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When his 8-year old son was picked out of an airport line for a secondary screening, talk radio host was understanably exercised at the silliness that results from such random system. Then he heard 9-11 Commissioner John Lehman engage in a line of questioning that he described in this essay, Listen to Lehman: The press attention is on the wrong commissioners. (Michael Smerconish, April 15, 2004, National Review)
Richard Ben-Veniste and Bob Kerrey received the lion's share of media attention paid to last week's 9/11 Commission hearing with Condoleezza Rice, thanks to their generally intemperate questioning style. But while Ben-Veniste and Kerrey played to the cameras, it was their colleague, John Lehman, who was breaking new ground with the national-security adviser, but few noticed.

Lehman's focus was the transition between the Clinton and Bush administrations. He told Rice that he was "struck by the continuity of the policies rather than the differences," and then he proceeded to ask Rice a series of blunt questions as to what she was told during the transition.

Among Lehman's questions was this: "Were you aware that it was the policy...to fine airlines if they have more than two young Arab males in secondary questioning because that's discriminatory?"

Rice replied: "No, I have to say that the kind of inside arrangements for the FAA are not really in my...." (Lehman quickly followed up: "Well, these are not so inside.")

Watching the hearings on television with the rest of the nation, I wondered what in the world Secretary Lehman was talking about. This, I'd never heard before. Was he saying that the security of our airlines had been sacrificed by political correctness? A few days after the klieg lights had faded, I had the chance to ask him.

"We had testimony a couple of months ago from the past president of United, and current president of American Airlines that kind of shocked us all," Lehman told me. "They said under oath that indeed the Department of Transportation continued to fine any airline that was caught having more than two people of the same ethnic persuasion in a secondary line for line for questioning, including and especially, two Arabs."

Wait a minute. So if airline security had three suspicious Arab guys they had had to let one go because they'd reached a quota?

That was it, Lehman said, "because of this political correctness that became so entrenched in the 1990s, and continues in current administration. No one approves of racial profiling, that is not the issue. The fact is that Norwegian women are not, and 85-year-old women with aluminum walkers are not, the source of the terrorist threat. The fact is that our enemy is the violent Islamic extremism and the overwhelming number of people that one need to worry about are young Arab males, and to ask them a couple of extra questions seems to me to be common sense, yet if an airline does that in numbers that are more than proportionate to their number in particular line, then they get fined and that is why you see so many blue haired old ladies and people that are clearly not of Middle Eastern extraction being hauled out in such numbers because otherwise they get fined."
This all led him to the conclusion that: "Logic dictates that airport security take a longer, harder look at individuals who have ethnic, religious, nationality, and appearance factors in common with the Islamic extremist Middle Eastern men who have initiated war against us." Unlike most of the rest of us, his postion in public has afforded Mr. Smerconish the opportunity to have that opinion heard, on air, in print, and ultimately before a Senate committee, all of which experiences are detailed here.

Whether a full-length book is required to further the awfully limited argument -- that airlines and the TSA should be allowed to profile young men of Arab descent -- seems somewhat dubious, even if his point is near inarguable. Though the text is brief and brisk, a certain repetitiveness is inevitable and the reader may have trouble maintaining the same sense of indignation by page 190 that he felt on page 1. Still, there's certainly no harm in someone keeping the feds feet to the fire until the rules are changed and security concentrated on more likely risks than little kids and grandmothers.

My one quarrel with the book is that even on this limited point Mr. Smerconish's focus is too narrow. He claims that were he a member of the profiled group he'd not object, given the legitimate national security concerns; however, he does not suggest, as the evidence suggests he should, that the profiling be expanded to include his own cohort. He mentions John Walker Lindh, Robert Reid (the Shoe Bomber), Timothy McVeigh, and others in passing, but is overly dismissive of their example. Indeed, at one point he discusses a purported al Qaeda cell that John Ashcroft warned the nation about and which included 6 Arab men and one American--the former Adam Pearlman. He argues that this breakdown shows that the main threat comes from Arabs, but it just as obviously indicates that a broader scrutiny, of all young white men, is justified. In fact, while it would presumably be fairly easy to pick out the young Arab men once you start looking for them, imagine the level of sifting you'd require to pick out the one American? Are all of us white men--say between the ages of 15 and 50--going to tolerate the kind of investigation and intrusion that it would require to find an Adam Pearlman? It seems unlikely.

