Muslim secret service agent removed from American Airlines flight

CAIR: "he felt he had been kicked off the Baltimore-to-Dallas flight because of his religion and ethnicity."

SALON.COM (AP)
27 December 2001

By Douglas Kiker

An Arab-American Secret Service agent assigned to President Bush's security detail was removed from an American Airlines flight after the pilot questioned his credentials, the Secret Service said Thursday. 

American Airlines spokesman Todd Burke said "inconsistencies" in paperwork filled out by the armed agent prompted his removal Tuesday. The captain decided a more thorough check was needed to confirm the identity of the agent, the spokesman said. 

Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said Thursday that the agent told him he felt he had been kicked off the Baltimore-to-Dallas flight because of his religion and ethnicity. 

But the airline spokesman said: "This has absolutely nothing to do with ethnicity of the agent. What this has to do with this was confirming that an armed individual was indeed who he said he was." 

The agent eventually traveled to Dallas on an American flight on Wednesday. He asked that his name not be released for security reasons. 

"We certainly apologize to the agent for any inconvenience," Burke said. "But during this time of heightened security, we feel no one is above the approved security procedures." 

Hooper said the group has written a letter to the airline asking for a clarification of its rules regarding "racial and ethnic discrimination." 

The Secret Service is conducting an inquiry into the incident, said spokesman Jim Mackin. 

The agent was flying to Texas, where Bush is scheduled to spend two weeks at his ranch in Crawford. A mechanical problem caused the agent's original flight to be canceled, but he was rebooked on an American flight, Hooper said. 

Once seated on the plane, Hooper said, airline security personnel asked the agent to submit to additional security checks. After a delay of an hour and 15 minutes -- during which the agent was questioned by the flight's pilot, airline officials and airport police -- he was ordered removed from the flight despite offering to have the Secret Service confirm his identity. 

Federal agents regularly travel armed aboard commercial flights, law enforcement officials said Thursday, and there is a routine procedure to ensure safety. 

Before boarding a plane armed, advance notice to the airline is given and an agent goes through several credential and identification checks. Once through security, the armed agent's seat assignment is noted on the flight manifest for the crew's knowledge. 

In addition, it is routine procedure for any armed agents to introduce themselves to the pilot or co-pilot upon boarding the plane. 

FBI spokesman Pete Gullota said an incident similar to the one Tuesday occurred shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. 

Gullota said an armed, off-duty FBI agent from the Baltimore office was not allowed to board a plane by a pilot despite following the security procedures for armed agents. Gullota refused to identify the airline but said the issue was cleared up and resulted in the pilot's suspension. 

"This, unfortunately, is not the first time something like that has happened," Gullota said. "In most instances the airlines are very happy to have us on-board. We don't just don't show up at gate armed. We go through routine and a whole lot of people are notified." 

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(Washington, DC, 12/27/2001) 

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Washington-based Islamic advocacy group, today demanded an apology from American Airlines for removing a Muslim Secret Service agent from a flight apparently based on religious and ethnic profiling. 

The agent (for security reasons, CAIR is not releasing his name) alleges that he was kicked off American Airlines Flight 363 from Baltimore to Dallas on December 25 because the captain had concerns about his identity, even though the agent went through the proper procedures for armed security personnel who are passengers. The agent's identification was subsequently checked several times by American personnel and by local police. He even offered to have the Secret Service confirm his identity. 

When the agent asked to go back on the plane to retrieve his jacket, the captain said: "I don't want him back on that plane." A code denying the agent access to other flights was also allegedly entered into American's computer system. 

In a letter faxed today to American Chairman Donald J. Carty, CAIR wrote: "We are concerned that American Airlines would arbitrarily deny boarding to a Muslim passenger, particularly someone who has one of our nation's highest security clearances, merely because of his religion or ethnicity. The passengers on Flight 363 would actually have been more secure had Agent ----- been allowed to board." 

"All Americans are concerned about improving safety for the traveling public, but religious and ethnic profiling is not the way to make flying more secure," said CAIR Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper. Hooper suggested instead that all passengers be subjected to heightened security checks, that new security screening technologies be funded and implemented and that airlines adopt strict baggage matching procedures. 

CAIR asked that American Airlines clarify its policy on racial and religious profiling so that a similar incident does not occur in the future. The group's civil rights department has received more than 160 reports of airport profiling of Muslims or those who are perceived to be "Middle Eastern" since the terrorist attacks of September 11. 

 

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