January 1, 2010
In Defense of ProfilingBy Chuck Hustmyre
Let's get one thing straight right up front: Profiling is an effective tool.
We do it with serial killers all the time. Why not terrorists? Because it's discrimination. Therefore, it must be evil.
According to my World Book dictionary, discriminate means "to see or note a difference; (to) make a distinction."
When I choose steak over fish, I discriminate. When I decide to see one movie and not another, I discriminate. We make discriminating choices all day, every day. Discrimination is nothing more than the implementation of personal experience.
I want airport security personnel to discriminate between terrorists and non-terrorists.
The reason discrimination has gotten a bad rap is because we, the silent majority of clear-headed, right-thinking Americans, have permitted the American Left to control our language. We have allowed the Left to imbue certain words with so much negative connotation that we have, in effect, added them to the late comedian George Carlin's list of words you can never say.
Discrimination and profiling are two of those words.
The attempted Christmas Day bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 by an al-Qaeda-linked Muslim terrorist highlighted obvious weaknesses in airport security screening. However, instead of addressing the real security problems, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, under the direction of the woefully unqualified Janet Napolitano, is busily issuing a string of new directives that will harass and inconvenience millions of travelers while actually accomplishing nothing.
Already we know that international passengers will henceforth have to remain seated with nothing in their laps for the last hour of their flight. NOTE TO TERRORISTS: Initiate detonation ninety minutes before landing, or any time after takeoff. The new rule sounds too stupid to be true, but it is just one of many coming to an airport near you.
Out of the billions of airport security screenings conducted in this country since 9/11, how many terrorist bombs or weapons have been found? I'd wager the answer is -- not one. I certainly haven't heard of any bag or body searches that revealed bombs or guns in the possession of an actual terrorist who was planning on blowing up or hijacking an American airliner.
I did hear about the failed attempt by shoe-bomber Richard Reid, who successfully smuggled explosives aboard an airliner only to have them fail to detonate. Now we've learned about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian with alleged ties to al-Qaeda, who, but for an equipment failure and a quick-thinking, aggressive Dutch passenger, would have downed another commercial jetliner and murdered the 288 other people aboard.
Profiling may not have stopped Reid or Abdulmutallab, but one thing is certain: We are wasting our finite security resources by spreading them out equally over the approximately seven hundred million passengers who travel on U.S. airlines each year.
If we stopped treating terrorism as a social problem and instead treated it as a mathematical or statistical problem, the solution would be obvious.
It is an inarguable fact that the vast majority of terrorists operating today are young Muslim men of Middle Eastern descent. Even Richard Reid, a British convert to Islam, adopted the affectations of an angry young Muslim.
In the 1980s, an anti-government, neo-Nazi group called The Order committed a string of deadly bank and armored car robberies in the Pacific Northwest. All of the members of the group were white men. Had the police and FBI squandered their investigative resources by including black men, Jews, and members of the Swedish bikini team in their search for members of the white supremacist group, the investigators could have rightfully been accused of criminal negligence.
What is absurd is to pretend that profiling doesn't work at all, and that the mere mention of it is racist.
While it is possible that a fifty-year-old man in a business suit might pull a gun and rob a convenience store, it is much more probable that a twenty-year-old man in a hooded sweat jacket will do it. And if a store clerk casts a more wary eye on the twenty-year-old than on the fifty-year-old, is he discriminating? Is he profiling? The answer to both is yes. But is it reasonable? Is it justified? Again, the answer to both questions is yes, because the collective experience of tens of thousands of convenience store robberies is that a young man in a hooded sweat jacket is much more likely to be an armed robber than an older man in a business suit.
Profiling isn't a panacea. It's a tool. And it works, especially if it's used in conjunction with other investigative techniques. The danger in profiling is that investigators may lean too heavily upon it. They may exclude without further consideration anyone who doesn't meet the profile's basic parameters.
Here's a situation. Two people are trying to pass through security to board a plane. One is a sixty-year-old Danish woman carrying a Bible and traveling abroad for the first time. The other is a 28-year-old Muslim man carrying a Qu'ran and a passport indicating he recently returned from Pakistan. Both are traveling alone on one-way tickets.
On whom do you cast a warier eye?
If you don't believe that there exists a statistically higher probability that one of them is a terrorist and legitimately deserves more scrutiny than the other, then you are either grossly delusional or you believe that a certain number of deaths by terrorism is an acceptable tradeoff for not offending anyone.
If you believe the latter, then you are also qualified to be the director of Homeland Security.
Chuck Hustmyre is an award-winning journalist and a retired federal agent. He is the author of three books and hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles. For more information, visit chuckhustmyre.com.