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High Profile

What American airport security can learn from Israel's behavioral profiling system.

12:00 AM, Sep 1, 2006 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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In 1999, the Millennium Bomber, Ahmed Ressam, was caught because of evasive answers he gave to a Customs official at a Washington state port. According to the journal Homeland Security, targeted conversations at Logan International have resulted in dozens of arrests of criminals, who exhibit many of the same behavioral tics as terrorists.

Naturally, the ACLU has its Pavlovian response, filing a lawsuit against Logan, which charges that BPR is unconstitutional because it necessarily involves racial and ethnic profiling.

But this fear-mongering misses the point exactly. As Ron explained to the journal Transportation Security: "Speaking from a security point of view, it would be professionally stupid to divert attention from non-Arab people. For example, the worst attack on Ben Gurion was carried out by Japanese in 1972. If we focus on ethnic groups, we will miss what the enemy already understands: Using a non-Arab person to carry out an attack might succeed." Behavioral profiling succeeds precisely because it isn't racial profiling.

The success of the BPR pilot program at Logan prompted the TSA to adopt it under the moniker SPOT (Screening Passengers by Observation Technique), and it is now in effect at a dozen American airports. In the coming months, TSA will seek to expand it greatly. Despite carping from the expected quarters, they should.

Our safety depends upon it.

Jonathan V. Last is online editor of The Weekly Standard and a weekly op-ed contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer. This essay originally appeared in the August 27, 2006 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer.