By David K. Shipler
(Published in The New York Times Week in Review Feb. 20, 2011)
If you stand with the Customs and Border Protection officers who staff the passport booths at Dulles airport near the nation’s capital, their task seems daunting. As a huge crowd of weary travelers shuffle along in serpentine lines, inspectors make quick decisions by asking a few questions (often across language barriers) and watching computer displays that don’t go much beyond name, date of birth and codes for a previous customs problem or an outstanding arrest warrant.
The officers are supposed to pick out the possible smugglers, terrorists or child pornographers and send them to secondary screening.