The Legitimacy of Profiling; A Dereliction in Overlooking the Obvious

Article excerpt


In light of the attempted Christmas Day bombing aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253, it was certainly appropriate that President Obama directed a review of airline screening policies and procedures.

It is unlikely, however, that the current administration will re-evaluate long-standing policies prohibiting ethnic or gender-based terror profiling.

Nevertheless, failure to make common-sense changes may increase the chance that persons like Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab or shoe-bomber Richard Reid (aka Abdul Raheem) will one day succeed in detonating a bomb aboard a commercial aircraft.

Considering the explosive power of PETN (the explosive apparently utilized in both incidents), we can count ourselves as extraordinarily lucky that no American lives have been lost in such an attack thus far.

Unfortunately, political correctness and misguided past applications of racial profiling by domestic law enforcement have poisoned the profiling well in the war on terrorism (or whatever the Obama administration calls its counterterrorism policy this month).

While ethnic minorities are statistically no more likely than whites to violate domestic laws, 32 of the 45 groups recognized as foreign terrorist organizations by the State Department are Islamist in orientation with direct ties to the Middle East, the Arabian Gulf region, Africa or South Asia.

Over the previous 25 years, Islamist jihadism has become the primary global threat to democratic values, peace and stability. With few, but certainly notable exceptions, the foot soldiers of terror attacks are primarily young men of Middle Eastern, North African or South Asian backgrounds. Most are in good physical health, well-educated, speak several languages, and are (outwardly at least) fairly well-adjusted. Many have either lived in or were born in the West.

Regrettably, if as a society America accepts profiling, we appear to endorse practices that seem fundamentally unfair and discriminatory. But, complete or perfect fairness is impossible when dealing with terrorists and terrorism. In an age of malevolent terror directed almost exclusively against innocents, there is something hopelessly derelict about ignoring race, gender and ethnicity (among other factors) in our national security strategy. Those who assert profiling is always wrong, even if effective, rarely find themselves in positions of responsibility for the safety and security of others.

Few people realize that under limited circumstances, security screening based at least in part upon ethnic or gender profiling violates neither constitutional protections nor federal civil rights laws.

Limited profiling is compatible with the president's War Powers under Article II and with implied executive powers granted by Congress after Sept. …