Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Job Security

Ok, so listen.

Everybody is up in arms about how to fix America's airport security. Captain Underpants, or the crotch bomber, or whatever you want to call him has kicked up a flurry of argument and debate. (great for al Qaeda's street cred, by the way)

Two things: (and they're related)

1) In all of the hubbub about racial profiling, I'm not really hearing people talk about behavioral profiling. In other words, people with explosives in their shoes or underthingees will exhibit certain tell-tale behaviors. Well trained and professional security agents can read these, just as poker players can read "tells". 

That's why in Ben-Gurion airport they ask you all of those questions. They don't expect terrorists to answer, "Shoot, I didn't think you were going to ask me if I was carrying a weapon. I was planning on blowing up the plane, but there's no way I'm going to lie! That's just wrong!"

They expect armed people to lie, and they are trained to watch for the "tells" that would suggest an individual that needs further inspection. And yeah, they are also trained to recognize that when an innocent person is nervous, they may be falsely accused.

Is this an exact science? Of course not. There is a lesson that America keeps learning over the last 20 years, whether in the CIA or the military. Better technology is good, but human intelligence and ability will always be superior.

2) No offense to the awesome TSA agents, but you really need better people on the job. Or more precisely, it needs to be treated as a profession, not a job. Agents need to be educated as well as trained. Maybe there would be different levels, but you need some bright, intuitive, observant and quick thinking people on the front lines.

Of course, Israel has one major airport and America has scads. But America has many more doctors, lawyers, mechanics and electricians too. If "TSA Agent" was a respected and well compensated profession, (instead of just a job) each city would have to hire a security infrastructure. It may not be green, but it is a modern industry which could create welcome employment opportunities.

Modern life requires experts in many fields, and security should be no exception. America needs to stop relying on machines and procedures, and start investing in brainpower.

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