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Published: Friday, 8/17/2012

Terror profile

Transportation Security Administration employees are saying what many Americans feared: Agents are engaging in widespread racial and ethnic profiling of African-Americans, Hispanics, Middle Easterners, and other minorities in the name of airport security.

The New York Times reported that 32 TSA officers at Boston's international airport complained to their supervisors that such profiling was taking place. Similar practices were reported last year at airports in Newark, N.J., and Hawaii.

The employees said travelers have been stopped, searched, and questioned extensively, based not only on ethnicity and race, but also on their destination, dress, and jewelry. The officers believe some agents faced managers' demands to meet quotas for passengers referred to state police or federal agencies such as the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Although the TSA defended the behavior-detection program, it said it is investigating the profiling claims. That's the least it can do. Racial and ethnic profiling by government officers is at odds with American principles of freedom and justice. It cannot be justified by the post-9/11 paranoia that has become institutionalized in parts of the government.

The program doesn't make sense in security terms. A light-skinned terrorist who wished to get past TSA agents could in principle avoid close scrutiny with conservative dress and a polite smile.

If the reports are true, the racial targeting requires a rapid, decisive remedy by the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the TSA. The agency can't be permitted to bury the complaints and try to punish the whistleblowers.

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