|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
The case of Abdulmutallab shows that we cannot simply "rely on intelligence." Abdulmutallab was not on a watch list that required closer scrutiny. Even if the review President Obama has ordered closes a gap that would have put Abdulmutallab or others on more select watch lists, there are plenty of terrorists out there about whom we know nothing. Too many potentially dangerous people simply would not appear on any watch list. We cannot put all our eggs in the "intelligence basket." That's why, since Sept. 11, 2001, we have worked to establish multiple layers of defense to protect the American people. Watch lists surely are an important layer, as is intelligence-sharing, but others, such as the deployment of advanced detection technology, are just as important.
Claims that the screening amounts to "virtual strip searches" is calculated to alarm the public. As if screening is meant to reveal people's private parts to TSA officers. But the agency has nonetheless taken privacy concerns seriously in creating procedures for using this technology. In deploying the machines, the TSA has strictly limited the number of officers who see the images; separates the officers looking at images from the passengers being screened (so the officers do not know which passengers the images belong to); and uses software to blur the faces on the images -- further protecting the anonymity of passengers. Moreover, the machines are configured to prevent TSA officers from storing or retaining any images. As an additional measure, passengers can choose not to walk through one of the machines and receive a physical examination instead.
In short, the TSA has listened to the reasonable concerns of privacy advocates and incorporated numerous suggestions into its protocols to draw the right balance between security and privacy. The administration must stand firm against privacy ideologues, for whom every security measure is unacceptable. Failing to use all available tools to plug a gap in security puts the lives of airline travelers needlessly at risk.
The writer was secretary of homeland security from 2005 to 2009 and is co-founder of the Chertoff Group, a security and risk-management firm whose clients include a manufacturer of body-imaging screening machines.