info 07.25.05

Searching Subway Riders

Leave aside the arguments about privacy infringement and racial profiling.

They're important questions, of course, but before one considers the downsides of the city's new policy of random subway searches, we'd like to ask, what is the possible upside?

If you are determined to detonate a bomb in the subway, what deterrent is it to see police searching, as NYPD Commissioner Kelly says, "every certain number of people"? If you're a bomber, suicide or otherwise, and you're stopped under the present rules, you can refuse to have a search performed but must leave the subway.

That's a deterrent? A brief detour to another station or entrance where, chances are, you're in?

Or the bomber could decide not to switch stations, but simply detonate on the spot, taking out law enforcement officials along with entering commuters.

The same is true for having cops in the cars perform random searches. Why would a suicide bomber, seeing an approaching police officer, wait to be questioned and agree to have his bag searched? Immediate detonation is the much likelier choice.

The Commissioner says this is just one tool in the toolkit. But we see no rationale for the policy, beyond providing an appearance of action. Everyone wants to see the city subway system made as safe as possible. But how can these random bag searches be said to offer even the slightest deterrent effect to a determined terrorist?

While it might feel good to see police posted at your subway station in this way, it is not a confidence-inspiring deployment of resources. How about using the money for something that might actually deter a terrorist? Or taking immediate action on those slow revolving exit gates that would be lethal in a rapid evacuation?
5 List: Understanding Terrorism
Against All Enemies
Dying to Win
The End of Faith
Ghost Wars
Saudi Arabia Exposed

Excellent new inside-NYC-restaurants blog: Eater

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