THE BLOG
08/15/2006 04:07 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

UK Considers Racial Profiling, U.S. Moves to Psychological Profiling

Why do we need terrorists to destroy the cornerstones of democracy with bombs when governments are willing to do it themselves out of fear? Isn't that a sign that the terrorists have won? First it was the U.S. with its Patriot Act and warrantless NSA surveillance program, and now it's Britain, which is considering a new racial profiling program aimed at Muslims based on behavior, ethnicity, and religion.

"THE Government is discussing with airport operators plans to introduce a screening system that allows security staff to focus on those passengers who pose the greatest risk. The passenger-profiling technique involves selecting people who are behaving suspiciously, have an unusual travel pattern or, most controversially, have a certain ethnic or religious background."

Three days before last week's terror threat in London, before the fear set in, authorities were far more realistic about the downside to profiling:

"Three days before last week's arrests, the highest-ranking Muslim police officer in Britain gave warning that profiling techniques based on physical appearance were already causing anger and mistrust among young Muslims. Tarique Ghaffur, an assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said: "We must think long and hard about the causal factors of anger and resentment. "There is a very real danger that the counter-terrorism label is also being used by other law-enforcement agencies to the effect that there is a real risk of criminalising minority communities."

In the U.S., DHS Chief Michael Chertoff is leading the charge for expanded surveillance and terror laws. But that's not the worst of it. The U.S. is actually looking at an Israeli system of psychological profiling that would supposedly reveal passenger's "hostile intent."

At airport security checkpoints in Knoxville, Tenn. this summer, scores of departing passengers were chosen to step behind a curtain, sit in a metallic oval booth and don headphones.

With one hand inserted into a sensor that monitors physical responses, the travelers used the other hand to answer questions on a touch screen about their plans. A machine measured biometric responses -- blood pressure, pulse and sweat levels -- that then were analyzed by software. The idea was to ferret out U.S. officials who were carrying out carefully constructed but make-believe terrorist missions.

What kind of questions do they ask?

They won't even say what questions were asked of travelers, though the system is generally designed to measure physical responses to hot-button questions like "Are you planning to immigrate illegally?" or "Are you smuggling drugs."

The relevance to terrorism?

The method isn't intended to catch specific lies, says Shabtai Shoval, chief executive of Suspect Detection Systems, the start-up business behind the technology dubbed Cogito. "What we are looking for are patterns of behavior that indicate something all terrorists have: the fear of being caught," he says.

The program is already in place at some airports:

To date, the TSA has more confidence in people than machines to detect suspicious behavior. A small program now is using screening officers to watch travelers for suspicious behavior. "It may be the only thing I know of that favors the human solution instead of technology," says TSA chief Kip Hawley.

Did you ever get the feeling you were being analyzed going through security? You probably were:

The people-based program -- called Screening Passengers by Observation Technique, or SPOT -- began undergoing tests at Boston's Logan Airport after 9/11 and has expanded to about a dozen airports. Trained teams watch travelers in security lines and elsewhere. They look for obvious things like someone wearing a heavy coat on a hot day, but also for subtle signs like vocal timbre, gestures and tiny facial movements that indicate someone is trying to disguise an emotion.

....More than 80% of those approached are quickly dismissed, he says. The explanations for hiding emotions often are innocent: A traveler might be stressed out from work, worried about missing a flight or sad because a relative just died. If suspicions remain, the traveler is interviewed at greater length by a screener with more specialized training.

The TSA denies the program is racial profiling:

The TSA says that, because the program is based on human behavior, not attributes, it isn't vulnerable to racial profiling. Critics worry it still could run afoul of civil rights. "Our concern is that giving TSA screeners this kind of responsibility and discretion can result in their making decisions not based on solid criteria but on impermissible characteristics such as race," says Gregory T. Nojeim, associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington legislative office.

The program hasn't caught any terrorists, only drug mules. How pathetic.

SPOT teams have identified about 100 people who were trying to smuggle drugs, use fake IDs and commit other crimes, but not terrorist acts.

Not profiling, my a**. Who do you think they ask to submit to the further checks? Of course it's those of a certain racial or ethnic appearance or religious background. They are using the same old drug courier profile they used in Operation Pipeline -- minorities.

The New York Times writes: "In 1986, the Drug Enforcement Administration's Operation Pipeline enlisted police departments across the country to search for narcotics traffickers on major highways and told officers, to cite one example, that Latinos and West Indians dominated the drug trade and therefore warranted extra scrutiny.

"Since then, the D.E.A. and the Department of Transportation have financed and taught an array of drug interdiction programs that emphasize the ethnic and racial characteristics of narcotics organizations and teach the police ways to single out cars and drivers who are smuggling....Among the characteristics officers in Operation Pipeline have been trained to look for: people with dreadlocks and cars with two Latino males traveling together.."

That's when they weren't looking for people with fast food wrappers in their car, the sure mark of a drug trafficker, or as one officer put it:

Generally they don't have much luggage with 'em. If any. They usually use fast foods. They don't stop and go into restaurants and have full dinners. Usually stop at Quick Marts and things like this where they can gas and get fast food items. They generally don't stop to sleep. And quite often they carry pillows and blankets. They also, at times, you'll find that they have lots of different various types of communications equipment, such as CB radios, police scanners, radar detectors, this type of thing. Also, cellular phones are very popular as are phone pagers. You also occasionally find odor- masking materials, such as powdered soap, scattered around inside the car.

To top it all off, these pseudo-shrinks plan to take it one step further:

Even though his expertise is in human observation, U.S. behavior-recognition expert Dr. Ekman says projects like Cogito deserve a shot. He expects technology to advance even further, to devices like lasers that measure people's vital signs from a distance. Within a year, he predicts, such technology will be able to tell whether someone's "blood pressure or heart rate is significantly higher than the last 10 people" who entered an airport.

For those who protest that since Arabs and Muslims, not middle-age white women are committing the terror attacks, it's common sense that we just stop Arabs and Muslims, this ABA article has some good answers.

The attack on the World Trade Center on September 11 was not the first but the second assault on this landmark. When the first attack in 1993 failed to accomplish their goal, the terrorists pulled back and spent eight years devising an entirely new method of attack--planned to the smallest detail and then practiced so that it could be carried out almost perfectly. Despite our important military successes in Afghanistan, this set of qualities remains very much alive in the al-Qaeda structure. In the aftermath of September 11, we began to harden cockpit doors, to check carry-on bags for even the smallest potential weapons, and to profile Middle Eastern men. Al-Qaeda's answer was Richard Reid--a non-Arab, non-Middle Easterner from England; a British citizen with a valid British passport and a bomb in his shoe. Clearly, they knew what we were looking for, and they did not repeat what they had done in the past.

The Government tries to legitimize racial profiling two ways. The first is by asserting they are using a behavioral approach rather than racial profiling. Baloney. How many white families traveling with children with little luggage and fast food wrappers in the car do you think they stopped and asked for permission to search? Second, not everyone is pulled over for the psychological profiling, only those whom the screeners believe exhibit suspicious behavior. What percentage of those people do you think are white? I'd bet not many. Racial profiling under any other name is still racial profiling.

Like I said at the beginning, who needs the terrorists to take down America when the Government is doing such a better job of it by eradicating the civil liberties that are the hallmark of this great nation? At one time we were the beacon of liberty in the free world. That light has been dimming since September 11, and unless we clap three times for Tinkerbelle, it's about to go out.

The final question I have is who will be next after the Muslims? My answer: no one important, just you and me.

[By Jeralyn Merritt, who blogs daily at TalkLeft: The Politics of Crime.]