Andrew McCarthy’s terrific new article, “Unreasonable Searches” (National Review, Aug. 29, 2005, available online for NROnline subscribers) makes a great case for applying some common sense to security measures which purport to catch terrorists before they terrorize. It’s sad that the points must be made at all, but he does a great job making them.
There is a pattern here – but the U.S. government seems to be incapable of detecting it. We have met the enemy, and it is militant Islam. Yet we refuse to acknowledge that fact, pretending that the enemy is “terror? — a method of attack — rather than the terrorists who employ that method.
Terrorists — particularly those who are likely to attack — have a profile. They are Muslim males, overwhelmingly young adults of Middle Eastern and North African descent. That doesn’t mean everyone who falls into that profile is a terrorist. Nor does it mean that every terrorist will fit the profile. … But so what? A profile is not a judgment of guilt. It is not even an accusation of guilt. It is an investigative tool. It enables law enforcement to organize suspicions and husband resources rationally, in a manner related to a known threat.(emphasis mine – rew)
There’s nothing hard to understand here. It’s so obvious that one has to be wilfully blind not to immediately grasp and use the technique. And yet, we’re almost daily told that we should be wilfully blind, that we mustn’t “succumb to stereotypes” and so on. But that’s ridiculous on its face; by going out of our way to avoid targeting young adult Muslim males of Middle Eastern or North African descent, we are doing precisely that: recognizing the stereotype, the pattern, the obvious profile, and then wilfully avoiding doing anything about it. Thus, we have all the “guilt” of “profiling” (which, in my view, is none, but for some people is apparently debilitating), and none of the benefits (more security, less dead people, much lower cost of providing that security, etc.).
[The point of profiling] is not to cast aspersions to but improve the odds of thwarting an attack the fallout of which could be catastrophic.
Criminal conspiracies, like much concerted activity (including much that is socially beneficial), tend to be ethnic and cultural.
Nothing new or surprising here. McCarthy points out the inestimable value of profiling of this sort in attacks on the mob(s), drug cartels, Nigerian scammers (one of my favorites), etc. This is even more true in societies or environments where tribal and family links are stronger than nationalist, linguistic, or philosophical ones. People who share a philosophy don’t necessarily look alike; but people who share parents, uncles, and cousins almost always do.
He notes that when Homeland security chief Michael Chertoff defended the feds’ focus on aviation,
His comments drew sharp criticism, mainly from Senate Democrats representing metropolitan areas with mass-transit systems.
That is, the hit dog hollered loudest. No surprise there. But when you “follow the money” (which, sadly, we are forced to do here without the inestimable services of Michael Moore), you can tell pretty quickly how much of that criticism reduces to “dollars for my voters” and how much reduces to “real concern for the safety and survivability of the USA and her way of life” (the answers, btw are “most” and “not a whole lot”, respectively).
Of course, this problem – the rational allocation of resources to actually address the addressable parts of a large and amorphous problem – is always met by the same criticism. Any redistributionist system, no matter its intent or benefit, will have to operate over the friction caused by those who seek to redirect the maximum redistribution their way. And, by definition, the people most intent on it are the people who are the least hampered by larger practical, legal, or ethical concerns for anyone else. Keep that in mind when hearing Chuck Schumer huffing and spitting and caterwauling about this or that “outrageous” idea.
Our homeland-security strategy [...] should assign the responsibility for addressing a particular threat to the entity most able to reduce it, and most likely to benefit from its reduction.
Right. It’s stupid for the rest of the country to spend disproportionately large sums of money on addressing a threat which is by its very nature, permanently limited and localized (you can’t hijack a New York subway car, fly it over and into the Sears tower in Chicago; nor can you fly an L train from Chi-town into the Pentagon). You can’t smuggle nukes into the country via the Atlanta Marta. You can smuggle them across the largely un-monitored borders we share with Mexico and Canada, and you can fly an airliner into a large and thickly-populated building.
That’s not to say that we don’t care whether there’s a mass-transit bombing. We do care; every death, any death, is appalling. But those on the left believe that “care” must and can only equal “federal tax dollars in my pocket”, whereas some of us believe that no single concern lives or has demands apart from the million other ones competing for the same scarce time, attention, and money available.
But the poor, poor states? Whence the money? Oh, the horror. Agonize, agonize…
It’s noteworthy that state and local authorities dedicate little of the billions of dollars in federal grants they receive to mass-transit security. If they really think protecting mass transit should be a higher priority, they can begin by allocating more funding to that goal.
Exactly. It’s too bad that we’ve become so inured to begging and whining that no one apparently thinks to stop and be embarrassed to be asking for more FedBux without stopping and spending any of the unimaginably large sums they’re already getting from Uncle Sam on the problem. I’m reminded, not for the first time, of the celebrity wife suing the celebrity husband, insisting that lil’ celebrity Junior cannot possibly be cared for on a mere $40,000/mo.
McCarthy goes on to point out that making effective mass-transit bomb-proof is probably infeasible anyway (it has to do with the “mass-” part of “mass-transit”).
In any case, throwing money at transit security is unlikely to help much. The London subway system is considered one of the best-protected in the world, required as it was to endure the threat of bombings by Irish Republican Army terrorists. Yet it was attacked twice in recent weeks, and the second attempt — foiled only by a malfunction of the bombs’ detonators — took place while the subway system was in maximum-alert mode. (emphasis mine)
Until money is allocated on the basis of sound cost-benefit analysis, we will become poorer, but no safer.
And what’s more, the constant demand for “action” will continue to lead lawmakers into eroding more and more of those daaaaangerous civil liberties. And the same people shrieking loudest about any attempt to rationally profile likely attackers are the ones who are also shrieking about the “loss of freedom” and the “fascist Bush administration”.