Sunday, August 07, 2005

Looking Away From Terror

The London police chief is making the same mistake as Minetta's Transportation Security Agency - he refuses to use history to guide decisions on who to search. Which means that in London about 20 times as many innocents will be killed.

Since 9/11, all the terrorists attacking Western targets (US, Spain, Israel, UK, Holland) have been Muslim and all but two from North Africa, the Mideast or Pakistan. The exceptions were the shoe bomber and a 7/7 suicide bomber, both of whom were Afro-Caribbean.

Since the police have limited resources, it would make sense to focus searches on people with this profile - look at the numbers for London.

There are about 3 million passengers on the London Underground every day, spread over about 6 peak hours. If to question & search a passenger takes about 5 minutes & assuming one policeman per search, that's 250,000 police-hours. To cram that in to 6 hours needs about 40,000 police, working flat out - a more realistic figure is 100,000, allowing for queuing effects.

But the London police can deploy only about 5,000 officers for public transport security, so their coverage is (5,000/100,000) = 5%.

If however they concentrate on people with the terrorist profile, things look much better. There are 1.6 million Muslims in the UK, about 2.6% of the population. Extrapolating to London means that the 5,000 police stopping every Muslim uses 2.6% of their available 5%, leaving 2.4% for errors. The errors are folks who are not Muslim, but look Asian - some Hindus for example.

The rationale to avoid searching people with terrorist profiles is of course political, although the police chief says otherwise (my emphasis and ellipsis):

Under the rules, Met officers have been told to avoid “racial profiling” and “not to focus on specific groups”. The advice adds: “Be aware that there is no specific racial, ethnic, sexual or religious profile for terrorists.”

Blair (the police chief, not the pol) insisted the new advice was not dictated by political correctness. “Everything’s got to be intelligence-based,” he said.

“If we said the only people to be searched are young males who are of Caribbean or Asian or north African appearance it would be handing the objectives to the terrorists and they would immediately change their tactics.”

This is a bit like saying that during WW2, the Brits should not have selectively stopped suspected German spies because the Nazis would then send Frenchmen. They did selectively stop Germans, using the effective test of asking the suspect to pronounce "Wolverhampton Wanderers".

And it takes time and effort for terrorists to change tactics. In 10 years, even the Palestinians haven't been able to rustle up elderly white folks, nuns, and small kids as suicide bombers, with the result that Israel stops 19 in 20 suicide bombers purely based on profiling.

So the London police chief is saying is that, for political reasons, he will only cover 5% of the group which has carried out 100% of the killings starting 9/11. Which means 19 of 20 terrorists will get through.