At this stage of assessing how best to minimize the threat to aviation security, it would be unwise to rule out the use of profiling in some form. Implemented carefully, it might allow a more effective allocation of security dollars without placing a "T" on the forehead of every Muslim man with a boarding pass.
It's not clear, though, that it would add much to law enforcement's arsenal. Police would be remiss to let Islamic extremism distract them from other potential threats. Theodore Kaczynski, Eric Rudolph and Timothy McVeigh were terrorists, but not Muslims. It also bears remembering that upward of 99.99 percent of all Muslims are not terrorists.
Profiling also can be defeated in obvious ways. A dark-skinned Islamic extremist can disguise his name, his ethnicity, his religion, his hair color, even his gender. He also can enlist help from someone in a different category: One Syrian man tried to bring down an El Al jet by putting a bomb in the carry-on bag of his Irish fiance.
In the wrong hands, profiling can create problems. Recently Ohio police arrested two Arab-Americans who had $11,000 and hundreds of cell phones and charged them with soliciting terrorism - only to release them a few days later. Three other Arab-American men found with 1,000 cell phones in their van were held on suspicion of trying to blow up Michigan's Mackinac Bridge. After questioning them, the FBI said it found no terrorist ties or intent.
But that doesn't mean local police, federal agents and transportation security personnel should have no discretion to follow their best instincts. In time, the government may embrace the use of computerized analysis of passenger lists to detect dangerous intent. If a sea of data finds an ominous pattern that touches on race or religion, law enforcement would be irresponsible to ignore it.
Profiling is not going to liberate travelers from the restrictions that go with flying in the post-9/11 era. We can't ban liquids or knives only for passengers who look Middle Eastern, or let non-Muslims skip the metal detector. Though Islamic terrorism is the conspicuous threat today, new enemies could emerge tomorrow.
The burden of safeguarding aviation can't be loaded onto one group. It will have to be shared by all of us. Profiling is not going to liberate travelers from the restrictions that go with flying in the post-9/11 era. [Link]
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