Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Metro Random Searches Have Started

Unbelievable, if people are willing to go along with this. From WTOP:
WASHINGTON - Metro Police are randomly inspecting bags at the Braddock Road and College Park Metro stations Tuesday.

The searches started at 7:30 a.m.

The searches, which are designed to be non-intrusive, come in the wake of recent terror plots.

Police are randomly selecting bags or packages to check for hazardous materials using special technology as well as K-9 units trained to detect explosive materials.

For example, if you've been to a firing range, you bag could set it off the machine. Household chemicals can prompt a positive test.

One Metro transit officer tells WTOP's Adam Tuss that "homemade bombs often come from household chemicals."

At Braddock Metro, one man was stopped for about 8 minutes because his bag tested positive for some type of explosives. Police went through the bag, and found nothing. They did take his identification and questioned him for several minutes.

Another woman, who did not object to the bag screening, was stopped for 45 seconds. She missed her train as her bag of Christmas presents was searched.

Groups upset about the bag searches have started an online petition. Metro begins random inspections of bags

So apparently people are just letting these official strangers go through their bags. Metro is randomly stopping innocent people getting on the train and looking through their private possessions, deciding if they qualify to take public transportation. And people are letting them.

Note that the guy whose bag set off the alarm had to give them his identifying information, even though he had done nothing. He's "in the system" now, with a check mark labeling him a possible terrorist.

About three-quarters of a million people ride the Metro every weekday, and so far none of them have been terrorists. The chance that a random search is going to find a bomb or terrorist weapon is, for all practical purposes, zero. If you were a terrorist and came up to the station and saw they were set up to do this, you could simply turn around and go home. Or, if you were determined, you would use something the Metro isn't looking for.

So how is this supposed to make anyone safer? Obviously it doesn't. It is just more proof that Americans are frightened sheep.

One of my favorite blogs, Unsuck DC Metro, exchanged email with security expert Bruce Schneier, who wrote them:
It's another "movie plot threat." It's another "public relations security system." It's a waste of money, it substantially reduces our liberties, and it won't make us any safer.

Final note: I often get comments along the lines of "Stop criticizing stuff; tell us what we should do." My answer is always the same. Counterterrorism is most effective when it doesn't make arbitrary assumptions about the terrorists' plans. Stop searching bags on the subways, and spend the money on 1) intelligence and investigation -- stopping the terrorists regardless of what their plans are, and 2) emergency response -- lessening the impact of a terrorist attack, regardless of what the plans are. Countermeasures that defend against particular targets, or assume particular tactics, or cause the terrorists to make insignificant modifications in their plans, or that surveil the entire population looking for the few terrorists, are largely not worth it. Security Expert on Random Bag Searches

I vaguely recall in my reading years ago coming across a heartwarming snippet written back in Ye Olde Thymes: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." I forget what fairy tale those words came from.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The International Air Transport Association, the airline industry's global advocacy group, is proposing a radical change to existing airport security checks.

Under the IATA plan, unveiled last week, each passenger will be categorized into one of three risk groups, and then screened accordingly. Biometric proof-of-identity, such as a fingerprint or encoded passport, will be checked against a stored profile containing various personal data, and also against passenger watch lists. This, together with flight booking data, will determine which of three screening lines a traveler is then assigned to.

Those in the first line would receive little more than a cursory bag check, while those in the third line would be subject to an "enhanced"-level check similar to the Transportation Security Administration procedures that are currently applied to all passengers.

It might not be a perfect solution, but this is easily the best idea I've yet heard with respect to restoring sanity to airport security.

"The current system of putting everyone through the same procedure ... is an incredible mess," said Giovanni Bisignani, IATA's director general. "We need to be able to find bad people, not bad objects. We can only do that by assessing passengers for risk with appropriate security checks to follow."

This echoes what many of us have been saying for years: The existing checks, which hunt for weapons rather than criminals who might use weapons, categorizing every single person who flies, from an infant to a uniformed crew member, as a potential terrorist of equal threat, is neither sustainable nor effective. We have created a gargantuan airport security apparatus that is ultimately unable to enforce its own rules, charged with the impossible task of confiscating every conceivably dangerous item from literally millions of daily travelers. (At the same time, we allow tens of thousands of airport tarmac workers to bypass screening more or less entirely, effectively nullifying those efforts on the concourse.)

IATA says that an early version of its more rational, three-tiered system could be up and running in under three years. That is, if governments cooperate.

Most governments, I feel, will be willing to give it a try. The European Union, for example, has already expressed an eagerness to get beyond current protocols by announcing a phaseout of the silly restrictions on liquids and gels.

But it's not the Europeans that make me nervous, it's the Americans.

Enacting such changes would take, more than anything else, the political will of our president and Congress. Distressingly, we have thus far seen little to no political opposition, bipartisan or otherwise, to TSA's ponderous and intrusive methods -- methods that do little to ensure safety while subjecting millions of U.S. citizens to unreasonable search and seizure, all the while costing billions of tax dollars. I just don't see this changing. The media, too, have ranged from silent to occasionally supportive of a security approach that is at best farcical and at worst downright dangerous.

IATA is making sense, but I'm sad to say it lacks the clout -- and the inertia -- of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. And while I hate to sound like a conspiracy theorist, our leaders often talk and act as if they enjoy the status quo, unwilling to disenfranchise any facet of what has become a vast and profitable security industrial complex.

The Transportation Security Administration, playground bully stepchild of the DHS, is a charter member of that complex, and will be loath to relinquish even a Ziploc bag's worth of authority. TSA is firmly, perhaps irrevocably entrenched, and has grown giddy with power -- the power that our leaders have granted it, aided and abetted by a cowardly, lethargic populace and an irresponsible media.

Wisdom just isn't in the cards, I'm afraid, and good luck dragging even one of those screeners off the concourse."

December 21, 2010 9:28 PM  

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