Now, to his credit, though it doesn't appear in the book, Mr. Smerconish has elsewhere endorsed such security measures as a national I.D. card, which would affect everyone. The book would have been improved by broadening the discussion at least a little bit to include such other reforms. As is, it is readable and sensible, but rather parochial.


(Reviewed:)

Grade: (B-)

  

Websites:

See also:

Law
Michael Smerconish Links:

    -AUTHOR SITE: Michael Smerconish
    -RADIO SITE: Michael Smerconish (1210AM, The Big Talker)
    -ARCHIVES: Michael Smerconish (Philly.com)
    -ESSAY: Listen to Lehman: The press attention is on the wrong commissioners. (Michael Smerconish, April 15, 2004, National Review)
Richard Ben-Veniste and Bob Kerrey received the lion's share of media attention paid to last week's 9/11 Commission hearing with Condoleezza Rice, thanks to their generally intemperate questioning style. But while Ben-Veniste and Kerrey played to the cameras, it was their colleague, John Lehman, who was breaking new ground with the national-security adviser, but few noticed.

Lehman's focus was the transition between the Clinton and Bush administrations. He told Rice that he was "struck by the continuity of the policies rather than the differences," and then he proceeded to ask Rice a series of blunt questions as to what she was told during the transition.

Among Lehman's questions was this: "Were you aware that it was the policy...to fine airlines if they have more than two young Arab males in secondary questioning because that's discriminatory?"

Rice replied: "No, I have to say that the kind of inside arrangements for the FAA are not really in my...." (Lehman quickly followed up: "Well, these are not so inside.")

Watching the hearings on television with the rest of the nation, I wondered what in the world Secretary Lehman was talking about. This, I'd never heard before. Was he saying that the security of our airlines had been sacrificed by political correctness? A few days after the klieg lights had faded, I had the chance to ask him.

"We had testimony a couple of months ago from the past president of United, and current president of American Airlines that kind of shocked us all," Lehman told me. "They said under oath that indeed the Department of Transportation continued to fine any airline that was caught having more than two people of the same ethnic persuasion in a secondary line for line for questioning, including and especially, two Arabs."

Wait a minute. So if airline security had three suspicious Arab guys they had had to let one go because they'd reached a quota?

That was it, Lehman said, "because of this political correctness that became so entrenched in the 1990s, and continues in current administration. No one approves of racial profiling, that is not the issue. The fact is that Norwegian women are not, and 85-year-old women with aluminum walkers are not, the source of the terrorist threat. The fact is that our enemy is the violent Islamic extremism and the overwhelming number of people that one need to worry about are young Arab males, and to ask them a couple of extra questions seems to me to be common sense, yet if an airline does that in numbers that are more than proportionate to their number in particular line, then they get fined and that is why you see so many blue haired old ladies and people that are clearly not of Middle Eastern extraction being hauled out in such numbers because otherwise they get fined."

    -ESSAY: HE LOOKED TERROR IN THE EYE - AND BLINKED (Michael Smerconish, Feb. 24, 2005, Philadelphia Daily News)
    -ESSAY: Cat Stevens Islam: Not long ago airlines would have been fined for doing to Yusuf Islam what the U.S. government just did to him. Has Morning Broken? (Michael Smerconish, 9/27/2004, American Spectator)
    -INTERVIEW: Michael Smerconish (Philly Talk Radio May 15, 2002)
    -PROFILE: The Big Talker (Philly Mag, October 2001)
    -REVIEW: of Flying Blind: How Political Correctness Continues to Compromise Airline Safety Post 9/11 By Michael A. Smerconish, Esq. (Daniel J. Flynn , Townhall)
    -REVIEW: of Flying Blind (Daniel Pipes, Human Events)

Book-related and General Links:

    -REVIEW: of Flying Blind: How Political Correctness Continues to Compromise Airline Safety Post 9/11 By Michael A. Smerconish, Esq. (Daniel J. Flynn , Townhall)
    -REVIEW: of Flying Blind (Daniel Pipes, Human Events)
    -ESSAY: Flying Blind Against Islamic Terrorism (Accuracy in Media, January 5, 2005)

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