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Friday, July 29, 2005

My response to "Give Grandma a Pass" in the Washington Post today:

You state in your editorial of July 29th that we ought to increase racial profiling in bag searches and other security measures because " special scrutiny to young Islamic men, or, more sensitively, just eliminating certain demographic categories from scrutiny -- will simply encourage the jihadists to start recruiting elderly Norwegian women." Further, you write, "[This] will require a huge new wasteful effort on their part."

This is technically a true statement, if you strike "wasteful" from the equation. By eliminating certain subgroups from search consideration, Islamic terrorist groups no longer need spend resources on evasion and are no longer deterred by the unknown: suddenly, their goal is simply to find some willing party who will act on their behalf. Do you really believe that, if one strikes Hispanic members from those searched, the ETA wouldn't give up one of their own for a $50 million payday from Al Qaeda or a related group? Or that there isn't an elderly woman in Chechnya who wouldn't be willing to carry a brick of plastic explosives onto an airplane if it meant a massive boost in arms sales to the so-called 'rebels' there? Or maybe you believe that an energy-starved North Korea would recoil in horror at the prospect of a shipment of oil for their assistance. Chairman Kim Jong Il has, of course, shown an enormous amount of respect for human life. But then again - they could just use one of the preteens from their madrasas. Maybe these payments or trades would technically cost an Islamic terrorist organization more resources than the 9/11 attacks - but it would have been cold comfort knowing that the destruction of the twin towers and the murder of their occupants really deprived Bin Ladin of his creature comforts for a month. Would you have felt it was a job well done if the attacks in London had simply required a few more resources? Is our goal to stop terrorist attacks and provide optimal deterrance, or is it to just make them work a little harder for it?

Even so, from Bentham and the panopticon to 1984 and its viewscreens, it has been widely known and understood by psychiatrists and others that known methods of targetting provide for less deterrant value than unknown threats. By searching randomly (truely randomly - not patterned '1 in 5' types of pseudorandomness) a greater level of uncertainty is introduced, and hence more contingencies must be accounted for by any terrorist plot. Unpredictability is the cornerstone of preventing attacks. Information is currency in this war, and by making our actions predictable, we hand some over to those who would do us harm. The Redskins understand this, and don't tell the defense what play they will be calling from the huddle. The Army understands this, and places the utmost premium on operational security. I suppose the question is, why don't you?

Gregory Arthur
College Park, MD

cranked out at 6:18 AM | |

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