Heather MacDonald, City Journal, Autumn 2004
In 1997, government attorneys worried that a proposed anti-terrorism system for airlines might work too well. Although an early prototype of the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS I) assiduously avoided collecting information about a passenger’s national origin, religion, race, or sex in assessing the risk that he might be a terrorist, civil rights lawyers in the Justice and Transportation Departments fretted that the system might still be “discriminatory.” It still might pull aside “too many” people of Arab descent by looking at, say, frequent travel to the Middle East, among other risk factors.
Given the previous two decades of Islamic terrorism, such an outcome would have been appropriate. But the rights enforcers warned that airlines could face penalties if they selected more than three passengers of the same ethnicity for additional scrutiny on any given flight. So the prototype architects built random hits into their program to ensure that airline screeners would devote as much time searching Lutheran matrons from Minnesota as young men from Saudi Arabia.
Public-policy obsession with avoiding any possible charge of racism was the luxury of an age that believed that the United States faced no greater danger than the bigotry of its own people. Though such thinking should have been cast aside after 9/11, it has not been. The incoherence that existed at the origin of CAPPS I plagues anti-terrorism efforts today. In 1997, the government recognized the reality of Islamic terrorism by building some Islamic-centric features into the program while simultaneously repudiating the consequences of that reality—stricter scrutiny for Muslims. Currently, from immigration enforcement to intelligence gathering, government officials continue to compromise national security in order to avoid accusations of “racial profiling”—and in order to avoid publicly acknowledging what the 9/11 Commission finally said: that the “enemy is not just ‘terrorism,’ [but] Islamist terrorism.” This blind anti-discrimination reflex is all the more worrying since radical Islam continues to seek adherents and plan attacks in the United States.
The anti-discrimination hammer has hit the airline industry most severely—and with gruesome inappropriateness, given the realities of 9/11 and the Islamists’ enduring obsession with airplanes. Department of Transportation lawyers have extracted millions in settlements from four major carriers for alleged discrimination after 9/11, and they have undermined one of the most crucial elements of air safety: a pilot’s responsibility for his flight. Because the charges against the airlines were specious but successful, every pilot must worry that his good-faith effort to protect his passengers will trigger federal retaliation.
The DoT action against American Airlines was typical. In the last four months of 2001, American carried 23 million passengers and asked ten of them (.00004 percent of the total) not to board because they raised security concerns that could not be resolved in time for departure. For those ten interventions (and an 11th in 2002), DoT declared American a civil rights pariah, whose discriminatory conduct would “result in irreparable harm to the public” if not stopped.
On its face, the government’s charge that American was engaged in a pattern of discriminatory conduct was absurd, given how few passenger removals occurred. But the racism allegation looks all the more unreasonable when put in the context of the government’s own actions. Three times between 9/11 and the end of 2001, public officials warned of an imminent terror attack. Transportation officials urged the airlines to be especially vigilant. In such an environment, pilots would have been derelict not to resolve security questions in favor of caution.
Somehow, DoT lawyers failed to include in their complaint one further passenger whom American asked not to board in 2001. On December 22, airline personnel in Paris kept Richard Reid off a flight to Miami. The next day, French authorities insisted that he be cleared to board. During the flight, Reid tried to set off a bomb in his shoe, but a stewardess and passengers foiled him. Had he been kept from flying on both days, he too might have ended up on the government’s roster of discrimination victims.
Jehad Alshrafi is typical of those who were included in the suit against American. On November 3, 2001, the Jordanian-American Alshrafi was scheduled to fly out of Boston’s Logan Airport (from which two of the hijacked planes—including American Flight 77—departed on 9/11). A federal air marshal told the pilot that Alshrafi’s name resembled one on a terror watch list—and that he had been acting suspiciously, had created a disturbance at the gate, and posed unresolved security issues. The pilot denied him boarding. Alshrafi was later cleared and given first-class passage on another flight.
According to DoT, the only reason American initially denied Alshrafi passage was because of his “race, color, national origin, religion, sex or ancestry.” Never mind that there were at least five other passengers of Arab descent on his original flight, none of whom had been given additional screening or kept from flying. In fact, on virtually every flight on which the government claims that American acted out of racial animus, other passengers of apparent Middle Eastern or South Asian ancestry flew undisturbed—not to mention the undoubted thousands of Arab passengers who flew with American on other flights in the final months of 2001.
