Jonah Goldberg

It seems the first commandment of the TSA is that every mind must be trained in the likeness of a machine. "Garbage in, garbage out," is how computer programmers explain the way bad outputs are determined by bad inputs. Likewise, if TSA workers are programmed not to use common sense or discretion -- surprise! -- TSA workers won't use common sense or discretion.

Why not? One reason is we've institutionalized an irrational phobia against anything smacking of racial or religious profiling. Once you've decided that disproportionate scrutiny of certain groups is verboten, you'll have to hassle everyone equally. Thus we're told that a 95-year-old woman's diaper is just as likely to be the front line in the war on terror as a 22-year-old Pakistani's backpack.

Defenders of the TSA insist we can't abandon such mindlessness because if we do, clever terrorists will start using adult diapers as IEDs. Others say we know that profiling isn't effective because the Israelis don't use it.

Both lines of argument assume security personnel cannot be trusted to be much more than automatons, mindlessly acting on bureaucratic programming. If that's true of the current personnel, it's not because it has to be.

In fact, the reason the Israelis don't do simple profiling is that they use intelligent profiling conducted by highly intelligent screeners. At Ben Gurion International Airport, everyone's interviewed by security. Some are questioned at length, others quickly. The controlling variable is the "living judgment" -- to borrow a phrase from "Dune's" Herbert -- of the interviewers, and not wildly expensive full-body scanners and inflexible checklists.

Does anyone think that the personnel searching Jean Weber's mother honestly thought there might be a threat? Or is it more likely they were, machine-like, just doing what their garbage-in programming dictated?


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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