In response to the failed Christmas Day terrorist attack the Transportation Security Administration told airlines to conduct full body searches of passengers flying to the U.S. from countries such as Yemen, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Cuba, Algeria, Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, Pakistan, Iran, Sudan, Syria and Somalia. This move, not surprisingly, has drawn the ire of foreign government officials and civil rights groups. A New York Times article today quotes both Nigerian and Algerian officials as saying that the U.S. is unfairly discriminating against their citizens by singling them out for enhanced security screening. The executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said that security screeners should be focused on passenger behavior and not skin color in determining who to inspect more closely.
If you couldn't tell by this blog I generally lean to the left. I think that even though there are arguments that racial profiling can be an effective tool it is not how we should approach things. Singling people out because of skin color alone is not a principle that the policies of this country should reflect. That being said, I don't think that what is happening in this case is pure racial profiling, nor do I think that this response by the U.S. is an overreaction that is going to needlessly infringe on the rights of some and not others. Security screening needs to be more stringent everywhere. In a perfect world I believe that all passengers on every flight should be subjected to an equally elevated amount of security procedures; however, the capacity to do so simply does not exist right now. This means that we have to do the best with what we have. Citizens of these countries that fly to the U.S. are not the only ones being singled out. The NYT article says that passengers that are on flights that originate or pass through those countries are also subject to more screening. Taking that into account I would say a good deal of the blame for this rests with the governments of those countries being singled out. Just look at the list: 1) Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Iraq, Pakistan, Iran, Syria, Somalia - these are countries that are essentially breeding grounds for terrorists. I don't think I need to say anything else about these countries to make my point; 2) Nigeria, Cuba, Algeria, Lybia, and Sudan - Algeria and Cuba aren't exactly what I would consider hot beds of terrorism, but the other three I would. Nigeria has no room to complain since the guy who tried to blow up flight 253 on Christmas Day is from there. Lybia is an historical sponsor of terrorism (Lockerbie bombing), and Sudan used to al Qaeda's base of operations and still has strong ties to terrorism. Until the governments of these countries start cracking down on the terrorists there, and in some cases actively supporting the terrorists there, then the U.S. has a legitimate interest closely scrutinizing people with connections to those countries whether the connection is through citizenship or travel.
Again, pure racial profiling is not a policy this country should adopt but when you combine a person's connection with a country to intelligence about active national security threats it is no longer about profiling, but about taking a pragmatic approach to protecting people. Unfortunately for the innocent people in most of the listed countries there are a significant amount of people there that want to do harm to Americans. It's up to the American government to protect its people and airlines from terrorist attack, and this seems like a practical way to do it. Until the systems are in place that can subject every passenger at an airport to a high level of scrutiny without causing complete gridlock we have to do the best we can with what we have. I think that means using intelligence we gather to focus screening procedures, which may mean some are singled out over others.
In the end, if you are flying to the U.S., you may just have to accept the fact that you may be subjected to more security than normal. Even if you are an American and you travel to one of these countries it seems that you will be treated in this way, and you should be. It's your choice to travel overseas, but it is not your choice to avoid security procedures that are in place when you travel, whether you think they are fair or not. If you don't want to risk being singled out in a security line and possibly feeling a little embarrassed then don't go to an airport.