Video: TSA's New Security Policy: Small Talk!
updated 12/30/2005 12:04:26 PM ET 2005-12-30T17:04:26

A new policy at the Transportation Security Administration has high hopes that talk can help prevent terrorism.

Screeners at 40 airports are going to start to question travelers to try to identify potential terrorists.  Passengers are going to be questioned, while screeners observe their behavior and their body language.  Those failing this talk test will undergo extra physical screening and more questioning. 

But is this just more of the same from the P.C. police, who are trying to avoid criminal profiling that would actually help identify who the real terrorists are? 

Radio talk show host Michael Smerconish, who is author of “Flying Blind: How Political Correctness Continues to Compromise Air Safety,” and terrorism expert Steve Emerson joined MSNBC's Joe Scarborough on Thursday to talk about the new plan and the state of airline security.

To read an excerpt from their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST, ‘SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY’:  Michael, you have been on the block with this one.  We have talked about it an awful lot.  Now the TSA is moving into a new policy about how they're going to chat up these passengers.  Why don't they just pull over passengers that fit the profile of the 19 hijackers on 9/11? 


SCARBOROUGH:  Why don't they? 

SMERCONISH:  Well, because they're gutless.  It's really remarkable.  And it's an administration that largely I support, an administration willing to eavesdrop through the NSA on Americans and yet unwilling to take into account the common denominators of those 19 individuals on September 11.  And I just can't explain it. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, Michael, you're a lawyer.  You're a lawyer, Michael.  Answer the question.  The ACLU, of course, would go crazy if you actually did in airports what police officers do across America.  They certainly don't pull over Boy Scouts when there's a bank robbery.  They certainly don't pull over grandmas when there's been an assault in Center City, but they for some reason will do that at airports. 

Is it unconstitutional to say, OK, when we have got Arab males on 9/11, Arab males in the USS Cole, Arab males at Khobar Towers, Arab at the first 9/11 -- I mean, the first World Trade Center attack?  Is that unconstitutional?  Can we do it? 

SMERCONISH:  I believe that it is absolutely constitutional, and I wrote about that subject. 

But the administration has not wanted to test it.  Listen, street smarts is what I'm embracing here.  And, Joe, August 4, 2001, street smarts were used by an astute INS agent named Jose Melendez.  And listen to what happened in Orlando.  A Saudi national, a month before September 11, comes before him and his passport is fine and there's nothing in his bag that's suspicious, but according to Jose Melendez:  He just gave me the creeps. 

And so he engaged the man in conversation, and in the end he said I don't like the guy.  I'm sending him back to Saudi Arabia.  What we found out is that Mohamed Atta was there to pick the man up, and he would have been the 20th hijacker.  So, that's what I'm embracing.  I'm embracing street smarts, and the TSA has taken a small step in that direction. 

But, my God, why didn't they do this on September the 12th?  And why are they, Joe, going to waste time with guys who look like you, look like me, who look like a grandmother in a wheelchair going down to Miami?  Because you know that's what they're going to do because they don't want to offend Abdul and Mohammed, who are standing behind in line us. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Steve, is this more of the same from the P.C. police or is this a good police tactic, to talk to people? 

STEVE EMERSON, NBC TERRORISM ANALYST:  No, I'm outgunned by you guys. 

You guys are right on target here.  The fact of the matter is that they need to be taking into account, as part of a matrix, ethnicity, nationality, travel areas, patterns of travel. 

There should be a pattern of factors that lead one to believe that this is a certain group that that carry out terrorism more than others.  Let me read to you a quote written by the general manager of the Al-Arabiya television station. 

He wrote: “It is a certain fact that not all Muslims are terrorists, but it is equally certain and exceptionally painful that almost all terrorists are Muslims.”

Look, the fact of the matter is, there are blond Muslim terrorists, as we know from Congress.  On the other hand, most of them come from the Middle East or they come from Indonesia, and we need to take that into account. 

Behavioral pattern recognition is an important step, but, as Michael said, this should have been taken on September 10, 11, and 12. 

SCARBOROUGH:  So, why doesn't the administration embrace this?

Listen, all three of us agree, and I would guess 90 to 95 percent of Americans would agree also, that instead of pulling over a grandma, an African-American grandmother, or a Caucasian Boy Scout, why don't you pull over a 21-year-old Arab from Saudi Arabia that's visiting this country that fits the profile? 

Again, Steve, you have studied this your whole life; 9/11, the USS Cole, the Khobar Tower attacks, the first World Trade Center attack, the Beirut attacks, they're all the same profile.  They're young Arab males.  I'm not being racist.  I'm just trying to save lives.  What's wrong with that? 

EMERSON:  Look, there's a refusal.  Look, I don't say that you should just pull over somebody because they're Arab and they're male. 

I say that their background is part of a larger matrix.  But we refused actually until this program was instituted or is about to be instituted to even consider behavior as part of a matrix, and that is absurd.  Somebody who's nervously walking around with a backpack in 120-degree weather should be pulled over for a secondary inspection. 

He shouldn't be just relegated to some type of pat on the back and saying, nice going, Mister.  Go right on board. 

The reality is that political correctness runs amuck sometimes, as Michael is 100 percent right.  It is flying while blind. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Let's look at some of the body language signs that these screeners are going to be looking for when this program starts.

They're going to look for chapped or dry lips, a pounding CARTOID artery?


SCARBOROUGH:  Eyes darting around, avoiding eye contact, wearing a heavy coat during the summertime.

