When the Profile Fits the Crime


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fedlaw
July 28, 2005, 08:22 AM
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July 28, 2005
When the Profile Fits the Crime
By PAUL SPERRY
IN response to the serial subway bombings in London, Mayor Michael Bloomberg prudently ordered the police to start searching the bags of New York's subway riders. But there will be absolutely no profiling, Mr. Bloomberg vowed: the police will select one out of every five passengers to search, and they will do so at random, without regard for race or religion.

In that case, the security move is doomed to fail.

Young Muslim men bombed the London tube, and young Muslim men attacked New York with planes in 2001. From everything we know about the terrorists who may be taking aim at our transportation system, they are most likely to be young Muslim men. Unfortunately, however, this demographic group won't be profiled. Instead, the authorities will be stopping Girl Scouts and grannies in a procedure that has more to do with demonstrating tolerance than with protecting citizens from terrorism.

Critics protest that profiling is prejudicial. In fact, it's based on statistics. Insurance companies profile policyholders based on probability of risk. That's just smart business. Likewise, profiling passengers based on proven security risk is just smart law enforcement.

Besides, done properly, profiling would subject relatively few Muslims to searches. Elderly Muslim women don't fit the terrorist profile. Young Muslim men of Arab or South Asian origin do. But rather than acknowledge this obvious fact, the New York Police Department has advised subway riders to be alert for "people" in bulky clothes who sweat or fiddle nervously with bags.

Well, a lot of people wear bulky clothes. A lot of people fiddle with their bags. And for that matter, a lot of people sweat. Could the Police Department be any more general in describing the traits of an Islamic suicide bomber? Could its advice be more useless?

Truth be told, commuters need to be most aware of young men praying to Allah and smelling like flower water. Law enforcement knows this, and so should you. According to a January 2004 handout, the Department of Homeland Security advises United States border authorities to look out for certain "suicide bomber indicators." They include a "shaved head or short haircut. A short haircut or recently shaved beard or moustache may be evident by differences in skin complexion on the head or face. May smell of herbal or flower water (most likely flower water), as they may have sprayed perfume on themselves, their clothing, and weapons to prepare for Paradise." Suspects may have been seen "praying fervently, giving the appearance of whispering to someone. Recent suicide bombers have raised their hands in the air just before the explosion to prevent the destruction of their fingerprints. They have also placed identity cards in their shoes because they want to be praised and recognized as martyrs."

The bodies of the London suicide bombers were recognized by their identification cards. And on the eve of the 9/11 attacks, the hijackers shaved and perfumed themselves with flower water in a pre-martyrdom ritual called ablution. But don't expect the federal authorities to screen for these indicators on Amtrak, which pulls into Penn Station in New York and Union Station in Washington, two of the biggest commuter-rail depots in the country. Not only is there no passenger profiling on Amtrak, but there's no screening or mandatory searching of carry-on bags. The only restriction on bags is a 50-pound weight limit - and that's not much comfort when you recall that the bombs used in London weighed only 10 pounds.

Once an Islamist suicide bomber is sitting next to you on the train, your chances of escape are slim. The only solution is for the police to stop him well before he boards your car. But with the system as it stands, that terrorist could easily slip in through the numerical window of random security screening. By not allowing police to profile the most suspicious train passengers - young Muslim men who fit the indicators above - Mr. Bloomberg and other leaders not only tie one hand behind law enforcement's back, but they also unwittingly provide terrorists political cover to carry out their murderous plans. Call it politically correct suicide.

Paul Sperry, a Hoover Institution media fellow, is the author of "Infiltration: How Muslim Spies and Subversives Have Penetrated Washington."



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El Tejon
July 28, 2005, 09:06 AM
Wasn't one of the bombers a convert? How do you spot that? :confused:

Tory
July 28, 2005, 10:28 AM
"the police will select one out of every five passengers to search, and they will do so at random, without regard for race or religion."

Well, which is it - RANDOM or every 5th passenger? :scrutiny:

Random-stop roadblocks were deemed unConstitutional; those which stopped EVERY car or a fixed number (every 10th car, for example) were acceptable. This suggests that random searches would be deemed illegal, while searching every Xth victim is acceptable.

The Real Hawkeye
July 28, 2005, 10:50 AM
Well, which is it - RANDOM or every 5th passenger?

