From Mon Dec 18 18:21:51 2000
From: Sadanand, Nanjundiah (Physics) <>
To:, Elizabeth Aaronsohn <>
Cc: Mike Alewitz <>,
Subject: Airport Profiling Article in the Raleigh News and Observer
Date: Mon, 18 Dec 2000 17:13:06 -0500

Airline scrutiny at issue

By Thomasi McDonald, The Observer, 16 December 2000

Burhan Ghanayem hoped for a relaxing experience in August when he accompanied his brother and his brother’s family to Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

Ghanayem was seeing them off to the United Arab Emirates after a five-week stay at his house in Bahama. They all arrived at the airport three hours early.

But things took a sour turn, Ghanayem said, when an American Airlines employee sent the brother, his wife, their three children and 10 pieces of luggage across the airport to be scanned and searched with an X-ray machine in full view of the public.

My sister-in-law had her Islamic head cover on, and it was obvious that (the airline employee) decided that was sufficient to subject the whole family and luggage to special scrutiny, Ghanayem said.

Complaints like Ghanayem’s are not uncommon. In fact, Arab-Americans have a name for it: flying while Arab, a variation of the driving while black term that African-Americans use to describe what they feel is unfair targeting of black motorists by police.

Airline officials and federal administrators insist procedures designed to nab terrorists do not target passengers to be stopped and searched based on race or ethnicity. But they acknowledge such complaints are frequent enough to warrant further investigation.

Next month, the U.S. Department of Transportation will begin a study to determine whether security procedures unfairly target minority groups. The $1.5 million study will begin in Detroit, which has a heavy concentration of Middle Easterners, and will expand to five or six other major airports that are still to be chosen.

We don’t break the number of complaints down by ethnic group, but certainly the largest number are from Arab-Americans, said Bill Mosley, a DOT spokesman.

The DOT reported 78 complaints in 1997. There were 11 in 1998, 13 in 1999 and 10 this year.

Nearly all of them were based on race or religion, Mosley added.

Arab-American leaders say the number of complaints filed with the government may understate the problem because many don’t know where to make formal complaints or don’t bother to do so. The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in Washington, D.C., has received about 100 informal complaints a year since 1996.

Our numbers have been fairly consistent over the past four years, said Hussein Ibish, communications director for the group.

Arab-American advocacy groups say incidents escalate after terrorist attacks, such as the one on the USS Cole in October in Yemen.

Al Becker, a spokesman for American Airlines in Fort Worth, Texas, said managers at RDU could not recall the Ghanayem incident, and he insisted the air carrier’s security procedures do not target any ethnic group. Becker would not comment specifically, however, on how the airline chooses passengers for extra scrutiny, calling it a security issue.

Airline passenger screenings have been used for more than 25 years, said Kathleen Bergen, a spokeswoman with the Federal Aviation Administration’s southern regional offices in Atlanta. But procedures have been tightened in recent years amid concerns about terrorism.

In 1996, a panel on air travel safety led by Vice President Al Gore recommended that a profiling system for screening air travelers be enforced. The following year, airports in the United States began using a computer profiling software program called Computer-Assisted Passenger Prescreening, or CAPS.

The searches are federally mandated and conducted by airlines, not by the airports.

The profiling criteria is based on information from law enforcement and intelligence agencies to identify suspicious travelers, Bergen said. I can’t tell you the specifics because that would tell terrorists how to defeat the system. But she did say the factors do not include race, ethnicity or religion.

Bergen said the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, in a 1997 report, stated that the CAPS program did not violate Americans’ civil rights. She added that any reports of misapplication of passenger screening are investigated.

But Mosley, the DOT spokesman, acknowledged the agency is concerned that, although race or ethnicity are not profiling criteria, certain groups may be stopped disproportionately because of discretion used by airline employees or other factors.

The Department of Justice studied the criteria. Now we’re collecting data to see if it works like it’s supposed to, Mosley said. If not, then we’ll do whatever corrective steps that need to be taken.

Some Arab-Americans in the Triangle say the problem is mostly at larger U.S. airports and report no bad experiences at RDU.

It hasn’t been a problem for me or any of my family members, said Mohamed Boutrid, a spokesman with the Islamic Center of Raleigh. Nothing unusual. RDU is all right.

But others are convinced too many of them are singled out for extra scrutiny, even at RDU.

Everybody knows of a family member or friend who went through it, said Rajaie Qubain, president of the North Carolina chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. Qubain, 36, a Palestinian who has lived in the United States for 25 years, said he has been searched three times at RDU in the past year or so.

The searches occurred during travel within the United States on three different air carriers, Qubain said. In each instance, he said, as soon as he walked through a radar detector, airport employees ordered him to surrender his carry-on bag, which was searched on the spot.

I asked them, ‘What have I done? Nothing beeped when I went through,’ Qubain said. They told me it was normal procedure. Then they use an instrument—it’s not electronic, it’s like a felt pad that grabs dust and determines if it’s explosive.

Burhan Ghanayem recalls another incident in 1998 at RDU involving his second cousin, Wael Ghanayem, who was traveling to Jordan after spending a year in the Triangle preparing for a Certified Public Accountant’s exam.

When he went through the line, the lady checked his passport and credentials, then she pulled him aside and walked him upstairs to the second floor, Burhan Ghanayem said.

Once upstairs, Ghanayem said, a security official inspected his cousin’s carry-on luggage. The search did not turn up anything, and he was allowed to board his flight.

Wael Ghanayem works as an accountant in Saudi Arabia and could not be reached for comment.

Authorities say the airport searches are a necessary tool to combat terrorism, pointing to such high-profile incidents as the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York.

Unfortunately, this is the type of world we live in, said Bergen, the FAA spokeswoman.

But Ibish of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee said the FAA cannot point to a single instance in which airline-passenger profiling led to the apprehension of a suspected terrorist. He described the DOT study as a step in the right direction and hopes it will lead to an end of the practice.

If the study is conducted fairly, it will confirm what every Arab already knows, Ibish said. If you’re Arab and flying, then you may be singled out in a humiliating or even abusive way.

Whatever the study finds, it will likely have to be persuasive to assuage Burhan Ghanayem. Ghanayem complained to Reps. David Price and Bob Etheridge after the August incident at RDU and is awaiting results of their inquiries on his behalf.

The searches, Ghanayem said, were humiliating, infuriating, arrogant, rude and insensitive.