Terrorist profiling vs. racial profiling
Initial news reports made it seem like an airline captain refused to allow an armed, Secret Service agent on his aircraft because the man was an Arab. But the person, who turned out to be an actual Secret Service agent assigned to the Presidential Protective Detail, exhibited a number of problems and behaviors that one would not normally associate with a highly-trained, professional agent of the Secret Service.
The flight the agent was supposed to take en route to Crawford, Texas to protect President George W. Bush was cancelled for mechanical reasons. But, in any event, the agent had not properly completed the official paperwork required for an armed law enforcement officer to board an airliner.
He then presents himself for the next flight en route to Texas with only a carbon copy of his weapons paperwork and it was full of hand-written strikeovers and corrections. When questions are raised, the agent becomes loud and abusive to the airline personnel.
Nevertheless, he is allowed on board. But then, he deplanes, leaving a piece of hand luggage on board. Thatís a big no, no. A flight attendant notified the captain who stops the agent from re-boarding.
The captain checks the weapons paperwork and finds a virtually unreadable carbon copy. He gives the agent a new form. But the agent does not complete it properly. The captain calls the airline operations center seeking guidance. Having already been notified by other airline personnel that the agent had verbally abused the captain, the center backed the captainís no re-boarding decision.
A few years ago, a terrorist smuggled bomb-making materials on board an airliner inside his shaving kit. Once on board, he slipped into a lavatory, opened his shaving kit and pulled out the materials necessary to make a small bomb. He placed the bomb in the lavatory so that it would be adjacent to a fuel tank on the other side of the lavatory wall and left the aircraft. Fortunately, a flight attendant found the bomb in time to avert a disaster.
Airline captains are briefed on all the previous bombing attempts like the one described above. So, if you were an airline captain, what would you think when someone shows up with messed-up paperwork, wants to bring a weapon and live ammunition on board and then gets off the airplane leaving a piece of luggage behind? That would get your attention.
Current Federal Aviation Regulations make the pilot-in-command of an aircraft Ė be it an airliner or a Piper Cub -- totally and completely responsible for the safe conduct of the flight and for the safety of every soul on board.
Moreover even the village idiot knows that any document, even passports, official credentials and weapons permits can be forged so skillfully that even the creators of the authentic documents can be fooled for a time.
Given the circumstances of September 11th, and given the facts with which that airline captain was confronted, only a fool would have boarded the person who presented himself for flight in that manner on Christmas Day. And given the terrorist habit of conducting attacks on certain anniversaries and on days special to the Christian calendar, that was a day to exercise extreme caution.
Had this observer been serving as the pilot that day and had I been confronted with a blond, blue-eyed Swede under similar circumstances, there is no way I would have let that armed person get back on board my airplane.
The ACLU and the lawyer for this angry Secret Service agent not withstanding, we are not talking about racial or ethnic profiling here. We are talking about a pattern of activity and behavior that didnít add up. What if the ďagentĒ had been a terrorist who killed everyone on board? The captain chose not to run that risk.
Secret Service agents should not be creating situations where airline captains must be both pilot-in-command and Solomon. This was a case of terrorist profiling, not racial profiling. Based on what we know now, the pilot deserves commendation and the agent a reprimand. But donít hold your breath waiting for either to happen.
William Hamilton, a nationally syndicated columnist and commentator for USA Today, has been flying commercially, militarily and privately for over 50 years.
©2002. William Hamilton.