Random-stop roadblocks were deemed unConstitutional; those which stopped EVERY car or a fixed number (every 10th car, for example) were acceptable. This suggests that random searches would be deemed illegal, while searching every Xth victim is acceptable.Do you really trust the SCOTUS to tell us the definition of random in this context. Every fifth person is random because it demonstrates no regard for any evidence, or for who is being searched. No mental effort or observation is required short of the ability to count to five. Strictly mathematically, that is not random, but as to who gets searched and why, it is.

Standing Wolf
July 28, 2005, 09:47 PM
IN response to the serial subway bombings in London, Mayor Michael Bloomberg prudently ordered the police to start searching the bags of New York's subway riders.

There's nothing the least bit "prudent" about throwing out what little is left of the Fourth Amendment.

White Horseradish
July 28, 2005, 10:14 PM
I am so tired of hearing this idiotic argument. For the 50007834th time, there is no easy way to tell a radical Islamist from anyone else at a glance. How exactly are we supposed to profile them? Or are we going to require they wear specific insignia on their clothing? Perhaps we could use green crescents. Now, how do we get all perpective bombers to put them on?

Kurush
July 28, 2005, 11:04 PM
Profiling does not work. I once again point profiling fans to the following paper: Carnival Booth Algorithm (http://www.firstmonday.org/issues/issue7_10/chakrabarti/)

Rebar
July 29, 2005, 12:13 AM
there is no easy way to tell a radical Islamist from anyone else at a glance.
It's not perfect, but it's better than patting down 80 year old white women in wheelchairs while letting an obviously middle eastern man who is sweating and smells of flower-water through.

Flyboy
July 29, 2005, 01:12 AM
Thank you, Kurush, I was about to post the same. The profiling fans need to be hit in the head with a rolled-up copy of that paper every time they bring up the subject until they get the picture.

DRZinn
July 29, 2005, 01:24 AM
The only logical way to do it (if it made sense to do it at all), given that you can't search everyone, would be to search all Arab males between 18 and 45 (those statistically most likely to be terrorists) AND a random selection of everyone else.

R.H. Lee
July 29, 2005, 01:29 AM
"Move along Mr. Achmed and take your backpack with you. You're #4. The little old lady in the wheelchair is #5" :rolleyes:

Alex45ACP
July 29, 2005, 01:30 AM
Random searches are a waste of time. You are not going to catch terrorists with random searches in a subway system used by 4 million people a day. If on the extremely rare chance a terrorist is picked for a search, he'll either:

1. Leave and come back 5 minutes later.
2. Leave and go to a different station.
3. Blow himself up in the crowd of people waiting to be searched.

If security is beefed up too heavily on mass transit, terrorists will simply switch targets.

People need to realize that we can not be totally safe from terrorists in a free society. Stuff like this is slowly desensitizing people to violations of their privacy and civil liberties. I pray Americans will wake up and realize that they're just trading one kind of terror for another, before it's too late.

K-Romulus
July 29, 2005, 10:29 AM
as the Iraqi terrorists show, blowing yourself up while waiting in line causes just as much damage as actually getting to where you "should" blow yourself up.

And if the bomb's purpose is to cause mayhem, then a bomb going off in the crowd will be just as panic-producing as a bomb going off in a tunnel somewhere.

Art Eatman
July 29, 2005, 11:38 AM
Unless you live in Condition White, all of us profile every day. We make some judgement about anybody we see, whether on the sidewalk or in the mall or wherever. We look at style of dress, style of hair, color, body language--and make the judgement as to some amount of danger or no-danger. And, for sure, men do indeed "profile" pretty girls. :D

FWIW, a deputy in Palm Beach County, Florida, profiled northbound "drug smugglers" on I-95. His success rate was 86%. He was forced by court order to stop the profiling...

Art

scout26
July 29, 2005, 11:42 AM
But if it were Blond haired, Blue eyed, White males, named Sven blowing themselves up no one would be compalining about profiling.

The Real Hawkeye
July 29, 2005, 12:12 PM
But if it were Blond haired, Blue eyed, White males, named Sven blowing themselves up no one would be compalining about profiling.You are absolutely 100% correct. The left would be screaming for profiling in that case.

Rebar
July 29, 2005, 12:13 PM
You are absolutely 100% correct. The left would be screaming for profiling in that case.
Agreed.

