Security agents at Boston’s international airport. (Photo: AP/Josh Reynolds)
Security officers at Boston’s Logan International Airport have come under fire for the widespread racial profiling of Arabs, Muslims, Blacks and Hispanics in their zeal to ferret out terrorists.
The New York Times broke the story over the weekend after officers who requested anonymity came forward; some officers have complained internally to the Transportation Security Agency as well. A Massachusetts lawmaker has called for congressional hearings on the racial profiling allegations.
The Times reports that officers estimated that “80 percent” of passengers “searched during certain shifts” were people of color. What’s more, the Boston airport “is the testing ground for an expanded use of behavioral detection methods at airports around the country.”
But what’s not touched on in the Times report is the fact that Logan International’s security procedures are modeled on Israel’s policies at their own airport–policies that are blatantly racist.
More than 30 federal officers in an airport program intended to spot telltale mannerisms of potential terrorists say the operation has become a magnet for racial profiling, targeting not only Middle Easterners but also blacks, Hispanics and other minorities.
In interviews and internal complaints, officers from the Transportation Security Administration’s “behavior detection” program at Logan International Airport in Boston asserted that passengers who fit certain profiles — Hispanics traveling to Miami, for instance, or blacks wearing baseball caps backward — are much more likely to be stopped, searched and questioned for “suspicious” behavior.
The Israel connection is integral to understanding Boston’s racial profiling problems. In 2009, according to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Jerusalem Post reported that “Boston’s Logan Airport has tapped the Israeli company New Age Security Solutions to help secure the facility using Behavior Pattern Recognition.”
Even before 2009, the head of New Age Security Solutions was “consulting” with Logan International, according to NPR. In an interview, Rafi Ron, the head of the Israeli company and the former head of security at Ben-Gurion Airport, insisted that Israel does not “racially profile.” But Ron said that Israel uses “profiling that takes into consideration where somebody comes from, and if somebody’s home address is Gaza, we should be paying more attention to details.” (Ron also said in a more recent interview on Boston’s NPR station that “targeting minorities” is not a good idea.)
It took until August 2011 for the Israeli-inspired model to be operationalized. That was the date when the “behavioral profiling” became an official model at Boston’s airport–and this was “a direct result” of “Israeli influence” on security procedures at the airport, according to the Associated Press.
Fast-forward to the New York Times story. The Times reports that one anonymous TSA officer complained that this “behavior detection program is no longer a behavior-based program, but [rather] a racial profiling program.”
To observers of how Israeli security works at Ben Gurion Airport, the allegations of racial profiling will come as no surprise. Palestinian and Arab travelers at Ben Gurion are guaranteed to be harassed by Israeli security.
According to the Association of Civil Rights in Israel, “all Arab citizens of Israel are automatically categorized as a ‘security threat’ for the purpose of airport security checks…Arab passengers receive a discriminatory and humiliating treatment in airports, including a special and thorough search that extremely exceeds the usual security checks, only because the passenger is Arab and with no other concrete basis for suspicion.”
Darryl Li, a Harvard University graduate student at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, was not surprised at the revelations published by the New York Times. Li himself has been questioned extensively at Logan International, and while it was not due to his race, it was due to his travels to the Middle East.
“Over the past two years I have been subjected to additional interrogation by [Customs and Border Protection] every time I have entered the US at Logan. This has generally been triggered by visa stamps I have in my passport from Yemen, a country which I last visited in 2006 as a fellow at the American Institute for Yemeni Studies (which is supported by the US Departments of State and Education),” Li wrote in an email. “The scope of questioning goes far beyond routine matters of ascertaining my citizenship, searching for contraband, or inquiring about the nature of my trip. Instead, it seems that CBP has taken on an entirely new mandate of open-ended domestic intelligence gathering.”
The influence of Israeli-style security tactics extends far beyond Logan, as Max Blumenthal documented in this report, though the US has its own racial profiling problems separate from Israel’s. For example, after the failed attempt in 2010 to bomb an airliner on Christmas Day by a Nigerian-born member of Yemen’s Al Qaeda branch, the Obama administration announced that travelers from 14 countries would be subject to additional security screening. The countries were largely Muslim-majority ones. The administration dropped the program three months after it was implemented.
“Some in this country continue to hold a strange fascination with Israel as a ‘model’ for how to do coercion right,” said Li. “I prefer to think of it as a model for what to avoid.”