Some of the nation's top political commentators, legislators and intellectuals offer some insight into the biggest question burning up the blogosphere today.


Today's question:

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Would "profiling" be a useful or appropriate tool to stop terrorist attacks?


Christopher J. Farrell, director of Investigations & Research for Judicial Watch, said:

Yes.  We "profile" behaviors and actions all the time. Walk up to a street corner -- are you "profiling" traffic to see if a Metro bus is likely to run you down? (a real question in DC).  Insurance companies profile, Courts profile.  How many suicidal young men with radical Islamist backgrounds acting-out does it take for one to draw a reasonable conclusion that persons within that demographic (who are attempting to take certain actions or access certain areas) may require additional scrutiny? -- NOT "judgment" -- just a measure of caution -- thought -- discretion.  If septuagenarian Polish nuns were acting in the same manner I'd make the same recommendation.  But they aren't.  So, let's deal with and act consistent with documented facts.  Don't be distracted or dissuaded by those offering hysterical false-choice scenarios, hyperbole and hypotheticals.  Stick with documented actions, behavior and historical facts.

Justin Raimondo, editorial director of Antiwar.com, said:

Profiling is in our past, if not our present. During the Clinton years, if you'll recall, Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreMcAuliffe on 2000 election: 'I wish the United States Supreme Court had let them finish counting the votes' All Democrats must compromise to pass economic plans, just like 1993 Amy Coney Barrett sullies the Supreme Court MORE was in charge of a task force that devised criteria which would invite a more extensive security check than was normally called for. Among those criteria: a lone younger male traveling solo, a category I fell into -- and I'm sure my dark complexion didn't help either. In those years, I was invariably stopped at the gate and subjected to a pat down. After 9/11, however, this stopped:  new criteria, no doubt.

Look, the word "profiling" is subject to interpretation. What does it really mean? The criteria that would fit the task of weeding out possible terrorists -- holding radical Islamist views -- are impossible to discern short of the sort of mind-reading technology that exists only in science fiction.

Two of the passengers on that flight from Amsterdam to Detroit tell us Umar had the assistance of at least one accomplice, who intervened on his behalf with the airline in order to get him on the plane, and the Dutch military police are now saying the accused bypassed passport control entirely by claiming Umar was a Sudanese refugee. Furthermore, how did Umar retain his US visa even after his own father expressed fear to Nigerian and US authorities that he might pose a threat?

Those are the real chinks in our armor. We ignore them at our peril.


Brent White, professor of Law at the University of Arizona, said:

Here we go again with the profiling question. Let’s see, we’ve had white male terrorists, Arab male terrorists, and now a black male terrorist. What do all of these terrorists have in common?  Well, they are all men.Maybe all men should be subject to extra screening. But then, of course, the terrorists would use women… What I find most outrageous is the suggestion by Republican Peter King of New York – and now John F. McManus of The John Birch Society - that we profile “Muslims.”   What exactly does a Muslim look like by the way?  Muslims belong to a religion, not a race, gender or age group. Is the suggestion that we engage in religious profiling? Not only would this violate hallowed principles of religious freedom enshrined in the First Amendment, it would require the profiling of a billion Muslims in the world. That’s an obviously ridiculous notion given the fact that part of the problem that led to Abdulmutallab getting on the plane in the first place is that the 500,000 person long consolidated watch list currently maintained by the FBI is itself unmanageable…. 


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Peter Navarro, professor of Economics and Public Policy at U.C. Irvine, said:

Every congressman and senator on Capitol Hill used “profiling” to run their campaigns. Every successful marketer uses profiling for targeting. The only flaw with profiling is that it is politically incorrect. Get over it.


Richard S. Lindzen, atmospheric physicist and professor at MIT, said:

Profiling has obvious uses, but I would be cautious. If, for example, it were known that elderly, crippled nuns would not be checked, it would seem logical to employ an elderly, crippled nun for a terrorist act. Some balance of prudent judgement and randomness is probably needed, and this would serve, as well, to maintain a certain non-prejudicial fairness.


Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, said:

Who would we "profile," every dark-skinned person who tries to get on a plane?