I'll add there was no mention of profiling when the FBI went after the KKK, or the Italian mafia.

cuchulainn
July 29, 2005, 12:14 PM
The English cops who mistakenly shot that Brazilian kid the other week were profiling (albeit unofficially). Oops.

However, my concern about profiling is that it might go too narrow. We're concerned about adherents to an idea -- and most pro-profilers want us to look at racial characteristics: "Middle Eastern."

That region straddles the three old-world continents. Its population represents all the races of the three continents -- white, black, Indian and Mongoloid. Many Arabs look caucaisan. Indeed, Iranians are caucasians; they aren't Arabs.

Moreover, Islam is a worldwide religion. Many Muslims are black. Many are Asian or Pacific Islander -- there are strong Al Quada presenses in Indonesia and the Phillipines. Who's to say that the next attack from an radical Islamic won't be by some guy who looks like Sulu from Star Trek or be lilly-white Charlie Chechnia?

Yes, stop frisking 90-year-old grannies. That's not only silly, but a waste of resources. But don't go the opposite direction ... too narrow.

Both the pro and anti-profiling sides need to get a clue.

If we're going to profile, we'd better understand what we're looking for. Those who have a stereotypical image of a "Middle Easterner" in mind don't know enough about the threat.

R.H. Lee
July 29, 2005, 12:21 PM
If we're going to profile, we'd better understand what we're looking for. Those who have a stereotypical image of a "Middle Easterner" in mind don't know enough about the threat.
Virtually all the attacks come from Arabs with roots in middle eastern theocracies. If you want to expand the suspects to include any Muslim from any predominantly Islamic country, you may find yourself in an untenably provocative situation.

White Horseradish
July 29, 2005, 12:23 PM
It's not perfect, but it's better than patting down 80 year old white women in wheelchairs while letting an obviously middle eastern man who is sweating and smells of flower-water through.In that case the better place to look is the wheelchair. Can you guarantee me that the nice old lady doesn't have a caretaker that slipped something into her things? Heck, anyone can slip a weapon into a wheelchair's pocket... And if it's an electric wheelchair where one of the batteries was replaced with a chunk of C4 of the same size? The old lady doesn't have to know.

And if sweating is a sure sign of a terrorist, I'm screwed.


Look, the only way to tell if someone is up to no good is by behavior and possibly body language. People can be trained to recognize that. Some folks in LE acquire the skill with experience. Searches based on anything else are definitely unreasonable.

cuchulainn brings up a similar point. If we concentrate on Middle Eastrners, we'll be missing a lot of other people. Croatian Muslims don't look Arab. John Lindh doesn't look Arab. John Allen Muhammad does not look Arab. Hasan Akbar does not look Arab.

Rebar
July 29, 2005, 12:28 PM
In that case the better place to look is the wheelchair. Can you guarantee me that the nice old lady doesn't have a caretaker that slipped something into her things? Heck, anyone can slip a weapon into a wheelchair's pocket... And if it's an electric wheelchair where one of the batteries was replaced with a chunk of C4 of the same size? The old lady doesn't have to know.
It's not perfect, so it's useless? Sorry, I don't subscribe to that point of view.

And if old ladies in wheelchairs DO start to explode, then by all means the profile can be expanded to include them.

DirtyBrad
July 29, 2005, 12:38 PM
I'm so happy to live in a country that will randomly search my bag!

I can't wait until I live in a country that searches the bags of specific ethnicities!

Now, to be fair, the other significant terrorist attack on our soil in my lifetime involved that McVeigh fellow. So, we should really be profiling Islamic men and young military types. You know, young, white, crew cut, military-style clothing. Actually, now that I think about it, the worst act committed on a train in recent memory was that Ferguson guy, so we'd better also profile for middle-aged black men. Wait, there was also that poison gas attack in Japan that killed all those people on the subway over there. We'd better throw them in, too.

Excellent. We'll have the government search the bags of young Islamic men, military-type white guys, middle-aged black guys, and the Japanese and we'll all be safe on the train.

Man, to think, just fifteen years ago no one hated us and no one wanted to do us harm. Oh well, new times call for new tactics. Thomas Jefferson would be so proud of how adaptable we are!

cuchulainn
July 29, 2005, 12:40 PM
Virtually all the attacks come from Arabs Wrong. For starters, a goodly number of the attacks have been carried out by Persians (Iranians). Persians are causians, and they look more like Italians or Spaniard than like Arabs.

