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Date: 2004-01-23

Biometrie und Einweg/terroristen

Der Vergleich ist natürlich herzlos aber diese Contemplation muss man sich erstmal auf der Zunge zergehen lassen: Biometrische Erfassung als Wunderwaffe gegen Einweg/terroristen, denen genau dieser eigene vermessene Körper völlig wurst ist. Eigentlich hat dieses Vorgehen per se einen "Stupid Security Award verdient.
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The biometric screening of foreign visitors at U.S. Airports, announced with much fanfare earlier this month by U.S. Security Czar Tom Ridge, is a good example of a dilemma peculiar to asymmetric warfare. The more sophisticated the high-tech side becomes, the more it exposes itself to an end-run by the low-tech side.

In a cavern somewhere in the Hindu Kush, Osama bin Laden and his fellow cave-dwellers had come up with a weapon that made biometric screening obsolete before it began. Photo-and-fingerprint machines might thwart old-fashioned terrorists, but in the post-9/11 world, the threat comes from another type.

The old terrorist model was reusable; the new one is disposable. The difference is vast. The disposable terrorist is a low-tech answer to the smart bomb. The suicidal militant - the not-so-smart bomb, perhaps - has a guidance system programmed inside his or her head. He or she is no easier to detect than a Stealth bomber and no less reliable than a guided missile.
Such terrorists are without a future, obviously - but more importantly, they're without a past.

Civil libertarians object to Governor Ridge's brave new biometrics because they invade people's privacy. For travellers to be photographed and fingerprinted as if they were convicts bound for Devil's Island is irksome and demeaning, but that's the minor problem. The major problem is that travellers are subjected to such indignity for almost no security benefit.

Biometrics target identity - but when militant groups advanced (or regressed) from reusable terrorists to disposable terrorists, identity became moot. Today the acute threat no longer comes from "known" terrorists.
Recruits are groomed for a single terrorist act, during which they self-destruct. Before being deployed, disposable terrorists have usually done nothing. They're "innocent" voyagers whose fingerprints and faces appear in no database. And after being deployed, they're just a bloody mist gradually dispersing in the air.

Suicide-terrorists consider their lives worthless (no dispute there) but the biometrics of worthless individuals are also worthless. Like bees, disposable terrorists die as they sting - but unlike bees, they cannot be recognized for what they are until they've stung. Machines that compare faces and fingerprints are helpful against reusable terrorists who try to hide their identities, but a disposable terrorist doesn't care if we know who he is.

Until we come up with a machine that can read minds, machines can't help us much. The most sophisticated scanning device is useless if it functions by comparing the present with the past. Disposable terrorists have no past, as a rule; their first act of terrorism is meant to be their last. Biometric machines give us a false sense of security while spreading out the welcome mat to suicide bombers.

This isn't to say that biometric identity checks are entirely useless. They may help identify known organizers of international terror: recruiters, couriers, fundraisers - the office staff. This is a worthwhile function, as is the detection of ordinary drug smugglers or embezzlers, but such screens don't remove the acute menace of suicide hijackers flying an aircraft into a skyscraper.

Biometrics are yesterday's solution for today's problem. They can't reduce the threat of the suicide bomber or suicide hijacker on his virgin mission.
The contemporary hazard is a terrorist who travels under his own name, his own passport, posing as an innocent student or visitor until the moment he ignites his shoe-bomb or pulls out his box-cutter.

Identity checks are a good (partial) defence against reusable terrorists. A good (partial) defence against disposable terrorists is a background check.
The problem is, unlike identity checks which can be accomplished in seconds, background checks of any depth take time. If applied to all travellers, they could bring air traffic to a halt. The only way they can be made practical is through profiling.

Profiling has been controversial because, by definition, it discriminates against people of selected ethnicity and religion. Yet we know that disposable terrorists aren't evenly distributed among the world's population. Suicide bombers and suicide hijackers come almost exclusively from certain cultures. Those cultures may shift over historic time, but in a given period they remain remarkably constant. During the Second World War the kamikaze was Japanese. In our times, disposable terrorists (or warriors) have come from East Asian (Tamil, Sikh) or Arab and/or Muslim cultures.
Since Tamil and Sikh terrorists have rarely engaged in suicide action outside their own conflict regions, it leaves people of Arab and/or Muslim background as logical candidates for special scrutiny.

Needless to say, logical as ethnic/religious profiling may be, it's unattractive. It would probably require a second 9/11 for its implementation to become politically feasible.

There is a kind of "profiling" right now, but of the wrong kind. As currently set up, biometric screening isn't applied to all foreigners.
Brazilians are subjected to it; Canadians aren't. The problem with this isn't that it's "unfair," as some egalitarians believe, but that it renders the exercise useless. Anyone with a fake identity can avoid biometric scrutiny by travelling with, say, false Canadian rather than false Brazilian papers. Terrorists can simply steal and forge travel documents that belong to one of the 27 countries - say, Britain - whose citizens aren't subject to biometric testing in the United States.

The shoe-bomber Richard Reid, for instance, travelling with a British passport, would have had nothing to fear from biometric screening, even if his papers had been forged, which they weren't. Reid is a perfect example of the new breed of terrorist who would never be eliminated by biometrics - but might be eliminated by profiling. Body-searching young male converts to Islam before letting them board a plane is no doubt discriminatory, but in the case of disposable terrorists like Reid it could accomplish what biometrics can't.

Even more to the point, today's disposable terrorist doesn't necessarily seek to gain control of an aircraft through the passenger terminal. His preferred route to the flight deck may be through the employment office.

After British Airways Flight 223 was rescheduled for the third time two weeks ago, Brian Doyle, an official with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, confirmed an earlier report in London's Daily Mirror, which quoted an unnamed source about an al-Qaeda operative who had supposedly secured employment as a pilot with BA and intended to crash the London-Washington flight into the Capitol or the White House. This, apparently, was the reason Flight 223 was once cancelled, once delayed, and once escorted by fighter jets before landing in the U.S. Capital this month.

Though this seems to have been a false alarm, there may well be terrorist moles flying or servicing passenger and cargo jets in Western countries, waiting to be activated for a suicide mission. Some may be pilots or flight attendants; others may gain access to restricted places as mechanics, ground crew, baggage handlers, caterers, or cleaners. The papers of such infiltrators are in perfect health; the sickness is in their heads.

Fifth columnists are biometrically correct. They go through airport security, climb aboard aircrafts, and enter cabins or cockpits without subterfuge. It no doubt amuses them to look at passengers shuffling in long lines, waiting to have their photographs and fingerprints taken

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edited by Harkank
published on: 2004-01-23
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