Right-wing media have attacked Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano for recently saying that it is "not good logic" to target Muslim men younger than 35 for security screenings at airports. In her comments, Napolitano instead recommended screening based on travel plans, behavior, and existing intelligence -- a method recommended by experts who note that racial profiling is ineffective.
Napolitano Says That It's "Not Good Logic" To Choose Racial Profiling Over More Effective Methods
Napolitano: Profiling Muslims Younger Than 35 Is "Not Good Logic." In remarks made on June 7 at New York University's Brennan Center for Justice, Napolitano responded to a question by Jacob Goodwin, editor of Government Security News, about profiling "men, typically under 30 or 35," who are Muslim. Napolitano responded that it is "not good logic" to profile based on those criteria and stated that it's better to screen based on "a technique, a tactic, a behavior" that would indicate the person "has moved into the category of a violent extremist." From the June 7 briefing:
GOODWIN: You said earlier in your remarks that there's no single portrait of a would-be terrorist, and that the administration has no interest in profiling, and that not only are those policies -- the profiling policies -- illegal, but they are also ineffective. Common sense tells me that in most of the cases since 9-11 that we've made arrests, it wouldn't be profiling to discover that most of the suspects or the convicted parties have been men, typically under 30 or under 35, often Muslim.
It's not -- so my question is, is it -- I guess my question is, how do you square what most people would say if they're just talking to you, that common sense would suggest those are appropriate parties to at least focus more attention on, given that those were the parties that most often are arrested? Not to say that all men under 35 who are Muslim are suspect -- not at all -- but I guess my question is, why wouldn't the department focus more of its attention on that category of individual who's turned up most often as the suspect?
NAPOLITANO: Well, because you're not using good logic there. You've got to use actual intelligence that you receive. And so you might, you know -- all you've given me is kind of status. You haven't given me a technique, a tactic, a behavior, something that would suggest that somebody is not -- not a Muslim, but is Islamist, and is actually -- has moved into the category of a violent extremist.
Now we have ways to make, you know, some of those cuts, and they involve the intel that comes in, the analysis that goes on.
For example, we -- oftentimes for travelers entering the United States, we won't do a -- what's called a secondary inspection just because they're a 35-year-old male who appears to be Muslim, whatever that means. But we know from intelligence that if they have a certain travel pattern over a certain period of time, that that should cause us to ask some more significant questions than if they don't. And that's what secondary is all about.
So we continue to focus ourselves and to focus those with whom we work and those we train not on status issues but on actual behaviors, tactics, and techniques that we can associate from intelligence that we know or things we have learned or other countries have learned that could translate into possible criminal or terrorist activity. [NYU's Brennan Center for Justice, 6/7/11 accessed via YouTube]
Right-Wing Media Attack Napolitano For Not Profiling Muslim Men
Hoft Calls Napolitano's Statement "Unbelievable." In a June 9 Gateway Pundit post titled, "Unbelievable... Napolitano: Concentrating Terrorist Screening Efforts on Muslim Men Under 35 is Not Good Logic," Jim Hoft wrote: "Could Napolitano really be this clueless? Even in Egypt they screen Muslims. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told reporters today that concentrating terrorist screening efforts on Muslim men under age 35 is 'not good logic.' Listen and weep for your country." Hoft concluded: "Napolitano must have missed this report in December of last year... In the last 24 months 126 people have been indicted on terrorist-related charges in the United States. All of them were Muslim." [Gateway Pundit, 6/9/11, emphasis in original]
The Blaze Calls Profiling Muslim Men Younger Than 35 "Common Sense." On June 9, Glenn Beck's website The Blaze posted video of Napolitano's remarks under the headline, "Janet Napolitano: Using Common Sense And Concentrating Terrorist Screening Efforts On Muslim Men Under 35 Is Not Good Logic." [The Blaze, 6/9/11]
Fox Nation: "Napolitano Muslim Statement Takes The Cake." On June 9, the Fox Nation posted the video of Napolitano under the headline, "Napolitano Muslim Statement Takes The Cake." [Fox Nation, 6/9/11]
But Security Experts Agree Profiling Is Ineffective And Potentially "Dangerous"
Former Bush Secretary Of Homeland Security Chertoff: Profiling For Terrorists Is "Misleading And, Arguably, Dangerous." On the January 3, 2010, edition of NBC's Meet the Press, Michael Chertoff, former secretary of Homeland Security during the Bush administration, stated that "relying on preconceptions or stereotypes is actually kind of misleading, and, arguably, dangerous":
DAVID GREGORY (host): But I want to press Secretary Chertoff on this point, because that's what the counterterror officials will say -- it's more than a contributing factor. We know who 90 percent of these terrorists are. There may be other examples of women being used and whatnot, but Islamic males between the age of 20 and 30 make up roughly 90 percent of that profile. Is that an inappropriate or appropriate way for law enforcement to be targeting individuals?