If DoT believes that an air marshal’s warnings about a passenger’s name and suspicious behavior are insufficient grounds for keeping him off a flight, it is hard to imagine circumstances that would justify a security hold in the department’s view—short of someone’s declaring his intention to blow up a plane. Given the information presented to the pilot, the only conceivable reason to have allowed Alshrafi to board would have been fear of a lawsuit.
And litigation phobia is precisely the mind-set that DoT is hoping to cultivate in flight personnel. Ten days after 9/11, the department started rolling out “guidance” documents on nondiscrimination. While heavy on platitudes about protecting civil rights, they are useless in advising airlines how to avoid the government’s wrath. The closest the department gets to providing airlines a concrete rule for avoiding litigation is a “but-for” test: “Ask yourself,” advise the guidelines, “But for this person’s perceived race, ethnic heritage or religious orientation, would I have subjected this individual to additional safety or security scrutiny? If the answer is ‘no,’ then the action may violate civil rights laws.”
But security decisions are never that clear. A safety officer will consider many factors in calculating someone’s riskiness; any one of them could be pulled out as a “but-for” element. As American’s record makes clear, it is almost never the case that someone gets additional screening based on his apparent ethnic heritage or national origin alone; behavior and no-fly-list matching are key in the assessment. (In fact, about half the complainants in the government’s action were not even Middle Eastern—many were Hispanic; one was a “Norwegian-Sicilian.” DoT simply assumes, without evidence, that American scrutinized the men because of the mistaken belief that they were Arabs, rather than because of their behavior.) A pilot trying to apply the “but-for” test to his own security judgment will inevitably reduce the test to an easier calculus: “Deny passage to someone who is or could claim to look Muslim only under the most extreme circumstances.”
In application, the government’s “but-for” test reduces to a “never-ever” rule: ethnic heritage, religion, or national origin may play no role in evaluating risk. But when the threat at issue is Islamic terrorism, it is reckless to ask officials to disregard the sole ironclad prerequisite for being an Islamic terrorist: Muslim identity. American officials may still be terrified about naming the threat, but a few Arab commentators are willing to say what the Bush administration will not: “It is a certain fact that not all Muslims are terrorists, but it is equally certain, and exceptionally painful, that almost all terrorists are Muslims,” wrote Abdel Rahman al-Rashed, the general manager of the influential Al Arabiya television station, after the school massacre in Beslan, Russia.
Any discussion about how the government should identify Muslim terror suspects has been couched as a referendum on “racial profiling.” But “racial profiling” is irrelevant. What is at issue is religious profiling. By definition—by Usama bin Ladin’s own definition when he called on all Muslims to kill Americans wherever they can find them—Muslim terrorists must be Muslim. Because religious identity is not always apparent, however, national origin or ethnic heritage should be available as surrogates. Needless to say, Muslim identity should be at most only one factor in assessing someone’s security risk. Unfortunately, the much-heralded 9/11 Commission report, while correctly naming the nation’s primary threat as “Islamist terrorism,” contains not one word about what the proper role of Muslim identity should be in locating such terrorists, a topic evidently too hot to touch.
Years of government lawsuits over specious employment-discrimination claims have made the airlines gun-shy over “bias” issues. But American Airlines did contest DoT’s discrimination action because so much was at stake. Federal law vests final responsibility for flight safety with the pilot. For a passel of discrimination lawyers, months after the fact, to question a pilot’s good-faith judgment—made with incomplete information under great time pressure—violates a crucial principle of secure aviation.
American’s defense pointed out the behavioral warning signs that had led to the 11 removals. But fighting the government civil rights complex is futile; in February 2004, the airline, while vehemently denying guilt, settled the action for $1.5 million, to be spent on yet more “sensitivity training” for its employees. American’s pilots were outraged. “Pilots felt: ‘How dare they second-guess our decision?’” says Denis Breslin, a pilots’ union official. “We just shake our heads in shame: ‘How could the government be so wrong?’”
Not satisfied with just one scalp, the Transportation Department lawyers brought identical suits against United, Delta, and Continental Airlines. While maintaining their innocence, those carriers also settled, pledging more millions for “sensitivity training”—money much better spent on security training than on indoctrinating pilots to distrust their own security judgments.
