Security Roundup Friday 22 July 2011

Does this young girl really need a pat-down?

I featured a letter from a reader a few weeks ago who wrote about the appalling treatment he received at the hands of the Immigration people when flying in to the US from the UK.  They said they had no record of him having departed the US some years before, and so accused him of being an illegal immigrant (something that is apparently only a crime if you fly into the country legally, but not if you walk across our southern border).

The reader asked the obvious question – ‘If I never left the country, how is it I am flying in to it now?’ and tried to use additional logic, pointing out that he had a wife, a family, and a successful business, all back in the UK, but was met with hostility and bullying.  Although eventually allowed into the country, he has had similar problems with subsequent visits, and – perhaps worst of all – has discovered there is no process for him to get the record cleared so as to enjoy trouble free future visits.

I know other people who have had similar problems with the US Immigration people suddenly announcing they have no record of a person having left the country a decade or more ago – even in cases where they do have records of the person traveling in and out of the country subsequently!  My own brother had a similar problem earlier this year.

So, with that as background, here’s an interesting article that refers (near the end of page 2) to problems with our ‘system’ not always knowing when people leave the country again, and says that until recently there was a backlog of over 1.6 million cases of apparently overstaying visitors with an unknown status.

Clearly the system is unreliable and the record keeping is incomplete.  So why do our Immigration officials treat bona fide ‘high quality’ visitors with such rudeness and contempt when the chances are overwhelming that it is the Immigration’s own records that are at fault?

Although the preceding article is generally positive about our border security, here’s another opposite article published at almost exactly the same time, which quotes the US Government Accountability Office and a new report which finds four key gaps in our border security.

Of particular interest is mention of the farcical program that trains security officers to detect (and interpret) ‘micro-expressions’ of travelers that are alleged to betray underlying terrorist intentions.

In 2010 alone, this system (known as ‘SPOT’ – Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques’) caused 50,000 people to be taken aside for further interrogation.  300 were arrested, but none on terror charges.  Who knows what the other charges were – outstanding parking tickets, perhaps?  And who knows how many of those arrested were subsequently convicted of anything at all.

The chances are that if you take any random sampling of 50,000 people you’ll probably find 300 arrestable people within them purely by chance.

On the other hand, at least 17 known terrorists have passed through 23 airports that have the SPOT system operational, and none have been detected.

The SPOT program is based on the work of a controversial psychologist, Dr Paul Ekman.  He created a taxonomy of facial expressions and their meanings.  His work is far from universally accepted as valid, however (and one would think the abject failure of the SPOT program is further proof of that).  Here’s a thoughtful article, written last year, that gives a good discussion on Dr Ekman and his facial expression theories.

So, what does the Department of Homeland Security want to do?  Shamefacedly kill this useless program?  Oh no.  Even though it has spent $750 million on the system with absolutely nothing to show for it so far, its proposed solution is to spend more – lots more.  To be precise, $11 billion (and we all know that number will grow and grow over time, don’t we).

Enough of this madness!  Instead of wasting enormous sums of money on expanding a program to harass hundreds of thousands of ordinary innocent citizens every year while turning a blind eye to terrorists, why not allocate the $11 billion to the desperately needed Next Generation of Air Traffic Control – an expenditure that truly will make our lives both safer and more convenient.  Wasting it on SPOT does nothing to make us safer and surely does make life more inconvenient.

One can only guess how a SPOT initiated interrogation might proceed.  On the one hand, the interrogator has no specific information or data at all about what possible threat the person they have detained might pose; and on the other hand, how can the innocent traveler prove their innocence when even the accuser isn’t sure about what to accuse them of?

Please re-read this last paragraph.  We are allowing Homeland Security (TSA) people to stop 50,000 people a year (and they want to massively increase this number) and subject them to interrogation when there is no evidence of any crime present, and when the system has come up with zero successes in terms of catching terrorists.  Where is the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution in all of this?  What about the old fashioned ‘innocent until proven guilty’ concept?  Or do we leave all such protections behind when we enter an airport (and, increasingly, a train station or a subway station or even a bus station, too)?  Where in the Fourth Amendment does it say ‘except for when citizens are travelling on public transportation’?  The Amendment reads :

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.

One could even wonder if the First Amendment doesn’t give added protection to our rights when we peaceably assemble at an airport :

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

But wait – there’s even more to this deeply dysfunctional program.  It seems that TSA officers are disproportionately stopping non-white passengers for additional scrutiny.  This is something that could be due to one of two reasons – the first being that the TSA officers (many of whom, as you’ve doubtless noticed, are not exactly middle class average white people themselves) are genuinely perceiving more issues with people of other races.  And the other is that they are deliberately racially profiling.

In the ridiculous world where nonsense science (SPOT) has to interface with even stupider political correctness, our political lords and masters are now demanding that the SPOT program be fine-tuned to make it proof against any racial targeting (as reported in this article).

So, it seems that the same system that insists on subjecting grandmothers and babies to invasive intrusive searches because they have to treat all passengers as equally threatening is now going to set in place quotas that require the TSA’s SPOT observers (called ‘Behavior Detection Officers’) to stop more white people, whether they are deemed suspicious or not, merely to keep the proportion of white and other race people stopped at certain target levels.  Either that or to overlook some suspicious people of other racial backgrounds for fear of going over-quota.

Can it get crazier than this?  It surely is hard to see how!

The TSA triumphantly catches up with the rest of the world.  The TSA has been publicly congratulating itself for deciding to change how the whole body imaging scanners display the pictures they take of our electronically stripped-of-clothing bodies.  The machines will now show a standard generic body outline and simply show highlights super-imposed on it wherever the machine thinks it spots something suspicious.

This new method of displaying the scan results will be rolled out in the next several months to the L-3 brand scanners (but is not yet available for the more widely used Rapiscan units).

There’s one thing not mentioned.  The same capability has been in use in European scanners for a year or more already.

Oh – and the new way of displaying the scan output does nothing to make the scanning process itself any less potentially harmful to us as passengers (or to the TSA agents as machine operators either).

1 thought on “Security Roundup Friday 22 July 2011”

  1. Sadly, the Fourth Amendment isn’t the issue here. It’s the Courts that don’t enforce it and the recent ruling in EPIC vs DHS in DC Circuit Court only goes to show that the Courts don’t care when laws and rules are trampled on. The issue now isn’t “Are the terrorists winning” but how much of a shutout they’re going to run up before America finally revolts. The woman recently arrested for “assaulting” a TSO at Phoenix airport is one of the first. I’m not suggesting people assault TSO’s, but I’d like to see more people fighting back against the continuing abuses of our Rights.
    BTW, you should explain the tight relationship between the Department of Homeland Security and the manufacturers of the whole body scanners.

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