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Home Terrorism Is Profiling the Solution to Stopping Terrorists?

Is Profiling the Solution to Stopping Terrorists?

The Northwest Flight 253 bombing attempt has once again reignited the debate over using profiling as a security technique. Many have pointed out over the years that ethnic profiling could have stopped the attacks of September 11. And it probably could have. But profiling alone is not the solution.

First of all let's concede that America's intelligence capabilities are virtually useless. Shoe bomber Richard Reid was spotted by the Israelis. British intelligence knew about Umar. Nidal Malik Hasan did everything but walk around within the military establishment carrying a sign, "I Will Kill You All". And had he even actually carried such a sign, it's not at all clear that it would have made any difference.

For any kind of profiling to work, you have to put aside political correctness and pay attention. Profiling is an important tool, but one that has to be used within the context of a solid intelligence and counter-terrorism strategy. Israel's El Al is not terrorist free simply because Israel profiles Arab terrorists. It has the track record that it does because the profiling is done by personnel who are trained by a security establishment intimately familiar with Islamic terrorism.

The difference between bad profiling and good profiling is the competence of the personnel doing the profiling. A bad cop stops all black men after a crime in which the suspect was described as African-American. A good cop looks not simply at race but at clothes, body language, walk and also his mental database of potential suspects he's familiar with from previous run-ins. Anyone can do the former, but it takes training and an intimate familiarity with the side of the street you're working to do the latter. More importantly it takes good intelligence. Because your profiling is only going to be as good as your database.

Outside of spy movies, the US has never been very good at intelligence. President Woodrow Wilson rejected the idea, arguing that gentlemen don't read each other's mail. Which explains handily how the Lusitania was sunk, the Black Tom explosion that took out two million pounds of ammunition and damaged the Statue of Liberty, the German germ warfare plot against the US could all take place on his watch during WW1.

Things never really got much better since then. WW2's OSS was America's best group of foreign operatives, and they were cowboys, ragged and undisciplined, going off on their own tangents, and producing hit and miss results. Meanwhile for all the mythology of the CIA, the organization is basically the State Department with a more menacing air. And the State Department is 90 percent of what's wrong with American foreign policy.

After 9/11, consolidation and intel sharing were supposed to be the order of the day. Instead of ending the chaos, we instead immortalized it. In the last decade, the ability of US intelligence services to distinguish between good intel and bad intel, to actually know when a threat was coming and counter it, have not been very good. The FBI has been moderately decent at breaking up a few cells in the early stages of an operation, and entrapping one or two others, but they've been hamstrung by White Houses and US Attorneys with an open door policy toward Islamist groups. The CIA has been as useful or useless as it was during the Cold War.

Getting serious about stopping terrorists before they strike would mean tearing down the US foreign intelligence establishment and rebuilding it along the lines of the UK's SIS or France's DCRI or Israel's Mossad. Right now US foreign intelligence is run by people who are often friendlier to the enemy than they are to us, virtually useless at actually moving information through the pipeline and incapable of seeing even big developments like India and Pakistan's nuclear programs until it blows up in their faces.

Having a solid intelligence agency means an agency that doesn't use Muslims or people with dubious backgrounds as translators. It doesn't use analysts who are more sympathetic to the terrorists than they are to the US. It doesn't use station chiefs who work for foreign governments or go native and adopt the viewpoint of the enemy. It means an agency that isn't held hostage to its own political culture and is actually capable of gathering solid intelligence, instead of repeating embassy cocktail party chatter and including that in intelligence briefings. Until that happens our ability to do smart profiling will be very limited, because it's hard to be smart without useful intelligence.

And smart profiling means being aware of your own blind spots before the terrorists spot them first. In Israel for example, security personnel can tell apart Mizrahi Jews from Arab countries, from actual Arabs, but suicide bombers have dressed up as Orthodox Jews, because Israel's security personnel tend to be secular and therefore less familiar with Orthodox Jews. And in the Mumbai attacks, a Jewish couple from New York could not be expected to tell apart a Pakistani Muslim terrorist from Indian Beta Israel. Just as airport personnel genuinely familiar with Africa would not have mistaken Umar for a Sudanese refugee. These kind of blind spots always exist, which is why familiarity with potential attackers and intelligence is key when it comes to smart profiling.

Nevertheless even dumb profiling is valuable. It can help screen out a terrorist at a crucial moment. Most terrorists after all do fit the profile. The 9/11 and 7/7 attacks might have been prevented through dumb profiling alone. Which means dumb profiling is still a good deal better than nothing at all.

But like any defensive tool, the value of profiling is being eroded by the gains being made by the enemy. As Islamism expands beyond its base in the Middle East, and even beyond Asia, it becomes less dependent on terrorists who can be so easily profiled. For the moment the vast majority of Islamic terrorists are still middle eastern men, but they are increasingly drawing converts who are Scotch-Irish, Latino, Jewish and Chinese. And while they don't have enough right now that they could carry out another 9/11 without relying on Middle Eastern men. It might only take another decade before they could.

