Friday, November 26, 2010

The Play's the Thing?

I'm ambivalent about the new screening procedures at our airports, although I am skeptical of how they are being used. Such procedures risk being just "security theater" rather than effective security.

What happens, for example, when jihadis decide that setting off a bomb in a crowded line in front of a scanning device is good enough? And I worry that marginally effective but intrusive security measures that demoralize security screeners and alienate passengers will weaken security overall. I don't know at what point we reach that stage, but the pattern is clear--the enemy will try new things and we will expand passenger-centered security. This will expand to trains and buses and then to malls and stadiums.

And then we will have a vast security apparatus that treats all of us--everywhere--as potential threats. Which is why from early on in the war on terror I argued that in the name of defending our civil liberties we needed to go on offense (and not just--or even mostly--with our military) to end the war by defeating the jihadis and the ideology that breeds them. If we don't, the security culture will ratchet up again and again until it inflicts more pain on us than our enemies can manage.

Profiling behavior at the airports, backed by good intelligence all the way back to the plotters' lairs, is best. The problem with this best solution is that, people being people, profiling behavior can too easily become profiling people based on ethnicity or religion. That just sets us up for failure since the jihadis will find someone who passes the physical profile test. Even in Iraq, the jihadis had no problem finding depressed or mentally ill people to be suicide bombers when they had a shortage of true believers. Heck, sometimes they just tricked people who didn't know they were suicide bombers.

And I worry that our leaders prefer security theater to effective intelligence because when someone gets through and kills a bunch of Americans, the visible security theater covers their butts in a way that invisible intelligence measures cannot.

Stratfor and Strategypage have good pieces on the issue.

UPDATE: The expansion of passive security continues. If we don't kill the jihadis and defeat Islamo-fascism, how long before we're all in protective custody?

UPDATE: And a reminder about our security problems: the blame lies on our jihadi enemies and not on our president--whether your favorite sport is blaming Obama or Bush for shredding our constitution. All the more reason we need to stay on offense--militarily, covertly, socially, and economically--to defeat Islamism