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A Conservative Case Against Racial Profiling:

A few years ago, Ilya's colleague, Nelson Lund, published "The Conservative Case Against Racial Profiling in the War on Terrorism," in the Albany Law Review. In it he explains why conservatives should be reluctant to allow government officials to use race as a proxy for other characteristics when seeking to identify potential terrorists. Both conservatives and liberals alike, he suggests, should not want government officials to use race in this manner.

Here is part of the introduction and summary of the article:

By now, most of us have had the opportunity to see little old ladies stopped for humiliating random searches at the boarding gates in the airports, while far more dangerous looking men have walked down the jetways without so much as a second look from the security screeners. Conservatives, in particular, have skewered the government for persisting with these apparently silly, and quite possibly very dangerous, policies. This is consistent with the general tendencies of conservatives to be more supportive than liberals of aggressive law enforcement techniques and to be less likely to believe that police officers are prone to racist behavior. Political correctness, obsessive pandering to racial sensitivities, bureaucratic mindlessness-- whatever the diagnosis, the cure is taken to be obvious: Stop the silliness, we're told, and get serious about protecting us from another attack, which we can be quite sure will not be carried out by septuagenarian Norwegian-American women.

In my opinion, this new enthusiasm for racial profiling is misguided. My argument has three main points.

First, racial profiling or racial stereotyping is something that all of us do all the time. There are good reasons why we do it, and there are also good reasons why we need to make an effort not to do too much of it.

Second, free societies--and especially free markets--foster profound forces that tend to curb irrational racial stereotyping. These mechanisms certainly do not work perfectly, but they do work.

Third, governments are highly prone to excessive racial stereotyping and are largely immune from the forces that keep this practice in check in the private sector. For that reason, government policies that entail racial profiling should be treated with the greatest skepticism. Not only do they threaten the legitimate interests of various racial groups, but they tend to distract government agencies from alternative policies that are likely to work at least as well.

Certainly, we should not pander to left-wing racial mau-mauing if doing so will leave us vulnerable to another catastrophe like 9/11. But by the same token, let's also avoid pandering to dysfunctional bureaucratic imperatives that have their own potential for disaster. In short, I agree with the conservative commentators who think that the war on terrorism is a serious business that we should all be treating in a serious way. But I disagree with the conclusion that racial profiling is likely to make an important contribution to that effort.

The most important reason for being skeptical about racial profiling is one that ought to be shared by the left and right alike: it threatens to undermine the important national goal of making all races equal under the law. I will focus here on an additional reason that should be especially appealing to conservatives: the danger of government abuses.

Government use of race in certain circumstances may well be constitutional, and some racial profiling may even pass strict scrutiny, but that does not mean that it makes for sound public policy.

UPDATE: Eric Muller asks what is "conservative" about Nelson Lund's argument. That is a fair question. Without seeking to preempt any answer that Professor Lund may have, here is how I see it.

A common conservative critique of governmental decision-making is that, as a general rule, government entities are not subject to the various forces, including market competition, that tend to discipline decision-making in the private sector. Thus, as a general rule, conservatives are more hostile to government provision of services that can be provided by the private sector or government preemption of private risk-management decisions than are liberals.

In his article, Lund suggests that the very pathologies of government bureaucracy that conservatives criticize in other contexts should make them wary of racial profiling by government actors, even in the context of the war on terrorism. Further, he argues that insofar as conservatives believe that market competition discourages racial discrimination in the private sector, there is no equivalent market pressure to constrain the use of racial profiling by government actors in counter-terror efforts. Liberals and others may accept these arguments, but I think it is fair to say that the analysis Lund develops in his paper proceeds from premises about the nature of government decision-making that are typically viewed as "conservative."

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. A Conservative Case Against Racial Profiling:
  2. Liberals, Conservatives, and the Use of Racial and Ethnic Classifications:
Joshua (www):
I'd add a fourth point: Racial profiling, by definition, is designed to screen people who stand out physically because of their race or ethnicity, but terrorists' M.O. is invariably to blend in rather than stand out. It's just a matter of time before al Qaeda and other terrorists figure out how to circumvent racial profiling (and indeed are already well on their way to doing so, by recruiting people of races and ethnicities not traditionally associated with Islam, much less Islamic supremacism - Adam Gadahn, anyone?), meaning all this handwringing will eventually be for naught.
9.12.2006 10:25am
Donald Kahn (mail):
Nuts. If profiling had been in force on 9/11 it would have saved 3000+ lives.

I want my family members protected when they fly, and have no time at all for the logic-chopping displayed above.
9.12.2006 10:29am
Donald Kahn (mail):
And for Joshua: when they start doing that, then I will start worrying about it.
9.12.2006 10:31am
Eric Wilner (mail) (www):
It seems, at first glance, that race ought to be one of several factors in profiling... but... actually, age and sex are bigger absurdity factors. It's not so much that white midwesterners get picked for extra scrutiny, but that little girls and old women are picked (and that small children turn up on the no-fly list). Stop doing that (absent actual suspicion), and the perception of mindlessness diminishes greatly.
On the other side, there's the claim (truth unverified) that screeners are forbidden to pull aside more than two Middle-Eastern-looking men per flight, regardless of other suspicion factors. Racial anti-profiling at work!
Bending over backward to avoid the appearance of profiling seems kind of counterproductive to me.
9.12.2006 10:37am
Mahlon:
I don't find the first two points to be persuasive at all. Although I may share those ideals with Lund, I am a realist at heart. I agree, however, that is is a shame that ideals must be cast aside in order to address a threat posed by savages.

The third point, however, does carry some weight. To be both effective and fair, a racial profiling program must rely on the judgment and discretion of the people executing the program. The United States federal government (and that includes it contractors) is not known for the exercise of sound discretion. This problem is two-fold. First, the individuals with front-line responsibility (e.g. airport screeners) must have the capacity to exercise judgment. This requires intelligence, integrity and training. Second, and more importantly, these people must have the ability to exercise judgment. This means that the government must formulate policies and procedures which permit these people to do their jobs. We all know how well that works.

With all of that said - I do not see a real choice. Principles are wonderful things, but they do me damned bit of good at 31,000 feet with an insane heathen barricaded in the cockpit.
9.12.2006 10:48am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Joshua,

It is a question of resource allocation, and not a question of giving some people a pass and other's not. The suggestion is that age, sex, nationality, race, and possibly even, religion, be given weight in where to put extra surveilance. It is not a suggestion of just looking at 18-35 year old middle eastern males with a first name matching that of the Prophet, but rather, looking at them harder than 75 year old grandmothers.

What I think is worse than the fact that the grandmother gets as much scrutiny as someone who matches the profile of the people doing most of the terrorism is that this also means that if a group of people matching the profile of terrorists are traveling together, or, probably worse, separately, on the same plane, that can't raise flags. Indeed, there have been instances where none of such have been subject to secondary screening because that would be ethnic profiling, even when the circumstances cry out for it. At best, one of them could be subject to secondary screening.

Of course, TSA can't just look at this class. We have had some terrorists who weren't middle eastern, weren't Moslem, and, it appears that there have been attempts to utilize wives for suicide bombings of aircraft (and otherwise). Indeed, in Vietnam, even kids were used. So, they can't just look at those who fit the profile the most closely, but rather, just look at them harder.
9.12.2006 10:48am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Mahlon has a good point here. Despite the fact that I do think profiling would be advantageous, the government is not known for its ability to use discretion very well, even when the government employees are well trained, as these probably are not. And that is probably the big problem here, that it will become mindless. If TSA is allowed to profile by those characteristics most useful, it invariably will, and it will soon go overboard in this direction, making travel by this group by air significantly more onerous than for the rest of the public.

And I think that in my previous post, I was looking at it in a perfect world, assumming competent government employees. And as a conservative, I invariably assume the opposite. And this would be the path of least resistance, since most passengers would be less inconvenienced, and only a small number significantly more so, so abuse is likely.
9.12.2006 10:57am
Eric Muller (www):
Third, governments are highly prone to excessive racial stereotyping and are largely immune from the forces that keep this practice in check in the private sector. For that reason, government policies that entail racial profiling should be treated with the greatest skepticism. Not only do they threaten the legitimate interests of various racial groups, but they tend to distract government agencies from alternative policies that are likely to work at least as well.
In what sense is this a "conservative" argument, especially as distinguished from the "left-wing racial mau-mauing" that the author scorns?

Just about every legal academic who writes about racial profiling believes, and argues, that governments cannot be trusted to do racial profiling because they tend to do it with gross excess. It's an argument I've made frequently, using the Japanese American internment of WWII as a central example.

So what's "conservative" about the thrust of this argument? Is it the side-point that the market does curtail racial profiling by private actors? That may or may not be true, and I can see how libertarians and modern-day social "liberals" might disagree about that point, but that's hardly the author's central point.

There's ample evidence to persuade anyone, it seems to me, that governments spin out of control when they try "a little" racial profiling, and there's plenty of reason to believe that just about everyone, regardless of ideology, shares a commitment to "the important national goal of making all races equal under the law."

So where's the distinctive "conservatism?" I don't get it.
9.12.2006 11:04am
GMUSL 3L (mail):
So here's a nice solution -- we should have gone wholesale with the Republican proposal and had airport security entirely privatized.

That opens this up to the corrective market forces that Lund corrects notes are absent from government action AND avoids any disparate racial treatment under A.14 / S. 1983 concerns from said profiling.

It's what we engineers like to call an "elegant solution"
9.12.2006 11:12am
Aaron:
Donald, it seems to me that the time to worry about it is BEFORE they start doing it. Be proactive, not reactive.
9.12.2006 11:15am
Aaron:
Eric; Lund's argument is "conservative" in the fact that he uses the government's kludgy way of implementing Affirmative Action to illustrate the evils of racial stereotyping, rather than the more typical, (dare I say, "liberal") example posed by law enforcement profiling. It's a viewpoint thing, not a methodology thing.
9.12.2006 11:20am
DummydaDhimmi:
How about a libertarian solution?

Let airline customers choose to patronize airlines that profile and/or discriminate. Leftists who weep at the thought of not flying with Islamic radicals can choose to fly with them.

A new airline should be started: NUDE DHIMMIS
9.12.2006 11:22am
Houston Lawyer:
To avoid profiling is to be willfully ignorant of who our enemies actually are. No one is arguing that all men of Middle Eastern descent are dangerous, but that of those who have attacked us, almost all are young men of Middle Eastern descent. The rules in place now obligate authorities to ignore that fact.
9.12.2006 11:27am
Mahlon:
Houston Lawyer is correct. To the extent we can sensibly incorporate protections of civil liberties, we should. But we cannot ignore the fact that profiling will take us a long way in identifying the bad guys. Just because it is somehow distasteful to rely on "race" to do a job, does not mean we do not do the job. It is a medicine which we must take.
9.12.2006 11:35am
Aaron:
Houston;

Racial profiling of the type that you endorse would not have caught Reed, Lindh, or Padilla. Leaving aside various domestic threats, why should we adopt an ineffective, patently offensive tactic? So that the government can be seen to be "doing something?"

