In June 2001, as Mohammed Atta completed his final “to do” list before the 9/11 attacks — ” . . . *amend will to ban women from my funeral . . . *leave extra little Friskies out for Mr. Buttons . . . *set TiVo for Streisand on ‘Inside the Actors’ Studio’ . . . ” — Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta was conducting a major study on whether airport security was improperly screening passengers based on ethnicity. As Mineta explained: “We must protect the civil rights of airline passengers.” Protecting airline passengers from sudden death has never made it onto Mineta’s radar screen.
A few months later, after 19 Muslim men hijacked U.S. airplanes and turned them into weapons of mass destruction on American soil, Mineta was a whirlwind of activity. On September 21, as the remains of thousands of Americans lay smoldering at Ground Zero, Mineta fired off a letter to all U.S. airlines forbidding them from implementing the one security measure that would have prevented 9/11: subjecting Middle Eastern passengers to an added degree of pre-flight scrutiny. He sternly reminded the airlines that it was illegal to discriminate against passengers based on their race, color, national or ethnic origin, or religion.
Mineta would have sent the letter even sooner, but he wanted to give the airlines enough time to count the number of their employees and customers who had just been murdered by Arab passengers.
On Sept. 27, 2001, The American Civil Liberties Union sent out a press release titled, “ACLU Applauds Sensible Scope of Bush Airport Security Plan,” which narrowly won out over the headline: “Fox Approves Henhouse Security Plan.” As a rule of thumb, any security plan approved by the ACLU puts American lives at risk. ACLU Associate Director Barry Steinhardt praised Bush’s Transportation Department for showing “an admirable degree of restraint by not suggesting airport security procedures that would deny civil liberties as a condition of air travel.” The ACLU had zeroed in on the true meaning of 9/11: Americans needed to be more tolerant of and sensitive toward ethnic minorities.
Flush with praise from the ACLU, Mineta set to work suing airlines for removing passengers perceived to be of Arab, Middle Eastern or Southeast Asian descent, and/or Muslim. If we’re going to start shifting money around based on who’s rude to whom, my guess is Muslims are going to end up in the red. But that’s not how Mineta’s Department of Transportation sees it.
Despite Mineta’s clearly worded letter immediately after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and another follow-up letter in October, the Department of Transportation found that in the weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks carried out by Middle Eastern men, the airlines were targeting passengers who appeared to be Middle Eastern. To his horror, Mineta discovered that the airlines were using logic and deductive reasoning to safeguard their passengers — in direct violation of his just-issued guidelines on racial profiling!
The Department of Transportation filed a complaint against United Airlines, claiming United removed passengers from flights in “a few instances” based on their race, color, national origin, religion or ancestry. Mineta gave United no credit for so scrupulously ignoring ethnicity on September 11 that it lost four pilots, 12 flight attendants, and 84 passengers (not including the nine Arab hijackers). In November 2003, United settled the case for $1.5 million.
In another crucial anti-terrorism investigation undertaken by Norman Mineta, the Department of Transportation claimed that between Sept. 11, 2001, and Dec. 31, 2001, American Airlines–which lost four pilots, 13 flight attendants and 129 passengers (not including 10 Arab hijackers) on September 11 by ignoring the ethnicity of its passengers–removed 10 individuals who appeared to be Middle Eastern from American Airline flights as alleged security risks. On March 1, 2004, American Airlines settled the case for $1.5 million.
The Department of Transportation also charged Continental Airlines with discriminating against passengers who appeared to be Arab, Middle Eastern or Muslim after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In April 2004, Continental Airlines settled the complaint for $500,000.
Like many of you, I carefully reviewed the lawsuits against the airlines in order to determine which airlines had engaged in the most egregious discrimination, so I could fly only that airline. But oddly, rather than bragging about the charges, the airlines heatedly denied discriminating against Middle Eastern passengers. What a wasted marketing opportunity! Imagine the great slogans the airlines could use:
- “Now Frisking All Arabs–Twice!”
- “More Civil Rights Lawsuits Brought by Arabs Than Any Other Airline!”
- “The Friendly Skies–Unless You’re an Arab”
- “You Are Now Free to Move About the Cabin–Not So Fast, Mohammed!”
Worst of all, the Department of Transportation ordered the settlement money to be spent on civil rights programs to train airline staff to stop looking for terrorists, a practice known as digging your own grave and paying for the shovel. Airlines that have been the most vigilant against terrorism are forced by the government into re-education seminars to learn to suppress common sense. Airlines are being forced, at their own expense, to make commercial air travel more dangerous.
If John Kerry would promise to fire Norman Mineta and start racial profiling at the airports, I would campaign for him. Unfortunately, like George Bush, Kerry doesn’t travel commercial air with the little people.