By RACHEL EHRENFELD
WASHINGTON -- As long as political correctness trumps common sense in security matters, the American public will remain at risk.
Despite the recent terror attacks in London and the discovery of more Islamist terrorist links in Europe and elsewhere, the American public continues to be misled by the misconception that "profiling" equals racial discrimination.
It does not. It is one of the best threat-reducing methods security forces have in order to prevent terrorist attacks.
Considering America's history of racial discrimination, objections to profiling are understandable; however, that history is being misconstrued by groups worried that all Muslims and Arabs would be negatively stereotyped by profiling in transportation and other security-sensitive situations.
Law enforcement tool
This need not be the case. Profiling has been used by law enforcement the world over for decades to identify criminals. Israel has taken profiling a step further and, with good intelligence, has used it to identify would-be terrorists who most often have no criminal records, thus preventing hundreds of attacks, including suicide bombings.
The United States is one of the world's best when it comes to investigating past accidents and mishaps, but it is performing rather poorly in trying to prevent terrorist attacks.
It must adopt an active security system that can save citizens' lives as well as protect infrastructure. Random screening of elderly grandmothers and toddlers will not do the job.
It's time to adopt truly effective methods. For example, the Israelis' method of profiling begins with the quality of the personnel who perform the task.
They must pass a thorough background check, and most have had education beyond high school. Many speak several languages. They are well paid and are given frequent breaks in order to keep them fresh and alert.
In addition to the information they are provided by the airlines and various intelligence sources, they are trained in special interviewing techniques to pick up inconsistencies and telltale signs of a potential terrorist.
Thus, at Ben-Gurion Airport you can see blond, blue-eyed passengers taken aside for further investigations if their answers raise some suspicion. Race has nothing to do with it.
Drawing on this experience and taking into consideration the reservations concerning profiling, an Israel-based company, Suspect Detection Systems, recently developed a computerized screening tool that analyzes the available information about every passenger while comparing it to the passenger's responses to a screener's questions.
It takes no more than three minutes and if the answers do match a set of criteria, the passengers are taken aside for further questioning. The success rate of this new screening tool is 95 percent, and it is currently being tested further in Israel as well as at an unidentified U.S. airport.
To improve security at airports, train depots and public transit stations, we must improve the screening of the security personnel. We should also add tests to ensure that all employees can focus and concentrate for long periods of time. This should be followed by constant updating and testing of the overall security system and its personnel.
With the growing threats by Al-Qaida and other radical Islamist groups to our airlines, rail and bus systems and their passengers, now is the time to discard political correctness and do the right thing: adopt the best existing profiling methods before another disaster occurs.
X Rachel Ehrenfeld is the author of "Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed -- and How to Stop It." Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.