Feb 12 2007

Identity Project unwelcome in Washington

Travel expert, author, and Identity Project consultant Edward Hasbrouck was expelled from the World Research Group, Inc. “Aviation Security Summit” conference — to which he had been specifically invited, as an author, and for which he had registered, paid in full, and been confirmed and signed in as an author — this morning in Alexandria, Virginia. A Wired News reporter, who has been promised a press pass, was also turned away when they arrived. [More from Wired’s 27B Stroke 6 blog, including an audio file of the voicemaail message promising their correspondent admission, here and here] According to conference organizer Pamela Masselli, one of the speakers was unwilling to give their prepared presentation with an author in the audience.

There are many objectionable aspects to this story. But let’s just think about what it says about airport security and the people managing it, assuming the claims about the reasons for Mr. Hasbrouck’s expulsion are true:

An airport security director was on the verge of giving a talk, containing sensitive information that it would be dangerous to make public, in a publicly advertised open forum to which the press had been invited and encouraged to attend. This would seem to be prima facie evidence of gross negligence in their handling of such sensitive information, and in failing to verify, before preparing a “sensitive” presentation, that the venue would be a secure one and the audience properly “cleared” to receive such information. Don’t hold your breath, though, for them to lose their security clearance, or their high-level security management job, for this negligence.

Then they proposed as a “solution” Mr. Hasbrouck’s eviction — thereby indicating, presumably, that they intended to proceed with the same “sensitive” presentation in a venue and before an audience that has still been neither secured nor “cleared” to receive it.

Mr. Hasbrouck registered in his own name, and truthfully volunteered his actual profession. But no attempt was made to check ID or verify who registrants actually were, Anyone remaining in the room after Mr. Hasbrouck was shown the door could have been — well, anyone. Presumably, if there were would-be terrorists in attendance, they wouldn’t have registered as journalists (or as terrorists), but in either fictitious or stolen identities.

Whoever saw throwing out the one known author as a way to “secure” the roomful of other entirely unknown people thereby proved themselves enthralled by a security fallacy, and grossly incompetent as a security professional. Sadly, that same fallacy is at the root of most of the demands for credentials and information about travellers. These measures, described at the start of the conference in words attributed to Secretary of Homeland Security Chertoff as “keeping bad people out of the country and off airplanes”, are premised on the false assumptions (1) that there exists a complete and accurate list of all the “bad people” in the world, and (2) that such people, when they want to “do bad things”, will use their own identities rather than fictitious or stolen identities.

Perhaps, in expelling Mr. Hasbrouck, the airport security authorities revealed more about themselves and their (in)competence than they would have if they had let him stay.