Stop thinking about fighting the last war, and learn to anticipate the next one.
9.12.2006 11:37am
David Hecht (mail):
Oh please. The comparison with affirmative action is ridiculous on its face. In programs that are typically subject to affirmative action--hiring and admissions--the prospective candidates submit a lengthy profile of themselves (resume or application), which the evaluators then review in a measured and leisured fashion. This process then typically continues with a face-to-face component, in which prospective candidates are weighed in person with the baloney factor.

Compare this to the airport screening process, where the screeners typically have a few seconds to make a decision as to whether someone should be pulled out of line.

A more pertinent comparison might be how police identify suspects. If I go to the police and say I was mugged by a tall redheaded woman with blue eyes, the police are going to round up...tall blue-eyed redheaded chicks. There's a decent chance the lineup won't include any guys, any women under five feet, or anyone with dark hair or dark eyes.

Profiling and discriminatory? Certainly. Irrational? Hardly.
9.12.2006 11:37am
Aaron:
Mahlon;

Unless you are of Middle Eastern descent, it won't be you "taking the medicine."

How do you justify this to the innocent Muslim/Arab American who will bear the burden of suspicion, harassment, and humiliation that adopting this ineffective technique so that YOU can feel better? It's easy to do when it's not your civil liberties being curtailed.
9.12.2006 11:41am
Houston Lawyer:
No one advocating racial profiling is saying that the only people that should be subject to security are those in suspect groups. I don't believe that I said that all white people could just avoid the regular screening process and have their own separate line with guns and bombs allowed. Profiling is a tool, it is not the only one.
9.12.2006 11:43am
Aaron:
Hecht;

False analogy. The police are looking for the perpetrator of an already committed crime. It is reasonable, based upon the information that you, as the victim of the crime, provided, in order to help apprehend the perp.

Contrast that with the profiling that you endorse; there is no evidence of wrong-doing, unlike your crime example; there is only a permanent, unsubstantiated suspicion that someone might be doing something wrong in the future.

Furthermore, unlike in your crime example where the police can rely upon your account to describe the assailant, THERE IS NO GUARANTEE that a future perpetrator of a terrorist plot will look like the people yuo plan on subject to profiling; just because yesterday, we were hit by Arab males doesn't mean that tomorrow our enemies won't recruit, oh, let's say asian looking Indonesians, or African Muslims. Stop trying to protect against the last threat, and work towards identifying the next one.
9.12.2006 11:50am
picpoule:
I'm all for racial profiling, especially in today's time. I'm told the Israelis use racial profiling to great effect. If the terrorists adapt and switch to those who don't match the current profile, we can always adapt the profile, too. Fretting and worrying about offending people who are bound to kill us may make some feel morally superior, but I want to defeat them, not go out of my way to coddle them. I'm a middle aged white woman and was singled out for extensive search at the airport once, while three obviously Muslim young men waltzed through the security line. Focusing on bottles of gel, water, and middle-aged white women strikes me as utterly silly when we know what the problem is, but won't use racial profiling to ferret it out. It takes PC to the height of folly. And it brings us all closer to danger.
9.12.2006 11:53am
Random3 (mail):
Stop talking about "racial" profiling. It's not profiling based on race, or certainly not race alone, if at all. It's profiling based on a profile - a set of characteristics & behaviors associated with a person. For example, young Muslim men of Middle-Eastern origin or appearance (what race is that, anyway?), arabic accent, with one-way tickets paid for with cash, etc.

The point is made that such profiling would not have caught Reed, Lindh, and Padilla, as non-Arab Muslims. Three points in rebuttal:

First, nobody (no government authority) caught Reed - he was caught by his fellow passengers when he tried to set off a bomb in his shoe. So profiling can't do any worse there.

Second, there's no reason that profiling need be the only way, or even the primary way to search passengers. You can still include a random screening approach, and other screening approaches.

Third, of course the adversary will adapt, and then so will we. But profiling those young Muslim males makes it way more difficult for him to hijack planes, because the vast majority of people carrying out suicide attacks are young Muslim males, and if they start recruiting old Caucasian ladies or pre-teen pigtailed girls, I think the passengers will have a bit easier time handling any that slip through the cracks. I say profile and be damned with the PC nonsense.
9.12.2006 12:00pm
Steve Henderson (mail):

This is an interesting discussion, but I think there is a more obvious reason that conservatives might be wary of racial profiling: Consistency.

Here's why.
The most reasonable argument for profiling in the national security context goes something like this:
In the ideal world, race wouldn't matter and government could conduct its business (security, in this case) in a color-blind fashion.
But we live in a world where terrorists fly airplanes into buildings and try to light their shoes aboard transatlantic flights. Those terrorists all happen to be men of a certain age and of Middle Eastern descent. So the most efficient way to prevent them from doing it again is to at least account for those characteristics - including their race - in the security screening process.

But that argument can be employed just as persuasively in favor of affirmative action, no? To wit: Ideally, we'd live in a world where race didn't matter, and colleges and universities could conduct their business in a color-blind fashion. But the real world is beset by a low incidence of quality educational opportunities for many minority children as well as the lingering effects of historical (government sanctioned) racism. We can't magically erase those factors overnight, so the most efficient way to ameliorate them now is to at least account for race along with other factors in the admissions process.


Conservatives, though, rest their opposition to affirmative action mostly on arguments regarding color-blindness, saying it's simply wrong for the government to indulge racially conscious behavior. (of course, there are conservatives - Justice Kennedy, for example - who disagree with this and say the limited use of race is okay, so there are exceptions.)
So shouldn't that color-blindness lead to just a virulent an opposition to racial profiling?

If not, then should the conservative arguments against affirmative action be shifted to other things? Maybe that ameliorating past discrimination or present inequities is not sufficiently compelling to justify racial preferences. I think that might raise tricky political issues, but it would be more consistent with arguments that favor racial profiling because security IS a sufficiently compelling interest to justify use of race.

Or maybe the argument should be that "diversity," the current legal foundation for affirmative action in the university setting, isn't compelling at all? (I have seen this argument from time to time, but it's not the central one, I don't think.)

Anyway, it seems you can't have it both ways...
9.12.2006 12:03pm
The Drill SGT (mail):
Ultimately, this is an economic issue, e.g. Allocation of scarce resources (screener minutes as a unit of measure) and terrorist time/dollars

1. Profiling is only discriminatory if the number of positive hits gained out of the profiled set of people is lower than what would be gotten out of the control population. If screening Mid-Eastern males from 16-36 generates more terrorists than the general flying public, it's not irrational bias on the part of the screeners. It doesn't mean only screen Mid-Eastern men, but it does encourage smart allocattion of resources.

2. Yes, focusing more attention on a set of people encourages the terrorists to recruit middle aged Swedish American women, etc. However:

a. the cost of recruting middle aged Swedish American women is higher than running down to the local Mosque and getting 2 guys
b. likelihood that Mrs Johanson will rat the terrorist out after the approach is higher than the odds that your cousin Adbul will run to the FBI.
c. a wider recruiting increases the ability of the FBI to infiltrate.
9.12.2006 12:08pm
Third Party Beneficiary (mail):
A question for the "Let's profile Muslims!" crowd: How do you know what religion someone is beyond asking them? [*crickets chirping*]
9.12.2006 12:16pm
The Drill SGT (mail):

Third Party Beneficiary (mail):
A question for the "Let's profile Muslims!" crowd: How do you know what religion someone is beyond asking them? [*crickets chirping*]



How about the way it is done in the various states of the EU? (e.g. EU, Non-EU) Two line classes: US Citizens this way, Non-US citizens over there.
9.12.2006 12:21pm
CJColucci:
Why are so many people invested so heavily in laetting us do something we don't know how to do?
9.12.2006 12:21pm
Quarterican (mail):
I'm told the Israelis use racial profiling to great effect.

My understanding is that you've been told incorrectly. What I've heard/read is that the Israelis use profiling based on behavior (both in terms of when/how you purchased your tickets, and also how you comport yourself in line), but don't pay much attention to figuring out someone's ethnic background. (My father was travelling in Europe in 1996 and was subjected to a security check by the French, which matched what he and I have heard about Israeli security, though our information could be mistaken: one man asked him a lot of questions and scribbled on a clipboard while another man casually pointed a submachine gun in my father's general direction and stared at him very intently. Presumably these men had been trained in recognizing behavioral cues.) If someone has more accurate information as to how the Iraelis do their security, it would be appreciated.

In other pre-9/11 security news, when travelling in and out of the country as a small child my luggage was several times subjected to increased scrutiny and effort was spent towards determining whether, say, my stuffed animals were conveyances for drugs. Certainly someone can conceive that a child might be used - whether he was deceived or coerced - to get contraband materials onto a plane.

And the questions that always work really well for me in person but works less well online, where I'm pseudonymous and not about to post pictures of myself: "What am I? Are you confident that you can recognize what you're looking for? Would you even know what ethnicity my last name was if I hadn't told you? Are you looking for Muslims or Arabs?" and so forth. I know, plural of anecdote != data, but in my experience (and also my father's, incidentally) people are *dreadful* at judging my ethnic background, and somewhat more generally I observe people being dreadful at judging other people's ethnic backgrounds. There are certain Arabs, I acknowledge, who clearly appear to be Arab, but there are *also* plenty of Arabs who - absent cues from their accent, their clothing, their name, all of which can be faked/overcome - are mostly indistinguishable from people whose ancestors hail from southern Europe, northern Africa, and of course other parts of southwestern Asia (like, say, Iran).
9.12.2006 12:25pm
DummydaDhimmi:
Re: Steve Henderson's argument for racial discrimination against non-hispanic Europeans &Asians:

If you want to make an argument of affirmative action for disadvantaged people that one's thing.

Newsflash: The set of disadvantaged people and the set of blacks and Hispanics are not the same set.

I live in Miami where rich Hispanics are priveleged in their entry into Ivy League schools.
9.12.2006 12:28pm
Quarterican (mail):
How about the way it is done in the various states of the EU? (e.g. EU, Non-EU) Two line classes: US Citizens this way, Non-US citizens over there.

I'm sorry - I'm not sure if you're speaking by analogy or not. Do you think we should have different lines for US Citizens vs. Non-US on domestic flights, or do you intend to imply that we should have different lines for Muslims? If the latter, how does that answer Third Party Beneficiary's question? And if the former - wait, how does that answer Third Party Beneficiary's question?
9.12.2006 12:31pm
MJSgl (mail):

Jonathan Adler:
Government use of race in certain circumstances may well be constitutional, and some racial profiling may even pass strict scrutiny, but that does not mean that it makes for sound public policy.


Mr. Adler, to the extent this comment was among those your post was meant to address - I was not arguing the policy merits of racial profiling (though as you may infer from the rest of my comment, I would rather keep that particular arrow in our national defense quiver, in spite of the fact I certainly am not keen on completely and uncritically embracing the policy), but rather responding to this comment by Prof. Somin:


September 11, 2006 at 11:42pm
What is striking to me, however, is that most liberals and conservatives seem to completely ignore the potential contradiction between their thinking on these two issues.


