In an effort to ward off charges of racial profiling the TSA has adopted a policy of randomly searching anyone, regardless of the likelihood of that person being a terrorist. Although virtually all of the terrorists have been young muslim males, the TSA has famously search old people, people in wheelchairs and beauty queens. Therefore, somewhat like New York's stop and frisk, the TSA should explicitly target young muslim males. I think it is interesting that I have never once been targeted by the TSA even when I was flying almost 100,000 a year. Now most times when I fly I am with my girlfriend who has been targeted every time we have flown out of Knoxville. She has been humiliated and infuriated. Now when we fly together, we fly out of her home town of Kingsport where she is waved on through. Obviously the TSA feels that it is better to tick off everyone rather than one particular group, although I think that they are just gropers and voyeurs.
I am against racial profiling, mainly because I belong to a group that is routinely profiled. I have been pulled over several times by the cops for DWB (driving while black). My son while living in Knoxville was stopped, told to assume the position and "asked" if they could search his car - perhaps blacks who drive expensive foreign convertibles are all drug dealers. Since I have a fairly high profile in the city, I got apologies from each of the cops and had the one citation I received thrown out of court. I also got targeted at the Johannesburg airport - as a tourist. One of the airport security people place a 375 H&H shell in my bag. I said I don't own that caliber and anyway, I am bow hunting. To avoid getting carted off to an interrogation room and missing my connecting flight, I had to pay a $50 bribe. As a consequence, the vast majority of those who favor profiling don't belong to a group that is likely to be profiled. I know, you will say that whites in particular old whites are not likely to be bombers. But what about Bernadine Dorn or William Ayres? Believe me, if the TSA started profiling muslims then al-Quaeda would start recruiting blond blue eye bombers.
So what can be done. There are those civil libertarians and many on the right and left who argue that the TSA impinges on our liberties. Many cite Ben Franklin who famously said "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty or safety." Yet must you choose less freedom in order to be safe and secure? This seems to be a Hobson's choice - which is one or the other. (Note: I know some say Hobbesian choice after the philosopher but its really Hobson after the livery owner). I do not believe the two are conflicting at all. Rather, the TSA could adopt a policy much like that of El Al, the Israeli airline that is considered the world's safest against terrorism. It is said that El Al does not search passengers randomly nor does it profile. In Israel, 15 percent of the citizens are muslim but instead of profiling El Al watches for suspicious behavior. This can pay dividends for it apprehended several blonde women from Scandinavia who had bombs placed (unknowing to them) in their belongings by their muslim boyfriends. However, the truth is different. El Al profiles. In 2010 two brothers who were Palestinian Israelis sued and were awarded damages from EL Al for their treatment at a New York airport. The two were part of a group of 17 Israeli insurance agents on a business trip. At the airport, El Al security assigned a female security guard to watch them until their plane departed. The 15 Jews went through security with no problem but the two brothers were questioned, searched, had their baggage and carry-ons searched. Then they were told to have the security guard see them at all times. When one of the brothers went to the bathroom without permission, an argument ensued. He was told to either apologize to the guard or not board the flight. He apologized. In court, El Al admitted that the brothers did not pose a security threat but was acting under Israeli security guidelines. The Arab Association for Human Rights says that El Al which conducts its own security at foreign airports regularly subjects its Arab passengers regularly subjected to body and strip searches, had items including computers confiscated, kept in holding areas, escorted directly on to the plane and had their luggage tagged with colored stickers (see http://electronicintifada.net/content/el-al-sued-racial-profiling/8793).
Therefore, it seems to me that what should be done is to do what El Al is said to do rather than what it does. Rather than profile, watch for suspicious behavior. Although TSA may actually have prevented some terrorism just by being there, the high profile cases where terrorism has been prevented have been where the terrorist got on the plane and the passengers thwarted the attack. As some wag has said, if TSA changes its policy, instead of being evil and useless it will only be useless.
Harold A. Black is professor emeritus in the Department of Finance, University of Tennessee, Knoxville having retired after 24 years of service. He has served on the faculties of American University, Howard University, the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill and the University of Florida. His government service includes the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and as a Board Member of the National Credit Union Administration. He also has served on the boards of directors Home Savings of America and its parent company, H. F. Ahmanson & Co., Irwindale, California prior to its merger with Washington Mutual Savings Bank, on the board of New Century Financial Corporation, Irvine, California, then the nation’s largest real estate investment trust and as director and later chairman of the Nashville Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. He writes an occasional article for the Knoxville News-Sentinel at http://www.knoxnews.com/staff/dr-harold-black/. His web page is haroldablackphd.com