For college students like us, it’s time for Spring Break! Time to soak up the sun, get some post-midterm stress relief, and generally enjoy being young and reckless. If you’re getting on a plane, then you’re going to experience the most wasteful and dangerous piece of theater in this country (besides the Spiderman musical): Airport security.
On my own Spring Break a few weeks ago, I went through airport security twice. The second time, I was selected to receive a pat-down because I was wearing a hoodie. As a frequent traveler and a college student, it’s not like I fit the profile of someone who would cause trouble on a flight. The TSA knows this, and I don’t think they were seriously concerned about hypothetical college-kid-hoodie-contraband-smuggling. However, I was willing to play my part, and got the pat down while trying to be as little of a nuisance as possible for the TSA agent. This is supposedly random screening, and hey, nobody likes it, but everybody just grins and bears it, right?
Wrong. Muslim women are, in fact, under strict orders not to grin and bear it. These orders come from CAIR – the Council on American-Islamic Relations – and state that Muslim women wearing hijab should refuse the body scanners and take the pat-down but instruct the TSA officer to only pat down their head and neck. CAIR thinks that Muslim fliers should be above the law. All Americans have the right to challenge a law we feel is unjust – but though we may disagree with the law, we may never consider ourselves above it.
There is a legitimate challenge to the validity of the body scanners and pat-downs on the basis of religious freedom. In fact, I can’t think of a single religion that would likely approve of its members’ bodies getting treated in this slightly undignified manner. As a Christian, however, I feel confident that my religion obligates me to make sacrifices for the greater good. I’m okay with being uncomfortable for a minute or so if it makes the other people on my flight feel safer, especially since the pat down is just painfully awkward, not harmful to my body. There’s no real data on this, but I think that most religious and non-religious people in America have a similar attitude toward the security process.
Could you imagine the uproar if a Christian group had told its followers to deliberately not comply with TSA regulations? The left would have been outraged! Under a left-wing administration, the safety of the majority is threatened just so we don’t make one small group feel mildly uncomfortable– an illogical policy making process.
CAIR does not want travelers to share my mentality – and most travelers’ mentality – about air travel security. I tweet passive-aggressively about it before boarding my flight; they approve a fatwa. CAIR approved a Fatwa issued by the Figh Council of North America saying that the body scanners violate religious law. Perhaps I would be more inclined to take their grievances seriously if CAIR wasn’t tied to Hamas. Call me crazy, but I think we shouldn’t listen to our enemies’ allies about how to keep our airports secure.
If the TSA does its job well, it shouldn’t matter what CAIR says, or what any other group says – everyone will be treated equally in the eyes of the law. But the body scans and pat downs are only part of the issue. If the TSA really wanted to catch terrorists, it would stop searching peoples’ bodies for objects and start searching peoples’ behavior and character for suspicious activity. Remember the underwear bomber? Everyone who boarded that Christmas Day flight in Detroit was (I hope) wearing underwear. Only one guy was a bomber. Catching objects doesn’t work; the TSA missed the bomb, and it better not start treating undergarments as suspicious items. Screening items is not the key; but for now, that’s the broken system we’ve got.
Even then, the TSA is pretty awful at catching prohibited items. The TSA has a budget of over $8 billion. It ought to be able to do a pretty solid job. Yet in recent years, for every ten people who tried to bring a gun on a plane, it is estimated by the TSA itself that seven of those people succeeded. If only the TSA was as good at catching terrorists as it is at catching lawyers. The unionized majority of the TSA has more lawyers than any other union in America.
Those ten people trying to get firearms on a flight are not ten random people. Terroristic intentions are not carried by the wind, spread randomly across members of our population. People who want to cause havoc on planes often show clear behavioral signs of being atypical travelers. CNN quotes Isaac Yeffet, air security expert:
“In 2002, we had Richard Reid, the shoe bomber. This man gave the security people all the suspicious signs that any passenger could show. The man got a British passport in Belgium, not in England. Number Two: he flew to Paris, he bought a one-way ticket from Paris to Florida. He paid cash. He came to the airport with no luggage. What else do I need to know that this passenger is suspicious?”
The TSA’s response to this was laughable. Instead of admitting, “We missed just about every red flag in the book,” they said, “SHOES! We missed his SHOES! Everybody wears shoes to the airport, so now we have to check them all!” Shoes do not cause terrorism. Neither do liquids over three ounces. That’s right, my hairspray is not a threat to national security, thank you very much.
I am fine with being “randomly selected for additional screening.” I’m willing to feel awkward if it makes another person feel safer. On a macro level, the real issue with “random selection” as an anti-terror strategy is that terrorists are not random people. We have a good idea of who terrorists are; they fit a profile.
It is probably a good idea to keep a watchful eye on people who buy one-way tickets at the last minute before the flight. It’s probably also smart to keep tabs on people who pay cash for tickets, or who act dodgy around TSA officers. Repeatedly making trips to or from an official state sponsor of terrorism should be cause for alarm. Anyone who advertises their anti-American sentiments? Yeah, that’s a cause for additional screening.
Notice that none of what I have described has anything to do with race.
This is behavioral profiling.
Israel uses behavioral profiling, and has been more successful than any other threatened nation at keeping terrorists off of its planes. This is thought to be more expensive than the current US system, but I don’t think a single Israeli flight passenger would deny that the additional cost is worth it. Predictably, CAIR has bristled about profiling on the basis of behavior, saying that it unfairly targets Muslims. Last I checked, race is not a determinant of behavior. To say that race and behavior are two variables that hang together would be, well, racist. Screen by behavior, and most of the issues of racial or religious profiling go away.
A profiling system is not ideal, nor is it foolproof. But it is far superior to our current system that fails to intimidate our enemies and puts us at risk of another terrorist attack. Behavioral profiling, rather than security theater, will allow us to outsmart potential terrorists instead of just confiscating their shampoo.