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HOW TO GET PROFILED | 2002-10-05

The first airline hijackings by Arabs broke out in 1970. About a month after that I took a trip to Africa with a lot of stops at airports in Europe.

Before the 1970 rash of hijackings there were absolutely no searches of airline passengers. In the early 1960s, I once accidentally stepped onto a plane at Memphis airport that was completely empty! I went into the cockpit looking for somebody and then got off and found the plane I was supposed to be on.

The 1970 hijackings changed everything. Each airline tried something different. A lot of them had each passenger come into a little room and get a quick frisk.

To my surprise I found that I was getting profiled. Other passengers would go in and get out of the search room in a couple of minutes. They went over me with a fine toothed comb, taking ten or fifteen minutes and double checking. This puzzled me.

Somewhere in the air over Africa, I suddenly realized why I was being searched so especially.

I once worked in a prison. Everybody who came in, including the warden, got frisked before being admitted inside. Usually it was a light check, but they also had random thorough searches of each person who came in regularly.

So when I walked into the little airline search room, I took the perfect stance for being frisked. I held my jacket out in my right hand, kept my knees bent slightly, and held my hands rigidly out.

If there was a wall I probably propped my hands against it.

This worried the searchers. You see, the average airline passenger does not go into frisk position routinely as if he has lined up in a police station a hundred times before.

Do you think I was upset at the airlines? Of couse not. I looked like I belonged to a suspect population, so they searched me. That was the whole point of the exercise.