I have taken a writing seminar on terrorism and civil liberties this semester and today we discussed the issue of racial profiling. Many of us thought that it did make sense to focus special screening on a section of the global population that come from regions involved in exporting terrorism. Since most terrorist suspects trace their ethnicity to the Middle East and South Asia, it is only logical that investigation is focused on populations from these regions. However, the tags of Middle Eastern and South Asian are still very broad. There are over 3 million South Asians alone living in the Middle East. According to the above parameters, a person whose experiences involve a combination of South Asia and the Middle East should automatically qualify for screening or investigation. Given the Middle Eastern and South Asian Diaspora in the United States and Europe, it leaves you with a sizeable population to screen. The countries where states have been involved in sponsoring terrorism should be identified rather than selecting a population from a broad region. Moreover, if airport security is being discussed, the individuals viewed as suspects should not be given visas in the first place. That eliminates the controversy of ‘racial’ profiling at airports. It does seem unjust that people from a few countries are singled-out but have the authorities been left with any alternative?
I am also very impressed by the security arrangements of El Al Airlines. Tickets and passports are carefully examined, questions are asked to all passengers, a very wide database is maintained and bags are even placed in a decompression chamber to simulate in-flight pressures that could trigger explosives. The elaborate security arrangements seem to be a model for every other airport or airline. However, the Ben Guiron Airport is not of the busier airports and this may be harder to replicate at airports like O’Hare, JFK or Heathrow.
Another factor that must be considered is that it is not the most difficult task in the world to change your identity. One of the prime suspects of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2008 adopted a Western name (and since he was born in the US, he has an American passport) and he was thus able to legally obtain a visa to India without any issues. His original identity could not be confirmed because American passports do not provide information on the father’s name and name changes. He would not have qualified for special screening at any airport. Thus, for sampling to work, intelligence must be strengthened. Intelligence agencies must be made more robust to ensure that sampling is focused on the relevant section of the global population rather than a broad region.