The Latest Trouble With Racial Profiling

All that American Airlines and lawyers for a Secret Service agent agree on is that, on Christmas Day, the agent and his gun were aboard an American flight from Baltimore to Dallas for his assignment protecting the president at the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas. After that, accounts diverge: the agent, identified as Walied Shater, 33, an Arab-American, was told to leave the plane, sparking charges that he was the victim of illegal racial profiling and countercharges that, post-9-11, pilots should have absolute authority over who flies. Lost in the shouting is the fact that some top federal sleuths view profiling as a way to let bad guys slip through. "Profiling is just bad police work," says one U.S. Customs Service official.

Shater had filled out the required E2 form identifying him as a federal agent carrying a gun. But when American canceled his original flight and rebooked him, say his lawyers, the gate agent, unable to find a blank E2, crossed out the flight and seat numbers on the original form and wrote in the new ones. After Shater was seated, he was asked to leave the plane for more checks. While Shater was away, a flight attendant pulled out a book--"The Crusades Through Arab Eyes"--that Shater had left in his seat pocket. Flight attendants then told the pilot they were "concerned" about Shater and his book with "Arabic-style print," according to the incident report released by American. The pilot inspected Shater's E2, finding it illegible and incomplete. He left the cockpit to talk to Shater, who made "loud abusive comments," according to the report. Passenger Molly Reeve, 28, did not see a confrontation, but "I saw him come off the plane," she told NEWSWEEK. "He was not belligerent."

The pilot phoned a security manager at American headquarters, who later identified Shater through local law-enforcement agents. "With the lives of the... passengers and crew [at stake], I... edge[d] toward the side of safety," said the pilot in a statement.

President Bush said he would be "madder than heck" if Shater had been the victim of racial profiling. The Transportation Department is investigating the incident. Argues Hussein Ibish of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, "It's reasonable to give pilots wide latitude... but not if there's a pattern of decisions that reflect racial discrimination."

The public seems squarely behind the airline, reflecting the post-9-11 belief that security comes first. To many, criticism of racial profiling reflects not only political correctness, but the realization that it risks overlooking bad guys. In 1998 Customs eliminated racial profiling of airline passengers and implemented "passenger analysis," in which agents examine airline manifests for suspicious embarkation points and itineraries. It seems to work: in 2000, Customs conducted 70 percent fewer searches than in the late 1990s, but increased its yield of contraband 25 percent.

Sharon Begley and Debra Rosenberg

INVESTIGATIONS

Is the Torch Fireproof?

Torricelli came under scrutiny when questions were raised about whether he had accepted cash and luxury gifts, including presents for glamorous girlfriends, from businessman David Chang. Sources close to the investigation now acknowledge that severe problems with Chang's credibility would undermine any prosecution. Praising the prosecutor's decision, Torricelli's lawyers lambasted Chang as a "pathological liar and admitted perjurer." Said Chang's lawyer, Bradley Simon: "Torricelli had no problem with Chang's credibility when he was taking his money and his gifts."

Sources close to the Torricelli investigation say it lost momentum after September 11. The prosecutors handling the case were based close to Ground Zero and their office was already immersed in a major probe of Qaeda terrorism. Political and legal insiders now wonder whether the post-9-11 hangover will eventually sink another high-profile political- corruption investigation in the same jurisdiction: the inquiry into the controversial round of pardons signed by President Bill Clinton last January only hours before he left office. Lawyers close to the pardon investigation say they have detected little activity since September 11, though the inquiry is still officially open. Among elements of the probe they say appear "moribund": whether President Clinton or Mrs. Clinton was improperly influenced by pardon seekers, and whether presidential relatives like Roger Clinton and Mrs. Clinton's two brothers tried to sell pardons for cash.

EXCLUSIVE

A Key Link In The Qaeda Network

CONSPIRACIES

The Latest Terrorist Talk

CRIME

What's Behind The Numbers?

"That's what's driving us nuts," says police spokesman Patrick Camden in Chicago, which has the highest per capita murder rate in the nation. "I wish we could pinpoint where it's coming from, but we can't."

