When in Danger, Profiling Is Rational

I’m going to offer a lukewarm defense of TSA’s new procedures. Well, not quite ... but I do want people to back away from the more absurd rhetoric.

Yes, I had a good laugh about that T-shirt: “We get off before you get on.” And there are undoubtedly some TSA employees who are enjoying the chance to grope. But I am sure that this article about how upset many of them are about having to do these intrusive searches is more typical. A friend of mine works for TSA, and several weeks ago he told me that he was actively seeking new work so that he would not have to start touching people in intimate areas.

But let’s not forget why the whole body scans and the intimate pat-down are now part of airport screening: it is because of the Fruit-of-the-Boom incident last December, and the less widely known explosive packed bras of Chechen “black widows.” TSA’s efforts do not stem from a desire to annoy us or to deny Americans their civil liberties. They are based on very real security concerns.

Now -- is there a better way to do this? Almost certainly, there is.

At least part of the problem is that Bush’s Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta was dead set against “ethnic profiling.” In light of the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II (Secretary Mineta was an unwilling participant), this is not surprising. But what is the alternative? There is a very strong correlation between religion and ethnicity and the likelihood that you are going to blow up an American airliner -- indeed, nearly 100%.

Is this unfair to Muslims and Arabs? Yup. Life is hard. Get used to it. We are at war. There is no need for TSA to be rude about focusing their attention on passengers who fit the profile, but it sure makes more sense than what we are doing now. I’ve experienced a very similar form of profiling, and while I didn’t like it, I completely understand its regrettable necessity. I hope that those who would get shunted aside from more detailed questioning and searching based on fitting the profile will understand it, too.