Posted on January 11, 2010 in Reports

Washington, D.C. – January 11, 2010 – The Arab American Institute held a briefing on Capitol Hill entitled, Targeting Needles, or Adding More Hay?: Airport Profiling, 'Countries of Interest', and American Security, where three experts discussed the new Transportation Security Agency (TSA) screening regulations and the impact of these policies on aviation safety, affected travelers, and overall national security. The new TSA regulations require passengers traveling on passports from 14 countries, considered either “state sponsors of terror” or “countries of interest,” to be automatically subjected to enhanced screening procedures including full body searches and luggage inspections, in addition to the normal processes at security checkpoints in U.S. airports. Any passengers flying through and from those 14 nations must also submit to these additional searches on their way to the United States.

Watch the briefing



AAI President Dr. James Zogby moderated the panel which included Michael German, former FBI agent and current Policy Counsel on National Security, Immigration, and Privacy for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Jumana Musa, Policy Director at the Rights Working Group (RWG), and Amardeep Singh, co-founder of the Sikh Coalition.

Michael German began the discussion by addressing the downfalls of what he considers an “appalling” policy, one that is a, “proxy for racial profiling.” He specifically found three problems with the regulations: the policies are unconstitutional, inefficient, and counterproductive. According to Mr. German, “The constitution does not limit citizens’ rights; it…protects rights and limits the power of the government.” Second, concerning how effective the new policy is for capturing suspects of terrorism, Mr. German found the primary failing to be that too much information is being collected and, “none of it is being analyzed.” Finally, Mr. German asserted that the new measures are counterproductive, not only because they violate American values but also because they are simple for terrorists to bypass.

Jumana Musa echoed and reinforced Michael German’s concerns when she cited a startling statistic: out of 1200 people detained through profiling following September 11, only one had been prosecuted; that prosecution was later overturned due to prosecutorial misconduct. Furthermore, Ms. Musa stated that in the 1990s, when law enforcement began monitoring suspicious behavior instead profiling based on race, arrests of targeted suspects increased even though fewer searches were conducted.

Amardeep Singh continued the conversation with a hard-hitting truth, alerting the audience to the fact that despite what officials are saying, a system of racial profiling has been in effect long before these new measures were enacted. In fact, according to Mr. Singh, Sikhs are singled out for secondary screening at airports 100% of the time. Mr. Singh then raised specific concerns with the new TSA policy. He was alarmed, first and foremost, that, “what was once a de facto system is now a de jure system…what [law enforcement] is saying is, ‘I don’t care what your background is…if you’re a national of this country, you will get searched’”. Mr. Singh then pointed out a clear flaw in the new system; “if you list 14 countries, terrorists will go to country number 15”. He found that, by spelling out the policy, the TSA gives a “profile” for terrorists to avoid.

Finally, Mr. Singh was interested in how new full-body screening might be utilized to undermine profiling, an issue he admitted was not without controversy. If airports began using this new and currently uncommon technology as a primary screening source, he hypothesized, “you take away the discretionary element,” of screening, claiming that eleven of the fourteen airports with full body scanners use the devices only as a secondary screening procedure, and at the discretion of law enforcement officers. Finally, Mr. Singh listed three recommendations to TSA: first, “stop profiling”; second, the DHS Inspector General should conduct an audit to ensure the anti-profiling policies in place are being implemented; and, finally, to designate TSA a law enforcement agency in the End Racial Profiling Act, a bill that prohibits law enforcement from profiling based on ethnicity, religion, national origin or race.

The three panelists each recognized that the threat of terrorism requires additional measures to ensure the safety of air travel, but Mr. German, Ms. Musa, and Mr. Singh all agreed that the current system is counterproductive and that the new TSA policies are ineffective, ethically reprehensible, and ultimately harmful to American national security.