Patterico's Pontifications

7/24/2004

Ridiculous Government Policy Not Debunked

Filed under: Air Security,Terrorism — Patterico @ 3:30 pm

Among the issues raised by the recent “Terror in the Skies” article, by Annie Jacobsen, arguably the most frightening is that the U.S. government has told airlines not to give additional security screening to more than three people of the same ethnicity on the same flight. Back in April, I noted this disturbing allegation, the existence of which emerged from the 9/11 Commission hearings.

Now a blogger is purporting to have debunked this charge, by linking to this pathetically under-researched article at about.com, by someone named Kathy Gill. I first saw this alleged “debunking” in this post at Winds of Change.

However, the alleged “debunking” is nothing of the sort. The poor research of Gill’s article is an embarrassment, as I demonstrate below.

This policy is no urban legend. The available evidence shows that the Justice Department has told the airlines not to give additional screening to more than three or more Arabs on the same flight. This evidence, taken together with the numerous discrimination lawsuits filed by the federal government against the airlines — and settled to the tune of millions of dollars — shows that the federal government is actively working against common-sense measures in airport security.

Here are the details (many of which were originally provided by someone named “Geoffrey” in comments to the “debunking” post linked above):

The controversy began with this observation from Jacobsen’s “Terror in the Skies” article:

During the 9/11 hearings last April, 9/11 Commissioner John Lehman stated that “…it was the policy (before 9/11) and I believe remains the policy today to fine airlines if they have more than two young Arab males in secondary questioning because that’s discriminatory.”

Bizarrely enough, Kathy Gill’s about.com article opens by questioning the accuracy of this publicly available quote:

And my unanswered question is this: Is the incriminating statement attributed to [Lehman] accurate?

I am here to answer your unanswered questions, Kathy Gill. The quote is accurate, as a quick internet search would have told you. It is contained in the transcript, here.

Gill then attacks the accuracy of Lehman’s allegation, with fifth-hand evidence:

First, this posting from Daniel Pipes suggests that it is not accurate. He references a Philadelphia Daily News report that quotes Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) as saying his staff was told by the Department of Transportation that Lehman’s statement was untrue.

So, Dan Pipes says that the Philadelphia Daily News says that Arlen Specter says that his staff says that the Department of Transportation says that it’s not true. Good enough for me!

Now this is where it gets bizarre. Gill then says:

Second, I’ve read the transcript of the testimony at hearing seven of the 9-11 Commission, where United and American executives testified. Lehman’s allegation is not reflected in this testimony. Relevant parts follow:

And Gill proceeds to quote numerous not-so-relevant parts of the transcript. She then concludes her article by saying: “Note that there is no reference to ethnicity (Arab) or secondary questioning. There is only a reference to denied boarding and one possible fine.” (The emphasis here is Gill’s.)

But the transcript did contain a reference to ethnicity and secondary questioning. Lehman’s allegation is borne out by the transcript. Gill just missed it.

Here is the quote regarding the allegedly debunked claim, from the transcript of the 9/11 Commission hearings (via the Memory Hole — the official online transcript breaks off after a few paragraphs). In this excerpt, the Commissioners are speaking to Edmond L. Soliday, the former Vice President of Safety, Quality Assurance, and Security for United Airlines:

MR. SOLIDAY: . . . The problem is — and you can make light of it, if you like — a citizen does not have the right to search and seize. There are privacy issues and, for example, as a company who was prepared to roll CAPPS out and did roll it out long before any other company, a visitor from the Justice Department who told me that if I had more than three people of the same ethnic origin in line for additional screening, our system would be shut down as discriminatory.

MR. LEHMAN: That is an important point.

You bet it is.

(Side note: Soliday says that the policy would be considered discriminatory if there were more than three people of the same ethnicity screened — not two, as claimed by Lehman later in the hearings.)

What is the significance of such a statement by a Justice Department official to an airline representative? Well, consider this: since 9/11, the government has filed lawsuits against at least three airlines (American, United, and Continental) for alleged discrimination against Middle Eastern passengers. Collectively, those lawsuits cost the airlines millions of dollars. And if the DoJ says you are acting in a discriminatory fashion, that fact could be used in similar lawsuits in the future.

The filing of these lawsuits has likely caused airline officials to pay special attention to what Justice Department officials tell them is discriminatory. If you are running an airline that the government has sued for discriminatory practices to the tune of millions, and the Justice Department tells you that a particular procedure is discriminatory, whatcha gonna do?

I don’t find it terribly significant that, according to the “debunking” blogger, the Department of Transportation has issued an official denial of such a policy (as reported by Michael Smerconish here):

“…A member of the 9/11 Commission was incorrect in telling… that the Federal Aviation Administration used a quota restricting the number of foreign passengers that could be subjected to secondary screening at one time. Despite the testimony… cited in your column, secondary screening of passengers is random or behavior-based. It is not now, nor has ever been based on ethnicity, religion or appearance.”

