Well, the TSA objective of making transportation safe is back on the front-burner. Now the TSA screening is a poor seive. It is a largely static target and is very costly, the largest cost of course is in the lost time that travellers endure in negotiating long security lines. Furthermore, it is likely that much of their efforts are counter-productive. For example, making box-cutters freely available and common on flights would make it harder, not easier, for a terrorist or terrorists to hijack a flight. The “rules” of engagement with those who would interfere with the operation and direction of airplane do not get time to negotiate or to “make demands” known like they might do in the 20th century. Once a person is identified as hostile (a prospective anti-martyr) that person is quickly neutralized by his fellow passengers. The age of passive passengers has past once the 9/11 event occurred.
However TSA has a purpose. It is visible and reactive. It can take the appearance of being the primary and front line defence in a strategy to identify and interdict prospective anti-martyrs. War and espionage (to which this anti-martyr interdiction campaign is related) is in part one of misdirection. To that end, the TSA screeners take a very public and obvious role. They (might) be the public and obvious strategy which is a counterfeit. If indeed the TSA plays such a role, we as the voting public will not know that for as soon as it is common and public knowledge that the TSA is a large noisy feint … then their will be an outcry to remove it and an alternate deception will be harder to enact.
From the public side of the anti-martyr interdiction campaign it is not clear whether the information problem, one of using network and other aspects of information theory and methods to sift the wealth of imperfect information to reduce the 6 billion suspects (people on the planet) to the correctly identify and interdict the hundred or so individuals who are likely earnestly planning and working to execute an effective plan. Is this a tractable problem? If it is, then only those working in the anti-martyr networks and those working against them would know of the existence and number of thwarted events and actors. If it is semi-tractable, i.e., individuals can be identified but some percentage are missed as is likely the case then what is most needed are more tools at our disposal legal, human and technological to enable identification of these individuals and networks.
In the past, I’ve argued that automated wiretapping methods which preserve our liberty via court and/or congressional supervision is possible. In brief allowing court supervised search engines access to voice and data networks to identify and locate conversations and data that is interesting. This data could then be presented to a human for review with any identification (source/destination) data not available for initial review. After a message or conversation is identified as being of interest a court warrant could be obtained to access the full record, which at that point only include what was known of the identity, location and time of the message. It is likely that today’s computing power is not sufficient to transcribe and analyse in real time the data flowing through our phone and network switches.
However this problem is likely not too different from the problem facing the detector arrays at CERN or Fermilab. At a modern high energy particle accelerator, particles collide at several points on the circle. At these points there are large detectors and calorimeters in place to analyse the collision events. These collisions produce many orders of magnitude more data than can be assimilated. Therefore the detector software has to filter early in the data processing procedure what might prove to be interesting event. What is “interesting” is driven of course by expectations, i.e., what is being sought.
By analogy the computational problem facing the analysis of voice/data switch data may likewise become tractable. If given entry points (data and voice) as well as key phrases, accents, and languages are part of the early data rejection/acceptance pipeline and not just a back end (post transcription) process then like the CERN/Fermilab detector situation the data overload may become more tractable.
The civil rights issue in place of using such a mechanism domestically is not the one, in my view, that is normally assumed. It seems to me the major objection to this mechanism is one of an invasion of privacy. The fact that a non-moral agent scans conversations is not a problem of an invasion of privacy. The problem is that in the hands of a government that desires to oppress, this tool makes insurrection impossible. That, not privacy, is the concern. Whether or not such a mechanism is in place today is not one to which we will likely be privy for some time, decades perhaps. That’s a judgement call that will be made by small Senate and executive committees. Which might be why remarks like, “never fail to make use of a crises” from our Administration and an external perception that the left regards the anti-martyr problem smaller than the right did … could possibly become a problem.