A former security officer for United Airlines describes the chilling effect that bias investigations have on a pilot’s safety decisions. Let’s say the government has just raised the terror alert level. Just before takeoff, a flight attendant tells her pilot: “I’m scared of these five guys in back; they’re talking intensely, but they get quiet when I pass.” The pilot responds: “Tell me more.” “I saw them before boarding, and they pretended not to know one another.” The pilot observes them and sees the same thing. He decides to take them off that flight for a further security check.
Transportation Department lawyers soon contact the flight manager about a discrimination complaint; the manager interviews the pilot and asks him to write a report. The pilot comes back to work, but week after week he hears nothing about the investigation. DoT is in no hurry. The pilot’s anxiety level goes through the roof—maybe he’ll be sued or fired.
The next time a security question arises, will he make the same decision? wonders the ex-United official. Not if DoT can help it. “DoT is hoping he changes his behavior and looks for the positive: ‘These guys are nicely dressed; I probably intimidate them. Heck, maybe they’re talking about women!’”
In addition to individual discrimination suits, the government has continued to sic “disparate impact” analysis on anti-terror measures. One of the most destructive innovations of the rights lobby, such analysis—which assigns bigotry to neutral policies if they affect different demographic groups differently—is suicidal in a war-fighting situation. It rules out every security procedure that might actually be useful in combating Muslim terrorists, since a screening device for Muslim terrorists cannot by definition have the same effect on non-Muslims.
Transportation Department secretary Norman Mineta bears much of the responsibility for the government’s irrationality regarding airline security. He infamously maintained in an interview that a grandmother from Vero Beach, Florida, should receive the same scrutiny at the airport as a young Saudi male, and he constantly warns that domestic internment—as in World War II—may be just around the corner. And behind Mineta stands a permanent civil rights bureaucracy fixated on American racism. The same Transportation Department lawyer, for example, who complained in 1997 that the early prototype of CAPPS I might pull out “too many” people of the same ethnicity—Sam Podberesky—led the recent discrimination actions against the airlines. Without strong intervention from Mineta, DoT’s anti-discrimination machine, like most of those in the government, would run on autopilot, even though its priorities have been proved disastrously wrong.
In the government’s wake, the private civil rights bar, led by the ACLU, has brought its own airline discrimination suits. An action against Northwest Airlines is seeking government terror watch lists, Northwest’s boarding procedures, and its cabin training manual. If these materials got loose, they would be gold to terrorists trying to figure out airline security procedures.
Even more dangerous to our domestic defense against Islamic terrorism than the airline absurdity is our failure to control who enters the country. Here, too, fear of offending the race and rights lobbies trumps security. The alien-smuggling trade is the “sea in which terrorists swim,” explains David Cohen, Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence at the New York Police Department and a former CIA al-Qaida expert. Most of the 9/11 hijackers, as well as the other Muslim terrorists who planned or committed attacks on U.S. soil before 9/11, knew that when they broke visa and other immigration laws in order to carry out their plans, nothing would happen to them. As an al-Qaida website noted in 2002, only 5 percent of the flood of people and goods that cross the Mexican border each year are inspected. “These are figures that really call for contemplation,” al-Qaida added.
As long as illegal aliens continue to defy U.S. entry laws, we will remain as vulnerable as before 9/11. Yet this spring, Asa Hutchinson, the Department of Homeland Security’s undersecretary for Border and Transportation Security, shut down a successful border-patrol initiative to catch illegal aliens. A specially trained team had apprehended about 450 border trespassers in several southern California cities. The Los Angeles Times, La Raza, and every other advocacy group for illegal aliens protested that the arrests were racially motivated and that they were “scaring” illegal aliens. All too predictably, the White House promptly called the team off, and Hutchinson appeased the race hustlers by denouncing the initiative as “racial profiling.”
This July, Hutchinson followed up with a memo to every immigration, border patrol, and customs agent in the country declaring that “preventing racial profiling is a priority mission of this department.” One would have thought that guarding public safety would be the Department of Homeland Security’s sole “priority mission.” But Hutchinson notified the agents that they would all soon be retrained in the “prevention of racial and ethnic profiling.”
President George W. Bush declared in 2001: “Racial profiling is wrong, and we will end it in America.” It would help if he followed up with a parallel pronouncement: “Illegal entry is wrong, and we will end it in America”—especially since illegal entry is proven to exist, unlike police racial profiling, and it threatens national safety. But any real effort to enforce the country’s immigration laws would draw down charges of racism. So although the government has introduced flashy new technologies such as biometric scanning of visa holders at ports of entry, it still fails to devote even remotely adequate resources to core immigration policing.
