Wednesday, December 6, 2006
The terrorist and the policeman both come from the same basket.
— Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent
By the time this column sees the light of day much will already have been written about George Bush’s newest program to protect us from ourselves if not from him. It is, however, such a clever program that a different analysis than will have been offered in other forums is appropriate.
At the end of November we learned that EVERYONE who travels abroad, U.S. citizen and foreigner alike, is being graded by federal agents on the likelihood that they are terrorists by something called “The Automated Targeting System”. The Department of Homeland Security calls it “one of the most advanced targeting systems in the world.” A review of the criteria used in the system validates what the Department said. Here are things they look for and (you should too if you don’t want to be identified as a terrorist or an enemy combatant.)
One Way Tickets. Terrorists who intend to blow up airplanes always buy one-way tickets because they are frugal. They know that once the plane is blown up with them aboard, the return ticket will have no value. They are also not bright. If they were brighter they would know that round trip tickets are often cheaper than one-way tickets. Readers wanting to save money and avoid this particular indicium of terrorist should always buy round trip tickets.
Method of Payment. Terrorists typically buy their tickets using large wads of cash rather than credit cards. Why that is so is hard to explain. Since that is an established fact, however, airline tickets should ALWAYS be purchased with credit cards. The right kind of card permits you to accumulate frequent flyer points that enable you to get a free ticket some time in the future. The fact that you are contemplating a future is another indicator that you do not intend to blow up the plane on which you are flying. Terrorists do not care about future free flights. If you do not have a credit card, stay home.
Driving Record. The traveler’s driving record is another factor that helps determine whether the flyer is a terrorist. Don’t drink and drive. If George Bush were flying commercially, for example, a review of his driving record would disclose his drunk driving conviction in Maine before he became a president and that would probably cause the Federal agents to conclude he is a terrorist. In his case that would be the correct conclusion and evidence that the system works well. However, it is possible to over generalize. Not everyone who has a drunk driving conviction is a terrorist since not everyone convicted of drunk driving can start a war and get lots of people killed for no reason.
Seating Preference. This is a tough one. It is difficult to get inside the federal agent’s mind in order to determine exactly how seating preference helps identify a terrorist. If, for example, it could be shown that whenever a plane crashes or explodes in mid-air, the person sitting in seat 14d escapes unscathed, anyone insisting on being given seat 14d would certainly be spotted as a terrorist and whisked off to Guantánamo. To my knowledge that has not been established so I have no advice on how to avoid appearing guilty by virtue of seat selection.
Point of Origin. A flyer from Farmer City, Illinois, is probably not a terrorist because most terrorists don’t live in small towns in the mid-West. If, on the other hand, the flyer hails from Boulder, Colorado, a place to be hostile to Dick Cheney, George Bush et al, there is at least a fair chance that if other factors described above align, they are terrorists. People who travel a lot should move to small towns in rural America.
Meal Choice Selection. The kind of meal ordered helps agents determine whether a flyer is a terrorist. Advance selection of meals is not available on most planes so even if federal agents are able to identify the kinds of “last” meals terrorists enjoy, their preference will not be known until the captain has turned off the seat belt sign and it is safe for the flight attendants to move about the cabin. At that point if the passenger orders the kind of meal that is it known terrorists like to eat before blowing up airplanes, it will be too late. This last criticism of the program may sound a bit like carping and that is not its intent. The other features of the program (with the possible exception of the seat selection part) are brilliant and the fact that one or two out of the six seems a touch whacky should not put anyone off. I, for one, already feel safer knowing it is in place notwithstanding the fact that I live in Boulder.