I consider myself a fairly mainstream "conservative," to the extent that term means something these days. That said, I wanted to demonstrate that I, and I believe most legal conservatives, are in no way "completley ignor[ing]" the potential contradiction, and that, to the extent it exists for us, the contradiction is less like "potential" and more like "non-existent." The principal motiviation behind my distaste for affirmative action is that I consider it to be another decision chipping away at the foundation of our Constitutional democracy. Incidentally, I am opposed to AA for policy and moral reasons, as well. Racial profiling is not nearly as cut and dried, and even to those who think it is, I was demonstrating that "conservatives" who are against AA but for RP are not necessarily ignoring any potential contradictions.


Donald Kahn (mail):
Nuts. If profiling had been in force on 9/11 it would have saved 3000+ lives.

I want my family members protected when they fly, and have no time at all for the logic-chopping displayed above.

Touche, Donald, touche.


Houston Lawyer:
To avoid profiling is to be willfully ignorant of who our enemies actually are. No one is arguing that all men of Middle Eastern descent are dangerous, but that of those who have attacked us, almost all are young men of Middle Eastern descent. The rules in place now obligate authorities to ignore that fact.

Ditto.


Aaron:
Houston;

Racial profiling of the type that you endorse would not have caught Reed, Lindh, or Padilla. Leaving aside various domestic threats, why should we adopt an ineffective, patently offensive tactic? So that the government can be seen to be "doing something?"

Stop thinking about fighting the last war, and learn to anticipate the next one.


Profiling isn't a perfect solution, nor should it be the only one, but like Houston said, it should not be completely taken off the table. Just because it won't work all the time, or even a lot of the time, it is far from a closed case that, in conjunction with other counterterrorism efforts, profiling is not a helpful tool whose benefits may outweigh the "patent offensiveness" of the policy.
9.12.2006 12:31pm
Thief (mail) (www):
This is an interesting discussion, but I think there is a more obvious reason that conservatives might be wary of racial profiling: Consistency.

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds." - Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Longer response: I don't think the affirmative action analogy holds, for the simple reason that the stakes are far, far higher. Read a profile wrong in terms of affirmative action, and some kid has to go to Boston College instead of Harvard. Tragic for the kid, but for the rest of us, BFD. Read a profile wrong in terms of airport security, a plane gets hijacked and people die.

Using race as part of a profile is just basic common sense, especially if a specific race in a specific context is a distinct minority. Profiling for caucasian people is largely useless in the United States, caucasians make up more than 70% of the population. But profiling for Arab-looking people, who make up (generously) 5% of the population? Now that's a place to start.

I was watching a show about police sketch artists, and one of them talked about how forensic sketches are not supposed to be complete and accurate representations of a suspect, only a useful tool to allow the general populace to eliminate those who cannot be suspects. Sort of like the old kids game, "Guess Who."

Understand, I am not arguing that race should be used in criminal/terrorist profiling to the exclusion of all other factors. (Known criminal history, behavior at the scene, etc. etc.) That's why the Israelis do profiling so well, they refuse to apply one simple, standardized algorithm to determine "threat" or "not a threat." Instead, their profiles are heuristics - someone who shares characteristic X (an Arab-looking person) deserves heightened scrutiny and an X-ray of their luggage, but someone who shares characteristics X, Y, Z, P, D, and Q (Arab, male, one-way ticket, no identifiable place to stay at destination, sweats bullets when questioned and smells like ammonium nitrate) needs a full body-cavity search, if not outright denied permission to board. And it is vitally important that, like the heuristics used to detect computer viruses, the heuristics used to detect terrorist need to be constantly updated.
9.12.2006 12:34pm
CJColucci:
This is a very abstract discussion about whether to do something we probably don't know how to do. The "common sense" notion that 16-40 year-old Muslim men of middle eastern (add, perhaps, Indonesian and African) descent are more likely to be terrorists than 73 year-old Swedish women doesn't get us very far.
Practical example. I have ridden the NYC subways nearly every day for over a quarter century, generally passing through some dicey neighborhoods and at all hours. The likelihood that I will be mugged by a 16-30 year-old black or hispanic male is so much greater than the likelihood that I will be mugged by anyone else that it's ridiculous to make comparisons. Nearly every subway car I sit (or stand) in has several members of the potential mugging class, some quite large and uncouthly dressed. Despite my unpreposessing but white, middle-class appearance, I have never been mugged or even threatened. I have taken no particular steps to ward off danger, and can't even imagine what practical steps I can take other than general alertness, which generally goes by the boards when, as I often do, I read or nap.
I can "profile" all I want, but what can I actually do?
9.12.2006 12:35pm
DJR:
Those who insist that profiling will help are engaging in the type of thinking that will allow the next terrorist attack to happen.

When security is told to focus on a particular profile (or stereotype if you like), they will necessarily relax scrutiny on those who do not match the profile. Both women and children have done bombings in Israel and Ireland. Why would we think that they would not do them here? Moreover, while the al qada terrorist threat may be the most obvious perpetrator of a new attack, why would we think that home-grown Waco-McVeigh-Kaczinsi types would not be nearly as likely to commit the next attack? After all, the black helicopter crowd has had little attention over the past five years, and al qada has taught anyone who cares to learn what it takes to get noticed.

In fact, having sealed cockpit doors, the airplane threat is now largely confined to the several hundred people who can fit on a single airliner. The next attack is likely to be in a crowded place (subway?) where at least as much damage can be done, and where it's impossible to control access similarly to airplanes.
9.12.2006 12:39pm
The Drill SGT (mail):

How about the way it is done in the various states of the EU? (e.g. EU, Non-EU) Two line classes: US Citizens this way, Non-US citizens over there.

I'm sorry - I'm not sure if you're speaking by analogy or not. Do you think we should have different lines for US Citizens vs. Non-US on domestic flights, or do you intend to imply that we should have different lines for Muslims? If the latter, how does that answer Third Party Beneficiary's question? And if the former - wait, how does that answer Third Party Beneficiary's question?


In my example, I am NOT advocating profiling based on religion. Since religion is not an identifiable public characteristic. I am interested in giving folks traveling within and from the US who are traveling on Non-US passports a greater look. same thing with resident aliens, and frankly others who can't provide documentation that implies long term residence.

that doesn't require any racial or ethnic bias in and of itself.

a Citizenship bias yes. seems legal and rational to me, but hehe, I'm not a lawyer.
9.12.2006 12:44pm
DummydaDhimmi:
Click here to read a very pertinent article in the Jerusalem Post on the Israeli approach to preventing another 9/11.
9.12.2006 1:03pm
Aaron:
MJSgl
"Profiling isn't a perfect solution, nor should it be the only one, but like Houston said, it should not be completely taken off the table. Just because it won't work all the time, or even a lot of the time, it is far from a closed case that, in conjunction with other counterterrorism efforts, profiling is not a helpful tool whose benefits may outweigh the "patent offensiveness" of the policy."

How are you profiling? Is it visual ("he looks Muslim/Arab"), religious ("Excuse me sir, are you a Muslim?"), national origin ("well Bob, I believe he's from one of THOSE countries")? All of these are imperfect, and ineffective. I have a serious problem asking OTHER PEOPLE to bear the burden of the intrusive nature of profiling so I can "feel" safe.

Listen, cargo is unscreened. There is minimal security around the runways--you could take a stinger and take down an airliner at will. No one knows what a terrorist looks like--that's part of the problem right there. So what we are really talking about here is trying to catch, for lack of a better term, stupid terrorists--terrorists who are so stupid that TSA could catch them. This is a crock. Our efforts should be to identify them long before they reach an airport--see the Brit plot. The minimal results that profiling MIGHT yield are far outweighed by the intrusions that profiling would have on the profiled. It is beyond arrogant that people who are NOT in the target class have no compunction about throwing the targets under the bus in the name of purely nominal "public safety".
9.12.2006 1:19pm
snoey (mail):
Thief makes an excellent argument for profiling and against racial profiling.

In his example, a traveller exhibiting notX, notY, Z, P, D, and Q is equally deserving of the full treatment. Focussing on X will decrease the chance of detection in the latter case.
9.12.2006 1:20pm
Dick King:
We should note one advantage of racial profiling.

I understand that part of the difficulty of penetrating terrorist cells is that they tend to rely on family. Yes, terrorist organizations can recruit people who would not fit the profile, but they would not be family members [duh]. This gives investigators a possible penetration route.

So this does relate to the affirmative action thread. If we force terrorists to use racial preferences to meet diversity goals, we'll force them to hire people they shouldn't have hired :-) .

-dk
9.12.2006 1:21pm
Mahlon:
Aaron - First, if I must sacrifice my principles for security, am I not taking medicine? Second, assuming I am not, the only conclusion I can reach is that I am not the one who is sick. Is it so unreasonable, then to look to those who have symptoms of the disease, or are members of groups more prone to the infliction. Did we not target public service messages at the gay community to address AIDS.

Sorry to drum my analogy into the ground, but the more you talk, the more apt it seems to me.
9.12.2006 1:31pm
Poopstain (mail):
Freedom is the cornerstone of our republic it is true, but we shouldn't forget that "life" comes before "liberty and the pursuit of happines." Personally, I believe that ALL Muslim/Arabic-looking people should be subject to strict screening before being allowed to get on an airplane and that if the Constitution has to be amended for that to happen then that is precisely what should be done. Your freedom not to be inconvenienced because you espouse/refuse to denounce a death-cult that wants to return the world to the 7th century should not trump my freedom to remain alive....
9.12.2006 1:35pm
Eric Muller (www):
If the Swedes ever get into the international terrorism biz, we're all going to have to do some serious revising of our hypotheticals.
9.12.2006 1:40pm
Third Party Beneficiary (mail):
"In my example, I am NOT advocating profiling based on religion. Since religion is not an identifiable public characteristic."

I'm glad you concede that. However, there are many advocates of profiling (including several above) who flatly state that screeners should be singling out "Muslims". Unless those advocates are presuming that "Muslim" is synonymous with "foreigner" and/or "dark skin", then a necessary question is how someone can be identified as a Muslim for purposes of searching them.
9.12.2006 1:42pm
Mahlon:
Mr. Muller - Somehow, I'm not overly concerned about that prospect.

Oh, sorry about my word choice. It should be "affliction", not "infliction." That happens when you rush.
9.12.2006 1:49pm
Poopstain (mail):
Third-Party---I knew that argument was coming as it is one of the most common logical fallicies bandied about when these types of discussions occurr--i.e., "we can't be sure we'd get 100% of potential mass-killers by employing method X" therefore it should not be used. It is of course perfectly correct to argue that some non-Muslims might be erroneously questioned and that many Muslisms would be impossible to detect as such. If you had a fatal disease and were told one possible cure would have only a 95% success rate, would you turn it down on the basis that it is not 100% effective? How many terrorist acts have been commited by non-extremely obviously Muslim looking youngish men in the last 20 years (yes I know there have been a handful, but come on). In the post 9/11 world, such thinking can get a heck of a lot of people killed. PC or remainig alive? Easy choice for me.........
9.12.2006 1:49pm
Aaron:
We can't be sure of getting anyone using your method. At what point does placebo trump principle?

Oh and Mahlon, I'm sure that you will feel terribly aggrieved at the affront to your principles, when someone ELSE is being harassed, because you were willing to compromise a little (of someone else's)freedom for (an insignificant amount of) security.

