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The airport security charade

By Samuel L. Blumenfeld
web posted January 7, 2002

It appears that the would-be suicide bomber on the American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami passed through the new security checks with flying colors after some cursory interrogation. And it appears that every hijacker on September 11th would have been able to pass through these same new security checks with even less trouble than their fellow terrorist in Paris. That guy even got through airport security in Israel where he showed up as a tourist. He was questioned on arrival and let go.

Richard Reid

It's hard to know when a terrorist is going to do his work. For example, the hijackers of September 11th took many flights before the fatal ones. However, with this latest character there were blatant signs: He paid $1,800 for his ticket in cash. He looked like a terrorist. He had no check-in baggage. He was known to the French police as Abdel Rahim, a Muslim convert, using an Islamic name other than the one of Richard Reid on his British passport. And they didn't bother to check his sneakers because no one had ever heard of plastic bombs being concealed in heels.

It took an alert flight attendant to spot the terrorist in the act of lighting a match to set off the bombs in his shoes. I wonder if she had been warned to keep an eye on the guy. In any case, it took the flight attendant and a half dozen passengers to tie the terrorist down and secure him for the rest of the flight.

In other words, the real security for today's flights is on the plane itself, made up of cabin crews and passengers. The security people at the airport can't stop a terrorist from boarding a plane if they don't have solid proof of what he intends to do. In other words, today's improved airport security is a big joke. They spend more time searching little old ladies and children than they do those, whose ethnic profiles ring bells and flash red lights. They're more concerned about violating the civil rights of potential terrorists than they are about catching them. After all, if they mistakenly prevent someone from getting on a plane, they may be sued.

In fact, it has been reported that the Islamic member of Bush's security team who was questioned and delayed before being allowed to board a commercial flight to join his boss in Texas, may sue the airline for ethnic profiling or some other high crime. And if that sucker can't understand why Americans are so jittery about air travel, he has no business guarding our President. As a security guard himself, he should have congratulated the personnel at the airport for wanting to check him out. And if he is so unpatriotic and venal as to sue the airline, I would be very suspicious of his ultimate motives and not have him so close to the President. After all, it took five years for the terrorists to plan their murderous attacks on September 11th, and President Sadat of Egypt was assassinated by members of his own security team.

So caution goes out the window, and flight crews and passengers have become the front line in the war against terrorists. Passengers will have to do their own ethnic profiling in the boarding lounge before they decide whether or not to get on that plane.

As we all know, ethnic profiling is politically incorrect, especially since President Bush has bent over backwards to get Americans to look at their Islamic fellow citizens as benign lovers of peace. Even the head of the FAA believes that ethnic profiling is bad since as a child of Japanese ancestry he and his parents were interned in a camp during World War II. So what we now do at airports is pretend that we have improved security. After all, we have national guardsmen with automatic weapons patrolling the airports, and everyone is searched a little more thoroughly. And now we can expect teenage girls with those new style heels that look like they can hide nuclear weapons will be thoroughly examined.

Ethnic profiling works. It doesn't take a Sherlock Holmes to spot a potentially dangerous individual on a passenger list. Most of the people who fly would pass the security test with no problems: retired couples; families with small children; businessmen with laptops; students on their way to and from schools; servicemen and women; pilots and crew members on vacation, high rollers on their way to Vegas. Anyone can walk down an aisle of a plane, look at the passengers and pick out the scary ones.

Hints for personnel at the check-in counters: Anyone who doesn't have a frequent flyer account should be under suspicion. Anyone who buys a one-way ticket with cash and has no baggage ought to be under suspicion. Any young Islamic Arab who hasn't a good reason to be going anywhere ought to be under suspicion. Americans don't need ID cards. What we need is common sense. If there is anyone who should be inconvenienced by airport security, it should be those who come under suspicion, not the average American traveler. Since every passenger must come to the check-in counter, it is there that potential terrorists can be spotted and escorted to a room for interrogation. But apparently you can't keep a potential terrorist off a plane if he is not wanted by the police or committing a criminal act.

But now that heels can conceal bombs, we can expect security officers to inspect everyone's heels instead of just those who arouse suspicion. Richard Reid triggered all the alarms but got through. So what good are the alarms if such an obvious candidate for terrorism can get through? The solution? Inform flight attendants of suspicious passengers and watch them like hawks. Of course, the security people tell us that no system is foolproof. What they mean is that they really can't protect us from those determined to kill us.

Of course, an upstanding, frequent flying citizen is not permitted to carry a gun aboard a plane for his own protection against a terrorist. Even little old ladies have had their knitting needles confiscated because they can be used as weapons. But that's the very reason why the knitting needles should be permitted, so that passengers can have more than their bare knuckles and a few leather belts with which to fight these terrorists.

Flyer beware! That's the motto for today's air traveler. And be prepared to do hand-to-hand combat on the plane.

Samuel L. Blumenfeld is the author of eight books on education, including, "Alpha-Phonics: A Primer for Beginning Readers," "The Whole Language/OBE Fraud," and "Homeschooling: A Parents Guide to Teaching Children." These books are available on

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