Some experts blame a sagging economy, a demographic bulge of young people and the large number of violent criminals being released from prison. Others point to a spike in homicides after 9-11, suggesting that criminals took advantage of local departments burdened by national-security concerns.

A few cities have initiated measures they hope will stem the tide. Boston Police Commissioner Paul Evans wants to stamp out what he calls "up close and personal" homicides, where perpetrators and victims are known to each other and the shootings are often retaliatory. His department is ramping up investigations into fatal and nonfatal shootings alike. "The fear is, if we don't apprehend the suspect," says Evans, "people take care of it themselves."

Seeing the same up-close and personal trend, St. Louis has started sending police officers to hospitals after shootings to identify friends of victims and to keep close tabs on them. "We want to stay on top of people who might get caught up in retaliatory violence," says St. Louis chief Joe Mokwa. "If we can't change their behavior, at least we can make sure they aren't carrying a gun."

In Phoenix, homicides dropped two years ago when the federal government tightened borders with Mexico, but, police say, spiked up again last year as narcotics traffickers learned to circumvent the Feds. "The common denominator for many of these killings is drugs," says department spokesman Det. Tony Morales. Cops there, he says, have plans to beef up narcotics enforcement.

In Chicago they're hoping their year-old accountability office, which makes commanders answerable for crimes that occur on their watch, will give police the edge they need. But police spokesman Camden admits it's not a sure fix. "The truth is, homicides are difficult to prevent. If we could find the cure, we'd patent it."

SCIENCE

A Breakthrough In Cloning

In both cases, researchers "knocked out" the pig gene that sticks sugar molecules onto the surface of organs; the human immune system attaches to those sugars, recognizes the organ as foreign and rejects it. PPL's five little piggies and Immerge's original seven (four survive) could therefore be important first steps in breeding swine to be organ donors--75,000 Americans are on waiting lists for organs--especially for pancreatic islet cells, hearts, kidneys and lungs. But Randall Prather, the University of Missouri biologist who cloned the pigs for Immerge, thinks gene knockouts will find even wider use. Eliminating a cow's kappa-casein gene could let it produce pricey goat's milk; knocking out the myostatin gene eliminates the brake on muscle growth and could yield meatier pigs and steers; knocking out the cystic fibrosis gene could create a pig that gets the disease and thus serve as a model for scientists researching a cure.

GROUND ZERO

A Platform With a View

Rockwell joined architects Kevin Kennon, Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio to design, raise funds and oversee four public viewing platforms in lower Manhattan. With the help of city officials and donated services and supplies, the first platform opened a week ago to the west of the site.

Like the viewing stand New York City officials erected for the victims' families, the new public platform is already covered in written messages, which the organizers expected. "It's designed in a modular way, so pieces can be saved," says Rockwell. The other three platforms should be open by the end of February. Meanwhile, architect Laura Kurgan devised a map to help visitors navigate lower Manhattan. With the help of New York New Visions: A Coalition for Rebuilding Lower Manhattan, the free maps show areas of destruction that are closed off and places to stand that offer a clear view of Ground Zero.

TRANSITION

Off To Play Fetch In The Sky

Julia Phillips picked the right name for her showbiz memoir. When "You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again" was published in 1991, the producer's name was yanked from Hollywood Rolodexes. She was the first woman to win a best-picture Oscar, but she collected her 1974 "Sting" statuette stoned, and drugs ruined her. She was sober when she struck back with her tell-all, butchering sacred cows like Steven Spielberg and accurately predicting how execs more obsessed with status than art would ruin the movies.

MOVIES

Double Play

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM

Buddy, We Hardly Knew Ye Edition

C.W. Bush = Blames his new massive deficit on 9-11. Not true, but it's working. Daschle = Blames deficit on ill-advised tax cut. Not true yet, and it's not working. Torricelli + Torch avoids immolation as Feds drop gift probe. But that doesn't mean he's clean. Mineta - Trans. sec. will let high-school dropouts work airport security. This guy just doesn't get it. Ambrose - Best-selling prof allegedly lifts passages from other historians. Whatever happened to scholarship? Buddy + Only Clinton friend who didn't need a lawyer felled by SUV. Semper Fido.