Will Profiling Make a Difference?

The NYT has a Running Debate featuring 6 contributors with differing viewpoints. You can find the entire article here.

Here is Salam Marayati’s piece.

Get the Intelligence Right

Salam Al-Marayati

Salam Al-Marayati is executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, a public policy organization that focuses on U.S.-Muslim world relations, Middle East peacemaking, counter-terrorism and faith-based initiatives.

Profiling communities in counter-terrorism efforts is ineffective. Focus on one particular ethnicity or country of origin, and the terrorists will recruit from somewhere else. Many terrorism suspects came from within the United States and European Union countries. Profiling does not help against individuals with names and ethnic backgrounds like Richard Reid, Jose Padilla, David Headley and Michael Finton.

Treating all Muslims as suspects undermines our efforts to gain intelligence on terrorists.

Treating all Muslims as suspects also undermines our efforts to gain intelligence on terrorists. We shouldn’t be profiling the very communities we need information from to catch the bad guys. Umar Abdul-Muttallab’s father gave us such information to prevent the Dec. 25 terror plot.

Yet the message we’re now sending is: we will profile you for your courageous and just effort. We ignored the father when he wanted to help the United States and now we punish him for our mistakes. We are dismissing our assets and leveraging our weaknesses in our attempt to counter violent extremism. That lack of logic will resonate among all global citizens, not just Muslims.

We need to focus less on tactics, and more on developing intelligence against terrorists. Our strategies put us in a defensive mode that focuses too much on what terrorists did last time. Technologies, and worse, ethnic and religious profiling, are expensive in terms of our civil liberties, privacy and money. They are also easily defeated by terrorists.

There is no foolproof technology preventing terrorists from smuggling dangerous items on board a flight. An undercover investigation in 2006 by the Government Accountability Office found airport screeners failed to detect bomb making materials 21 out of 21 times.

This glaring problem along with the airport profiling of potentially hundreds of thousands of people every year will create more busy work that lacks precision and effectiveness. Fixing the bureaucratic incompetence behind information failures requires strong executive and Congressional leadership, not throwing away our precious liberties and limited resources.


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