And your disease analogy is repugnant.
9.12.2006 1:59pm
Gumbey (mail) (www):
Profiling appears to be working, since we haven't had any major cataclycisms since 9/11. Why do we call it "common sense"? Without a doubt, it is a rare commodity.
9.12.2006 2:03pm
Poopstain (mail):
Aaron your last comment is literally nonsensical, methinks. Can you provide a bit of explication or should it be accepted as revealed truth?
9.12.2006 2:08pm
DummydaDhimmi:
I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me P.C. or give me death!
9.12.2006 2:09pm
Bryan DB:
Gumbey,
We also didn't have any major cataclysms before 9/11. Your point?
9.12.2006 2:14pm
Poopstain (mail):
Dummy---your comment would be funny if the principle you state in jest (I presume) was not in fact the bedrock principle of roughly 50% of our population today.............
9.12.2006 2:14pm
Poopstain (mail):
Gumbey I'm with your sentiment, but in fact we have NOT been profiling since 9/11. And Bryan, just what has to happen before five minute of inconvenience is justified in you case? A "cataclysm?" If only ten people are murdered by these thugs, you're o.k. with it? Kohbar towers? First WTC attack? USS Cole? All fine and dandy?
9.12.2006 2:17pm
Redman:
Affirmative action and racial and minority set asides are nothing more than racial profiling. Those programs, endorsed and employed by virtually every level of government in the United States, treats an individual as having the same characteristics as all other members of a "profiled" group. We end up with Michael Jordan's son or Colin Powell's daughter benefitting from programs intended to help the victims of historical discrimination simply because they share racial characteristics with other members of the class.
9.12.2006 2:20pm
Poopstain (mail):
Well said, Redman.
9.12.2006 2:22pm
frankcross (mail):
A friend of mine is a lawyer lobbyist for law enforcement organizations and works closely with the FBI. He says they oppose racial profiling for two big reasons:

1. However much sense it might make theoretically, it becomes a sloppy default rule in practice that undermines safety and

2. It undermines our ability to get cooperation and intelligence from groups that might be profiled.

What I find really remarkable though, are the people who really, really, really want to do some racial profiling. There may be lots of sound pragmatic arguments against it, but darn it, they want to profile. And don't ask them for actual evidence it succeeds in its purpose, that's just "obvious"
9.12.2006 2:29pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
Dick King, you win the "best comment of the thread" award.
9.12.2006 2:30pm
Poopstain (mail):
So frank, you'll forward your citations to irrefutable evdience when, exactly?
9.12.2006 2:32pm
SG:
It may be possible to infer a higher likelihood of Middle Eastern person being a terrorist than anybody else, but there's not enough agreed upon data yet to make that statement.

But let's do a little back of the envelope calculations:

Let's say there are 2 million Middle Easterns in the country. On 9/11, 19 of them revealed themselves to be terrorists. This gives a p(terrorist|Middle Eastern) = 19/2e6, or 9.5e-6.

There are approximately 30 million African Americans. The Beltway Sniper case revealed 2 to be terrorists. p(terrorist|African American) =6.67e-8

I believe there are approximately 40 million Hispanics. Jose Padilla is believed (albeit not proven) to be a terrorist. p(terrorist|hispanic) = 2.5e-8

Finally caucasians: Let's say 200 million. Of those, lets count the unibomber, Terry Nichols and whatshisface, and Johnny Lindh Walker. p(terrorist|Caucasian) = 2e-8.

We can repeat the exercise for the religion of the person. Say there are 2 million Muslims in the United States. 23 of the above mentioned people were Muslim, so p(terrorist| Muslim) = 1.15e-5

The converse: (p(terrorist|~Muslim) = 3/298 million = 1.007e-8

By these calculations, the likelihood of any particular person being at terrorist is quite low, but a person in the United States of Middle Eastern descent is roughly 2 orders of magnitude more likely to be a terrorst than someone not of Middle Eastern descent. The probablility of a Muslim being a terrorist vs a non-Muslim is 3 orders of magnitude.

Now I haven't don't have exact numbers so this is just back of the envelope. But I'd say it's pretty fair to judge that a Middle Eastern person, and certainly a Muslim, holds a measureably higher risk of being a terrorist than the converse. Is a 2 to 3 orders of magnitude difference in probablility sufficient to justify reallocating scarce security resources? It's certainly arguable from an efficacy standpoint, but that's hardly the only relevant perspective.

I'd welcome corrections to the math or the data.
9.12.2006 2:36pm
SG:
It undermines our ability to get cooperation and intelligence from groups that might be profiled.


You know, I wish Muslims would start getting a little more concerned about the fact that innocents around the world are being slaughtered by the thousands in the name of their religion and a little less concerned that people are noticing that fact.
9.12.2006 2:43pm
Poopstain (mail):
SG---There are lies, damned lies, and statistics. Then there are analogies--which all intelligent people abuse alas. Your comment (and some earlier comments), however, does raise a question. Lets suppose hypothetically that there was some easily-ascertainable physical characteristic that immediately and conclusively identified someone as a Muslim (there isn't--of course, as many commenters have noted). Say arguendo that all Muslims--and only Muslims--had three legs. Lets then say that a law was passed requiring all persons with three legs to go through extra screening before getting on an airplane or what have you. Would you be in favor of or oppose such a law? How many lives might have been saved, do you think, if such a law were passed twenty years ago? You would probably feel troubled (quite correctly IMHO) that the inconvenience and stigma inflicted on non-Muslim people was very troubling. How would you feel about the lives of the thank-god non-victims--not to mention their mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc.? How many potential Beethovens and Einstiens have already been denied us because of the death-cult religion's violent acts---going back not just to 9/11 but to to the 700s? How many homosexual teenagers will be crushed by brick walls before San Francisco will hate terrorism more than republicans? How many more honor killings? Etc. Etc. Etc.?????????????????
9.12.2006 2:44pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
If the Swedes ever get into the international terrorism biz, we're all going to have to do some serious revising of our hypotheticals.
I always thought that Bikini Team seemed a little suspicious. I mean, come on, are there even beaches there?
9.12.2006 2:46pm
Poopstain (mail):
David N----lots of beaches in Sweeden---you probably wouldn't want to go swimming, though! :-)
9.12.2006 2:51pm
Poopstain (mail):
And Aaron---amazing how all the many post-9/11 slaughter-of-the-innocents-fests have turned out to be caused by non-quite-obvious Muslims, isnt' it?
9.12.2006 2:57pm
Poopstain (mail):
Further to your comment, Redman. Liberals tout the "living Constituion" (i.e., the Constitution that ignores the Constitution, because after all, the Constitution contains no provisions that would permit the PEOPLE to amend by a democratic process, right?). SO if the Constitution is so damned "living," how come it only comes out of its coma when that serves liberal i.e. socialist ends? The living Constitution can, according to one side of the political/privilege spectrum, auto-adapt to all kinds of mortal threats to our way of life such as not permitting gay marriage (disclaimer---I'm an atheist who doesn't give a heck who marries who). Can't it adapt to the threart of a religion/culture implicating a quarter of the world's population who think that every man, woman, and child who doesn't bow to their god should be decapitated??
9.12.2006 3:03pm
Aaron:
Query: It's the morning of Sep. 11, 2001, and a screener at Logan Airport decides to indulge in a little profiling. He pulls the Muslim men out for extra screening. Finding no bombs, chemicals, nor any contraband, they wave them through. How does this change the outcome? Boxcutters are not on the proscribed list, otherwise our hypothetical screener would have confiscated them then. What would profiling have done to change the tragic events of Sept. 11?

Not a damn thing. So why do people think that it would make a damn bit of difference now?

Sorry about the inflammatory language--I'm just a bit frustrated that we keep allowing ourselves to be distracted by irrelevancies, and are paying no attention to what really matters; we are at best, marginally safer during air travel, and none of the real security breaches have been addressed. Yet time and again, this particular tactic keeps being raised as a substantive "response" to combat terrorism. That's what I meant earlier about placebo (the sugar pill that profiling will make us safe), trumping principle (we don't harass the innocent on the off-chance that maybe someone suspicious will get outed). Isn't anyone bothered by how quickly we're willing to sacrifice OTHER people's liberty so that we can "feel" safer; not actually be safer, but merely feel safer? Why aren't more people upset with this idea?
9.12.2006 3:07pm
Aaron:
Poopstain:

At the risk of going off-topic, I would check our collateral damage count in Iraq before going there...slaughter of the innocents, indeed.
9.12.2006 3:11pm
Poopstain (mail):
Aaron/Third-party/Byran whatever-your-name-is: you still have not addressed the very first point I raised in my first comment. And, btw, I WOULD GLADLY UNDERGO TEN MINUTES OF EXTRA SCREENING BEFORE GETTING ON AN AIRPLANE MYSELF if that is what it took to ensure that there were no jihadists on the plane I was traveling on. Have you ever driven across the country? It is a lot slower than flying. And as to your "we'd just feel safer we wouldn't actually be safer" meme, that is utter and undiluted b.s. as you and everyone reading this thread (too p.c. to admit it or not) knows.
9.12.2006 3:12pm
cathyf:
Personally, I believe that ALL Muslim/Arabic-looking people should be subject to strict screening before being allowed to get on an airplane and that if the Constitution has to be amended for that to happen then that is precisely what should be done. Your freedom not to be inconvenienced because you espouse/refuse to denounce a death-cult that wants to return the world to the 7th century should not trump my freedom to remain alive....
And how, precisely, does the Muslim/Arabic-looking person who happens to be Italian Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Sephardic Jew or Arab Catholic "refuse to denounce a death-cult that wants to return the world to the 7th century"? Or are you claiming that Catholicism, Judiaism, and Orthodox Christianity are death cults?

Half of all Arabs in the US are Christians. Another big chunk are Sephardic Jews. For the most part, they are descended from victims of 19th and 20th century jihadis and those ancestors fled terrible oppression in their homelands.

Being in favor of profiling of people who look different from you is classic NIMBY behavior. You are all in favor of security, as long as it's somebody else getting the body-cavity search.
9.12.2006 3:12pm
Poopstain (mail):
AH, yeah, Aaron. Let's worry about collateral damage first--maybe later we can worry about deliberate killing of thousands of civilians. Good try, Muhammed.
9.12.2006 3:13pm
Poopstain (mail):
Cathyf---tough sh** "Oh, I'm being inconvenined---thehorror--never mind that it might save thousands of people." Sorry---I can't buy in to that.
9.12.2006 3:15pm
SG:
Aaron:

Please do count the deaths in Iraq. Don't forget, all the car bombing victims, beheadings and whatnot add to the Islamic side of the ledger.
9.12.2006 3:21pm
DJR:
Of course, it is impossible to have a serious debate with someone who chooses to call himself "poopstain." Nevertheless, I would enourage you to figure out how many Einsteins we have lost because of the actions of the blood cult christianity. You can start with some proportion of the 6 million jews lost in the holocaust.

