Which Is the Lesser Evil: Airport “Porno Scanners” or Profiling?

From TSA website: Click to enlarge (you know you want to).
Images more explicit than this may be faked.

If you look up “droll” in the dictionary, there ought to be a picture of George Will.   Here’s the end of his current column, which kvetches about increased airport security:

The average American has regular contact with the federal government at three points – the IRS, the post office and the TSA. Start with that fact if you are formulating a unified field theory to explain the public’s current political mood.

Will joins Kathleen Parker and Charles Krauthammer in a trifecta of WashPo conservative columnists opposed to the new screening procedures.  Here’s Parker describing the unappealing choices:

I don’t like the idea of some stranger – regardless of whether he or she can see my face – examining my concessions to gravity without my permission. …

As to the alternative, no thank you. The idea of a stranger, even one of the same sex, foraging around my private principalities is simply unacceptable. Forget the creepiness factor, which is sufficient; consider the principle – quickly! – before you get used to the notion that government has the right to do Whatever Is Necessary To Protect You.

From what, if not this?

Krauthammer thinks he knows a better way:

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.

Profiling doesn’t have to mean racial profiling — although, speaking strictly from a security point of view, obviously it would make sense to give a higher level of scrutiny to young male Middle Eastern Muslims.  Michael Totten, the independent journalist, describes how the Israelis keep their planes and airports safe:

Security officials should pay less attention to objects, and more attention to people.

The Israelis do. They are, out of dreadful necessity, the world’s foremost experts in counterterrorism. And they couldn’t care less about what your grandmother brings on a plane. Instead, officials at Ben Gurion International Airport interview everyone in line before they’re even allowed to check in.

And Israeli officials profile. They don’t profile racially, but they profile. Israeli Arabs breeze through rather quickly, but thanks to the dozens of dubious-looking stamps in my passport — almost half are from Lebanon and Iraq — I get pulled off to the side for more questioning every time. And I’m a white, nominally Christian American.

If they pull you aside, you had better tell them the truth. They’ll ask you so many wildly unpredictable questions so quickly, you couldn’t possibly invent a fake story and keep it all straight. Don’t even try. They’re highly trained and experienced, and they catch everyone who tries to pull something over on them.

Grousing about the scanners is all well and good, but the danger is not theoretical — there was an actual incident of a bomb hidden in a man’s underwear. Next time I fly, I’ll shrug and walk through the scanner, if that’s what I’m told to do.

Faisal Shahzad: The Terrorist Next Door

For whatever reason, I’ve resisted learning much about the Times Square bombmaker’s personal life.  I’ve been more interested in other aspects of the attempted attack, such as how his U.S. citizenship distinguishes him from the Christmas panty-bomber, or whether exceptions to the Miranda rule should be broadened.  (I vote yes.)

But today I stumbled across an in-depth profile of Faisal Shahzad in the New York Times, and I read it with a sense of queasy fascination.   Out of several candidates, I’ve settled on this as the passage that disturbed me the most:

That June [2006], he took a new job as an analyst at the Affinion Group, a financial marketing firm in Norwalk, telling a friend that his annual income had jumped to $70,000. Two months later, he finished his master’s degree in business. On weekends, Mr. Shahzad hosted barbecues, mowed his lawn and played badminton in the yard. His wife was pregnant.

Shahzad, pictured above with his wife and one of their two children, was living the American Dream.  Early press reports speculated that financial difficulties might have played a role in his radicalization, but the Times account makes clear that his home was foreclosed only because he abandoned it and stopped paying the mortgage.

Somehow this well-educated, solidly middle-class family man was so affected by a poisonous ideology that he drove a car bomb to Times Square and tried to kill random people — who might well have included attractive young families like his own.  Catastrophe was averted only because of his utter incompetence as a bombmaker.

We can’t rely on  incompetence — the Christmas panty-bomber also failed, but jihadi-Major Nadal Hasan took far too many casualties. We can’t arrest every middle-class family man who expresses outrage about the Iraq war.  What can we do?

After a Fair Trial, the Prisoner Will Be Executed

Journalist Michael Kinsley once said that “a gaffe is when a politician tells the truth.”  I could quibble with the precision of that — some gaffes are untrue — but it’s a great line.  And by that definition, hapless presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs committed a gaffe this morning (hat tip for my  headline to  Tigerhawk):

Where he gets tried is still up for debate, but the White House thinks it knows what will happen when alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is convicted.

“Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is going to meet justice and he’s going to meet his maker,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told John King on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday morning.

“He’s likely to be executed for the heinous crimes he committed,” he added.

Cue Mr. Rogers, the noted defense attorney: “Can you say ‘tainted jury pool’? Sure you can!”

I don’t know whether KSM will actually get executed or not, and I don’t much care — I have ambivalent feelings about the death penalty.  Here’s what I do know: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will never draw another free breath. In the highly unlikely event that a federal judge can be found who will dismiss the charges because of the waterboarding or an inability to seat an impartial jury, the administration will immediately rediscover the concept of “enemy combatant,” and will use that to keep the 9/11 mastermind on ice until his dying day.

