Debating ‘Predictive’ Versus Racial Profiling

Miriam Hernandez, KABC-TV (Los Angeles), December 29, 2009

The attempted bombing of a Northwest Airlines flight Christmas Day brings up new questions about the controversial profiling of airline passengers.

The debate comes up whenever there is a terrorist incident. New safety rules are imposed, all passengers are delayed. The question is raised: Why not scrutinize all people based on race if it is a matter of saving lives?

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Is stereotyping OK? Aviation-safety specialist Barry Schiff has long been an advocate.

“We have not been attacked by Swedish girls, for example,” said Schiff. “We’ve been attacked by Muslim men.”

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Brandes is a security specialist. He spent years with EL AL Airlines, an Israeli company, which has a record of deterring terrorists. But he says racial profiling is wrong-headed. Instead, he pushes “predictive profiling.” It involves first knowing the methods of the attackers, from how they conceal bombs to how they try to blend in.

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Armed with this information, an interviewer talks to each passenger.

“People think, ‘Well, do we have time to do that?’ Yes, we do. We do have time. People stand in lines,” said Brandes.

He demonstrates why racial profiling doesn’t work: Kozo Okamoto headed an attack at an airport in Israel. A Palestinian group hired the Japanese man because he didn’t look Palestinian.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations points out other terrorists who buck the racial profile.

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As for improving screening technology, Brandes says: “I don’t know of one incident where a terrorist was found first by looking for the explosives, the weapons, and then looking for the intent.”

One more reason to discourage racial profiling: Muslim civil-rights advocates say it alienates Muslims, the very people the government depends on to gather intelligence.

[Editor’s Note: A related video is available at the original story.]

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