SG: First, you should add in the many many Irish Republican Army terrorists who Redo your calculations for Sept. 10, 2001, and it would appear that white males would be much more likely than arabs to commit a terrorist act in this country. Redo it the day after and one would not suspect Padilla. As they say, past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results.
9.12.2006 3:26pm
Poopstain (mail):
I've got to head out to go to work but one final post. Deliberate murder is morally wrong. Does anyone want to openly disagree with that? Trying to use your own baby as a bomb in order to bring an airliner down and kill another 300 people is morally wrong. Are any of the apoligists truthful enough to openly contravert that? Flying airplanes into buildings in a deliberate attempt to kill as many civilians as possible is morally wrong. Will I be banned for stating that? Is the answer to that yes or no? Shooting an intruder who has broken into your house and is raping your daughter is not the moral equivalent of going into a school in Russia and murdering hundereds of schoolchriden in the name of a demon-god. Yes or no? All that is necessary for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing--yes or no? After all, most of Mao's minions (the Nazi analogy is so tired and after all Mao is indisputably the greatest mass-murdered of all time--making Hitler look like the amatuer he was) were just good, ordinary, "moderate" communists, right? And we have to be courteous because we're academiscs, so we can't let ourselves get hot just because people are being led to the ovens, right?
9.12.2006 3:32pm
Poopstain (mail):
Interesting DJR--you quite openly declare yourself incapable of enaging in a serious arugment right before you launch into a diatribe in support of mass murder. Beautiful.
9.12.2006 3:37pm
Poopstain (mail):
Oh, and yeah, DJR--we're still reeling in this country from the effects of all the mass-murders commited here by Irish Americans.......
9.12.2006 3:40pm
SG:
DJR,

I'm unfamiliar with any IRA attacks on the US. Some pointers would be appreciated. If we're going to look at terrorist attacks world-wide, I don't think including the IRA is going to even out the odds.

BTW, I didn't argue in favor of profiling. I just said it isn't irrational at first glance. It's entirely plausible that a more thorough analysis including 2nd order effects (alienation of otherwise neutral parties, excessive focus on suspect groups to the exclusion of others, etc), make it not a net increase in security. But I do think we should use all the information available in the most effective manner. That could include racial, ethnic or religious profiling.

I certainly wouldn't argue for a static profile. That would be dumb. As new information is discovered, it should be incorporated into the security procedures.
9.12.2006 3:41pm
Poopstain (mail):
It also strikes me, DJR, that every time I chat with one of my Irish relatives, they keep bringing up the fact that they will not rest until everyone who isn't Catholic and doesn't watch they call "football" is dead.............
9.12.2006 3:42pm
frankcross (mail):
Poopstain, I can't link to a conversation with a friend, but I could refer you to the:
June 17, 2003 Fact Sheet put out by the Ashcroft Justice Department rejecting racial profiling

Now, please give me a source demonstrating the value of racial profiling
9.12.2006 3:56pm
Poopstain (mail):
Frank--thanks for responding--sadly I haven't learned how to reply non-publically yet but I'll do so and get back to you! :-)
9.12.2006 4:05pm
Davide:
For all those who do not wish to profile:

(1) Explain to me how searching Al Gore and 80 year old grandmothers in wheelchairs before they board a plane in any way increases national security.

(2) Please list for me, post 9/11/2001, all the hijackers who threatened US national security who were NOT muslim males aged between 16 and 50.

It is depressing and frustrating to think of the waste of money and time AND quality of life that our government is forcing onto us by the indefensible effort to randomly search ex-Presidential candidates and grandmothers.

Stop attacking profiling. Defend the current system -- if you can.
9.12.2006 4:07pm
The Drill SGT (mail):

Daniel Chapman (mail):
Dick King, you win the "best comment of the thread" award.


Hehe Dan, You didn't like my earlier thoughts? My self esteem is crushed.

Ultimately, this is an economic issue, e.g. Allocation of scarce resources (screener minutes as a unit of measure) and terrorist time/dollars

1. Profiling is only discriminatory if the number of positive hits gained out of the profiled set of people is lower than what would be gotten out of the control population. If screening Mid-Eastern males from 16-36 generates more terrorists than the general flying public, it's not irrational bias on the part of the screeners. It doesn't mean only screen Mid-Eastern men, but it does encourage smart allocattion of resources.

2. Yes, focusing more attention on a set of people encourages the terrorists to recruit middle aged Swedish American women, etc. However:

a. the cost of recruting middle aged Swedish American women is higher than running down to the local Mosque and getting 2 guys
b. likelihood that Mrs Johanson will rat the terrorist out after the approach is higher than the odds that your cousin Adbul will run to the FBI.
c. a wider recruiting increases the ability of the FBI to infiltrate.



And I only use Sweden as an example because it is easier to talk about Swedish women than about Norwegians :)
9.12.2006 4:07pm
Aaron:
I can't believe that I actually have to break it down this much, but here goes:

1. Profiling is ineffective. It doesn't work. Either it is over-inclusive, in that innocents are subjected to a deprivation of liberty, or it is underinclusive in that the potential terrorists won't fit the profile being described above.

2. The people pushing for profiling are not the people being profiled.

3. Even if we engaged in the type of profiling described above, we wouldn't catch any terrorists; they are smart enough not to get caught. All we would do would be to engage in window-dressing, to make it APPEAR that we are engaging in meaningful security measures.

4. Therefore, in order to make some jingoists happy, and to look like we're doing something, we are going to infringe on the liberties of innocent people, even though doing so won't make up a bit safer.

5. The resultant waste of resources is to be drawn away from real and substantive efforts to combat terrorism, e.g., increased law enforcement and intelligence gathering, such as the operation that netted the plot in Britain.

6. Anyone who points out the above is an apologist for terrorism and mass-murder?

Effective anti-terror tools are available. Let's start there, before making people wear a scarlet "M" in our nation's airports, hmm?
9.12.2006 4:07pm
Jay:
I would fit into the categories aimed at profiling here - South Asian, male, 16-40, non-citizen. As a non-citizen, I recognize that I should have no say in these matters. But let me make one point.

I was scheduled to fly two weeks after 9/11 on a cross-continent flight to DC. Naturally, I was worried about a) reactions from my fellow travelers and b)any additional scrutiny I might get from the authorities.
The flight went perfectly normally. A couple of people I suspect even went out of their way to make me feel comfortable. It was an eye-opening experience for me and made me realize that there's a lot more to the American ideal. In most parts of the world I would be worried about an extreme knee-jerk reaction.

To this day, I have never forgotten that experience. I have traveled extensively through the world after that day. I have talked to several people who complain about American arrogance/imperialism etc etc and have always recounted that experience.

I dont know if people who would otherwise be profiled actually realize how precious it is that there is a serious discussion and even opposition over profiling. I for one do.

My point is that the amount of frustration/resentment that profiling is likely to induce in a wide swathe of people should be taken into consideration when the cost-benefit analysis is done. There is a good reason that America has had no home-grown Islamic terrorist attact so far.
9.12.2006 4:11pm
Aaron:
SG

The question is whether our government, the government of the USA, should purposefully subject people innocent of any crime or wrong-doing to intrusions upon their liberty, dignity and personhood, simply because it will make other people in this country feel like this government is doing something against terrorism?

If there are other, less intrusive methods of anti-terror enforcement, shouldn't those be our first option? Instead, we have jingoists reasoning that it's ok to deprive OTHERS of their liberty, so long as I feel safe!

How about this trade-off-- we can profile "Muslim/Arab-looking people" in airports, as long as the same apparatus of the state is levied against teenaged white males in every high school in America, adult white males at feed and fertilizer stores and U-Haul rental agencies, and southern whites who purchase, shall we say, an inordinate number of white sheets at Wal-Mart?
9.12.2006 4:18pm
Davide:
Re: Aaron's comment:

(1) "Profiling is ineffective. It doesn't work" profiling is quite effective. Israel uses it very well and its effectiveness is not matched by our system. While not perfect, it VASTLY outperforms our ridiculous search anyone-who-looks-inoffensive system. Criticisms of profiling are like criticizing democracy: it's the worst system except it's better than the others.

Think of it this way: if all Muslim males aged 16-50 couldn't fly on planes, there would have been NO terrorist attacks from 9/11/01 forward in the US. PERIOD. You might not want to admit it, but there it's quite true. Subjecting them to more scrutiny makes eminent sense.

(2) "The people pushing for profiling are not the people being profiled" -true AND irrelevant. Criminals don't push for laws against crime. Who cares??

(3) Even if we engaged in the type of profiling described above, we wouldn't catch any terrorists; they are smart enough not to get caught -- This is false. Face reality: there's a very small number of radical Islamists who want to destroy our society. They are distinct from our population due to their dress, customs and habits. You can't convince many individuals unlike these people to commit suicide and fly planes into buildings.

If you disagree, show me the Catholic women who've done so. This argument is, on reflection, quite meritless.

(4) Therefore, in order to make some jingoists happy, and to look like we're doing something, we are going to infringe on the liberties of innocent people -- What a crock. To be "neutral," we're going to put everyone in danger, not stop terrorist attacks, AND fondle the breast of 80 year old grandmothers to do -- what, exactly???? Waste billions of dollars and offend everyone??? Mission accomplished.

(5) The resultant waste of resources is to be drawn away from real and substantive efforts to combat terrorism -- What is this?!?! You think the billions the TSA is wasting by forcing everyone to take off their shoes is making us any safer??!!? You think spending billions to force middle-aged businessmen in suits to be manhandled makes us one whit better as a society?! This claim is false.

(6) Anyone who points out the above is an apologist for terrorism and mass-murder? -- No, anyone who makes the above arguments is wrong.

Does anyone notice that only Muslim males 16-50 are committing these acts?? Is that fact irrelevant??? Why in the world is it sensible to act as if 40 year old Minnesotan woman are the threat source? Is that not the height of stupidity?
9.12.2006 4:18pm
Quarterican (mail):
Poopstain -

This isn't a conversation worth having, but since you don't seem to grasp cathyf's point, or those of the others making similar observations:

WHAT does an Arab or Muslim (and WHICH are you looking for?) look like? HOW is their appearance different from those of Israelis, non-Israeli Jews, southern Europeans, non-Muslim southern Asians, etc.?

Because consider: if you train people that profiling on a "racial" basis is a legitimate tactic, you must, you know, have TACTICS for the racial profiling. You could either: (a) assume that the individual in training can tell when a person is Arabic/Muslim/BadEthnicity, assume that this is self-evident information, or (b) train the individual with guidelines as to what Arabic/Muslim/BadEthnicity people look like so that he can recognize them more accurately.

If you choose option (a) you've surrendered yourself to the potentially (and most likely) ignorant prejudices (however benign these prejudices might be) of an individual who might confuse men of Latin American and Arabic origin on a regular basis (something I'm sure you've never done).

If you choose option (b) you need to create guidelines within which your trainees can work. What are your guidelines? As I indicated in my prior comment, I have a lot of personal anecdotal evidence suggesting that people have no clue what I "look like". This has led me to pithily say: "Any racial-profiling rubric that would exclude me is far too exclusive; any racial profiling rubric that would include me is far too inclusive." To make that more explicit and less about me: it is not difficult at all to find Arabs who don't look identifiably Arabic (much as a great many, if not the majority, of Italians, or Irish, or Japanese, or whomever, don't actually fit the stereotype of what such a person "looks like"). To constrain yourself to looking only at such people is madness; you'd be excluding a great many potential suspects. To train your security people that someone fitting this description deserved more scrutiny is too limiting. Conversely, if you expand your rubric of what kind of appearance you're looking for, you're going to find that you can't meaningfully distinguish between southern Europeans, Arabs, non-Arab south Asians, North Africans, light-skinned African-Americans, etc., etc., etc. There's no hard and logical line at which to draw the distinction, so you keep pushing it outwards. Until you have a potential group of suspects so large (every non-Teutonic non-Black non-East Asian person you see MIGHT be Arab! What if he's got falsified ID papers! Oh no!) that you might as well not have the profile at all. It's too large to be useful.

