The Transportation Security Administration has a tough job. Providing security at the nation's airports is hard work with little room for error. Still, the importance and difficulty of the work does not give TSA officers the right to break the law or to violate an individual's civil rights. That, however, might be the case at Boston's Logan Airport, Some TSA agents there claim that fellow officers routinely engage in racial profiling.
If that's the case, the agency should face the consequences of their alleged acts. Hopefully, they will. The TSA says it is investigating the complaints. That's not enough. In a matter that involves legal, ethical and to national security issues, self-investigation is useless. An independent inquiry is required.
That's likely to occur. U.S. Rep. William Keating, D-Mass., already is asking for a congressional investigation. His call should be seconded by colleagues in both parties. The issue transcends the partisan divide.
The charges of racial profiling became public knowledge on Sunday, when the New York Times published a report citing misdeeds by officers in a program designed to spot possible terrorists through behavior detection methods pioneered by Israeli security experts. The program is designed to use appearance, body language and responses to questions to help identify security risks. It has proved useful elsewhere -- when it is properly employed.
Unfortunately, if the Logan whistle-blowers are correct, the program designed to detect suspicious behavior turned into a witch-hunt that routinely targeted Middle Easterners, blacks, Hispanics and other minorities. That's unacceptable, especially since the officers who charged the profiling was taking place also alleged that supervisors demanded that agents report a high number of stops to validate the success of the behavior detection effort.
The result, it seems, is that the TSA program shifted from one to detect and stop would-be terrorists to one that allegedly targetedorinary individuals far more likely to meet predetermined profiles.
That clearly turns the TSA from its antiterrorist mission to one that, if the charges are true, employs illegal methods for dubious ends. Anything -- racial profiling, included -- that deters TSA from its primary security task violates its mandate to serve and protect the public.
The charges of racial profiling are the latest in a series of TSA technical, logistical, personnel and public relations woes over the years. Generally, the problems have been overcome, though it is unlikely the issue of racial profiling will be resolved in short order.
Racial profiling is illegal and, some experts say, ineffective. Its alleged use by TSA is troubling. A prompt investigation free of partisan rancor is needed. Security for the nation's air travelers is essential, but those who fly should not have to surrender their rights and liberty in the quest for safety.