Even if the DoT has issued such a denial, the DoT is not the DoJ. To my knowledge, the Department of Justice has never officially denied that the relevant statement was made to Soliday, or indeed that it would not deem it discriminatory to require more than two Arabs to additional screening.

Even if there is no specific regulation on the books preventing more than three individuals of the same ethnicity from being screened, there is evidence that the government has, in effect, told the airlines that they had better not do that, or there will be consequences.

I find that disturbing. If Ms. Jacobsen’s piece has done nothing but highlight this ridiculous policy of our federal government, it has performed a valuable service.

4 Responses to “Ridiculous Government Policy Not Debunked”

  1. An important question for the lawsuit-averse airline executive (eg Soliday) must be, “Who would file the potentially expensive and embarassing lawsuits that I am worrying about?

    If it’s DoT and DoJ lawyers just act as hired guns, I’ll pay attention to DoT and TSA statements and policies.

    If it’s DoJ, say the Civil Rights division, I’ll listen hard if a DoJ staffer offers me some informal advice about the exposure that could result from too many Arabs in the search line.

    If it’s individual passengers, I’ll protect my company by … by … well, I don’t know, IANAL.

    Any thoughts?

    AMac (520f51)

  2. You quoted Kathy Gill saying, “First, this posting from Daniel Pipes suggests that it is not accurate. He references a Philadelphia Daily News report that quotes Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) as saying his staff was told by the Department of Transportation that Lehman’s statement was untrue.”

    You went on to say, “So, Dan Pipes says that the Philadelphia Daily News says that Arlen Specter says that his staff says that the Department of Transportation says that it’s not true. Good enough for me!

    Not so fast, Patterico!

    Letís look at what the Pipes web-log entry that Gill cites actually says. Scrolling down, the April 29, 2004 update reads:

    “More from Michael Smerconish on this matter. He found two statements given by airline executives to the 9/11 Commission on Jan. 27, 2004, that back up the Lehman and Kelleher comments. A security expert for United Airlines, Edmond Soliday, testified about “a visitor from the Justice Department who told me that if I had more than three people of the same ethnic origin in line for additional screening, our system would be shut down as discriminatory.” In addition, the CEO of American Airlines, Gerard Arpey, testified that when the crew was uncomfortable with passengers on their plane and asked that they be removed, the Department of the Transportation sued the airline. Smerconish is trying to get the policy straight from the DoT but running into resistance and writes that he’s starting to think “cover-up.”

    Far from supporting Gillís effort to discredit Lehmanís allegation, Pipesí entry adds weight to the substance of Lehmanís charge!

    It gets better. Michael Smerconish is the The Philadelphia Daily News reporter Gill referenced through Pipes, to the effect that DoT says that Lehmanís allegation is untrue. Smerconishís follow-up 4/29/04 article–linked by Pipes– does indeed relay the DoT statement. But Smerconish contrasts it with the Edmond Soliday testimony, with testimony from Gerard Arpey (AA CEO), and with an interview with Herb Kelleher (founder of Southwest).

    Smerconishís take:

    “After I first wrote about this subject, DoT denied that it ever restricted the number of individuals of one ethnic group who could be questioned at one time, implying that Lehman, Soliday and Arpey all got it wrong:

    Ď…A member of the 9/11 Commission was incorrect in telling… that the Federal Aviation Administration used a quota restricting the number of foreign passengers that could be subjected to secondary screening at one time. Despite the testimony… cited in your column, secondary screening of passengers is random or behavior-based. It is not now, nor has ever been based on ethnicity, religion or appearance.í

    “Wait a minute. Is that supposed to make us feel better? Safer? Hardly. I think DOT is part of the problem and so is the law on which their policy is based.”

    He concludes:

    “I’m starting to think “cover-up” as I wait for DOT to explain why:
    — The security chief for United testified that United was told to limit the number of Arabs being questioned at one time.
    — The CEO of American testified that American’s been sued by DOT when crew have asked that certain passengers be removed.
    — Herb Kelleher confirmed the aura of political correctness.
    –John Lehman felt compelled to ask Condi about this subject.

    “Clearly, DOT still doesn’t get it. Logic dictates that airport security take a longer, harder look at individuals who have ethnic, religious and appearance factors in common with the Islamic extremist men who have initiated war against us.”

    Patterico, this is the source material that Kathy Gill used to debunk the claim that Lehmanís concerns had any merit. Still good enough for you?

    AMac (6b04b2)

  3. Well, you understood I was being sarcastic, right? I mean, I was talking about fifth-hand hearsay (A says that B says that C says that D says that E says . . .) I thought it was clear that I was mocking that.

    Patterico (f7b3e5)

  4. Yeah, your mockery was clear.

    Gill’s “debunking” account was not based on hearsay. Hearsay may or may not be true. In this case, the evidentiary support collapses when one follows the links she supplies in her about.com piece. I think she disingenously relies on quoting out of context.

    Pipes doesn’t take the position that Gill has him taking.

    Snercomish doesn’t take the position that Gill attributes Pipes attributing to him.

    Sorry I wasn’t clear in my turn.

    AMac (90f100)


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