Bombers Can't Banter

Repartee is not something at which terrorists excel, or so the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has decided. Folks plotting to blow up planes are naturally short on words and wit. They may be ingenious enough to smuggle explosives aboard their flights despite wands and X-rays, but the TSA fondly imagines they are unable to talk while doing so. Ergo, the bureaucracy is training some of its workforce to converse with passengers, presumably beyond the level of “Git yer feet apart” and “Didja pack yer own bag?”

Several of these chatty Cathies already haunt airport checkpoints, studying passengers as they submit to the anti-Constitutional indignities screeners visit on them. Others roam terminals like cheap hookers in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Houston, and a couple of New England’s airports. According to USA Today, both hunt for victims they deem suspicious and then “engag[e] travelers in a casual conversation to detect whether a person appears nervous or evasive and needs extra scrutiny.” Folks startled, or offended, by such pushiness apparently flunk this extremely subjective test. They’ll be punished with “extra physical screening,” a euphemism for the TSA’s warrantless and humiliating personal searches. They may even “face police questioning.” That’s right: tell the pest bothering you at the ticket counter or checkpoint to buzz off, and you could be explaining yourself to the cops.

Imagine the conversational delights of being simultaneously chatted up and patted down:

Screener [scowling as befits Leviathan’s lowliest lackey while sliding a cold and creepy hand down your waistband]: Where ya going to?

You [nervously eyeing your watch because you’re late for your flight after waiting 45 minutes at the checkpoint]: Um, I, ah, to my gate, I —

Screener [raising voice]: What’re ya, a wise-ass? I said, where ya going?

You: I’m, ah — Hey! Get your hand outa there!

Screener: Not too friendly, are ya? Nervous, too. OK for you, pal — Yo, Bruno. I need some extra security here.

Even if you flash a big ole smile and declare yourself a hunnert and ten percent behind the War on Terror, your “body language” can still earn you an interrogation. Yep, the pop psychology of the 1960’s has, in our absurd age, been elevated to criminal behavior. Carl Maccario, a TSA program analyst at Boston’s Logan International, watched a tape of three 9/11 suspects navigating security at Dulles International. With the penetrating insight that hindsight affords, he observed, “They all looked away and had their heads down.” That could indicate deep, dark plans, he told USA Today. Of course, it could also indicate shyness, a young girl’s hope that she won’t be singled out for the dreaded “secondary screening” in front of her friends, a man who’s lost in thought, or even that rarest of phenomena: an individual who simply wishes to be left alone.

This fascist watching of passengers will infect 40 more airports this year as the TSA continues to train screeners in “behavior analysis.” Goons who can’t tell bosoms from bombs without a hands-on analysis will be quick studies, I’m sure. “The screeners will join a growing number of police officers learning to detect the subtle, often unspoken clues that terrorists and criminals could display,” USA Today breathlessly reports [emphasis added]. “The technique is called behavior detection or behavior-pattern recognition. It’s rooted in the notion that people convey emotions in subconscious gestures, facial expressions, speech patterns and answers to simple questions such as what flight they are taking.”

Actually, it’s rooted in mumbo-jumbo. This isn’t science or anything close to it. It’s simply the opinion of a few academics and other misfits with too much time on their hands. A leading proponent is Paul Ekman, who taught at the University of California at San Francisco for over 30 years after a stint as an army psychologist. He’s also proficient at filling out grant applications. These have netted him windfalls of our taxes via the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the Department of Defense. Ekman straddles the fence between outright voo-doo and psycho-babble. His website invites us to contact his colleagues, one of whom specializes in “Buddhism and Emotion, or the Cultivating Emotional Balance Project” and another who brags that she is part of a team of “Detection Wizards (Experts on Lie Detection).” Wizard is right, and no doubt the woman believes she can read minds, but is that any reason for us to relinquish our freedom?

Alvy Dodson thinks so. He’s the “public safety director” at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. “I don’t want [officers] just sitting there waiting for a call to come in,” he opines. With staggering disregard for the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, as well as our right to be left alone, he continues, “I want [officers] observing people, observing their behavior and engaging them in conversation. They’re looking for people whose activities don’t look right.”

Rafi Ron agrees, probably because he’s profiting from this balderdash. Ron presides over a company in Virginia called New Age Security Solutions that “teach[es] police how to detect ‘indicators’ of a possible terrorist.” He advised USA Today that “There needs to be a shift in law enforcement culture from being responsive to criminal situations to being preventative by detecting the possibility of a terrorist attack.”

Ron previously worked as security chief at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport. Ever notice how statists consider Israelis experts on security despite the suicide bombers making mincemeat of the place? Israel is an explicitly socialist country, founded on socialist principles, with kibbutzim, conscription, and a people who long ago traded essential liberty for a little temporary security. It’s not surprising, then, that they have neither. Despite its checkpoints, soldiers, and barbed-wire, Israel is still as dangerous as driving over a bridge with Ted Kennedy. Emulate the Israelis? Heck, only if we want half of America blowing up the other half.

“Security” only pretends to protect people. In reality, it controls them, and “behavior detection” proves this. It hasn’t nabbed any terrorists, but it has allowed cops to arrest other menacing types at airports: pot-heads, immigrants running afoul of the INS’s arcane and ridiculous regulations, and Americans daft enough to think they can travel with as much cash as they please. “Because of [their] physical manifestation of stress and nervousness, we did identify them,” bragged George Naccara, TSA security director at Boston’s Logan Airport.

Looks like the War on Terror is pretty much over. And Leviathan won.