Profiling is critical....
An important piece from the New York Post by Yishai Ha'etzni, executive director of the Shalem Center, the Jerusalem research institute that publishes the journal Azure, on why profiling is important.
Screening and random searches would not have averted the tragedy that profiling stopped on April 17, 1986. Anne-Marie Murphy, a pregnant Irish woman, was traveling alone to Israel to meet her fiancé's parents. Her bags went through an X-ray machine without problems, and she and her passport appeared otherwise unremarkable.
But in a perfect example of the complexity of profiling, a pregnant woman traveling alone roused the suspicions of security officials. They inspected her bags more closely and discovered a sheet of Semtex explosives under a false bottom. Unbeknownst to Murphy, her fiancé, Nizar Hindawi, had intended to kill her and their unborn child along with the other passengers on the plane.
Unfortunately, the rise in terrorist assaults on Israeli public transportation, entertainment venues and public spaces necessitated that the airport security model be implemented in those areas as well — for one simple reason: it works better than anything else.
In May 2002, a would-be suicide bomber ran away from the entrance to a mall in Netanya after guards at the entrance grew suspicious. Though he killed three people when he blew himself up on a nearby street, he would have murdered far many more people had he been able to enter the mall.
His ethnicity — along with his demeanor, dress, even his hair — was merely one of many factors security personnel use in profiles. But it was a factor.
The American system's "blindness" cuts off the most important weapon in the war against terrorism: Human capability, judgment and perception. Now that the United States faces a higher threat, it cannot afford to neglect those tools.
Using sociological data as well as constantly updated intelligence information, trained security personnel know who is most likely to be perpetuating an attack, as well as how to identify suspicious individuals through behavior. (Again, it is important to note that ethnicity is only one factor among many used to identify potential terrorists.) Removing intelligence and statistical probability as tools would render this model far less effective.
Israelis understand — and other Westerners need to accept — that no system can ever be 100 percent effective. But this is a system that has stood up remarkably well under a vicious and unrelenting assault of terror.
Is profiling worth the resulting infringement on the democratic values of equality? Yes. After all, protecting human life is also a democratic value, perhaps the supreme one.
Random searches of grandmothers and congressmen may make Americans feel virtuous, but they don't keep Americans safe. The attacks of 9/11 and the attacks on public transport in Madrid and London sadly demonstrate that Americans cannot afford feeling virtuous at the cost of human life.