A glance at a tiny section of the northern border, separating Vermont and a small part of New York from Canada, makes clear how lackluster the government’s response to illegal entry remains. Every week, agents in the border patrol’s Swanton sector catch Middle Easterners and North Africans sneaking into Vermont. And every week, they immediately release those trespassers with a polite request to return for a deportation hearing, since the Department of Homeland Security failed to budget enough funding for sufficient detention space for lawbreakers. In May, Swanton agents released illegal aliens from Malaysia, Pakistan, Morocco, Uganda, and India without bond. In July, they gave illegals from 11 terror-sponsoring countries a free pass. Since all these aliens chose to evade the visa process, none has had a background check by a consular official that might have uncovered terrorist connections. All are now at large in the country, outside the reach of law enforcement.
The failure to interdict northern trespassers is particularly worrisome, since Canada is a proven springboard for terrorists. Ahmed Ressam, the Algerian caught at the Canadian border with 100 pounds of explosives destined for the Los Angeles airport in December 1999, ran an al-Qaida cell in Montreal, despite having previously been ordered deported by the Canadian government. Two of the seven most wanted al-Qaida members, announced by Attorney General John Ashcroft in May, are naturalized Canadians. One, a Tunisian who has received flight training, has videotaped a “last will” in preparation for “martyrdom”; the other, an Egyptian who allegedly trained in Afghan terror camps, may already have slipped into the U.S. And Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan, arrested in July in Pakistan with detailed computer plans for attacks on financial buildings in New York, Newark, and Washington, visited Canada in 2000 and had recently applied for a return visa.
In response to the detention-space crisis, the Swanton bureau chief admonished his agents in May that before they released an illegal from a terrorist-producing country into the woods, they should write up a Significant Incident Report, listing all “suspicious facts and issues.” A typical report: on May 31, agents stopped an illegal Bangladeshi whose visas the State Department had revoked in 2003 and whose driver’s-license records contained a notice that he was a member of a terrorist organization. After the FBI told the border agents that it was not interested in the Bangladeshi, the agents released him.
This “catch and release” policy is in force all across the country for the same reason: no detention space. On June 8, agents in the Las Cruces, New Mexico, station apprehended three illegal Pakistanis and promptly let them go. The same day, guards at the Texas Uvalde station released a Bosnian wanted on an Interpol warrant for aggravated rape. The number of people caught at the southern border from “countries of interest”—terror dens—is on the rise; this year’s list includes people from Afghanistan, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen, and—in greatest numbers—Pakistan. If previous years are any guide, the number of illegals apprehended from “countries of interest” will far exceed 4,000 in 2004. Among them may well be terrorists like Adnan El Shukrijumah, one of the FBI’s most wanted al-Qaida operatives, who was spotted just this May in an Internet café in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, but eluded capture. Shukrijumah has met with leaders of the violent El Salvadoran gang Mara Salvatrucha (see “The Illegal Alien Crime Wave,” Winter 2004), for help in sneaking into the U.S., according to the Washington Times. Law enforcement authorities told the Times that al-Qaida is well aware of the border patrol’s detention-space crisis and resulting “catch-and-release” policy, which it hopes to exploit to loose its agents into the country.
If the government were serious about ending illegal entry and its threat to national security, it would fund adequate detention space. Instead, it plans to add only 117 new detention beds in 2005 (while probably losing another 1,400 beds for failure to reimburse county and local jails for the space it rents from them). The administration would also enforce the law against hiring illegal aliens, rather than continuing the Clinton administration’s disregard for that law. As long as the supply of jobs retains its gravitational pull, the deluge of illegal entrants will flow unabated, bringing terrorists in its wake.
But the administration seems determined to maintain the schizophrenic status quo: we try to catch trespassers at the border, but once they slip across, they’re home free. That was Asa Hutchinson’s message to the go-getter California border agents this spring, and it’s also the message of the executive branch’s continued silence on local “sanctuary policies” that forbid police from cooperating with immigration authorities. These bans mean that the only branch of law enforcement with any hope of actually apprehending border lawbreakers—local cops—are prevented from arresting immigration felons or notifying immigration officers of their whereabouts. A bill to encourage cooperation between police and federal authorities is languishing in Congress, ignored by the White House and loudly denounced by illegal-alien advocates as an eruption of bigotry. Administration officials have also shied away from the issue of secure identification documents, even though, according to the 9/11 Commission and every counter-terrorism agent working today, the easy availability of counterfeit identity cards greases the terror machine.
