Tuesday, April 5, 2005

For most of my professional life, I’ve traveled frequently — sometimes boarding a commercial flight two, three or four times a month for lucrative speaking engagements. Over the last three years, the frequency has fallen to an average of once or twice a year.

The reason is simple. I don’t want to be arrested or detained for questioning some of the senseless airport security procedures. Don’t get me wrong. I’m for security but against stupidity. Let’s look at some of it, starting off with a hypothetical question.

You’re a detective. A woman reports a rape. How would you go about finding the perpetrator? Would you confine your search to males or would you include females as well?

You say, “Williams, that would be stupid to include females.” But not if Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta were your supervisor. You might be ordered to investigate females and males as possible suspects to avoid committing the politically incorrect sin of sex profiling.

With regard to airport security, Mr. Mineta said, “While the security procedures are not based on the race, ethnicity, religion or gender of passengers, we also want to assure that in practice, the system does not disproportionately select members of any particular minority group.” That means Americans who fit no terrorist profile — mothers with children, blind and disabled people, elderly couples — are frisked, groped and hassled. What’s even more stupid is that pilots and flight attendants face similar screening. Here’s my question to you: If a pilot is intent on crashing a plane into a building, does he need to carry anything on board to do so?

On several occasions, having gone through screening without setting off any alarms, I’ve been pulled aside for additional screening. Imagine you’re there with a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) supervisor and I’m being subjected to additional screening. You offer him a bet whereby if Williams is discovered to be in possession of something that endangers security — a knife, gun or bomb — you’ll pay him $5,000, and if I’m not, he’ll pay you $100. Do you think he’ll take your offer? I’m betting he wouldn’t.

What about the TSA confiscation of “dangerous” personal items such as tweezers, hat pins, sewing scissors, knitting needles, etc.? I hope I’m not giving the TSA ideas, but I’ve watched a number of television shows featuring supermax prisons like California’s Pelican Bay. Among the items prisoners fashion into lethal weapons are ballpoint pens, belts, eyeglass templepieces, glass containers and toothbrushes, all of which the TSA permits on airplanes. So what’s the TSA’s reasoning for allowing ballpoint pens on planes but not tweezers?

Most hijackings and recent terrorist acts have been committed by young Muslim extremists. That’s not to say all or nearly all Muslims pose a threat to security. But if one is looking for potential terrorists, the larger proportion of resources should be spent screening Muslim passengers. Screening the blind and disabled, mothers and children, and senior citizens will not have much of a payoff unless the goal is not to have tweezers or a G.I. Joe doll holding a rifle on the plane.

If I were a terrorist, I’d appreciate that the TSA treats every passenger as equally likely to be a security threat. Fewer resources would be available to screen me. When law-abiding people are the subject of profiling, it’s unfair, and they are insulted — and rightfully so. The true source of the injustice they face are those responsible for making “Muslim” nearly synonymous with “terrorism.”

Even if I don’t fly commercial anymore, I care about the TSA’s waste of resources. There are potential terrorist targets in many areas such as ports, railroads and infrastructure, but roughly 90 percent of TSA’s funding is spent on airports under the assumption every passenger and every bag have an equal likelihood of being a security threat. That’s stupid.

Walter E. Williams is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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