Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Bring Back Profiling

Remember the good old days when the only crazies you had to worry about on flights were the ones who wanted to take you on a detour to Cuba? You’d land in Havana, maybe get the chance for a cup of good espresso with a fresh cigar and then head back to the U.S.

I’m not romanticizing what these guys did. I’m sure it was terrifying. And sadly some passengers died. I just want to make a point.

But at least the hijackers had somewhat plausible explanations for their actions.

For example,

On February 16, 1970, man who was born in Cuba, with wife and two children, successfully hijacked a 727 from Newark to Cuba;

In April 1970, a man who diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia hijacked a plane on a sightseeing tour with his wife pulling a gun on the pilot demanding to be flown to Cuba. He told Cuban authorities “he felt persecuted as a black man in America and had heard that things would be better in Cuba.” Cuba suspected him of being a spy and deported him 1976. On arrival he was arrested for the hijacking by the FBI. He was freed in 1981 after spending years in jail and a mental hospital;

And on July 31, 2001, John Milo Reese stole a plane from Florida Keys Marathon Airport with the reported intention of delivering a pizza to Fidel Castro in an attempt to kidnap the Cuban leader. After crash-landing on a Cuban beach, he was returned to the U.S., where he was convicted of transporting a stolen aircraft, and was sentenced to six months in jail. In a later interview, he admitted to being slightly intoxicated and having lost his bearings in the air.

Now compare these to what Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab did on Christmas Day. It wasn’t to be with family; it wasn’t for political freedom; it wasn’t even to score with a hot chick! He said he was depressed and looking for a new jihad. Give me break.

As is typical for the terrorists of this decade, it was to destroy what the U.S. stands for. And he wasn’t just willing to die for his distorted belief, he wanted to die. How off the wall is that!

Now as traveling boomers, we’ll have to pay the price. I’m not looking forward to being told I can’t go the bathroom within one hour of my arrival time. Nor will I be able to rummage around in my backpack for a snack or a paperback. And I can’t even put a blanket or pillow on my lap!

If the TSA thinks these kinds of ridiculous rules will stop someone who wants to die, they’re wasting their time and our money. Profiling passengers while they’re in the airport is the only strategy that has a chance of working.

Look, if the overwhelming majority of terrorists to date were males of German-English background with blond hair and blue eyes and in the 50-60 age bracket, I’d have absolutely no problem with being pulled aside for a vigorous search. That is, as long as every one who fit the profile was treated the same way.

I’ve traveled to places like Hamburg, London, Santiago, Lima and Panama way before today’s terrorists were a glimmer in their fathers’ eyes. And I can tell you that even back then countries in Europe and Latin American could’ve cared less about hurting the feelings of anyone who gave the slightest indication of being up to something wrong.

And even today, Costa Rica, which doesn’t have an army, puts handguns on the hips of workers who man the security check points. Do you think they practice racial and ethic profiling? I can almost guarantee it.

However, that’ll never happen here. We live in a country that’s now afraid we might offend certain groups. Yet those same groups use that fear against us. Go figure.

So in the meantime, they best you can do, fellow travelers, is to stay alert. And just hope the screaming baby sitting in its mother’s lap next to you doesn’t need a diaper change 59 minutes before your flight is supposed to land.

Happy Traveling,


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