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Let's profile and save lives

If there had been some common-sense profiling at the Amsterdam airport when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab got in line for a flight to Detroit, officials would have found the detonator stuffed in his underwear and that would have been the end of the story -- no last minute heroism required by passengers, no possibility of hundreds dead.

But no, owing to politically correct folderol that falls little short of criminal negligence and nothing short of outright stupidity, profiling is viewed as, oh, so, you know, unfair and, my goodness, discriminatory, and, well, what are dozens of bodies blown to pieces next to those concerns?

It's absolutely nuts not to profile -- which is to say, pay special attention to people with certain characteristics -- because we know that most terrorists having at Americans are young men of jihadist stripe often coming from certain parts of the world. Focus on these people as they board planes, and if something is out of line, there's a good chance you'll find it.

That's not so, say some critics, but it clearly is, as you can assure yourself by reviewing who most of our terrorist enemies have been, especially on airplanes. In the case of Abdulmutallab of Christmas Eve fame, we had more specific information that somehow slipped through the cracks, but profiling would also have stopped his trip and could well be effective in any number of cases where there is no father trying to alert officials of his son's new allegiances.

It is true, as critics say, that the vast majority of those pulled aside would be innocent, and it's too bad they should be put to some minor inconvenience in an effort to save lives. But that's all we're talking about -- a minor inconvenience, not slamming people against walls and strip searching them on the spot, and certainly not some equivalent to putting Japanese-Americans in concentration camps during World War II. Why would I bring that up? Because a blogger did, moaning that this is what right-wing bigots have in mind for those different from themselves. Babble, just babble.

There have been a couple of overreactions on planes to suspects, but that is atypical. The more common experience is comparable to something I went through when returning with my wife from a trip to Paris. In the French airport, we went through a fairly exhaustive check and were then ushered into another room where I learned we would have to wait for an hour or so. It had no men's room. I had need of one. So I went back outside to find one and went through the checkpoints again.

When it came time to board, I was made to stand alone outside the plane while all others boarded. I was then searched about as thoroughly as you can search someone, but though I did not enjoy it, I understood it. My behavior had struck officials there as unusual and worrisome. They took appropriate precautions. I survived in good shape.

The anti-profilers also tell you that profiling will somehow make you miss the terrorist who does not fit the bill, such as the 80-year-old great-grandmother from Peoria who does militia training on weekends. Well, no it won't. Paying special attention to some does not mean you will pay no attention to others. But because intensive searches of everyone are impractical, we should play the odds by figuring young men are more likely to be terrorists than old women. We will save more lives that way.

Saving lives is what it's about, of course, and that's what the Army failed to do in the case of Maj. Nidal Malik Hassan, who announced his jihadist fanaticism to just about anyone who would listen but was apparently left alone because officials thought it would be unseemly to kick a Muslim out of the Army. He shot 13 people to death at Fort Hood. Political correctness can be deadly.

-- Ambrose writes for Scripps Howard News Service.