, criticism of a plan for volunteer security adjuncts
for the thousands of acres of parkland surrounding George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston:
Sounds like a great opportunity for unemployed idiots who drool at the prospect of harassing people but failed the test to become a cop.
On the contrary, it seems like a rather elegant solution. Houston's airport is apparently surrounded by undeveloped scrubland criss-crossed by trails; in this respect it certainly sounds similar to Macdonald-Cartier International, here in Ottawa. There's an awful lot of land surrounding it, and relatively finite security resources for the facility as a whole. Why not allow average people, after suitable background checks, to go horseback riding there? If nothing else, it would seem to be a nice chunk of parkland for such a purpose. As to the notion that this would decrease security - well, what are the security measures in this area now? Does this plan put X number of amateur eyes in place, where no police or security presence was previously? Does it relieve pressure on a finite airport security force, allowing them to redirect resources to more vulnerable targets?
What's the difference between this, and asking those who live or work near potential urban terrorist targets (bridges, federal buildings, massive skyscrapers symbolizing the superiority of capitalist democracy over medieval theocracy) to report suspicious activity? You don't have to be a trained police officer to keep a watchful eye. I also like the fact that this scheme highlights the need for a vigilant citizenry, not one willing to sit back in a self-obsessed daze and let The Proper Authorities deal with security. No one is on the sidelines, now, and it can't hurt to promote a greater awareness of possible threats.
Moreover, I'll also impugn Mark Frauenfelder's angle. Does he seriously think that the average cop is merely "an idiot who [drools] at the prospect of harassing people?" Does he consider this a primary motivation for many or most who want to become an officer of the law? What is
the solution to security in this particular wooded area at this particular airport, in that case? Offer an alternative, if you like, but condemning such a plan point-blank (with a free side of Red-state contempt) isn't in aid of anything.
Bruce Schneier, author of the original article at The Register, is a bit more cogent, but not by much.
The first is the lack of training. The program encourages "licensed law enforcement officers" to participate, but that's not a requirement- anyone can be a Ranger? As best I can glean from the Web page, the training consists of a "short video" on suspicious activities. Is there any mention of civil rights and constitutional protections? Is there any attempt to prevent racial profiling? Profiling has been a problem even for major law enforcement agencies; how will a group of untrained civilians perform? And what are the liabilities to the airport when there are problems?
Put this in another context to realize how silly it is. I see a man carrying an envelope leaking white powder, or a box with wires sticking out, or some other obviously suspicious-looking aspect to his appearance. Am I required to have reasonable cause before reporting this information to police? Do I need to build an air-tight case for his arrest to hand over to them? Of course I don't. As I see it, that's a prime benefit to such a scheme; airport security has wider-ranging eyes and ears, but (except for law enforcement officers, as noted in the program details, who are requested to carry their service weapons) that's all they are. As for profiling, well - what's more important: preventing death by terrorism
, or preventing offensiveness?
As I've said before - if preventing terrorism requires offending anyone (or everyone
), I don't care.
The second is the new security vulnerability that this program creates. The perimeter around the airport used to be a no-man's land; anyone on the property was immediately suspicious. Now there is a group of people allowed around the airport perimeter. How do you tell the difference between someone who is allowed and someone who isn't? A photo ID, one you might glance at from ten feet away, is easily forgeable. And since all Rangers are on horseback, if you have a horse and your Western looking, you probably going to be automatically trusted. Is the airport safer, or more at risk, because of this program? The answer isn't obvious.
Somehow I suspect that the ability to look at-ease on horseback, wearing typically Texan leisurewear, isn't one easily assimilated by the sort of person with such a raving hatred for America they become a terrorist. I would also imagine it likely that regular volunteers would be generally suspicious of any non-regulars - and that also works, more or less.
[...] In order to participate in the program, you have to waive all sorts of rights. You waive the right to challenge the arbitrary denial of one of these permits. That may be compensation for another glaring risk of this scheme: are the background checks good enough to exclude potential terrorists? Is the intent that the agency will do its own profiling, and exclude, for example, Muslims? A more charitable explanation is that they want to be able to rely on intelligence reports without having to disclose them.
Is this really any more of a problem than for any other circumstance or position requiring a background check? How about a job at the airport itself? When I worked at the Ottawa airport, I had to go through a lengthy security pass application. I don't recall language on any of the forms specifically requiring me to waive the right to sue Transport Canada for denying an application, but it was made clear that the pass was granted at the ministry's discretion. No, it's not a perfect system, but it's the best we can do. If these volunteers are being screened at least as competently as the guy working at the Cinnabon stand (and I realize that's a very low standard, but what can you do?), that's tolerable.
Finally, applicants must certify that they're not a member of any group that "advocates violence against ... any other nation." A year and a half ago, that would have excluded all members of both the Democratic and Republican party, as well as any other political party that favored invading Iraq.
-so-witty obfuscation (the full line is a laundry list, and one of quite transparently obvious intent, too: "...that advocates violence against the government of the United States or any political subdivision thereof, or against the citizens or residents of the United States or any other nation or any sector of the citizens or residents of the United States or of any other nation.") pretty much sums up everything you need about this self-proclaimed security expert, even if you didn't read the summary bio following the article:
Bruce Schneier is the CTO of Counterpane Internet Security, Inc. [...]
Ah. An Internet Security Technician. So he's just talking through his pants
on physical security measures, just like anyone else? Well, spiffy