The background checks can take months and months, so they're walking around with a card in the meantime & #8230;That's why so many of these airport employees are arrested so long after the fact, and are continuing to be arrested in sweeps by the Justice Department. When the information finally
does come back, they see they've got somebody out there that has a felony and lied on his application, or has a warrant out, or is in the country illegally"
Civil Rights Issues in Passenger Screening
While the security protocols in relation to typical potential "weapons" in the possession of passengers are fundamentally flawed, federal authorities working with British security services did identify a specific threat in 2006 that precipitated necessary precautions against more than a certain amount of liquid allowed per passenger. Unlike the other senseless concern over nail files and cosmetic scissors, this precaution was justified by virtue of a specific threat in connection with liquid explosives that British authorities discovered within the intentions of several terrorists apprehended in 2006 (Dyer, McCoy, Rodriguez, et al., 2007; Evans, 2007; Larsen, 2007).
However, to the extent more general passenger screening is justified by circumstances (i.e. not for the purpose of interdicting nail files and scissors), one of the most difficult aspects of implementing effective security procedures within the U.S. constitutional framework is the political hot button issue of racial or ethnic profiling (Dershowitz, 2002; Larsen, 2007). Many security experts and legal authorities alike believe that oversensitivity to this issue hampers effective security screening beyond what is necessary to protect fundamental constitutional rights. They point out that the contemporary terrorist threat from radical Islamic operatives justifies differential scrutiny of Muslims in specific circumstances.
Consider, for example, the situation of a public threat against federal buildings issued by an all-male white supremacist group, or alternatively, by a modern all-female incarnation of the Black Panthers who announced their intention to blow up courthouses. In these circumstances, reasonable security protocols would require increased scrutiny of Caucasian males seeking entrance into federal facilities and of African-American females seeking entrance into courthouses. Likewise, in the face of a terrorist threat against the U.S. homeland whose source is primarily radical Islamic extremists (Evans, 2007; Williams, 2004), it is perfectly reasonable to increase scrutiny of certain individuals based on their national or ethnic origin (Larsen, 2007).
Under current interpretation of constitutional law, this is absolutely prohibited (Dershowitz, 2002), but in principle, there is nothing "prejudicial" or "discriminatory" about eliminating the randomness requirement in airline passenger screening scenarios. In that regard, it is especially ironic that bona fide civil rights were routinely, systematically, and purposely violated by federal authorities throughout the second term of the Bush administration without any comparable justification instead of seeking judicial review of ridiculous randomness criteria imposed on airport passenger screening procedures (Larsen, 2007).
For one of the most glaring examples, Russell Tice, then an analyst at the National Security Agency (NSA) came forward as a whistle blower immediately after the expiration of the Bush presidency to publicize egregious constitutional privacy and search and seizure violations committed by that agency under the guise of national security (Huffington, 2009).Instead of addressing legit issues where circumstances justified different applications of constitutional law, the NSA was busily illegally retrieving telephone records of newspaper reporters who had criticized federal policy, such as those of New York Times reporter James Risen: "What I know for a fact is that the Bush administration got my phone records ... we know for a fact that they showed my phone records to other people in the federal grand jury, and we have asked the court to investigate that" (Huffington, 2009).
Recommendations and Conclusion:
Lessons from Israel
Israeli Mossad agents trained to recognize suspicious behavior routinely conduct spontaneous interviews with airline passengers. Instead of doing so randomly, they scrutinize Arabs more intensely than Israelis, and they do so unapologetically in view of the realities of the circumstances (Hoffman, 2003; Larsen, 2007). The parallel in the U.S. is the importance of developing appropriate exceptions to traditional concepts of civil rights in the narrow area of specific threats that are tremendously more likely to be associated with young Saudi Arabian or Syrian males with student visas than elderly Midwestern females in wheelchairs. Certainly, Islamic passengers are equally entitled to all other presumptions of innocence and all other constitutional rights; on the other hand, there is no constitutional right against reasonable security screening motivated exclusively by the need to maximize screening effectiveness rather than any ethnic or cultural bias.
Until now, the federal government has demonstrated a schizophrenic approach to aviation security, undermining genuinely effective security measures out of concern with the political consequences of applying common sense to passenger screening protocols while ignoring more significant vulnerabilities. Instead of a purposely random element imposed on airport passenger screening, what is required to protect domestic aviation is implementation of the techniques used for decades by the Israeli security services to protect El-Al, the national airline of Israel, a nation profoundly at risk of terrorism since the 1960s.
Dershowitz, a. (2002). Shouting Fire: Civil Liberties in a Turbulent Age. New York:
Little Brown & Co.
Dyer, C., McCoy, R., Rodriguez, J., Van Duyn, D. "Countering Violent Islamic
Extremism" the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin; Vol. 76 No. 12: 3-9 (2007).
Evans, M. (2007). The Final Move Beyond Iraq: The Final Solution While the World
Sleeps. Florida: Frontline.
Hoffman, B. "The Logic of Suicide Terrorism: Lessons from Israel that America Must
Learn" the Atlantic Monthly; Vol. 291 No. 5 (2003).
Huffington Post. (2009). "NSA Whistleblower Reveals Bush Administration Snooping
on U.S. Citizens, Journalists." Retrieved October 4, 2009 from the HuffingtonPost.com website, at: