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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Mischaracterizing Profiling

One of my favorite shows is Criminal Minds. It's about an elite unit of criminal profilers that track serial killers and build profiles, both personality and traits, of the killer in order to help track them.

Lately, there's been all sorts of controversy surrounding profiling at airports. That's because it has been totally mischaracterized. Folks on both sides make it seem as though every Arab, or every Arab man will be pulled out of line and given the third and fourth degree.

In fact, profiling is much more exact and sophisticated than that, both in tracking serial killers and in tracking terrorists. If we were to simply pull every Arab looking male out of line and give them the treatment it would not only be stupid but ultimately impossible. There's just too many.

By the time a criminal profiler is done giving a profile of a serial killer you not only know their approximate age, color, sex, but all sorts of character traits. They know if they work, what type of work environment they work in, and all sorts of family traits about the serial killer.

The same is true of profiling terrorists. Authorities would never merely be looking for an Arab male. In fact, we know some of the other red flags of Farouk: he had no luggage, he came from Yemen, spent time in Nigeria, one way flight. There's likely dozens of traits that authorities know to look for that we don't know about.

Here's how Bernie Goldberg described one such experience.

But why me? I was different. Almost everyone on the flight was an Israeli. I was an American. Almost everybody on the flight was going home. I was merely changing planes in Tel Aviv, en route to Amman, Jordan.

El Al security agents had every right to profile me. So what if I wasn’t a terrorist. How were they supposed to know, unless they treated me as a special case? Unless they profiled me.

Goldberg is a white male Jew over 60 but he exhibited multiple traits of a would be terrorist and he was profiled. In fact, he isn't an Arab but he still fit the profile. Being an Arab male would only be two of the traits necessary to raise a flag. It wouldn't be enough on its own.

The reason that profilers are given their own department in the FBI is because it works. The same is true of profiling terrorists. The reason that there's an uproar against it is because people totally mischaracterize the nature of profiling. To simplify it to merely Arab males is to totally mischaracterize the nature of what happens.


AG said...

I'm interested in your opinion, Mike on who exactly you think is doing the mis-characterizing of profiling? You claim that it would be unreasonable to pull every Middle Eastern man for extra screening but isn't that exactly what General McInerney was calling for on Fox News a few days ago?

mike volpe said...

I'm assuming that you are trying to goad me into a partisan spar. I don't know what McInerney said but profiling is a lot more exact thatn every Arab male.