Flight 253 Incident Touches Off New Round Of Religious Profiling Promotion

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

ThinkProgress pulls together a helpful little collection of various luminaries, granted an audience on Fox News, talking about how this past weekend's incident aboard Flight 253 should touch off a new round of intense racial and ethnic profiling against Muslim-looking passengers.

There's something almost childlike in the simplicity of a Peter King, who believes: "100 percent of the Islamic terrorists are Muslim, and that is our main enemy today. So why we should not be profiling people because of their religion?"

This is security policy as devised by the stressed-out limbic systems of lizards, exclusively. While it's pretty to think that turning the TSA loose to spend hours at play in the field of racial profiling is effective, the fact of the matter is that this would do nothing more than add another layer of false security to an agency that has made false security its specialty. And actual security experts agree that this is not the way to go:

A group of senior US intelligence specialists combatting terrorism is circulating a memo to American law enforcement agents worldwide cautioning against profiling based on race, nationality or other characteristics.

[...]

In their memo, titled "Assessing Behaviors," and in interviews with the Globe, the officials said that any profile based on personal characteristics or personality draws an investigator's attention toward too many innocent people, and away from too many dangerous ones.

The authors urge investigators to look at "what a person has done and plans to do, rather than who that person is."

They offer a series of questions for investigators to ponder. The questions encourage officials to stay focused on behaviors that might indicate that a terrorist is selecting targets, recruiting and
organizing members, acquiring skills, assessing vulnerabilities of targets, acquiring financing, probing boundaries, communicating with conspirators, using insiders, maintaining secrecy, assimilating into Western culture, and acquiring weapons.

"A lot of people are asking, 'What does a terrorist look like?'" another of the memo's authors said. "How does it help you protect the water supply to know that these terrorists were Arabs? If I have a profile, I'm looking for people who match a picture. We need to look for a set of attack-related behaviors."

More recently, in a study conducted by William Press, bioinformatics researcher at the University of Texas, Austin, racial profiling was found to be "no more effective than random screen[ings]."

Beyond that, it's important to remember that the terrorist threat is an adaptive one. Screen all the people named "Abdul" and pretty soon terrorists will just be coming to airports with different names. Stealing credit cards and forging boarding passes isn't exactly the stuff of criminal masterminds. I also have no idea how you profile someone's religion. I'm pretty sure you can buy wearable crucifixes on the Internet, for cheap, and thus create a confounding, security-defeating disguise.

Apparently, Ann Coulter thinks that these tactics would be no different than "profiling the Klan," which would explain why I am always being stopped and interrogated by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

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