The notion that KSM has all the rights of a civilian murder suspect is farcical, and in
homage to that farce the administration is willing to endanger Americans. This same desire to pretend we are not at war was behind the decision to give the FBI only 50 minutes with Captain Underpants before letting him lawyer up and hide behind the rights of a common criminal.

Obama: “Our Nation is at War Against a Far-Reaching Network of Violence and Hatred”

Perhaps all of the criticism from Dick Cheney and others about a law-enforcement approach to terrorism has had a positive effect.  In his weekly address today, President Obama reprises one of the better lines from his Inaugural Address:

It’s been nearly a year since I stood on the steps of the U.S. Capitol and took the oath of office as your President.  And with that oath came the solemn responsibility that I carry with me every moment of every day-the responsibility to protect the safety and security of the American people. On that day I also made it very clear — our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred, and that we will do whatever it takes to defeat them and defend our country, even as we uphold the values that have always distinguished America among nations.

I give the weekly address about a B+, with points deducted for a gratuitous and misleading swipe at his predecessor:

I refocused the fight — bringing to a responsible end the war in Iraq, which had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks, and dramatically increasing our resources in the region where al Qaeda is actually based, in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

By continuing to talk like a candidate,  President Obama diminishes himself and diminishes America — a country that went to war in Iraq with strong bipartisan support.  And of course it’s both premature and ludicrous for him to claim credit for “bringing to a responsible end the war in Iraq.”  Obama deserves some credit for staying the course, but when that war does come to a responsible end, it will be because Mr. Bush found a path to victory.

But I’m glad to hear the Commander-in-Chief talking like a warrior.  Actions speak louder than words, of course, but words are important. Presidential words are particularly important.  By acknowledging that we are at war, Obama may help stiffen the spines of elements within his administration that are serious about national security.  With enough such spine-stiffening, we may see a transition away from the law-enforcement approach to asymmetric warfare, an approach that led to the indefensible decision to bring the mastermind of 9/11 to the media capital of the world and provide him a platform for inspiring jihadists everywhere.

Update: Once again, as in the post I link to just above, Andy McCarthy has posted his own similar take in The Corner at around the same time (emphasis added):

Finally, behold, yet again, the folly of President Obama’s law-enforcement approach to terrorism. Not only has the assignment of counsel in the criminal case denied us whatever intelligence Mutallab could be giving us about Yemen. The criminal case is complicating the President’s ability to do his jobs as president and commander-in-chief.  This morning, Obama declared flatly that Mutallab conspired with al Qaeda in a heinous attempted terrorist attack. It was refreshing to hear the president not hedge with “alleged” this and “alleged” that. FDR never suggested that the “fear itself” we needed to fear was “alleged.” But, of course, defense counsel will now claim the president is hopelessly prejudicing Mutallab’s ability to get a fair trial — in Detroit or anyplace else — by smearing him in the press and eviscerating the presumption of innocence.

No, I don’t suffer from any delusion that McCarthy is aware of my existence — let alone that he is following my lead.  In fact, the intellectual debt flows in the opposite direction, so much so that I’ve finally created a McCarthy tag for my blog.  I just think the timing is cool.  And here I’ll belatedly tip my hat to one of McCarthy’s fellow Cornerites, Daniel Foster, whose post informed me of the President’s remarks this morning (although my take is more generous to Obama).


Christmas Attack Was an Act of War, But It’s Being Treated Like a Crime

Just Do ItAfter allegedly telling investigators “there are more just like me who will strike soon,” Captain Underpants apparently has been allowed to lawyer up and stop talking. In the Wall Street Journal, former Justice Department official Victoria Toensing explains why this is madness:

Abdulmutallab is in effect in possession of a ticking bomb, but we cannot interrogate him. His right to remain silent, as required by the Miranda rule, thwarts Mr. Obama’s hollow attempt on Tuesday to “assure” us he is “doing everything in [his] power” to keep us safe. Questions need to be answered. Where was Abdulmutallab trained? Who trained him? Where is the training facility located? Where is the stash of PETN, the explosive used in the bomb? What are the techniques he was told to use for getting through airport security? Was there a well-dressed man who helped him board the plane without a passport as claimed by another passenger? And, most important, are future attacks planned?

Cliff May, head of the indispensable Foundation for Defense of Democracies, expands on the theme:

Terrorism is not a criminal justice matter; it is a weapon of asymmetric warfare. … We know there will be murders, robberies, rapes, and muggings; we understand that the FBI will never eliminate organized crime; we realize that some criminals will escape punishment because their guilt cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Viewing terrorism through this same prism, however, means accepting that planes will be blown up and that other forms of mass-casualty violence — bioterrorism, Fort Hood–style massacres, dirty-bomb attacks — also will occur; that terrorists can never be aggressively interrogated even if hundreds of lives depend on the information they might reveal; and that some terrorists will be allowed to walk, to rejoin the jihad, to thumb their noses at the families of their victims; and that we will never even make a serious attempt to defeat those waging war against us.

