Airport security personnel should take race or country of origin into an account when screening passengers, said Diplomat-in-Residence Charles Hill at a panel on U.S. counterterrorism policies Tuesday.
“When I enter an airport I used to say it was like being put into a minimum security prison, and now, it is just like being put in prison,” Hill said. “I don’t see that an air traveling passenger has any rights.”
Hill and Alejandro Beutel, government liaison of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, a public opinion and policy institute, spoke to an audience of about 60 at the panel, called “What is threat? How should it be combated? How far is too far?” Beutel and Hill evaluated international security and concerns for civil liberties and discussed methods of improving anti-terrorism mechanisms and institutions. While Hill said he thinks current methods generally work well, Beutel argued that terrorists can manage to get around the restrictions. Naveed Rashid LAW ’11 moderated the panel, which was hosted by the International Students’ Organization and the Muslim Students’ Association as part of Islamic Awareness Month.
Hill said investigations of the airforce have shown that personnel have not acted on security threats based on religious or ethnic indicators for fear of political incorrectness. But Beutel said political correctness is the last thing on security officers’ minds, adding that terrorists do not necessarily fit a reliable profile.
“Rather than try to play defense in many ways or focusing on one particular area, you need to have a layered defense system,” Beutel said. “Right now we’re playing whack-a-mole.”
Beutel said the U.S. response to terrorism will be “long and painful” and should focus instead on specific, physical defense targets, better intelligence and proactive pursuit of terrorists. He said he thinks many publicized defense measures, such as watch lists, are ineffective.
Beutel said he thinks racial profiling is ineffective because terrorist organizations such as al-Qaida recruit internationally from multiple countries of origin, ethnicities and religions. Throughout the panel, Beutel said many security policies are ineffective because terrorists can easily change plans to get around the security measures, such as by acquiring fake documents, flying into the U.S. from a less suspicious country and bribing underpaid security guards in suspicious countries not to examine their passports.
“I would be amazed that a terrorist would even be stupid enough to want to have somebody with a [Yemeni] passport on hand and say, ‘Here you go,’ ” Beutel said.
But Hill said subjecting nationals from 14 select countries to heightened security measures, as the U.S. currently does, is understandable, and he said this list will keep growing. Profiling occurs based on policies of the states involved or their inability to control borders, he said, citing Nigeria, where most people pay for airline tickets in cash and transactions are more difficult to regulate, he said. Though the CIA and FBI reward poor performance and need better management, he said, they must be allowed to use the available security tools, such as racial profiling.
Hill added that he expects passengers with easily-obtainable passports from European countries such as Britain, Ireland and France will receive more intense scrutiny.
Still, Hill said he agreed with Beutel that cumbersome security practices discourage people from international air travel and trade.
Although he said he does not think privacy is a lost cause, Hill said he is concerned with people’s lack of awareness about their lack of privacy.
“You are a walking GPS,” he said.
After the panel, Beutel and Hill took questions from the audience. In response to a question about mass fingerprinting at airports and privacy rights, Beutel said collecting more data samples without legitimate concern would only make security analyses more cumbersome. In general, he said, the Constitution can both protect civil rights and point security efforts in the right direction by ensuring that law enforcement officials do not pursue innocent civilians. In the future, privacy protection laws may limit the reach of security software currently in development, he said.
Beutel said the student questions that addressed the issue from multiple angles gave him a “thrill almost like a high.” He said he hopes to pursue his second master’s degree at Yale and eventually take Hill’s “Studies in Grand Strategy” course.
Kunal Lunawat ’11, president of the International Students Organization, said he would have liked the debate to yield more concrete suggestions for improving security without profiling.
“You cannot just focus on civil rights without taking collective security into account,” he said. “[Beutel’s] positions were really vague and long-term, dealing with a time frame of 35 years.”
Anne Van Bruggen ’13 said though the panelists held different opinions, she appreciated their professionalism.
“I didn’t hear any eye-opening comments, but it was entertaining that they had a good argument back and forth,” she said.
The final event of Islamic Awareness Month will be a Master’s Tea with Puerto-Rican Muslim rapper, Hamza Perez on Friday in Silliman.