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Contentions

Out of the TSA Scanner and into the Fire

Looks like there might be a simple fix to the problem of full-body scans at airports: distorting the images so that they no longer look like naked people but rather fun-house images. According to the nuclear scientist who came up with the solution and offered it to the TSA four years ago, hidden explosives or weapons would still show up on the scan, without travelers feeling that their privates had been exposed to the world.

The new rallying call on the right is to drop the scans and pat-downs for most passengers in favor of profiling. Charles Krauthammer’s funny and provocative column last week made the case that the only reason we continue to inconvenience all travelers in the name of protecting security 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.”

Would that we could easily profile what a terrorist looks like. Does anyone really believe that al-Qaeda is likely to place a bomb on a passenger outfitted in traditional Muslim garb? Or even on a typically Middle Eastern–looking passenger? Among recent terrorists who have been arrested or killed are blond, blue-eyed Germans and Americans, including an American woman, and a number of Africans, like the underwear-bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and a group of Somalis in Minnesota. Ignoring people who “don’t look like terrorists” would be dangerous policy indeed.

Nor is the Israeli model the answer. Israel has one major airport in a tiny country. As anyone who has been through Israeli security knows, we could never adopt the thorough questioning and screening used there in our busy hubs. Years ago, I learned firsthand exactly how serious the Israelis are when I was pulled out of line at Tel-Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport. After more than a half-hour’s questioning and pat-down, with all my luggage unpacked and carefully inspected, I asked whether I was ever going to be permitted to leave Israel, which I was visiting as an official guest of the government at the time. “Yes,” the agent told me, “but not necessarily on an airplane.” Eventually I was allowed to board, but only after the intervention of an American-born Israeli soldier who recognized me from the newspaper and confirmed that I really was who I claimed to be.

I, for one, would rather endure a body scanner than a half-hour interrogation each time I fly.



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