Frank Sinatra looked as much like an Iranian as he did an Italian. That's right, Frank Sinatra in his younger days looked exactly -- EXACTLY -- the way a radical Islamic terrorist from Iran might look.

The summer wind, came blowing in, from across ... BOOM!

Look, I've got nothing against profiling. Let's do it. But let's not narrow our focus too far.

White Horseradish
July 29, 2005, 12:49 PM
It's not perfect, so it's useless? Sorry, I don't subscribe to that point of view. Apparently you do. I did not say it was useless, you did.

Also, you seem to have ignored my proposition n how to do it better.

R.H. Lee
July 29, 2005, 12:49 PM
Wrong. For starters, a goodly number of the attacks have been carried out by Persians (Iranians). Iran is an Islamic theocracy, last time I checked. If you go back to about 1981, when Sadat was assassinated, I think you'll find virtually all Islamic inspired terrorism has roots in the middle east. To split hairs between Persians and Arabs, when Islamofascim is the driving force, is to miss the point entirely.

Kurush
July 29, 2005, 12:55 PM
I see the profiling fans still aren't reading the Carnival Booth paper, which addresses their arguments. I'll summarize and grossly oversimplify:

Scenario 1:
There are 10 terrorists in a cell. They successively go through security checkpoints, with no suspicious items at all, to test whether they are selected for heightened checks. 5 of the terrorists fit a profile and are checked every time. Five others them do not fit a profile and are not checked. The first 5 terrorists prepare the bombs and then leave the target nation.

The remaining five enter the target area. Because they don't fit a profile, they have a 0% chance of being thoroughly checked. They successfully set off the bombs.

Scenario 2:
Again, 10 terrorists. They probe the checkpoints but find no pattern. They prepare the bombs, and try to pass the checkpoints to set them off. If every third person is randomly checked, there is a 98% chance that at least one of the bombers will be caught. The target zone is shut down and secured by police. Some of them set off their bombs at the checkpoints, others are caught, but assuming reasonably well designed checkpoints, little loss of life will occur.

In other words, profiling never works against terrorist cells who test security beforehand. It is a well established fact that Al-Qaeda's MO is to extensively test security, so profiling systems are completely useless.

cuchulainn
July 29, 2005, 01:19 PM
Iran is an Islamic theocracy, last time I checked. Yes it is, and Iranians are Caucasians. That's why we should include Caucasians in our profiling. Iranians look like southern Europeans (Italy, Spain, etc). Iranians don't look like Arabs.

I'm all for profiling, but let's do it right. If we start focusing on stereotypical racial characteristics, we'll be overlooking many of those who want to kill us.

There are Caucasian Al Quada members from Iran. Still more simply look Caucasian -- whitebread Kasey Kasem is an Arab, for pete's sake. There are black al Quada members from places like Ethiopia. There are Asian al Quada members from places like Indonesia and the Phillipines. The lily-white, blond Chenians have sympathy for Al Quada

DRZinn
July 29, 2005, 03:03 PM
<ahem>

The only logical way to do it (if it made sense to do it at all), given that you can't search everyone, would be to search all Arab males between 18 and 45 (those statistically most likely to be terrorists) AND a random selection of everyone else.

Kurush
July 29, 2005, 04:48 PM
Following the CB algorithm, that proposal works out to be exactly the same as random searching, but with a smaller chance of catching terrorists than you would have had if effort hadn't been wasted on Arabs. Additionally it antagonizes Arab-Americans and Arab countries to no benefit.

TallPine
July 29, 2005, 08:04 PM
Additionally it antagonizes Arab-Americans and Arab countries to no benefit.
Sort of like invading Iraq, huh ....?

:rolleyes:

Flyboy
July 31, 2005, 11:32 PM
FWIW, a deputy in Palm Beach County, Florida, profiled northbound "drug smugglers" on I-95. His success rate was 86%.
I recognize that he may have been successful, Art, but there's a crucial difference here: hunting drug-runners is a target-rich environment. Even if 100% of his arrests were smugglers, what percentage of smugglers did he catch? I would bet a very tiny fraction.