I have moral trouble with racial profiling, but no one has ever forwarded an argument as to its efficacy that seemed strong enough for me to worry about justifying my moral arguments. Particularly when it comes to profiling "Arabs".
9.12.2006 4:21pm
SG:
Aaron:

The question is whether our government, the government of the USA, should purposefully subject people innocent of any crime or wrong-doing to intrusions upon their liberty, dignity and personhood, simply because it will make other people in this country feel like this government is doing something against terrorism?


Have you flown on an airplane lately? That's exactly what happens now.

If there's an easily identifiable chacteristic that improves by two orders of magnitude your likelihood of identifying a threat, it's willful stupidity to assert that we shouldn't even consider the possibility of using it. It doesn't mean that it must be used (see Jay's anecdote), but rationality demands that it be considered.

BTW, I do believe large purchases of fertilizer will trigger an investigation. And rightfully so.
9.12.2006 4:31pm
Eli Rabett (www):
At base the argument is simple. On the one hand we have those who for their own benefit argue it is sensible to racially profile others. On the other hand we have people who recognized that in some cases they personally would have to endure some pain for the general good. The typical conservative - liberal divide.

Anyone who wants to be taken seriously on this issue had better be willing to take some "racial profiling" or "affirmative action" pain, otherwise it is just I got mine cheap talk
9.12.2006 4:37pm
Davide:
To Eli:

Do you think, then, that Al Gore should be subjected to full screening as a potential security threat?

No idle thought, this: he's been subjected to such screening by the TSA.

Do you think this made the US safer? Do you think Gore would bring a plane into a building??

Or maybe you want to screen Dan Rather?? He, too, has been subject to full body search.
9.12.2006 4:45pm
DummydaDhimmi:
All the anti-profiling people argue that profiling doesn't work and won't save lives.

I am for profiling precisely because I KNOW it works, (the Israelis swear by it), and precisely because it saves lives.

IF I'm wrong, and it were shown to be unworkable, then, and only then, would I oppose it. QED.

My question for the anti-profilers is this: Would you oppose profiling if it truly saved lives? If you would still oppose it, is there any number of lives saved which would lead you to change your mind?
9.12.2006 4:46pm
frankcross (mail):
First, I don't think Israel uses racial profiling but instead has a behavioral profile. Remember how they caught Anne-Marie Murphy with a bomb.

I would not oppose profiling if it were sufficiently effective. You would have to balance its effectiveness against its costs (such as the lack of cooperative intelligence from the target group). My objection is that raised in my prior post, and I think the legal enforcement groups have sound effectiveness reasons to oppose it.

I suppose I do have a presumption against it and want to see good evidence that it works before allowing it
9.12.2006 4:58pm
Quarterican (mail):
DummydaDhimmi -

Funnily enough, the article at the link you provided upthread reinforced my impression that "racial profiling" - as opposed to profiling based on behavior - plays little to no role in the Israeli security apparatus. Perhaps you have other links more apt to your claim?
9.12.2006 5:03pm
DummydaDhimmi:
Quarterican,

Drawing a distinction between who a person is, e.g., radical Muslim, and how that person behaves, is fatuous.

Israeli profilers are not looking for people of a certain RACE per se. They're looking for dangerous people.

That a person is an Arab or a Muslim is a factor that indicates, ceteris paribus, that that person warrants further scrutiny to ascertain whether that person is dangerous. The Israelis are looking for dangerous people who are primarily jihadists.

In trying to identify murderous jihadists, the Israelis do not, in the course of their profiling, jeopardize lives on the altar of P.C. Your impression that they don't take into account a person's ethnicity in deciding how much scrutiny that person will get--BEFORE they even get to the airport--is simply factually WRONG.
9.12.2006 5:41pm
Mark Field (mail):
There seems to be a lot of confusion here in failing to distinguish between the following two statements:

1. Most terrorists are Muslim (I'll assume this is true for now; in fact, it's dubious).

2. Most Muslims are terrorists (not even remotely close to true).

What the avid profilers are suggesting is that we search Muslims to find terrorists. That makes no sense -- only a trivially small percentage of Muslims are terrorists. That's not playing odds, that's buying a lottery ticket.

If it were true that most terrorists were Muslim, it would be plausible to profile the group "terrorists" and search all of them in the hopes of catching the Muslims we really want. It makes no sense at all to profile Muslims in the hopes of finding a terrorist -- that's a misuse of probability and a confusion of the two categories.
9.12.2006 5:54pm
DummydaDhimmi:
Mark Field,

The ONLY reason that profiling Muslims makes sense is that it saves lives. Otherwise, it wouldn't make sense. Israeli profilers claim that it saves lives. You may disagree with the facts. The question for you is, if it does save lives, would you still be against it? If so, is the number of lives it may save irrelevant to you?
9.12.2006 5:58pm
Aaron:
Not to pile on Dummy but;

Note that my objections hinge upon the premise that profiling (by race, appearance, religion) is ineffective, for the reasons listed ad nauseum earlier. You propose a regime wherein profiling is effective, and can MEASURABLY reduce the risk of terrorism, and I'll join the TSA pronto.

Davide, you put forth a factual inaccuracy and a straw-man. First, Israel doesn't do racial profiling, at least not the way as has been advocated here; they engage in a complex evaluation of travelers based upon many factors. Second, as far as I understand, noone here has proposed banning air travel to "all Muslim men between 16-50 years old:" you were the first to do so here. The fact is, that even had profiling been active on 9/11/01, the screeners would have had no reason to bar any of the damn terrorist murderers who boarded any of the fated flights.

By effective means of counter-terrorism, I mean using police, intelligence, and other assets to stop the terrorists BEFORE they arrive at the airport. By the time they get there, it's too late to do anything. So even if we harassed every Muslim/Arab/swarthy type at the airport, all we are doing is violating their liberty interests to no purpose, and demeaning what it means to be a free society, and for what? So Poopstain can feel superior?

Perhaps you didn't read my earlier posts when I said that as it stands now, airport security is a joke. I'm not defending the current system; on the contrary, it is because the current system is so broken that adding this step is so unnecessary.
9.12.2006 6:14pm
DummydaDhimmi:
Aaron,

We agree.
9.12.2006 6:19pm
SG:
Mark Field:

All security measures are playing the lottery. That just aren't that many terrorists, period. Muslim or not.

Does the high unlikelihood of any particular person being terrorist argue for or against being random security measures?

BTW, I gave some numbers up above. I come to 3 orders of magnitude difference in the likelihood a Muslim being a terrorist vs a non-Muslim (domestically). You can argue with the data, argue that since the numbers are so small that second order effects take precedence, or argue the moral case against profiling but don't argue that 3 orders of magnitude is negligible.
9.12.2006 6:20pm
DummydaDhimmi:
Aaron,

We agree except I disagree with your assertion that had profiling been in effect, that the 9/11 terrorists would have been able to board the flights. I disagree to this extent: had INEFFECTIVE profiling been done they would have boarded. Had EFFECTIVE profiling been done they wouldn't have. Do you honestly think that the 9/11 terrorists would have been able to even ARRIVE at the airport if Israeli-type profiling &security measures had been in place? If so, we've nothing to discuss.
9.12.2006 6:23pm
SG:
Here's a thought experiment: Suppose there was a mosque known to preach jihad. Should known members of that mosque be subjected to extra security members? Should members of that mosque be identified and flagged, even in the absense of any other reason to suspect them of terrorist activity? Would this differ from other forms of profiling in form or only in degree?

Bonus Question: Does anyone think we're not doing this now?
9.12.2006 6:32pm
Davide:
Aaron:

Davide, you put forth a factual inaccuracy and a straw-man. First, Israel doesn't do racial profiling, at least not the way as has been advocated here; they engage in a complex evaluation of travelers based upon many factors.

Yes, of course: but one of those key factors is a person's religion and ethnicity.

Or do you think they treat Al Gore the same way they do someone like Mohammed Atta?



Second, as far as I understand, noone here has proposed banning air travel to "all Muslim men between 16-50 years old:" you were the first to do so here. The fact is, that even had profiling been active on 9/11/01, the screeners would have had no reason to bar any of the damn terrorist murderers who boarded any of the fated flights.

Aaron, you miss (intentionally??) my point: it's obvious that Muslim men aged 16-50 are the SOLE (to date) culprits in 9-11 and otherwise (I include Reid, etc.) Do you claim that barring such men would NOT have prevented all of these disasters?

You can't: you have to agree it's true.

Well, then, HOW can you take the position that these two factors are irrelevant when they are obviously important??

You don't need to ban all 16-50 year old Muslims and I don't advocate it (re-read the post, I postulate a hypo): but what I DO advocate is inspecting those who have these two factors weighing against them. It's damn relevant — and many who are no longer here could attest to that.
9.12.2006 6:44pm
Aaron:
Dummy, I think that we are beginning to talk past each other.

This argument arose over the use of racial (ethnic, religion) profiling in the airport security context. I was arguing its ineffectiveness in that context.

I assume that by "effective profiling", you mean the sort of profiling done in connection with the exhaustive investigation of terror suspects by law enforcement personnel well before suspect 1 even travels to the airport. I think that that sort of "profiling" which really is not profiling, but investigating based upon other credible evidence, is what counter-terror personnel should be doing.

Profiling, as such, seems to be the targeting of individuals based solely on some characteristic unrelated to any particularized allegation or threat; hence, all Muslim/Arab/swarthy males between 16-50 would be subject to increased screening/harassment/interrogation based solely on the fact that they are Muslim/Arab/swarthy, and not because there is information that a particular person poses a particular threat.

The time to stop the 9-11 terrorists was in the days and weeks before the attack; once they got to the airports, no amount of the above profiling would have stopped them. Subjecting them to increased interrogation, searches, etc. would have been fruitless, because we screen for contriband, not for people; that is what the "no-fly list" is for. Hence, unless they appeared on the no-fly list, they were eventually going to get on the plane, and what happened would have happened.

Effective investigation, however, is how we get arrests, or cause to put people on the no-fly list, and we don't need to profile (in the classical sense) to be effective in that manner.

I think that if we take the term "profile" as I define it, and as I think the rest of the posters have defined it, we can both come the same conclusion; that profiling at the airport doesn't work. It takes a coordinated effort by law enforcement and intelligence gathering personnel to do the heavy lifting long before we get to the x-ray machines.

Now, as to whether those intelligence gatherers need warrants...that's a whole other discussion :^).
9.12.2006 6:44pm
just me:
I respectfully disagree with Prof. Muller's comment that


. . . there's plenty of reason to believe that just about everyone, regardless of ideology, shares a commitment to "the important national goal of making all races equal under the law."


