After the latest tragedy to hit Colorado, let’s hope the governments of the individual states and the federal government don’t make the same mistakes they have made to this point. Metal detectors, full-body scanners, and bomb sniffing dogs would have all failed to prevent the shooting. What needs to be done is what El Al Israel Airlines does. El Al actively profiles everyone, not based on what they look like, but based on what they do. The entire shooting could have been stopped by an old-fashioned theatre usher with a walkie-talkie that was trained in recognizing suspicious behavior. In a theatre, profiling behavior is not all that complicated because there is a very small set of activities a theatre patron can perform without rousing suspicion: buying a ticket, buying popcorn, watching the movie, going to the bathroom, playing an arcade game, and leaving the theatre.
When the gunman left the theatre by an emergency exit only minutes into the movie, an usher that was paying attention would think it was strange for someone to have stayed up until midnight and purchase a $12 movie ticket just to run out on one of the most anticipated movies of the year. All the usher would have had to do was walk down to the emergency door and check to make sure it was closed. Apparently, the gunman propped the door on the way out, suited up for his killing spree, and returned minutes later. The usher would have had to remove whatever the prop was and pull the door closed. If the usher followed that with a quick call to the front desk of the theatre, a place that usually has one or two police officers nearby, the officers could have gone outside to see a frustrated gunman trying to break through a very heavy fire door that was designed to only open from the inside.
With his knowledge of binary chemical agents, the murderer could have even brought weapons into the theatre that would not show up on an x-ray or metal detector, and would be undetectable by dogs. People trained in behavioral profiling would have spotted him long before he got to the place he could have used those things. If you aren’t sure about this idea of behavioral profiling, take these two bits of information into consideration. Since 1948, El Al has had only one hijacking. Its most sophisticated weapon against terror is a pair of well-trained eyes. Second, if you don’t believe in the ability of an observant person to predict someone’s actions merely by watching, then attend the World Series of Poker. Doyle Brunson, a legend of the game, has made a career out of predicting the actions of an opponent through observing the slightest behaviors known as “tells.” While maybe not as good as Doyle, there are tens of thousands of people in the US that have similar skills and make lots of money using them.
Instead of gambling with our security by putting fairly useless technology in the field, we need to invest in the finest machine walking the face of the Earth, a human being.
We worry about extremists like Timothy McVeigh and Osama bin Laden because they blow up buildings. I’m more concerned about an ever-increasing number of people with phenomenal computing skills and not a shred of ethical conviction.