Alan Abramowitz, professor of political science at Emory University, said:

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Behavioral profiling is not only appropriate, but also likely to be much more effective than racial, ethnic, or religious profiling.  The actions of the Nigerian man who attempted to set off a bomb on the Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit should have set off alarm bells. Anyone purchasing a one-way ticket for an international flight with cash and without checking any luggage should be viewed with suspicion and receive a full body scan and/or pat down. Anyone whose name appears on a watch list, even if it is not on the "no fly" list, should also receive special attention. 


Hal Lewis, professor of Physics at UC Santa Barbara, said:

Not only useful and appropriate (those are weasel words) but essential. Our enemies are Moslem extremists (they don't deny it, they brag about it), and we are crazy not to use that information. I don't know why profiling has gotten such a bad name; we use it every day to make choices, and it's a powerful tool. All it means is using what you know about your enemies to help detect them---no more and no less. If you don't use the information you have, you are making the decision that you'd rather lose the war. The day will come when something far worse than 9/11 happens in this country, and then (as with 9/11 itself) there will be a chorus of "why didn't we do more to prevent it." As in that case, too late.


John F. McManus, president of The John Birch Society, said: 

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Unfortunately, the answer is yes. In a TV interview this morning (Dec. 29), Rep. Peter King of New York, who is the lead Republican serving on the House committee dealing with this matter, said that profiling Muslims makes good sense. He cogently stated that when tracking down the Mafia, the authorities look to Italians, and when investigating IRA crimes, the authorities look at Irishmen. He is correct in his conclusion about the need for some kind of profiling to lessen and maybe put an end to the type of terrorism that America and several other countries have experienced at the hands of militant and suicidal Muslims.


Brad Delong, professor of Economics at the UC Berkley, said:

There is no doubt that our anti-terrorism effort has been dysfunctional for pretty much all of the past decade...

A little history: Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonBiden needs to be both Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside Republican spin on Biden is off the mark Bill Clinton shares video update after release from hospital MORE liked Richard Clarke. He essentially made him Deputy President for Counterterrorism--allowed him to sit in the Big Chair during National Security Council meetings on terrorism, order cabinet members around, and demand results because everybody knew that Clinton would back Clarke.

Then comes the George W. Bush administration. Condi Rice takes over as head of the NSC staff. She keeps Clarke. But she clips his wings. Instead of bossing the NSC Principals' Committee, Clarke is now reduced to reporting to the NSC Deputies' Committee and having to listen respectfully while people like Paul Wolfowitz pronounce that stateless terrorism is not a threat, Saddam Hussein is a threat. So Clarke wages bureaucratic warfare: he gets his friend CIA Director George Tenet to talk about Al Qaeda to President Bush. And President Bush is worried.

And at this point--as I understand it--Condi Rice explodes: she is the boss of the NSC, and no jumped-up holdover director two- or three-layers down beneath her in the bureaucracy is going to runaround her and upset her priorities. So she (and Wolfowitz, and company) push back: they reassure George W. Bush that this isn't very important and put Clarke's issues at the very bottom of the to-do list.

Now there is some counterpushback: the PDB for August 6, 2001 is headlined: "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." But Condi Rice and company have by this time done their job of reassurance: According to Ron Suskind's sources, Bush's response to the PDB was to tell the briefer: "All right. You've covered your ass, now." And the chance that counterterrorism would be a Bush administration priority in the summer and fall of 2001 ebbs away.

After 9/11 things don't get much better: the missed opportunity at Tora Bora because Rumsfeld and company do not deploy our military, the Bush administration's focus not an Al Qaeda but rather on using Al Qaeda as an excuse to attack Saddam Hussein, our kidnapping and torture of a few Al Qaeda operatives and of lots of other people whose only crime was to have clan enemies claim that they are Al Qaeda and so sell them to us--and remember: everybody we have tortured has relatives, and if those relatives weren't Al Qaeda sympathizers before they are now. And now we have Republican senators holding up appointments in Homeland Security for no reason and so leaving the bureaucracy essentially on autopilot, with few policy decisions and rankings of priorities being made.

I actually think "profiling," whatever it may mean, is among the last of the things we need to discuss here. We would kinda have to know what profiling is before we could have an intelligent discussion of the question. And it is way, way down on the list of things we need to do.