AIRPORT SCREENERS SHOULDN'T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT POLITICAL STATU.S.
by Tom Mitsoff
American Reporter Correspondent
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- What's an airport security guard to do? There may be some doubt in his or her mind after recent events.
On Tuesday, security guards at Washington's Reagan National Airport forced U.S. Rep. John Dingell to strip to his underwear before boarding a flight to Detroit. The guards at the Northwest Airlines terminal did not believe the 75-year-old congressman's explanation about his metallic hip replacement, which triggered the metal detector mechanism.
"They felt me up and down like a prize steer," Dingell, D-Mich., told the Associated Press. "I was very nice, but I probably showed I was displeased."
This follows the Christmas Day case of an Arab-American Secret Service agent who was removed from an American Airlines flight from Baltimore to Texas, where he helps protect President Bush.
The airline's report on the incident indicated that the discovery of a Middle Eastern history book in the officer's carry-on luggage raised concern. Then, paperwork verifying his authorization to carry a firearm was not completed to the satisfaction of the pilot, and the agent was removed from the flight.
In both cases, high-ranking federal officials quickly jumped to the defense of the passengers who felt they had been wronged. President Bush, uponhearing of the incident involving the Secret Service agent, immediately delared that if the agent "was treated that way because of his ethnicity, that will make me madder than heck."
There is little gray area in that statement, and Bush didn't express any support for the security officials who detained someone with altered paperwork who was carrying a firearm.
Rep. Dingell, who is black, immediately sought the help of Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta. The congressman asked Mineta to determine whether he had been treated differently than other passengers in his situation.
If you're a member of airport security, what message do these federal challenges to your actions send? You believe that you are doing your job, and making your decisions based on a better-safe-than-sorry stance. The result? The president and the transportation secretary jump to the defense of their fellow federal employees and elected officials. So now what do you do if you're a security officer? It has to be in the back of your mind that if the passenger who seems to have failed standard security checks is a person of some influence, you could find yourself scrutinized and criticized.
The Secret Service agent's ethnicity was unquestionably a factor in increased scrutiny of him by the crew. In light of the fact that all 19 of the Sept. 11 hijackers were of Arab descent, security officials would be daft to ignore an armed person of Arab ethnicity whose paperwork did not seem to be in order.
It turns out that the agent had filled out forms required for carrying firearms for an earlier flight. But after that flight was cancelled, an American Airlines employee helping to place him on an alternate flight was unable to find blank forms, the agent's lawyers said, and instead crossed out the flight and seat numbers on the original form. The pilot's report said that the forms were unreadable and missing information.
Most importantly, the president and a member of his cabinet have leftdoubts and questions in the minds of security officials about whethera take-no-chances approach is really what the leadership wants. That fact could prove to be very dangerous down the line, and the president and other federal officials should make it crystal clear that they support and appreciate the security officers' insistence on making sure people really are who they say they are.
America can't afford to have its airport security officials wondering about someone's political clout while metal detectors are going off.Tom Mitsoff is a longtime daily newspaper editor and syndicated columnist.