids and tweasers, the guards are concentrating on you as a person, again, profiling you.

All of this means – allegedly – that you can get from car park to duty-free in 25 minutes.

All these measures are in addition to the myriad of checks and routines that Israeli security and intelligence services perform 24/7.

This does, indeed, sound very good. The best thing to be said about it is that it clearly works well so why aren’t we in Europe and the States following such a model for greater security and for less inconvenience?

Israel is a small country with a comparatively tiny amount of international airports and thus an absolute fraction of the staff to train in these profiling arts. It would take a mammoth and hugely expensive effort for, for example, international airports in the US to convert to the Israeli method and the same goes for Europe. Nevertheless, this does not mean that we can not still learn and adapt techniques from Israel. Whilst I am no expert on airport security in the West here are a few things that I suggest:

  • More random, obtrusive bag checks.
  • Whilst there are – I assume – plenty of police at airports ‘profiling’ passengers, the more the merrier.
  • US intelligence dropped the ball to a horrific degree by not getting messages from one end of their security apparatus to the other in the Christmas Day attempted attack. Perhaps if, like in Israel, airport security was under the auspices of, for example, a new branch of the CIA, this would help. (Though I’m sure that this may well open a whole other can of worms that I can’t think of just now…)
  • Have another ring of security and another set of eyes on every car entering the airport. The more trained eyes the better.
  • Don’t invade any more Muslim countries…seriously, that would help.

Many of my suggestions would, I imagine, cost a huge amount of money and involve significant difficulties, of this, I am under no illusion. Please comment below if you’ve got any better ideas.

Hat tip: the not so hidden Imam

US airport security leak: extra security for certain Arabs 9, December 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations.
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The fact that Arab nationals undergo extra checks at US airports is hardly breaking news. Yet, now and for the first time (so far as I know…) the policy itself of which nationalities are deemed necessary for extra checks has leaked out of the US Transport Security Administration. Here’s the relevant bit:

If the individual’s photo ID is a passport issued by the Government of Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Libya, Syria, Sudan, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, Yemen or Algeria, refer the individual for selectee screening unless the individual has been exempted from selectee screening by the FSD or aircraft operator.

Given that the vast majority of the 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, that Saudi Arabia is still today a font of – to put it nicely – austere and strict Islamic teachings, the kind of which was indisputably a crucial factor in the 9/11 attacks and countless others besides, and that Saudi Arabia underwent a wave of terrorist bombings only a few years before this document became policy, it is surprising to note that Saudi citizens were not singled out for extra security.

Presumably, there must have been significant diplomatic pressure on US authorities not to add Saudi citizens to such a list. This can surely be the only explanation.

This information leak came to light after a report was released in which the blacking-out had not been done correctly. Not long afterward, someone posted the clean document on Cryptome.org for the world to see. US officials have reacted with relative nonchalance, simply saying that while it is regrettable, procedures are constantly changing and no truly important details were leaked.