I think Bollinger and the AA debate show that this statement is true only if one asterisks "equal" to mean "well, having the State treat you differently in its processes to achieve desired outcomes." Or, to steal from Orwell, all applicants are equal, but some are equal-er.
9.12.2006 6:45pm
Aaron:
Davide:

"Yes, of course: but one of those key factors is a person's religion and ethnicity.
Or do you think they treat Al Gore the same way they do someone like Mohammed Atta?"

Well, do you think they treat Al Gore the same way as Muhammed Ali?

Of course not. My point is, that some of these posters would treat Muhammed Ali the same as Mohammed Atta! That is the overinclusiveness that the crude profiling they are advocating leads to.
9.12.2006 6:48pm
Davide:
Aaron, on this point:

"Profiling, as such, seems to be the targeting of individuals based solely on some characteristic unrelated to any particularized allegation or threat; hence, all Muslim/Arab/swarthy males between 16-50 would be subject to increased screening/harassment/interrogation based solely on the fact that they are Muslim/Arab/swarthy, and not because there is information that a particular person poses a particular threat."

On what basis do say these characteristics are unrelated to any particularized allegation or threat? Have Islamic preachers not called for jihad? Have Arab countries not backed Al-Qaeda? Have Arabs not danced in the streets celebrating 9-11?? What's "unrelated" here?

I'll tell you what's "unrelated": your implicit endorsement of bodysearching grandmothers from Minnesota for no reason you or anyone else can even bother to assert.

You want a "particularized threat"??? Why don't you watch the Al-Qaeda videos, videos from Hizbollah, videos from any of various Arab dictatorships where they burn American flags.

Or do you think that's irrelevant?

Tell me: what are we gaining by bodysearching Al Gore? And how many people are going to die because we spent finite resources doing that instead of focusing elsewhere?!?!?!
9.12.2006 6:48pm
Aaron:
Davide, My point was, that profiling != barring.

As far as TSA being incompetent...well I have to fly this weekend, and I don't want to pulled out for "special screening" so I think that I've said all I want to say on that account.
9.12.2006 6:52pm
Davide:
Aaron:

"My point is, that some of these posters would treat Muhammed Ali the same as Mohammed Atta! That is the overinclusiveness that the crude profiling they are advocating leads to."

OK-- now I see some agreement. You agree that religion, sex and age ARE relevant factors. You further agree that Muslim males aged 16-50 ARE, to date, the ONLY culprits who have caused these disasters.

Well, that's enough agreement for me. We can focus on details later. But any program that takes these issues into account is a far, far better one than the one we have now which -- for legal reasons -- refuses to even consider the factors I've raised (and you've agreed are relevant) because it's sexist, ageist and/or "profiling."

In the end, this sort of absurdity is costing money and lives. We'd best snap out of it.

Not all Muslims are terrorists, of course: but, to date, only Muslim men aged 16-50 have been. It makes sense to think about SENSIBLE, refined ways to take this information into account.

If you wanted to find a pregnant woman, you wouldn't search men or donkeys. Searching all women wouldn't net a lot of pregnant women, necessarily, but it's a hell of a lot smarter than searching without taking the relevant factor (sex, in this case) into account.
9.12.2006 6:54pm
CJColucci:
what are we gaining by bodysearching Al Gore?

I suspect a great many posters here would get a great deal of pleasure out of knowing that Al Gore gets body searched.
9.12.2006 6:56pm
Davide:
"As far as TSA being incompetent...well I have to fly this weekend, and I don't want to pulled out for "special screening" so I think that I've said all I want to say on that account."

The TSA has its institutional hobbles — but what bothers me the most is the hobbled view of its directors, who force their employees to spend endless hours ensuring that businessmen aren't carrying grenades, and forcing Vietnam Veterans out of their wheelchairs to pat them down. I've seen this more times than I care to count. It's disgusting, an affront to civil liberties and freedom, and it's utterly, totally pointless to boot.

I shudder to think of how much we spend on this and on how many terrorists board planes while TSA functionaries conduct this atrocious "hear no evil, see no evil" policy.
9.12.2006 6:59pm
SG:
My point is, that some of these posters would treat Muhammed Ali the same as Mohammed Atta! That is the overinclusiveness that the crude profiling they are advocating leads to.


But right now we're treating every person as an equal threat. if it's overinclusiveness you're objecting to, you can't get worse than the current situation.

Or do you wish to revise that statement?
9.12.2006 7:02pm
Brian Garst (www):
I fail to understand how the validity of profiling by police, whether or not by race, is even under question. It would be completely illogical to conduct an investigation without it. Every time you have a peice of information on a suspect and use that to eliminate others from the list, that's profiling.

If a TSA sees an 80 year old woman and concludes she is not likely to be a thrat, that's profiling. But more than that, it's also productive. Certainly there is a danger of concentrating too hard on one threat group at the expense of all others, which would allow adversaries to change their profile. But that is a risk, one not particularly difficult to combat, inherent in all profiling, it's not unique to the subset of racial profiling.
9.12.2006 7:08pm
neurodoc:
I'm not clear what does and doesn't constitute "racial profiling." If in an attempt to deter terrorism, the FBI were to monitor the doings of mosques, but not of mainline churches and synagogues, would that amount to "racial profiling" and be objectionable? If objectionable, would it then be unobjectionable if the FBI did less monitoring of mosques in order to do an equal amount of monitoring those churches and synagogues? (I don't mean to raise issues of freedom of religion and/or assembly and association here, but rather to examine the implications of Muslims, but not Christians or Jews for surveillance by law enforcement under present circumstances. And if we need to do so in order to get "racial" in here rather than just "religious," then posit that the mosques are frequented for the most part by Africans and Southeast Asians.)
9.12.2006 7:08pm
Davide:
Neurodoc, to explain the utter -- and intentional -- stupidity of the current TSA, let me quote the words of the eloquent head of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff (this is from the TSA's website and is part of an 8/30/06 interview of Secretary Chertoff):

News &Happenings
The 'Why' Behind Air Security

Below Michael Chertoff, Secretary for Homeland Security, discussed air security and other issues with USA TODAY's editorial board on August 30, 2006. His comments were edited for length and clarity.

Question: The terrorism threat comes predominantly from young, Muslim male extremists. Without racial or ethnic profiling, are there ways to make airport security better match this threat?

Yes. At the extreme, 3-year-olds are not probably a threat we need to worry about, and 75-year-old grandmothers are probably not a threat. But if you look at the experience of watching suicide bombers in other parts of the world, saying those can't be women is just not factually correct. So I'm hesitant to say that we should focus only on males, or Muslims of a particular age.

What this means is that the TSA, by policy, WILL NOT CONSIDER RELIGION OR SEX as factors for any sort of investigative review.

In other words, an 80 year old grandmother from Kansas who is in a wheelchair WILL BE CONSIDERED JUST AS MUCH A THREAT (barring other factors) as a 29 year old Muslim male.

The TSA will consider other factors: if you purchased the ticket that day, by cash or credit, travel patterns, and other factors, but IT IS WILLFULLY CLOSING ITS EYES to sex and to religion.

If it weren't having such disastrous consequences one would laugh.
9.12.2006 7:15pm
neurodoc:
Davide:
Someone will undoubtedly point out that the terrorists have not all been men (e.g., those Chechen women who blew two Russian passenger planes out of the sky), nor Muslims (Sikhs, Croatians, and North Koreans come to mind), and male Palestinian suicide bombers have disguised themselves as women or orthodox Jews, and the Palestinians have tried to get bombs aboard planes using naive, unwitting females. But you are of course correct that male, Muslim and between the ages of 16 and 50 is many, many times more likely to describe a terrorist than female, non-Moslem, and outside the 16-50 age range.
9.12.2006 7:17pm
Davide:
You know what the TSA likes??? Blind randomness. This is from TSA's website, in the section "Our approach":

Our Security Strategy
Unpredictability

We incorporate an element of unpredictability to our operations so that terrorists can't use the predictability of security measures to their advantage. That means we may change airport inspection routines on a daily or hourly basis. For example, some passengers may be randomly selected for additional screening at the checkpoint, rather than the ticket counter, or they may have their shoes or carry-on bags tested for explosive materials. At their local airport, they may see canine teams patrolling the area before the checkpoint on one trip and patrolling the check-in area on the next. By adding an element of unpredictability, would-be attackers can't find patterns in our operations and use them against us.


Yes, that's it -- no patterns. Grandmothers and Al Gore, beware!! You can be searched at any moment!!!

Again, you'd laugh if you weren't crying.
9.12.2006 7:19pm
Davide:
Neurodoc:

Someone will undoubtedly point out that the terrorists have not all been men (e.g., those Chechen women who blew two Russian passenger planes out of the sky), nor Muslims (Sikhs, Croatians, and North Koreans come to mind), and male Palestinian suicide bombers have disguised themselves as women or orthodox Jews, and the Palestinians have tried to get bombs aboard planes using naive, unwitting females.

None of these people have bombed US planes. I'm concerned with US national security.

But hey!!! Let's stick with utter randomness. I don't want 45 year fat executives to think they have any civil rights when they walk into airports. They should be frisked incessantly so that they know better than to think they live in a free country.

And it sure is making us safer.
9.12.2006 7:23pm
SG:
Whoa, there Davide. As stated in that quote, it's absolutely correct. Predictability would be absolutely fatal. No one should be arguing against a random element. The question is should the randomness be augmented with non-random elements.
9.12.2006 7:23pm
Davide:
Whoa, there Davide. As stated in that quote, it's absolutely correct. Predictability would be absolutely fatal. No one should be arguing against a random element. The question is should the randomness be augmented with non-random elements

Combine it with willful blindness to age and sex-based scrutiny and what have you got, SG???

Augmenting is one thing -- but when you're willfully excluding what are indisputably relevant factors, I think you aren't left with much.
9.12.2006 7:26pm
neurodoc:
davide:
Our posts crossed. I was responding to an earlier one of yours that was too absolute, failing to note as it did the until now relatively infrequent exceptions to male, Muslim, 16-50. But you didn't answer my question about what exactly the term "racial profiling" should be understood to mean. Would it aptly apply to increased surveillance of mosques over churches and synagogues, especially if we understand "religion" and "race" to be roughly equivalent for these purposes? Or should "racial profiling" be understood in a more limited sense, that is to describe pulling someone out of line at an airport or elsewhere because they are ethnically/racially identifiable?
9.12.2006 7:26pm
Davide:
Neurodoc:

<i>Our posts crossed. I was responding to an earlier one of yours that was too absolute, failing to note as it did the until now relatively infrequent exceptions to male, Muslim, 16-50.<i>

Nope, the point stands: none of your counterexamples bombed US planes post 9/11. Not one terrorist post 9-11 has been anything other than a male Muslim aged 16-50.

<i>But you didn't answer my question about what exactly the term "racial profiling" should be understood to mean. Would it aptly apply to increased surveillance of mosques over churches and synagogues, especially if we understand "religion" and "race" to be roughly equivalent for these purposes? <i>

As the TSA applies the term, one CANNOT identify an individual or group of individuals as a threat based IN ANY WAY on religious affiliation. That means the religious character of a person is treated as: IRRELEVANT.

I can of few things more relevant tying together the 9-11 bombers, Richard Reid, etc.