Finally, putting national security ahead of political correctness would mean ending the special status granted Mexican illegals. None of the recent measures to strengthen border oversight—inadequate in themselves—applies to Mexicans. Mexicans are exempt from the biometric screening requirements for visa holders, for example, and an August initiative allowing border-patrol agents to expedite deportation of illegals (a vain change without an increase in detention space) exempts Mexicans. Meanwhile, the Mexican government is busily providing cover for its illegal emigrants by furnishing them with identity documents—”matricula consular” cards—intended to allow them to open U.S. bank accounts or get U.S. driver’s licenses. Though the FBI has denounced the matricula consular card as a security nightmare, since its background check is so superficial and it is so easily forged, federal authorities are allowing its use to spread across the country.
These authorities seem to believe that they can give a pass to the hundreds of thousands of Mexicans who cross illegally every year—thus placating the race advocates—and still strengthen the border against terrorists. But since the government forswears consideration of national origin, race, religion, or ethnicity in its law-enforcement activities, and won’t even name the enemy as Islamism, strict immigration policing across the board becomes even more crucial for catching terrorists.
Without such enforcement, Muslim terrorists will make use of the infrastructure of illegality no less successfully than Mexican grape-pickers and gangbangers. Middle Easterners have already discovered the useful corruption of Mexican law-enforcement officials. In 2003, authorities busted Mexico’s consul in Lebanon for selling fake visas for up to $4,500. Her ring had smuggled about 300 Lebanese into the U.S. from Tijuana from 1999 to November 2002. In the last two years, more than 50 other Mexican immigration officers have been indicted for corruption.
President Bush should announce that henceforth, illegal entry will be treated like the crime that it is. To be against alien lawbreakers is not to be against immigrants, he should explain. Border laws protect the country for those immigrants who respect America’s laws. Our inability to control who comes into the country is our biggest security threat, he should explain, and we must empower every branch of law enforcement to apprehend the lawbreakers. Washington should allocate the resources to detain and deport illegals, and should start enforcing long-standing laws against employing alien lawbreakers. A deafening roar of “racism” will result; but with the country at war, pandering to the race advocates must give way to protecting American lives.
Even were the government to start enforcing immigration rules, it would still need to find the terror supporters already in the country. Al-Qaida members have roamed the United States for years, recruiting jihadists among citizens and non-citizens. But before 9/11, domestic counter-terrorist intelligence gathering was almost nonexistent, eroded by decades of civil-libertarian grandstanding. The threshold for investigating religious and political groups—above all, radical mosques—was very high; intelligence agents had to wait until a crime had been committed—or was just about to be—before opening an inquiry. Two years before 9/11, the head of the FBI’s National Security Division was asked what the bureau was doing about terrorism. He replied: “We aren’t violating anybody’s civil liberties,” reports Richard Gid Powers in his new history of the bureau. In other words: we’re not doing much, but at least we won’t be sued by the ACLU.
Has the FBI thrown off this deadly inhibition? Answering the question is difficult, since covert operations are by definition secret. A high-ranking official in the FBI’s National Security Law Unit, which oversees requests to wiretap foreign agents, claims that the bureau no longer shrinks from opening investigations into Muslim extremists.
Still, other security agencies continue to shy away from any allegation of “profiling.” The Department of Homeland Security recently requested that the Census Bureau pull together publicly available information on residential patterns of various “Arab ethnicities.” Such information could be key in future terror investigations or outreach programs. Anyone with good computer skills could have produced the identical analysis from data on the Census Bureau’s website; none of the information was private. Both the request and the Census Bureau’s response were legal. Nevertheless, when the analysis became public this July, an outcry from Arab organizations, privacy advocates, and civil libertarians forced the Department of Homeland Security to erect safeguards against any similar request in the future. The Census Bureau announced that it will no longer provide law enforcement or intelligence agencies with data on ethnic groups and other “sensitive populations” without reams of red-tape review. So much for information sharing in the war on terror.
