The FBI’s plan to “profile” Muslims
Jul. 10, 2008 | The U.S. Justice Department is considering a change in the grounds on which the FBI can investigate citizens and legal residents of the United States. Till now, DOJ guidelines have required the FBI to have some evidence of wrongdoing before it opens an investigation. The impending new rules, which would be implemented later this summer, allow bureau agents to establish a terrorist profile or pattern of behavior and attributes and, on the basis of that profile, start investigating an individual or group. Agents would be permitted to ask “open-ended questions” concerning the activities of Muslim Americans and Arab-Americans. A person’s travel and occupation, as well as race or ethnicity, could be grounds for opening a national security investigation.
The rumored changes have provoked protests from Muslim American and Arab-American groups. The Council on American Islamic Relations, among the more effective lobbies for Muslim Americans’ civil liberties, immediately denounced the plan, as did James Zogby, the president of the Arab-American Institute. Said Zogby, “There are millions of Americans who, under the reported new parameters, could become subject to arbitrary and subjective ethnic and religious profiling.” Zogby, who noted that the Bush administration’s history with profiling is not reassuring, warned that all Americans would suffer from a weakening of civil liberties.
In fact, Zogby’s statement only begins to touch on the many problems with these proposed rules. The new guidelines would lead to many bogus prosecutions, but they would also prove counterproductive in the effort to disrupt real terror plots.
If the aim is to identify al-Qaida operatives or close sympathizers in the United States, racial profiling is counterproductive. Such tiny, cultlike terror organizations are multinational. Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, is a Briton whose father hailed from Jamaica, and no racial profile of him would have predicted his al-Qaida ties. Adam Gadahn, an al-Qaida spokesman, is from a mixed Jewish and Christian heritage and hails from suburban Orange County, Calif. When I broached the topic of FBI profiling to some Muslim American friends on Facebook, a scientist in San Francisco replied, “Profiling Muslims or Arabs will just make al-Qaida look outside Islam for its bombers. There are many other disgruntled groups aside from those that worship Allah.”
It is a mystery why the Department of Justice has not learned the lesson that terrorists are best tracked down through good police work brought to bear on specific illegal acts, rather than by vast fishing expeditions.
Mukasey: Get government all terror-fighting tools
Critics say the still-tentative policy would open the door to racial profiling. Department officials, however, say the changes would help investigators root out terrorists before they strike.
Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said President Bush has improperly used the department to spy on people in the United States, has authorized the torture of suspected terrorists and has undercut environmental laws. “This administration makes the Watergate looks like child’s play,” Leahy said.
Added the committee’s top Republican, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania: “Since 9/11, I believe historians will look back at this period as the greatest expansion of executive authority that has gone unchecked by the Congress.”
The proposed Justice policy, first reported last week by The Associated Press, would let FBI agents open preliminary terrorism investigations after mining public records and intelligence to build a profile of traits that, taken together, are deemed suspicious. Factors that could make a U.S. citizen or resident the subject of an investigation include travel to regions of the world known for terrorist activity, access to weapons or military training and someone’s race or ethnicity.
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