In the case of would-be suicide bombers, the number of targets is very small--maybe half a dozen or less. Consequently, the odds of nabbing one of them--regardless of selection method--are a whole lot lower than the odds of nabbing a drug-runner. I don't have a good suggestion for how to find them, but using that deputy as an example doesn't work due to the significant difference in circumstances.

Frankly, I'm not impressed with any search-without-cause. I know we have to do something, but I refuse to compromise on my rights. We need to realize that freedom necessarily entails risk, and that we'll just have to accept that risk (we the people; THR members probably already know it). It sucks, but them's the facts. Freedom is a gamble; you pays your money and you takes your chances.

DRZinn
August 1, 2005, 01:53 PM
Following the CB algorithm, that proposal works out to be exactly the same as random searching, but with a smaller chance of catching terrorists than you would have had if effort hadn't been wasted on Arabs.Actually, as long as people are free to refuse (which hopefully will not change) none of it is any good anyway.

carebear
August 1, 2005, 02:34 PM
I disagree with one key assumption in the Carnival Booth methodology, that both the general US flying population and terrorist populations are "Gaussian".

The pool of transportation-asset terrorists we have experienced (the ones we are screening for) haven't been a random sampling of ethnicities. To throw in scattered individuals, not associated with any organized group and years dispersed, like Tim McVeigh (truck bomber) and the Unibomber (mail bomber) begs the question.

We aren't looking for them because, thus far, they and others like them have not shown themselves to be a threat to the assets we are actually screening for. Likewise, Aum Shiriko didn't attack "Charlie on the MTA", they went after a train in their home territory. Nor have we seen any Indonesians boarding buses in Chicago.

So, realistically, until we get solid evidence that the current crop of ME-based, organized cell, primarily Saudi or Pakistani, suicide bombers have expanded their range of operatives in the US; we CAN in fact add tailored screening to random searches with a net increase in efficiency. The odd Richard Reid would have the same chance of a random stop under such a program as he does now especially with the sniffer technology I hate so much.

Show me some evidence of a 2nd-generation Norwegian grandma joining Hezbollah and I may reconsider.

Although I think the feel-good searches they propose for NY and most of the ones at the airport are more hindrences than help, given their current poor execution.

Rebar
August 1, 2005, 02:41 PM
So, realistically, until we get solid evidence that the current crop of ME-based, organized cell, primarily Saudi or Pakistani, suicide bombers have expanded their range of operatives in the US; we CAN in fact add tailored screening to random searches with a net increase in efficiency.
Although I think the feel-good searches they propose for NY and most of the ones at the airport are more hindrences than help, given their current poor execution.
I agree with both points.

Kurush
August 1, 2005, 05:02 PM
I disagree with one key assumption in the Carnival Booth methodology, that both the general US flying population and terrorist populations are "Gaussian".A Gaussian distribution is just another term for a normal distribution, a bell curve. If you measure any particular "profile variable" of any random sample of the population, you will get a distribution approximating the distribution in the general population. Assuming a sufficient number of "profile variables" are independent, but not necessarily themselves normally distributed, the sum of the variables will approximate a normal or Gaussian distribution. This is called the Central Limit Theorem. I hope that addressed your concern.

carebear
August 1, 2005, 06:11 PM
I understand what the distribution IS. :rolleyes:

I'm just saying that the demonstrated sample pool we are drawing from; ie organized terrorist groups who have within the past, say, decade, have attacked or planned to attack US aircraft or allied mass transit (the pertinant threat), are NOT at this time evenly distributed across racial and or ethnic lines. The guys in 9/11 and the guys in Britain were patently not caucasians of apparent European or North American origin.

They were and apparently continue to be (see London), in fact, of Saudi or Pakistani extraction within a limited age range. Which means we can and could have been profiling based on those characteristics all this time.

With no conclusive or even suggestive evidence of a diversification of the terrorist pool we are specifically addressing, to dismiss profiling based on the supposition of a (apparently non-existent) normal distribution is laughable.

Richard Reid is an exception, McVeigh is irrelevent in motive and target to the discussion at hand. The Czechens and Indonesians have shown neither the real interest or capability to play on this side of the pond and the Iranians haven't shown up at all on the operational side.

Yes, you plan according to capabilities not intentions, thus you randomize; but to not focus on demonstrated repeated capabilities and trends as well is to leave an arrow out of the quiver for no practical reason.

For statistics to work the premises have to be correct and fit the real data sets.

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