<i>Or should "racial profiling" be understood in a more limited sense, that is to describe pulling someone out of line at an airport or elsewhere because they are ethnically/racially identifiable?</i>

I'm saying that it's relevant — indisputably, 100%, certifiably relevant. Let's not blind ourselves purposefully. I'm NOT SAYING ban all Muslims aged 16-50 who are male. I AM SAYING consider it as a factor.

Under current TSA policy, screeners cannot do so.
9.12.2006 7:32pm
frankcross (mail):
Well, it would be pretty irrational not to scrutinize someone coming into an airport wearing Islamic dress, waving around a Quran, and acting aggressively.

Professor Lund's article actually addresses this. It is a natural human tendency to profile, to some degree. It's going to happen. But that doesn't mean it should be formal policy. In part, because you don't need the policy, people will naturally be on the lookout for those who fit a terrorist profile. We need a policy to compensate for things that are not natural human tendencies.

And Davide, I don't think there is any question about the value of unpredictability. As soon as you are predictable, the terrorists can take advantage of that. Like they tried to do with the Irish girl caught by Israel.
9.12.2006 7:33pm
neurodoc:
davide:
Sikh extremist blew an Air India flight originating in Canada out of the sky, and I don't imagine they would have scrupled about doing the same to an Air India flight originating in NYC if they had the chance. As for the Croatians, didn't they plant a bomb in a NYC airport locker years ago, when there were lockers around? (The North Koreans confined there dastardly attack on aviation entirely to Asia.) And Palestinians, including if I am not mistaken Christians ones, have gone after American aviation targets too.

I am not suggesting that any of this amounts to a strong counter-argument to risk stratifying according to characteristics like to gender, religion, and age. I am just suggesting that you be a little less sweeping so as to deny those who would require complete "blindness" an opportunity to carp.
9.12.2006 7:35pm
SG:
I don't think that profiling (necessarily) increases security, it increases productivity. After all, there have been no incidents under the current protocol (post-9/11), so it's not like the current protocol has failed.

What a risk-augmented protocol would (hopefully) do is provide the same security with fewer inspections/inspectors.

If we were willing to pay the cost (in time, money, and hassle) we could provide the ultimate in security by inspecting everyone rigorously and equally (although even there you'd want random aspects). And with that protocol there's no issue over discrimination (which is absolutely a valid issue). The question is can we optimize this to provide equivalent security with less overhead.
9.12.2006 7:37pm
Davide:
Frankcross,

Are you unaware that the TSA, as a matter of policy, refuses to consider religious affiliation as a legitimate factor for screening???

Why then are you so pleased with its reliance on randomness? Is it because you thing spending dollars on searching Vietnam vets in wheelchairs will make you safer?

Oh, and as for your "Irish girl" story: don't you think the terrrorists know our policy is to ignore religious affiliation? How do you think that fact affects their ability to inflict damage?
9.12.2006 7:39pm
Davide:
Neurodoc:

Sikh extremist blew an Air India flight originating in Canada out of the sky, and I don't imagine they would have scrupled about doing the same to an Air India flight originating in NYC if they had the chance. As for the Croatians, didn't they plant a bomb in a NYC airport locker years ago, when there were lockers around? (The North Koreans confined there dastardly attack on aviation entirely to Asia.) And Palestinians, including if I am not mistaken Christians ones, have gone after American aviation targets too.

Again, not one of these is a post-9/11 attack on US planes or property.

Money and searches and time are finite. Who is threatening the US right now? Who is declaring war on us, our civilization and our way of life?

Is it Croatia?! Christian Palestinians?! Chinese?!

No?

Then why are we treating them EXACTLY THE SAME as those who are???
9.12.2006 7:42pm
Davide:
To be perfectly clear, understand (again, taken from the TSA's website):

The U.S. Government also prohibits airlines from profiling passengers as selectees for additional security based on ethnicity, religion, or national origin, and has fined airlines for incidents allegedly involving such.

Let me ask all those reading this:

Regarding the 9/11 hijackers, what else -- other than their ethnicity, religion and national origion -- would you have considered as relevant factors to stop them from boarding those doomed flights?

They were all the same religion. They were all from Saudi Arabi. Their ethnicity was all identical.

Are you happy the US government not only ignores these facts but fines airlines for trying to consider them?????

We've just passed the fifth anniversary of 9/11 and sometimes I wonder what we've learned.
9.12.2006 7:51pm
Aaron:
Davide;

Umm, no one has attacked US planes since 9/11--I think that was the point.

Can you tell us how you believe that racial profiling should be used at the airport?
9.12.2006 7:59pm
Ship Erect (mail) (www):
Davide, exactly how would you screen passengers "by religion"? ID card? Photos of the last place they worshipped on Friday/Saturday/Sunday? Or would you just ask them? Screening passengers by religion is simply unworkable, not to mention disastrous morally and constitutionally.
9.12.2006 8:06pm
SG:
Screening passengers by religion is [...] disastrous morally


Nonsense. Religion defines a value system. It's not an accident of birth, it's freely chosen by it's adherents. Do you sincerely believe that white supremacists or neo-nazis shouldn't be viewed with increased suspicion? Or have they simply chosen an alternate value system and you have no right to judge?
9.12.2006 8:33pm
Mark Field (mail):

All security measures are playing the lottery. That just aren't that many terrorists, period. Muslim or not.


Let me start by saying I think there's some talking past each other going on here. There are at least two ways to interpret the "profile 'em" posts:

1. Search all Muslims.

2. Use Muslim religion as ONE of the factors in an overall profile.

The first of these is what I assumed was being suggested and to which I pointed out the category error. If you're only suggesting that we play the lottery on this basis, I think that's such an overwhelming waste of resources that it couldn't be implemented even if people wanted to. It would have the disastrous consequence of using up resources for much more practical alternatives. It would also have the untoward side effects Aaron and others have mentioned.

If, OTOH, you are arguing that Muslim religion should be ONE factor, then I'm not sure I understand your point. As we increase the number of relevant factors, we decrease the size of the pool. That makes the method increasingly unlike the lottery, so your statement -- that all security measures are "playing the lottery" -- incorrect.


I come to 3 orders of magnitude difference in the likelihood a Muslim being a terrorist vs a non-Muslim (domestically). You can argue with the data, argue that since the numbers are so small that second order effects take precedence, or argue the moral case against profiling but don't argue that 3 orders of magnitude is negligible.


I'd argue all 3. But I'd also argue that 3 orders of magnitude is negligible at the numbers you mentioned. You're looking at it the wrong way. The test is not "how much did we lower the odds?". The test is "what are the odds now?". Unless we can lower the odds below roughly 1/1000 or so, the resources don't exist to implement such measures.
9.12.2006 8:48pm
Mark Field (mail):

Nonsense. Religion defines a value system. It's not an accident of birth, it's freely chosen by it's adherents. Do you sincerely believe that white supremacists or neo-nazis shouldn't be viewed with increased suspicion? Or have they simply chosen an alternate value system and you have no right to judge?


Others have pointed this out, but there's no meaningful way to establish someone else's beliefs. We can do background checks of their conduct, but then that's exactly the police work that Aaron is being criticized for championing.
9.12.2006 8:51pm
Ship Erect (mail) (www):
Nonsense. Religion defines a value system. It's not an accident of birth, it's freely chosen by it's adherents. Do you sincerely believe that white supremacists or neo-nazis shouldn't be viewed with increased suspicion? Or have they simply chosen an alternate value system and you have no right to judge?

So the First Amendment doesn't matter at all to you? I don't know where you pulled neo-Nazism or white supremacy from (neither is a religion), but in the U.S., we are free to believe whatever we want, regardless of the wrongness of those beliefs. Thought is no crime and does not predict that the thinker will commit one. Would you actually give the gov't the power to prevent travel because of their religion or political views? What is the difference between that and a police state?

And this assumes that you actually could screen passengers by their beliefs. How would their beliefs be ascertained? Telepathy?
9.12.2006 9:21pm
SG:
Mark, I hate to break it to you, but I think we're largely in agreement.
9.12.2006 9:37pm
Aaron:
SG and Davide;

Can either of you explain just how airport security will be able to successfully profile Muslims?
9.12.2006 10:02pm
SG:
Ship Erect:

You ask, "where [I] pulled neo-Nazism or white supremacy from". They are both examples of value systems that teach that violence aginst people not of the group (blacks and jew srepectively) is justified. Islam, at least as understood by some, teaches that violence against the unbeliever is justified.

As far as the 1st Ammendment goes]: People are free to worship whatever god(s) they please and believe in whatever fate will befall a non-believer that they wish. But when their god's instructions say to harm others in this world, well they've gone to far. I wouldn't expect the 1st Ammendment to protect a traditional Aztec human sacrifice, do you? And what are those ritual beheadings in Iraq if not human sacrifices?

The (in)ability to identify a person with this belief system is a separate issue.
9.12.2006 10:06pm
JB:
I have what is perhaps a naive question:

Why don't the terrorists buy round-trip tickets with credit cards, buy hotel stays where they're supposedly headed, etc? It's easy to get credit here, and they don't even have to get good deals. The added cost is minor considering the risks.

I just think that any terrorist whose ticket-buying behavior falls into that mentioned in the profile is an idiot.
9.12.2006 11:39pm
Mark Field (mail):

Mark, I hate to break it to you, but I think we're largely in agreement.


I'll go buy a lottery ticket and we'll split the proceeds.
9.12.2006 11:59pm
Ship Erect (mail) (www):
Islam, at least as understood by some, teaches that violence against the unbeliever is justified.

So should Christians be profiled as well because of Fred Phelps and Operation Rescue? Environmentalists because of the Unabomber? Please. Projecting the beliefs of some onto the actions of all makes profiling based on religion or any value system worthless in every way.
9.13.2006 2:50am
Eli Rabett (www):
Again and again it is clear that the profiling fans object to their being discomforted, but are quite happy that others are. This puts the lie to the pious cant here about moral worth of this or that.

However, allow me to momentarily descend into your slime pit. Assume that all moslems are forbidden to fly in the US. Assume that TSA has a magic moslem detector.

OK, what about the Christian boyfriend who is enraged, what about all those new enemies that will be made, what chance for any cooperation in spotting jihadists. Kiss it goodbye.

And yeah, if Al Gore's number comes up, so be it.
9.13.2006 3:23am
randal (mail):
I'm a middle aged white woman and was singled out for extensive search at the airport once, while three obviously Muslim young men waltzed through the security line. Focusing on bottles of gel, water, and middle-aged white women strikes me as utterly silly.

You, ma'am, make me sick. Boo hoo. You got extremely minorly inconvenienced in the name of freedom. It is exactly this country's unwillingness to sacrifice anything that will lead the terrorists to victory. If you are at all representative, Osama is right: this nation does not have the stomach for a war to protect our values.
9.13.2006 5:39am
Poopstain (mail):
Right--while you, Randal, think it is more important that three death-cultists not be subjected to having their little feelings hurt than to prevent thosands of innocent people from being killed. To quote you, "boo hoo" -- and yes, apologists for mass-murders do make me sick.
9.13.2006 12:54pm
randal (mail):
Poopstain, your name suits you if you automatically equate "three obviously Muslim young men" to "three death-cultists".

I also wonder what makes somebody "obviously Muslim". If you are fat, white, and whiny, are you "obviously Christian"?
9.14.2006 12:11am
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9.15.2006 9:11am