Today’s news brings up an important question: are American and other military forces using profiling techniques in selecting targets for assassination?
Let’s speculate for a moment. Suppose you are a tactical commander for an occupying military force in some such place as Iraq or Gaza. You are locked in a struggle with a partisan militia, and you don’t have enough intelligence data to know who its members are. Your main weapon is aerial bombing; your main information source is aerial observation.
Begin by assuming that there is a probability that any randomly selected male between the ages of 16 and 40 is a militia fighter, say 10%. (Women may be fighters too, but their likelihood is much lower.) It is not in your interested to try to kill everyone in that demographic; you would give young men no incentive to not join the militia.
But what about groups of young men? Suppose that the probability of being in a militia rises with the number of military-age men who are seen meeting together. It might be 25% for groups of four, 50% for groups of six, and so on. Once a gathering reaches a certain size you determine that the risk of bombing non-fighters (type I error) is small enough that you should attack.
This model is too simple, of course. An actual profiling system would presumably include other dimensions (ethnic, geographic, time of day), but the general idea remains the same: if a gathering of men is given a high enough score you kill them. The result is that you eliminate a large number of those fighting against you, and you also accept the occasional public relations setback of bombing a wedding, a work detail, a militia unit made up of local collaborators.
I would like to see two things: the actual profiling methods employed by American, Israeli and similar forces (not a chance), and a public defense of the procedure by those who carry out or support it. Right now there is only silence and invisibility, but does anyone doubt that assassination-by-profile is standard operating procedure in modern anti-insurgency warfare?