The need for intelligence gathering remains urgent, however, since according to many observers, suspicious behavior continues in mosques on the East and West Coasts—and in between. A group of newcomers will separate from the congregation and set up private conversations. “They do disruptive things, trying to pray by themselves in the middle of the ranks,” according to Umar Abdul Jalil, a black imam in Harlem and the head of Muslim chaplains at New York City’s sprawling Rikers Island jail. “They talk to this person and that person in secret, going into corners.” Both blacks and Arabs have tried to infiltrate Jalil’s Harlem mosque. What was their agenda? I asked. “I don’t know,” he said. “We threw them out immediately.” Jalil, who is master of the double negative, does admit, however: “I would not say that individuals are not trying to make connections to radical groups, but in my experience, that would be an extreme minority.”
In a more radical mosque, the leadership may sanction such breakaway behavior. Prayer groups recruit the hardcore America-haters, who meet in the evenings, according to police observers.
During the 1980s and early 1990s, radical mosques along Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue, such as Al-Farooq, provided jihadists for the fight against the Russians in Afghanistan and served as a hub for the conspirators of the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993. Several officials, who would only speak on background, believe that similar activity is ongoing, particularly among Brooklyn’s Pakistanis. And while some Muslim leaders and worshipers say that there’s been a rethinking of anti-American rhetoric after 9/11, others maintain that it has only grown more vituperative in the wake of the Iraq war.
Yet even if the FBI is now fearless about using its surveillance authority, the strategic challenge is daunting. “The dilemma,” says a big-city police counter-terrorism official, is that “you can’t put a bug in every mosque. And where are you going to put it? In the imam’s office? In the corner where they gather? But should it be the same corner? And who’s the ‘they?’” The only solution, he says, is to develop sources and have them watch.
So far, however, federal and local efforts to penetrate the byzantine world of mosque politics have had limited success. After an FBI outreach to a New York mosque, the imam and his deputies reportedly broke out laughing at their successful snow job: “This is great! They’re coming to us?” the imam chortled. The situation is the same in southern California. “We’ll come back from a Kumbayah meeting with a local mosque,” says a police leader, “and realize that these guys who just agreed to help us are in our terror files!” Then there’s the inevitable phone call from the imam three weeks later:
“ ‘You need to check this guy out,’” and it turns out that the “suspect” has been opposing the imam in local power plays.
The domestic barriers to tracking down potential terrorists explain why so much of the post-9/11 intelligence in the war on Islamic terror has come from the interrogation of prisoners abroad. Yet that source is about to dry up, in the overreaction to the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal. Military and CIA officials have shut down almost all interrogation techniques that were working, such as keeping someone awake over 12 hours a day, because of charges that they constituted “torture.”
Domestic intelligence-gathering therefore will become all the more crucial in the coming year. Unfortunately, most Muslim-American organizations—above all, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)—send out a nonstop message of victimology, telling Muslims that the United States is their enemy and is stripping them of their civil rights. This summer, CAIR distributed postcards at mosques across the country with the infamous photograph from Abu Ghraib of a hooded prisoner standing on a box with wires hanging from his hands. Juxtaposed with the picture was a 2003 quotation from President Bush saying that the United States was leading the fight against torture. The postcards were supposed to be sent to Congress to demand an end to U.S. government torture. Such propaganda lessens the likelihood that Muslims will volunteer information about possible terror sympathizers in their midst.
All the more imperative, then, that no security officer, whether public or private, should fear that if he acts on reasonable suspicion regarding a possible violation of the law or threat to public safety, his government will accuse him of racism.
The skittishness of an airline executive about the possibility of behavioral profiling at American airports should be a thing of the past. Edmond Soliday, former United Airlines Vice President of Safety, lauds Israel’s intense scrutiny of passengers. Soliday says he was “profiled” in Israel. “I was a single man alone, with no checked baggage, in that airport for the first time, wandering aimlessly looking for a pay phone. Security hit me.” He was intensively questioned, and not just with “seven canned questions preapproved by the Department of Justice, as here.” That kind of intervention found two suicide bombers in the Tel Aviv airport, who were walking on the concourse with identical gym bags but pretending not to know each other. Security sweated them and found explosives in their bags. Why don’t we do what the Israelis do? I asked Soliday. “I’d be in jail in a week,” he replied.
The Transportation Security Administration says it intends to test behavioral profiling in two airports. Whether it will have the fortitude to stand up against the inevitable charges of discrimination remains to be seen.
For now, officials trying to protect the public risk punishment and opprobrium, while terrorists trying to invade and destroy the country enjoy politically motivated protection. That’s a formula for disaster, and it must change.