- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 7, 2002

Like most Americans, I have been concerned about airline security. I have written about holes in screening at
airports, deficiencies that have resulted in several terminal evacuations and the near miss of the shoe bomber bound for Miami.
Now we learn that nine of the 19 suicide bombers of September 11 were stopped at airports, only to be let go.
My original dismay was visceral, but only reportorial. Then last week, I personally learned that we are all victims of Secretary of Transportation Norman Y, Mineta's extreme political correctness, an affliction that borders on the clinical.
I had already written about the ludicrous case of a 74-year-old Anglo grandmother who had been given the full screening treatment. But now that I have personally experienced it, I can report that it is a badly flawed system that lacks common sense and leaves us open to further terrorist mayhem.
On my return to New York from Florida, I was "selected" for further checking. All the contents of my two bags were dumped out on a table and examined piece by piece. Later, when I checked in at the gate, I was again selected out for a personal search, which included doffing my shoes.
Good? Doesn't that thoroughness show that Mr. Mineta and John Magaw, his new head of the Transportation Security Administration, are doing their job?
Absolutely not.
I don't mind being searched. But on the line behind me were two aging couples also selected out. All five of us appeared at the checking table, where they had chosen to zero in on a group of aging travelers, two of them women. One man was 76, a veteran of the Pacific theater in World War II. His wife was a frail woman of 79. The other man was in his 60s. I would guess that our mean age was pushing 70.
Most important, missing at the table were active young men, in their 20s and 30s, traveling alone, the more likely candidates for terror. Since the airlines can only check a small number of passengers, attention paid to illogical subjects means that more true suspects are sneaking through.
"They're choosing all the wrong people to screen," said the airline checker, a woman in her 50s with nickname of "Slugs." They seem to select out a lot of aging passengers, she added.
A TSA spokesman privately seems to agree. "I have heard similar stories many times before. Perhaps we need to change our system."
Amen.
The problem? Obviously it is Mr. Mineta, who suffers from a severe form of political correctness, one exaggerated by the fact that as a boy he was interned as a Japanese-American in World War II. He refuses to "discriminate" in selecting out people. This sounds good, but its true effect is to spend valuable time on aging grandmothers and older veterans, detracting from giving full attention to the true suspects, mainly Muslim, mainly young, mainly male, mainly traveling alone.
Mr. Mineta has ennobled his own biases in an official DOT edict, which reads as follows:
"The U.S. Department of Transportation has reminded all U.S. air carriers and airports, as well as DOT employees, that it is illegal to target or otherwise discriminate against passengers based on their race, color, national or ethnic origin, religion, or based on passengers' names or modes or dress that could be indicative of such classifications."
Mr. Mineta has added on his own: "I am personally committed to assuring that all modes of transportation are free of discrimnation based on race, ethnicity, sex or religion."
What Mr. Mineta sees as "discrimination," more intelligent Americans see as good policework, for screening passengers is purely a police activity. We can hardly screen all 280 million Americans. With his obsession with political correctness, Mineta is not only doing a poor job as secretary of transportation, but he is a dangerous hindrance in securing the air against sudden terrorist death.
Two other spokesmen from the new Transportation Security Administration contacted me, conceding that changes are needed, jocularly pointing out that we native-born aging war veterans are obviously a "dangerous bunch." One added that he was pleased that I was writing this column, for public disapproval of the present system was needed for real changes to be made.
Oh, incidentally. My wife , who is a grandmother several times over, returned from Florida two days after me. Naturally, she was stopped, selected out, her bags and her person, including her shoes, carefully searched.
Note to Secretary Mineta: I'm sure you can serve your country better in another position, one perhaps having to do with equal employment. We don't need political correctness in airline security, only safe skies.

Martin L. Gross is a nationally syndicated columnist.


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