Back in January, the Obama administration announced a new policy for airline safety -- country-based profiling. Travelers from 14 countries known to harbor terrorists would automatically receive extra scrutiny including additional pat-downs or full body scanners. The named states were: Afghanistan, Algeria, Cuba, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.
My reaction at the time was: You mean you weren't already doing that? Apparently not. When underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab traveled from Nigeria to Detroit without baggage (it was reported at the time that he had purchased a one-way ticket but that proved to be incorrect) -- and despite a warning from his father to authorities that Umar had been radicalized -- he sailed through routine screening.
After 9/11, we were all under the impression that the newly created TSA would be particularly alert for certain kinds of behavior. Purchasing a one-way ticket, paying cash, having little or no luggage, looking nervous, and traveling from certain unstable parts of the world were all presumed to be red flags that would trigger action. Instead, we seem to have settled into a kind of bovine, tedious hunt for weapons. We screen everyone for guns, knives, scissors, nail clippers, tweezers (yes, I lost a good one in November 2001), and now shoe bombs, liquids and gels. In short, we look for weapons not terrorists.
Defenders of the system -- and this includes Bush-era Homeland Security officials as well as the current crop -- argue that these irritating procedures and now the body scans and distasteful intimate pat-downs are the only way to keep us safe.
Critics from the right believe that if we would only drop our political correctness and aggressively profile Muslim-looking men between the ages of 18 and 40, we would solve the problem.
I'd be for profiling of that sort -- despite the civil liberties cost -- if I thought it would work. But I'm not convinced.
Colleen Renee LaRose, aka Jihad Jane, and Jamie Paulin-Ramirez were both blond, blue-eyed American converts to Islam who were arrested in October 2009 in Ireland and charged with plotting to kill a Swedish cartoonist who had drawn Mohammad's head on the body of a dog.
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