It was not until 2005 that Michael Tuohey surfaced. He was the veteran U.S. Air ticket agent in Portland, ME who checked in Mohammed Atta, the leader of the 19 9/11 terrorists, and a companion on the first leg of their trip that ended in the World Trade Center. Tuohey was interviewed by Oprah Winfrey:
Michael Tuohey was going to work like he had for 37 years, but little did he know that this day would change his life forever. On September 11, 2001, Tuohey, a ticket agent for U.S. Airways, checked in terrorist Mohammed Atta for a flight that started a chain of events that would change history.
Tuohey was working the U.S. Airways first-class check-in desk when two men, Atta and his companion Abdul Azziz-Alomari, approached his counter. From all outward appearances, the men seemed to be normal businessmen, but Tuohey felt something was wrong.
"I got an instant chill when I looked at [Atta]. I got this grip in my stomach and then, of course, I gave myself a political correct slap...I thought, 'My God, Michael, these are just a couple of Arab businessmen.'"
Tuohey also told David Hench of the Portland Press Herald:
Then his eyes locked on Atta.
"It just sent chills through you. You see his picture in the paper (now). You see more life in that picture than there is in flesh and blood," Tuohey said.
Then Tuohey went through an internal debate that still haunts him.
"I said to myself, 'If this guy doesn't look like an Arab terrorist, then nothing does.' Then I gave myself a mental slap, because in this day and age, it's not nice to say things like this," he said. "You've checked in hundreds of Arabs and Hindus and Sikhs, and you've never done that. I felt kind of embarrassed."
It wasn't just Atta's demeanor that caught Tuohey's attention.
"When I looked at their tickets, they had first-class, one-way tickets - $2,500 tickets. Very unusual," he said. "I guess they're not coming back. Maybe this is the end of their trip."
The massive issue that has remained almost unexplored over the last five years is whether the Bush Administration's campaign against racial profiling of Arab airline passengers, first announced by George W. Bush in his second debate with Al Gore on 10/11/00, contributed, directly or indirectly, to the various airport personnel refusing to act on their natural suspicions of the 19 Arab terrorists. As I wrote during the evening of 9/11/01 in my UPI article "Bush Had Called for Laxer Airport Security:"
This year , both Bush and his Attorney General John Ashcroft have called for an end to racial profiling.
The Federal Aviation Administration provides airline and airport personnel with the Computer-Assisted Passenger Prescreening system to help them identify suspicious travelers. It relies on a secret profile of the characteristics of typical hijackers and terrorists.
Bush's Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta has said that "the security procedures are not based on the race, ethnicity, religion or gender of passengers" Yet, the system is widely believed to use other information - such as whether the traveler is going to or coming from the Middle East - that tends to "disparately impact" Arab and Muslims.
None of the ethnic rights groups, however, has offered any data to dispute the widespread assumption that in the three decades since the Palestine Liberation Organization invented skyjacking, a disproportionate number of hijackers and plane bombers have had Middle Eastern ties.
Nonetheless, the Bush Administration publicly agrees with the civil rights organizations that even a nonracial airport profiling system that had merely a disparate impact on Arabs and Muslims would be objectionable. Secretary Mineta said, "We also want to assure that in practice, the system does not disproportionately select members of any particular minority group." Of course, if Arabs and Muslims are disproportionately more likely to hijack airliners, and the profiling system does not end up disproportionately targeting them, then system wouldn't work very well at preventing hijackings.
To ensure that no disparate impact is occurring, the Bush Administration carried out in June a three-week study, first planned by the Clinton Administration, of whether or not profiling at the Detroit airport disparately impacts Arabs.
The results of the study have not been released. Nor is it known whether the secret profiles have been relaxed - they are kept secret in order to keep hijackers guessing.
However, on June 6th Attorney General Ashcroft told Congress, "We want the right training, we want the right kind of discipline, we want the right kind of detection measures and the right kind of remediation measures, because racial profiling doesn't belong in the federal government's operational arsenal."
But nobody seems very interested in pursuing this question.