May also points out that “real security means looking for terrorists — not for weapons”:

Finally, while most Muslims are not terrorists, most terrorists in recent years have been young, male Muslims who have embraced an extremist reading of Islam. To deny this is not just to indulge in self-delusion. It is to sacrifice innocent lives on the altar of political correctness. Apologists for extremism will complain. Moderate Muslims will direct their anger where it belongs: against those within their community who preach and practice mass murder — not those doing what they can to prevent the next slaughter.

One of those moderate Muslims, M. Zuhdi Jasser of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, chimes in with an open letter to President Obama:

Our nation is clearly becoming more and more anxious and concerned over the rash of radicalized Muslims. Is it not time for you to acknowledge that terror is a simply a symptom of a more profound deeper underlying disease? That disease is political Islam.

Hopefully you will realize that we can only defeat an enemy we can name, describe, and understand. As Thomas Friedman and others have recently reminded us, the only answer to jihadists, Salafists, and Islamists is a narrative from within America, and most important from within Islam, that counters the global supremacism of political Islam. Until you say exactly that, we will continue to flail in this conflict.

I hope after Nidal Hasan, after the American jihadis in Pakistan, and now after the Christmas bomber radicalized in London, that you see our need for clear leadership against political Islam and its ubiquitous permeating militant manifestations. We need a leader who recognizes that this conflict is most significantly within Muslim communities as we Muslims struggle with the conflict between theocracy and democracy, sharia and liberty, Islamism and freedom, and salafism and modernity. The longer you squander your leadership and stay silent on this, the more vulnerable we will be.

Darth Cheney is back in the news, accusing the Obama administration of “trying to pretend we are not at war.”  Seems to me like he has a point.

Honeymoon-Over Watch: He’s Lost MoDo

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd is not happy with the President.  Her column yesterday was titled “As the Nation’s Pulse Races, Obama Can’t Seem to Find His“, and the first paragraph in the excerpt below is particularly damning:

MoDoIf we can’t catch a Nigerian with a powerful explosive powder in his oddly feminine-looking underpants and a syringe full of acid, a man whose own father had alerted the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, a traveler whose ticket was paid for in cash and who didn’t check bags, whose visa renewal had been denied by the British, who had studied Arabic in Al Qaeda sanctuary Yemen, whose name was on a counterterrorism watch list, who can we catch?…

Citing the attempt of the Nigerian’s father to warn U.S. authorities six months ago, the president intoned: “It now appears that weeks ago this information was passed to a component of our intelligence community but was not effectively distributed so as to get the suspect’s name on a no-fly list.”

In his detached way, Spock was letting us know that our besieged starship was not speeding into a safer new future, and that we still have to be scared.

Heck of a job, Barry.


Oh, That Nigerian Terrorist… Oopsie-Doopsie!

Testicle Toaster

Abdulmutallab: The face of evil?

So the latest terrorist is being interrogated, but why should we believe anything he says?  His pants literally were on fire!

We can laugh because the terrorist botched the job, but it could have been very unfunny.  And while I’ve always been skeptical of the idea that intelligence agencies “should have known” about 9/11 in advance, this time it does seem like some pretty obvious dots went unconnected.

CBS News has learned that as early as August of 2009 the Central Intelligence Agency was picking up information on a person of interest dubbed “The Nigerian,” suspected of meeting with “terrorist elements” in Yemen.

Sources tell CBS News “The Nigerian” has now turned out to be Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. But that connection was not made when Abudulmutallab’s father went to the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria three months later, on November 19, 2009. It was then he expressed deep concerns to a CIA officer about his son’s ties to extremists in Yemen, a hotbed of al Qaeda activity.

Obama can’t blame the Bush Administration for this one.

After days of downplaying the incident, Obama today acknowledged that “A systemic failure has occurred, and I consider that totally unacceptable.”

“What already is apparent is that there was a mix of human and systemic failures that contributed to this potential catastrophic breach of security,” Obama said. “We need to learn from this episode and act quickly to fix the flaws in our system because our security is at stake and lives are at stake.”

Well, yes.  You might also want to rethink the idea of repatriating terrorists from Gitmo to Yemen and Saudi Arabia.  And hey, that even gives you an opportunity to blame Bush!


Threat Level? Color Me Annoyed

terror flightThe plane landed safely, a happy Christmas Day ending to an apparent attempt to bring down an aircraft in flight.  It’s a good reminder that wherever we are, we potentially have enemies among us.  I was glad to hear that the nearby passengers apparently helped subdue the would-be terrorist.

So off to bed — but first, a request to the Obama Administration.  I’ve praised you in the past for continuing some of the Bush Administration’s policies regarding national security.  But there’s one Bush-era artifact I would love to see you abandon, and I just heard on the TV news that you may be planning to do exactly that.  Please — please — scrap the silly color-coded alert system.

There are many, many important issues to consider in the wake of this incident, but whether to raise the threat level from orange to red is not one of them.