It depends what you mean by profiling – crude profiling will alienate rather than bring results in combatting terrorism

The latest appalling news from Baghdad that at least forty people have been killed by a female suicide bomber is a timely reminder that simple profiling will never be enough to combat determined terrorists.

The idea that by stopping and searching all young Asian males that you would significantly reduce the risk of suicide bombing is a fallacy.  As this news reminds us, not all such bombers are males.  Richard Reid, the convicted shoe bomber, was not Asian and was a convert to Islam.  And, of course, not all Asians are Muslims, nor are all Muslims Asian.  And most important of all, the vast majority of Muslims are not violent extremists and are not potential terrorists.

Crude profiling will not only be ineffective, but it will increasingly alienate precisely those people that the authorities need to be working with if they are to be effective in combatting terrorism.

In the Daily Telegraph on Saturday, Assistant Commissioner John Yates, the most senior counter-terrorist police officer in the UK, made the case for profiling.  But – and it is a big but – he was NOT arguing for crude profiling.  He was arguing for “intelligent” profiling.  And, yes, this does involve stopping people based on appearance and behaviour, but it is also about ” using “common sense” and “street-craft” to recognise suspicious behaviour.”

The Telegraph report goes on (mainly focussing on stops at airports):

“Mr Yates called for searches to be carried out using intelligence databases, and “sharp thinking” on the ground.

He said that suspicions should be aroused by an individual’s personal history and pattern of travel, how they bought their ticket, and their luggage.

The anti-terrorism chief continued: “At the same time, we must encourage police and security staff to use their experience, their street-craft – their ‘nous’. This means considering a range of factors – dress, body language, behaviour or simply something that’s ‘not quite right’.

“This puts the onus on our staff to be intelligent and to act with common sense.””

This is an approach that most people would support and it is right that this is the ethos now being promoted by the Metropolitan Police.  For it to work, of course, there also needs to be a rigorous system of management supervision and external scrutiny to make sure that the policy is not abused or mis-applied.

3 thoughts on “It depends what you mean by profiling – crude profiling will alienate rather than bring results in combatting terrorism”

  1. In NIrlan many believed that uttering the magic imprecation: “Ring of steel” was proof to bombers. They alleged that HMG’s failure to have confidence in incantation was the fault in the province’s security.

    The successors to these simple folk are believed to have sold their votes to David Chameleon, who cares not, except he would like to be Prime Minister, even if it only for a day, so his mother and wife are pleased.

  2. Profiling has failed us; we don’t need profiling to identify Individuals like the Christmas-Day Bomber or the Fort Hood Shooter! There is a better solution!

    Virtually all media outlets are discussing whether we should be profiling all Arab Muslims; I will in the one-page explain why we don’t need profiling. Over 15 years ago, we at the Center for Aggression Management developed an easily-applied, measurable and culturally-neutral body language and behavior indicators exhibited by people who intend to perpetrate a terrorist act. This unique methodology utilizes proven research from the fields of psychology, medicine and law enforcement which, when joined together, identify clear, easily-used physiologically-based characteristics of individuals who are about to engage in terrorist activities in time to prevent their Moment of Commitment.

    The Problem
    Since the foiled terrorist attack by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian national on Northwest Flight 253 to Detroit, the President has repeatedly stated that there has been a systemic failure as he reiterates his commitment to fill this gap in our security. This incident, like the Fort Hood shooting, exemplifies why our government must apply every valid preventative approach to identify a potential terrorist.

    The myriad methods to identify a terrorist, whether “no-fly list,” “explosive and weapons detection,” mental illness based approaches, “profiling” or “deception detection” – all continue to fail us. Furthermore, the development of deception detection training at Boston Logan Airport demonstrated that the Israeli methods of interrogation will not work in the United States.

    All media outlets are discussing the need for profiling of Muslim Arabs, but profiling does not work for the following three reasons:

    1. In practice, ethnic profiling tells us that within a certain group of people there is a higher probability for a terrorist; it does not tell us who the next terrorist is!

    2. Ethnic profiling is contrary to the value our society places on diversity and freedom from discrimination based on racial, ethnic, religious, age and/or gender based criteria. If we use profiling it will diminish our position among the majority of affected citizens who support us as a beacon of freedom and liberty.

    3. By narrowing our field of vision, profiling can lead to the consequence of letting terrorists go undetected, because the terrorist may not be part of any known “profile worthy” group – e.g., the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh

    The Solution
    Our unique methodology for screening passengers can easily discern (independently of race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, age, and gender) the defining characteristics of human beings who are about to engage in terrorist acts.

    The question is when will our government use true “hostile intent” through the “continuum of aggressive behavior” to identify potential terrorists? Only when observers focus specifically on “aggressive behavior” do the objective and culturally neutral signs of “aggression” clearly stand out, providing the opportunity to prevent these violent encounters. This method will not only make all citizens safer, but will also pass the inevitable test of legal defensibility given probable action by the ACLU.

    As our Government analyzes what went wrong regarding Abdulmatallab’s entrance into the United States, you can be assured that Al Qaeda is also analyzing how their plans went wrong. Who do you think will figure it out first . . . ?

    Visit our blog at where we discuss the shooting at Fort Hood and the attempted terrorist act on Flight 253.

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