CHERTOFF: I think relying on preconceptions or stereotypes is actually kind of misleading and, arguably, dangerous.
Obviously, you --
GREGORY: So that's wrong, that profile is wrong?
CHERTOFF: And what I would say is you want to look at things like where has the person traveled to, where have they spent time, what has their behavior been? But recognize -- one of the things that al Qaeda has done is deliberately try to recruit people who don't fit the stereotype, who are Western in background or appearance. Look at the guy like Adam Gadahn, who grew up in California, who is one of the senior-level al Qaeda operatives but does not fit the normal prejudice about what an extremist looks like.
Similarly, on the December 29, 2009, edition of NPR's All Things Considered, Chertoff stated that "the danger and the foolishness of profiling" is that "people's conception of what a potential terrorist looks like often doesn't match reality":
ROBERT SIEGEL (host): How should the U.S. reconcile reasonable, ethical restraints on profiling with some obvious facts that this sort of thing has been done by Muslim men, typically, and also of a certain age. One could focus pretty heavily on Muslim men under 40 and come up with lots of the people who are posing threats.
CHERTOFF: Actually, Robert, I'm going to argue that this case illustrates the danger and the foolishness of profiling because people's conception of what a potential terrorist looks like often doesn't match reality. In this case we had a Nigerian, for example, not a person from the Middle East or from South Asia. If you look at the airline plot of 2006, two of the plotters were a married couple that were going to get on a plane with a young baby. The terrorists understand that the more they vary the kind of operative they use, the more likely they're going to be able to exploit prejudices if we allow those prejudices to guide the way we conduct our investigation.
SIEGEL: Your objection to profiling is not just as an ethical matter, it's a point of efficacy also. You're saying it doesn't work.
CHERTOFF: I think it's not only problematic from civil rights standpoint, but frankly, I think it winds up not being terribly effective. [NBC, Meet The Press, 1/3/10, accessed via Nexis; NPR, All Things Considered, 12/29/09]
International Security Service Exec Steve Koenig: "There's No Place For Racial Profiling In A Modern Society." A January 1, 2010, McClatchy News article reporting that "[a]s some politicians step up calls for increased racial or ethnic profiling to thwart terrorism, most experts say such profiling is inefficient and unfair" quoted Steve Koenig, chief executive of international security services firm SCG International, as saying: "There's no place for racial profiling in a modern society. ... We have Indonesian terrorists. We have Chechen terrorists. There are Irish terrorists. You cannot apply that sort of methodology to solving this problem." [McClatchy News, 1/1/10, accessed via Nexis]
Aviation Security Expert Sheldon Jacobson Reportedly "Said Racial Profiling Itself Is Ineffective." The same McClatchy News article also reported that aviation security modeling and risk management specialist and University of Illinois engineering professor Sheldon Jacobson "said racial profiling itself is ineffective," and quoted him saying: "The fact of the matter is, we're dealing with a moving target. If we keep chasing the risks that we've already seen, we will ultimately miss the risk that is going to be coming toward us." [McClatchy News, 1/1/10, accessed via Nexis]
Statistical Model For Examining Rare Events Finds Profiling Ineffective. According to a February 2, 2009, New York Times article, "Too great a dependence on profiling passengers by ethnicity or nationality is an ineffective way to conduct airport screening to catch terrorists, according to a statistical model for examining rare events." The article quoted the report's author, University of Texas computational biologist and computer scientist Dr. William H. Press, who said: "We have been told that strong profiling will somehow find and siphon off the worst offenders and we'll be safe. It's not true. The math does not support that." [The New York Times, 2/2/09]