Thursday, November 18, 2010

Airport Security and Profiling

With airport security back in the news, I thought this pertinent column from the Philadelphia Inquirer, South Jersey Edition from 2002 might be of interest. We seem to have learned little. ~Bob

Death before profiling
Robert A. Hall

About once a month I throw a suit bag in the car, head over to Philly International, and fly off to a meeting. The saving grace is that I’m often the speaker, so while everyone else is bored witless, I’m always entertained wondering what I’ll say next.
Polls continue to claim Americans are afraid to fly following the September 11 murder of thousands of peaceful citizens by Islamic terrorists. I’m no more afraid to fly now than I was before September 11th. Which is to say that my palms sweat enough to end a small drought at every mysterious bump and bang.

Flying has always been more effective than church in reminding me of the need for prayer. During one particularly bad storm on a flight from Tallahassee to Orlando years ago, I believe I rashly promised to run for Pope if only we would get on the ground in one, non-flaming piece. Luckily for Christendom, the College of Cardinals has wisely refrained from asking me to honor the commitment.

I fly because I know intellectually that it is considerably safer than, say, driving on the Jersey Turnpike—unless, of course, you include in “flying” the loss statistics from the heavy bomber raids on Germany in World War II. Besides, the Marines taught me that courage isn’t the absence of fear—courage is being afraid and doing what needs doing anyway.

I mention all this by way of saying that, though I fly frequently, the new airport security measures don’t make me feel any safer. While most of us realize it was Islamic terrorists from the Middle East who slaughtered Americans on September 11, the Government apparently does not.

I noticed this because the potential terrorists selected at “random” for personal searches are often attractive young females. On a recent flight, I saw a cute 20-something woman, who was about five-one, perhaps a hundred and ten pounds, being given a very careful check by two of the guys working security. I had to admire their diligence, because I could tell at a glance that she wasn’t hiding anything larger than a pin in her jeans. (Okay, I glanced more than once, but only because Attorney General John Ashcroft urged us all to be extra vigilant.)

Sure, it’s theoretically possibly that bin Laden will recruit the Swedish Bikini Team to come throw themselves on the National Guardsmen at Terminal D. (Wipe that smile off your face, soldier!) But it seems a tad unlikely.

On another flight, I noticed the guards did select a young man for a personal search. Given that he weighed about 450 pounds, it was certainly possible he had a hidden weapon. My guess was a T-72 tank. But if he wanted to crash the plane, I think a sudden shift to the opposite side would have done it.

Humorous e-mails report children as young as three selected for random searches. Now, I recently babysat for my granddaughter, Britnye, and had to change a diaper for the first time in my 56 years. So I’m not saying children can’t be terrifying. But doesn’t Al-Qaeda have an age requirement, or something?

All of this foolishness is being driven by the politically-correct crowd, who would rather have a planeload of people killed than commit the far-worse sin of “profiling.” By the time the anniversary of September 11th rolls around, it will be described as an “accident by persons unknown.”

Suppose these PC folks were around in Normandy in 1944?

“Sarge, the Krauts are coming up the road with two Tiger tanks!”

“Figowitz, we’ll have no ethnic slurs in this outfit, and no profiling. Remember that General Eisenhower is of German Descent. Now go search a couple of French school children at random.”

Or in Massachusetts in 1775?

“To arms, to arms! The Redcoats are coming!”

“Now, now, Mr. Revere, we can’t profile people just because they dress differently than we do.

That fact that it was Muslims that attacked us does not mean that the vast majority of American Muslims are not loyal, trustworthy citizens. American citizens of German, Italian and Japanese ancestry fought—and died—for this country by the tens of thousands in the Second World War, though our enemies were the militarists who controlled Germany, Italy and Japan.

But if Al Qaeda or its allied organizations can muster the resources, we will be attacked again. The killers will not be Hindus, or Buddhists, or Catholics or Unitarians.

They will be Muslims, and almost certainly from one of about 15 countries. We cannot protect all the potential targets. If we cannot profile the possible attackers, the chances of them succeeding in killing Americans, including children, increase ten fold.

Profiling American citizens on the Jersey turnpike because of their ethnicity is wrong. But profiling citizens of countries that are breeding murderers is just common sense. You bet I’m for it.

Unless, of course, the terrorists promise to target only the politically correct.


  1. I couldn't agree more. As a 64 year old male, no tattoos, no rings in strange parts of my anatomy and usually neatly dressed, I am often the target of these Gauleiters - because I don't fit the profile. Following my last encounter with the ridiculously complex and - in my view - over zealous, security in Cincinnatti, I have decided to forgo the pleasure of flying to the US unless I have no other option.

    The latest security checks and the harassment of your own citizens who object to intimate searches and being subjected to x-ray scanners mean that I will now only consider flying to any destination in the US only if it will avert the End of the World.

    I cannot believe that the country that prides itself on its democratic freedoms has descended to imposing a system more draconian than any I have encountered in many supposedly "oppressed" societies.

    Didn't one of your great thinkers declare that; "He who surrenders one ounce of liberty in pursuit of security loses both."

  2. Thanks for visiting my blog.. My husband is also an 'old jarhead'.. Thanks for your service ;)

  3. "He who surrenders one ounce of liberty in pursuit of security loses both."

    Darn true. A wonderful argument against racial profiling. It's disheartening to see how willing you guys are to give up the freedoms of others to protect yourselves from a pat down. Of course, if we do start profiling our enemies will simply recruit people who don't fit the current profile, 64 year old males, no tattoos, no rings in strange parts of their anatomy and usually neatly dressed. And BTW the 9/11 hijacker looked liked they were on their way to spring break.

  4. I too happen to be an 'old jarhead' and I agree with what James had to say. I also suspect that those who are now bitching about the new TSA screening methods, will also be the first to complain about lax security checks should a plane be brought down by a passenger.