Europe in particular is generating a large number of converts to Islam, as are African-Americans and Latinos. These converts are often a good deal more radicalized than even born Muslims, and more violent. This will allow the Middle Eastern and Asian Islamic terrorist groups to carry out their attacks using people who look and sound like Americans, Canadians or Brits or Aussies. And the longer we remain on the defensive and tolerate Islamist buildups within our borders, the more of our own people will become recruited into the Jihadist network.

Middle Eastern terrorism is only a stopgap for Islam, until it can establish its own beachheads on our shores. The next stage of their program does not involve more Middle Eastern men getting on planes, it involves Imams preaching Jihad, and turning Americans into terrorists. Like Communism, Islam is an expansionist ideology whose second stage involves a domestic insurgency. Thus the next stage of the Jihad will rely on Islamist groups in America, the UK and France composed of second and third generation immigrants, as well as converts, who will carry out attacks in the name of imposing Sharia. That is already beginning to happen in the UK. It will come to America too.

Ethnic profiling therefore comes with a built in expiration date. The longer we allow Islamists to use our countries as a base, the sooner ethnic profiling will cease to be a useful tool. The coming threat is not from Yemeni, Saudi and Pakistani men, but from their American, English and Canadian pupils. Ethnic profiling worked when there was an ocean between us and Islam, but now Islam is here and is working to embed the next generation of its insurgency into our children.


  1. Roland Price4/1/10

    The poster of the terrorists looks like a poster for inbred and ugly people.
    Maybe they are terrorists because they are shunned by society for being so darn ugly.

  2. Interested Bystander4/1/10

    Roland has a point.
    The US needs to get itself an American president and Congress and then it can attend to business.

  3. OMG what a picture.

  4. Anonymous5/1/10

    As long as the white house is occupied by a pro-islamist and his group of thugs it will only get worse. I shudder to think of what the next decade will bring unless we wake up.

  5. Great article as usual, but it misses out one key terrorist strategy, namely the use of unsuspecting 'mules' to carry out attacks. There have been several such cases but the most well known is that of the Irish woman Anne Murray who, in 1986, was duped by her Jordanian 'boyfriend' to carry a bag (given to her by her boyfriend) containing semtex on to an El Al flight from London. In this case El Al's profiling techniques worked (and indeed ONLY their techniques would have worked) because, irrespective of the racial background of the traveller they are looking to be sure that the traveller's reasons for travelling 'make sense'. In this case the reason made sense to the woman (she believed that she was going to meet her boyfriend in Jerusalem where they would get married and that the reason he was not travelling with her was because he needed to go before her to make the wedding plans) but it did not 'make sense' to the Israelis. The way the semtex was sown into the bottom of her bag meant that (at that time) it was impossible to detect through scanning technology. Although she made it through the initial checks, because her story did not 'make sense' the alert El Al guard finally insisted on tearing apart the bag.



  6. i have a problem with this

    "Having a solid intelligence agency means an agency that doesn't use Muslims or people with dubious backgrounds as translators."

    UK and French top intelligence experts include Muslims. EU intelligence on the whole is better because of their Eurabian and internal ties.

  7. yes mules are an issue, but for the moment they're not being used much outside of Iraq because the Islamists are wedded to the ideology of personal martyrdom

    of course that can change without warning

  8. yes but not everything those agencies do is worth imitating either

  9. Dan, I agree. I was reffering specifically to their intelligence regarding Islamofacism. The European Union and UK are light years ahead because their most valuable agents in this field are all Musims. M16 openly states this. You're talking of Eurabia after all, it's all but Muslim in name now.

  10. The only mule mentioned is from 1986.
    That's a long time ago and most terror is carried out by mohammedans.

  11. Sammish5/1/10

    Edgar Davidson,
    I agree, the use of "mules" is probably the major problem for detecting terror suspects. That's why racial/ethnic profiling has its limits in terms of success. By the way the name of the Irish pregnant woman caught in London airport in 1986 by Israeli agents is Ann Marie Murphy (not Murray). Although she was dupped by her Jordanian-syrian boyfriend who was the father of her unborn child, to carry the semtex, in order to murder israelis and non jewish people traveling to Israel, no one can stop non-semitic looking crazies to carry atrocities in the name islamofascism.

    Let's remember that there were White upper middle class Americans fighting with the Taliban during the early phase of American presence in Afghanistan. In addition, there is the case of the three Japanese members of the red army who killed 26 people in Israel who were recruited and trained by palestinian terror group of Abu Hassan in Lebanon. Who says that Islamo-terror groups are not recruiting disgruntled white middle class kids right now to carry an attack two or four years from now. And Lemon, they do not have to be Mohammedans, all is needed are alienated groups who hate Western values and democracy. Look at what radical islam did to some jailed African Americans. These examples go to show that Islam will make a pact with the devil himself to inflict injuries on those labelled as the enemies of islam. Let us hope that we will not see this as an option used by islamofascists. This is why Americans need to wake up from their slumber about the nature of this deadly religion.

  12. Sultan, a typo the link says two million pounds not tons.

  13. right, thanks for catching that

  14. Arabs are not semitic Sammish

  15. Sultan, if you haven't already read some of the pieces at the link below, I think you will agree with much of what this writer says:


  16. yes i am familiar with the author

  17. Anonymous: In that case keep shuddering because the US doesn't look like it's ready to wake up for longer than a yawn.


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