Thursday, January 07, 2010

Useless Terrorist profiling

This post is under my JM Politics Blog, but I thought it important enough to give it multiple exposure, so it is also posted on my main "Jacob's Blog of 7th January 2010".

I just read an excellent article in Think Progress, January 6, 2010, by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Zaid Jilani, and Alex Seitz-Wald: "TERRORISM: The Wrong Kind Of Profiling" (reproduced below, Copyright acknowledged) which highlighted how the right wing conservatives in the US and other countries are talking about ethnic and racial profiling, as they consider all Muslims as terrorists before they board an aircraft, etc.

The Wrong Kind Of Profiling

Following the attempted Christmas Day terrorist attack by 23-year old Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a public debate has erupted over the proper way to prevent terrorists and other criminals from endangering airline passengers in the future. While many politicians, pundits, and public policy leaders have engaged in responsible and rational discussions about the intelligence failures that allowed Abdulmutallab to bring bomb materials on an aircraft, a whole host of conservatives have endorsed racial and ethnic profiling that would seek out terror suspects simply on the basis of the color of their skin or religious identity. While many right wingers seem to be comfortable with succumbing to racist and nativist hysteria, the truth is that racial and ethnic profiling is tremendously ineffective. A more rational approach to profiling based on behavior -- rather than race or identity -- would help keep Americans safe while maintaining our civil rights and constitutional freedoms.

THE RIGHT'S EXTREMIST REACTION: It wasn't long after Abdulmutallab's failed attack that conservative pundits and politicians began to call for racial and ethnic profiling of people from Muslim backgrounds. Right-wing radio host Mike Gallagher argued for separate lines at airports to "scrutinize anybody with the name Abdul or Ahmed or Mohammed," which are some of the most common names in the world. Rep. Peter King (R-NY) said, "One hundred percent of the Islamic terrorists are Muslim, and that is our main enemy today. So why should we not be profiling people because of their religion?" Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich wrote a column on Human Events titled "On Terrorism it's Time to Know, to Profile, and to Discriminate," in which he claimed that "cultural sensitivities" are preventing security officials from stopping terrorism; the next day, Gingrich clarified his comments by saying he thinks that profiling should be based "on behavior, not ethnic ... [or] racial profiling." Perhaps the most brazen call for ethnic profiling came from retired Lt. Gen. Tom McInerney, who declared, "If you are an 18 to 28-year old Muslim man then you should be strip searched. And if we don't do that, there's a very high probability that we're going to lose an airliner."

WHY RACIAL PROFILING DOESN'T WORK: The fact is that racial and ethnic profiling doesn't work. It creates a false sense of security and causes law enforcement resources to be wasted in chasing the wrong targets. As the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights' reports, racial profiling "diverts precious law enforcement resources away from investigations of individuals...who have been linked to terrorist activity by specific and credible evidence...[and] ignores the possibility that someone who does not fit the profile may be engaged in terrorism." Indeed, On Dec. 28, two Middle Eastern men were pulled off a flight heading to Phoenix because passengers reported they were engaging in suspicious behavior; it ended up that the men were simply speaking a Middle Eastern language. The same day, a Nigerian businessman was taken off an airplane because passengers became suspicious that he was lingering in the bathroom for too long. The FBI confirmed that the individual's behavior was due to a legitimate illness. It's important to note that terrorists come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, and do not simply belong to one religion, ethnicity, or nationality. The "shoe bomber," Richard Reid, was Jamaican and British. Al Qaeda recruit Adam Pearlman was an American. Germaine Lindsay, one of London's 7/7 bombers, was Afro-Caribbean. Scott Roeder, who killed abortion-performing doctor George Tiller last year, was a white evangelical Christian. Racial profiling would, as Salam Al-Marayati of the Muslim Public Affairs Council notes, extend our police dragnet over "potentially hundreds of thousands of [innocent] people every year" and drain precious resources away from other, more important security measures. And as a recent study by the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science concludes, racial profiling has been no more effective than random screening in rooting out terrorists.

A BETTER WAY: While racial and ethnic profiling is a failed strategy that goes against our basic values, there are smarter profiling methods that police and other security officials can use to prevent acts of terrorism. A memo titled "Assessing Behaviors" circulated by law enforcement officials in October 2002 outlined such a strategy. One of the writers of the memo pointed out, "Fundamentally, believing that you can achieve safety by looking at characteristics instead of behaviors is silly. If your goal is preventing want your eyes and ears looking for pre-attack behaviors, not characteristics." Former Bush counterterrorism officials have also objected to racial profiling and point out that looking for suspicious behavior is much more important. Former Bush CIA director Michael Hayden said that seeking out terrorists isn't "a question of ethnicity or religion." Rather, "it's what people do that we should be paying attention to." Former Bush Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff argued that "relying on preconceptions or stereotypes is actually kind of misleading and arguably dangerous" because terrorists intentionally recruit people "who don't fit the stereotype." Philip Baum, editor of Aviation Security International, suggests "effective based on the analysis of the...behavior of a passenger and an inspection of the traveler's itinerary and passport; it does not and should not be based on race, religion, nationality or color of skin." As former Homeland Security press secretary Russ Knocke explained in 2006, security personnel are, and should be, trained "to look for abnormal human behavior. ... That is in no way racial profiling. That is behavioral profiling."

The article shows the stupidity of such an act as ethnic and racial profiling, as valuable resources are squandered.

It is my "contention of 1" that Al Qaida and other terrorist groups are flying out all sorts of schemes just to throw the entire security apparatus into a tizzy. The more failed attempts, the better for them, as the stupid security analysts start chasing shadows rather than real targets.

That pResident Bush went about wire tapping and searching his entire US population (just to stay ahead of his political opponents) shows how this sort of behaviour by a meglomaniac has squandered the valuable resources of an intelligence community.

Obama has fallen into the same trap. In his recent speech he talked about the failure to connect dots. The reason is that with one million or a billion dots to connect, even with super fast computers, this is impossible. It is easy to see this in hindsight!

During my recent trip to India I passed through so many security checks - Helsinki, London, Mumbai, Cochin, Bangalore, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Delhi. Every single airport followed a different procedure. Every single airport failed to focus on the real problem - separating the real and honest traveller from the potential terrorist. Hence, 99.9% of the procedure was just a waste of valuable resources.

If I were a terrorist, one look at these illogical procedures would have given me 200 ways on how to beat the system. That is what Al Qaida and other terrorist organisations are focusing on.

The security analysts want to show us they are doing a great job (to get a greater allocation of financial resources and to show important they are), but all they are doing is following a set of useless procedures.

As one writer put it, soon we will be travelling on airplanes in the NUDE - but then they will need to do an internal body scan, so we will all be cut open before we get on the plane. Great news for surgeons!

Stupid? Well, that is how stupid the present procedures are, and everyone mutters, "Oh, this is to keep US safe!" (No pun intended!)

We are no safer now than we were 25 years ago. In fact, every new procedure the security analysts introduce makes us less safe as it cuts out one more method the terrorists would have considered. They will concentrate on other more effective methods while sending the security analysts barking up the billion wrong trees!.

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