SCARBOROUGH:  But do you know what, Michael?  I can already tell you where this is going to go.  I'm going to be walking through an airport trying to get to my plane, and some jackal is going to pull me over and start trying to chat me up because he knows people are looking. 

SMERCONISH:  Absolutely. 

SCARBOROUGH:  We have got to pull over white guys.  We have got to pull over black guys. 

We have got to pull over young kids.  We have got to pull over grandmas.  It's more of the same, isn't it?  We're going to have grannies in wheelchairs who are going to be pulled over by these guys, aren't we? 

SMERCONISH:  Joe, I got started down the road on this whole subject when, on a routine flight from Atlantic City to Florida, my 7-year-old son was singled out.  And it was such a joke, because the woman handed me his boarding pass with a big red X on it. 

And if I were a guy up to no good, I think I would have gone back to the parking lot with my bomb by then.  So, there stands my young boy, and he's the one we're wasting time on.  And I wish the TSA would have the guts to say, and we're going to avoid those individuals.  We're not going to waste our time. 

SMERCONISH:  Right now, 16 percent of those who fly are being singled out for secondary screening on a random basis, and the TSA says that number is now going to escalate with the chitchat, and I'm sure everybody watching this can articulate an example of where they saw someone who clearly didn't fit the profile who was getting a workout. 

And I think that you and I and Steve can all agree, everybody goes through the metal detector, everybody has some level of scrutiny, but for God's sakes, don't waste the precious resources on Thurston Howell III, until Thurston Howell III is someone who fits the prototype. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Steve Emerson, you and I both understand, the Bush administration is very serious when it comes to combating terrorism.  In fact, they're extremely aggressive in ways that are offending a lot of civil libertarians. 

But if they're so tough in all these other areas, why are they so weak in the one area that we get hammered on, on 9/11?  Michael's talking about his 7-year-old boy that is getting frisked in airports.  I will see his 7-year-old boy and raise him my 2-year-old girl.  Why are they pulling over 2-year-old baby daughters, yanking them out of their mother's hands, and frisking them? 

EMERSON:  Listen, Joe, the fact of the matter is that the policies of the White House are not being pushed or asked to be enforced by other agencies, TSA included. 

This is why the FBI headquarters sometimes meets with groups that are known to have ties to bad groups, to bad organizations overseas and have made incendiary statements. 

SCARBOROUGH:  What are you saying?  Are you saying that organizations inside the administration, like the TSA, aren't obeying the White House? 

EMERSON:  I'm saying that the White House isn't implementing and asking all of its agents, representative agencies, to enforce a consistent policy on terrorism.  Absolutely. 

That's the same reason why even officials of the Justice Department attended this convention two weeks ago in Los Angeles, honoring a group that has been known to have made incendiary statements in support of Hezbollah and Hamas. 

There should have been no representation of the U.S. government.  And the White House was acutely embarrassed, as it should have been.  And that's because they aren't asking and demanding that all other agencies and departments adhere to one consistent policy on anti-terrorism. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Steve, this is where we get hit on September 11.  There are a lot of children out there without fathers and mothers, a lot of spouses who are going to bed tonight without their loved ones, because we had—our Achilles' heel was in the airport security part of the equation here in national security.  So, why is it that the administration is allowing this to continue, what, four years after September 11? 

EMERSON:  Partly because of Norman Mineta, who is secretary of transportation, who set the policy. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Why don't they fire him? 

EMERSON:  Well, you know, it's a higher pay grade than I can answer, but the fact is it's not a matter of firing him.  It's a matter of asking him to adhere to the president's policies that are common sense. 

Look, profiling has got a dirty-word connotation to it, but it's not dirty.  It's statistical representation.  That's all it is.  And it's basically designed to ensure that don't have to frisk everybody, so you use people that are scientifically known to be representative of a potential suspect pool. 

That's what profiling is.  And, yes, innocent people get caught up in it, but the reality is, it works.  It works when you round up rapists and pedophiles and other types of criminals. 

SMERCONISH:  Joe, may I just add that I testified in front of a Senate committee on this very issue, and I had a lot of conversations with your former colleagues in the Congress, and one on one they all embrace what we are saying.

But Steve's really put his finger on it.  Nobody wants to be the spokesperson for the dirty P-word.  They think that in political circles it has a negative connotation.  They don't want to be anywhere near it. 

Norman Mineta should have been the first fired from the Bush administration.  And remarkably he was the first individual who was allowed to be a holdover into the second administration.  So, the original fault absolutely lies with Mineta. 

Now, this screening process is no longer under his umbrella.  It's part of the Department of Homeland Security.  I have always respected my former governor here in Pennsylvania, Tom Ridge, but, frankly,, he's got culpability.  They all have culpability. 


SMERCONISH:  If you told me that John Kerry were elected and this were the policy, I would say OK, it makes sense.  But, my God, it's W., and it's happening on his watch. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You're right, Michael, and you know what?  We can blame everybody we want to, but in the end, like Harry Truman said, the buck stops at the White House, in the Oval Office.

And we are pleading with you tonight, Mr. President, please, step forward and take control of this situation and stop the asinine profiling of little children, of grandmoms, and of people that do not fit the profile. 

You want to know a dirty P-word?  Profiling may be a dirty P-word.  How about a positive P-word, like protecting Americans?  That's what this all comes down to. 

Catch 'Scarborough Country' each weeknight at 10 p.m. ET

© 2013 Reprints


Discussion comments