A national Muslim civil rights group is asking the head of Homeland Security to investigate the use of stereotypes after a man who appeared to be of Middle East descent was used in a recent security drill at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) on Monday renewed a request that Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano review "the use of outside trainers who offer hostile, stereotypical and grossly inaccurate information about Muslims and Islam."
The organization has previously asked the Obama administration, the Department of Defense and Congress to provide oversight for apparent "widespread anti-Muslim bias in the training of law enforcement and security and military personnel nationwide."
According to information released Monday by MSP airport police, the May 12 security test included a device in a shaving kit made to look like a bomb. It was a cylinder with wires connected to a wrist watch. The device was brought to a passenger security checkpoint, according to airport Police Sgt. Mark Ledbetter, one of the responding officers.
"Upon arriving [at the checkpoint]," Ledbetter wrote in his report, "TSA [Transportation Security Administration] screeners were out with a male who appeared to be Middle Eastern in descent or Indian/Pakistani."
He was wearing casual business attire and was calm.
"Well, let's cover all the stereotypical bases," Ibrahim Hooper, national spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Monday. "It's not surprising in the least that [federal authorities] would resort to anti-Muslim stereotypes."
Hooper, whose group acts as a rights watchdog on behalf of Muslims in the United States, said he has no problem with such security tests, but "when you resort to ethnic and religious stereotypes in these types of drills, it sends the message to watch out for these people, and that leads to profiling."
TSA spokesman Greg Soule countered that his agency conducts "thousands of training tests each year, and the individuals carrying out the testing are [of] various ethnicities, ages and appearances, just like the traveling public."
The incident at the airport first drew attention last week because the Transportation Security Administration failed to notify airport police of the drill. That prompted an armed response by police not clued in to the drill.
TSA and airport officials attributed the unfortunate mishap to miscommunication that should be rectified in future tests.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482