Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Profiling and filtering and screening

This is the cover of a book by Moustafa Bayoumi. I ran across it this morning when I was thinking that I wanted to write about profiling--a topic much in the news and in our minds these days. The subtitle of the book (in case it's too small for you to read) is "Being Young and Arab in America." Bayoumi has won several awards for this book, and in an interview, he explains that the book's title came from a question posed decades earlier by W.E.B. DuBois. In the book, Bayoumi presents portraits of men living that title question. I admire the whole concept and plan to read the book.
     I've been thinking about profiling because of the two recent terrorist events and the government's new thinking about how to try to head off future terrorist attacks. The word profiling sounds ominous, with its attempt to boil people down to a few variables--to look at them from the side, so to speak, rather than full in the face. I'd always before thought of profiling as racial or ethnic, which it often is, but now I've learned that it can also involve other aspects of identity: behavioral (acting nervous?), national, religious (of course), and probably lots of other things. The idea is to narrow the field; this is filtering, as we do on certain websites when we're trying to find a restaurant of a particular cuisine in a particular neighborhood in a particular price range. A related concept is screening, which they do at the airport, when they x-ray our carry-ons and have us walk through the metal detector and compare our ID with our tickets.
     My mother-in-law does not think they're doing a very good job of any of this--profiling, filtering, screening. She thinks the focus should be on the people who go to particular mosques or study with particular religious leaders--as did the man who did the shooting at Fort Hood and the man who tried to blow up the flight to Detroit. I guess this would be behavioral profiling. Once the profile is applied, everyone in the group becomes a problem. Complicated. Did you see the debate in the New York Times on the subject of profiling? It's worth reading.


John Byrnes said...

We don’t need to profile!

We don’t need to profile. At the Center for Aggression Management, we use easily-applied, measurable and culturally-neutral body language and behavior 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.

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

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.

Susan Messer said...

John, thanks for your comments. Sounds like this is something you've given a lot of thought. Not sure I understand everything you're saying, but I'll definitely check out your blog. It's hard to imagine that anything could "easily" discern these people.