More on the Terrorism/Cell Phone Thing
One of the things that has been a bit annoying about these stories of Middle Easterners buying cell phones in large quantities is that there tends to be this reaction.
New “Bulk” TracFone Buyers Caught: Also Mid-Eastern (Coincidence?)
By Debbie Schlussel
Hmmm . . . more mass-buyers of TracFones caught in Tucson, and they, too, are Middle Eastern. Whatta coincidence.
What is wrong with this? Well lets think about this. There have been several news reports of Middle Eastern men buying large quantities of cell phones and a possible terrorist connection. The local Wal-Mart (Target, Dollar Store, etc.) manager points this out to his clerks and asks them to keep an eye out. Low and behold and another Middle Eastern male who may be a pre-paid cell phone re-seller (or possible a terrorist agent) buys a large number of pre-paid cell phones. The clerk sells him the phones, then immediately informs his/her manager and the police are called, the guy is picked up and the news outlets notified.
In short, we have selection bias. The white person buying the phones the day before wasn’t considered a threat because he is…well…white. And this is where the problem lies with profiling that people like Michelle Malkin and Debbie Schlussel seem so enamored with. Suppose we have a terrorist organization like Hezzbollah that decides that there is easy money to be made in re-selling pre-paid cell phones. They note also all these arrests. What would you do? Find a non-Middle Eastern muslim to buy cell phones for you?
This problem is similar to the one when using profiles with airline flights. If you have a profile the terrorists could try to learn what the profile is and how to circumvent it. First the terrorists might send in a a 21 year old male with a beard and carrying a Koran. Then you keep toning it down till you see what gets through the profile without being stopped by security. Then your next team of terrorists is comprised of people who don’t fit the profile.
Now none of this doesn’t mean that investigating the purchase of 100 pre-paid cell phones should be ignored. On the contrary, if this is indeed considered a serious potential link to terrorism then investigate away…but do it with all such purchases. For example, a person who would arouse suspicion might try to recruit non-muslim/non-Middle Easter buyers. So focusing on just people who meet the profile might allow real terrorists or people connected to terrorists (either knowingly or unknowingly) to get away without investigation. Simply using a profile to try and find terrorists isn’t sufficient, or even it is for the short term it wont be for long. You’ll catch all the stupid terrorist agents and then all that will be left are the ones who are smart enough not to do things that arouse suspicion.
Now, if I were a terrorist looking for cell phones to use in an IED, would I go to Wal-Mart and buy 80 of them…or order them online virtually anonymously?