14 September 2006

terrorist profiling

People get all worked up about this idea, but think about the benefits:
  • People spend on average less time in line.
  • Terrorists get caught more often.
Of course some people will get unnecessarily searched, but that's happening already! And just think of the absurdity of the status quo, when airport screeners waste their time searching uneducated young men and aren't left with enough time to catch the older, more educated, threat.
Suicide bombers who are older — in their late 20’s and early 30’s — and better educated are less likely to be caught on their missions and are more likely to kill large numbers of people at bigger, more difficult targets than younger and more poorly educated bombers.

... Whereas typical bombers were younger than 21 and about 18 percent of them had at least some college education, the average age of the most successful bombers was almost 26 and 60 percent of them were college educated.

Experience and education also affect the chances of being caught. Every additional year of age reduces the chance by 12 percent. Having more than a high school education cuts the chance by more than half.

There are many examples where young or uneducated terrorists made stupid mistakes that foiled them. Professor Benmelech recounts the case last April of a teenager from Nablus apprehended by Israeli soldiers before carrying out his bombing because he was wearing an overcoat on a 95-degree day. Mr. Reid, the failed shoe bomber, had only a high school degree. Would an older terrorist with more education have tried to light a match on his shoe (as Mr. Reid did) in plain view of the flight attendant and other passengers who proceeded to thwart his plan? Would a better-educated terrorist have been more discreet? We will never know.

The research suggests, however, that there may be a reason that the average age of the 9/11 hijackers (at least the ones for whom we have a birth date) was close to 26 and that the supposed leader, Mohammed Atta, was 33 with a graduate degree.

The solution is simple. Passports could be linked to electronic education records and every year of education could increase the expected length of screening by an extra 12%. Liberals will whine about unfair treatment, but winning the war on terror is about being effective, not pleasing a few politically-influential constituencies.


Dave Bacon said...

I'm sure am glad I took only four years to get my degree rather than five! Who knows what crazy terrorist thoughts I might have in my head if I'd gone for that fifth year.

ilya said...

given that everyone benefits from racial and age profiling, and a subset of everyone loses, why not set up a system where everyone that gets the speedy pass through security pays a token amount into a fund, and everyone that gets erroneously profiled and loses their time dealing with the bullshit gets a payment at the end for their contribution to everyone's happiness. then we can just be honest and not strip search little old ladies at the gates for "random screening" (even as hot as that is for all the other passengers).

on a sidenote did you hear the This American Life about the afghani american dude that got mistaken for a terrorist wanting to kill Rumsfeld's daughter?

aram harrow said...

i guess i know who has the RSS feeds...

i like the idea of paying people who are profiled, but i don't see how to stop people who have plenty of free time and want the cash from wearing "i heart osama" t-shirts. or "ladies sewing circle and terrorist society" t-shirts.

but it would (sort of) work if the compensation didn't outweigh the hassle. compensating people who miss their flights b/c of security seems like a no-brainer, for example.

here's the this american life episode. it ruled, but then they pretty much all do.

aram harrow said...

oops - forgot to mention the non-sarcastic point of my post, which is that race/age profiling is often done based on racist/agist stereotypes that not only lead to unjust treatment, but are also inaccurate.

and any profiling (or speedpasses) make the screening more predictable, which is a losing proposition. even if only 5% of terrorists qualify for speedpasses, it would still be foolish to tell them in advance that they won't be searched.

ilya said...

i am not proposing "speedpasses" - i think the nature of profiling should remain secret, but the fee is collected when you get through the gates quicker.

as far as profiling for terrorists - so far they've all been muslims aged 18-35, mostly arab, mostly men - is that racist to say? timothy mcveigh notwithstanding? if we make profiling a more transparent thing, couldn't we publish the data that is used to justify it?

ilya said...

also, i love contradicting myself. and i hate having to type in captchas.