Amid all the discussion, anxiety and outrage over heightened airline security this holiday season, there’s one group of people whose important information is conspicuously absent: psychics.

There are thousands of people who claim to have psychic powers. Some, like convicted felon Sylvia Browne, are New York Times best-selling authors; others are seen on talk shows; still others, like Alison DuBois (of NBC’s Medium), serve as consultants for their own television shows.

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While many dismiss psychics as frauds or mere entertainers, tens of millions of Americans believe in psychic abilities. For example, a 2005 Baylor Religion Survey found that nearly one-fifth of American women (and one-tenth of men) believe that psychic powers exist.

What do psychics have to do with national security? Everything — if they are real.

Terrorists operate on, and exploit, uncertainty. The biggest challenge to national security is that there is no way to reliably distinguish non-threats from threats, passengers from terrorists, false-positives from positives.

Airport security must thoroughly screen every single passenger, from the wheelchair-bound grandmother to the harried businessman to the nose-picking toddler, because everyone must be treated as a potential terrorist. We don’t know who people are, what their motives are, or what they have in their baggage. Psychics, if real, could change all that.

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If psychic powers exist, innocent airline passengers would not be subjected to invasive screening, delays, and hassles just to find a dangerous threat that is literally one in millions. Psychics should be able to identify terrorists and direct security resources toward only those people who pose a danger.

If psychics can truly read minds, predict the future, or glean hidden knowledge, they should be in salaried positions at TSA command centers, using their abilities to find people who plan to kill and terrorize innocent Americans.

Even if psychics can’t narrow a threat down to a specific passenger for some reason, if they could reliably and accurately tell authorities which day (or even which week, or month) terrorists will attack, that would be invaluable.

Security officials would know that people flying any other time don’t need to be screened, and tighter security measures would be imposed during the specified time frame. (While they’re at it, psychics should be able to warn airlines of future crashes.)

Sometimes the TSA listens to psychics. For example, in March 2004 a psychic claimed that a bomb was aboard American Airlines Flight 1304 at Southwest Florida International Airport. An airline spokesman said his company was told of the threat by the TSA. The flight was to leave for Dallas, Texas, at about 12:45 P.M.

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The bomb report resulted in a pre-boarding search by the TSA and Port Authority police; despite a thorough examination with both equipment and bomb-sniffing dogs, nothing suspicious was found. The delay caused by the psychic’s tip forced cancellation of the flight, and all 128 passengers were placed on later flights, most delayed until the following day.

Doug Perkins, local administrator for the TSA, defended taking the psychic tip seriously because “we can’t ignore anything. We want to take the appropriate measures.”

Not only was the psychic completely wrong, but his or her “information” caused unnecessary fear, delay and inconvenience.

If a psychic could prove that he or she has the ability to distinguish an innocent traveler from a terrorist (using ESP, tarot cards, tea leaves, or any other method) that service would literally be worth billions of dollars to the American government and its citizens.

Psychics could become fabulously wealthy and help save countless innocent lives, yet they are unwilling (or unable) to do so.

Photo: Michael Nagle/Getty Images