The Right Way to Profile

Yes, the Tsarnaev brothers could have been stopped.  Even after Tamerlan slipped past all of the so-called trip wires designed to detect potential terrorists, even after the brothers procured and assembled the components for their bombs undetected, even after they evaded the vast government security apparatus erected to thwart them and their ilk, they could have been prevented from carrying out their crime if only we had dared to engage in the kind of profiling practiced successfully in other parts of the world.

Note well that I do not refer to racial profiling.  The kind of profiling I endorse is based on behavior, on trained officers observing a crowd of people and looking for individuals whose behavior is anomalous from that exhibited by those around them.  In a previous column on the Boston bombing, I wrote the following:

In every police department there are officers whose ability to spot a stolen car or an armed gang member seems so uncanny to their peers that it is assumed their success is the result of luck.  Similarly, at every international airport and port of entry there are customs agents whose “hit rates” in interdicting contraband far surpass those of their coworkers.  The successes these men and women have are not the result of luck, but rather of their ability to detect the subtle behavioral cues exhibited by people who drive stolen cars, carry weapons, or attempt to smuggle contraband into the country.

The techniques employed by these officers and agents can be taught and put to use in venues where, as at the Boston Marathon, there is no effective way to screen everyone who enters the area.  The Tsarnaev brothers, as they moved through the Boylston Street crowd in the moments before their attack, surely exhibited behavior that would have caught the eye of an alert and properly trained police officer.

So why was there no properly trained police officer there that afternoon?  Because in the United States, law enforcement executives -- which should be sharply distinguished from rank-and-file police officers and federal agents -- are fearful of being labeled as anything other than fully supportive of the multiculturalist agenda, so much so that even hearing the word “profile” uttered in their presence can have them wetting themselves and collapsing in tears.

Sadly, though the first part of the counterfactual scenario I present above is plausible, with police officers taking note of the Tsarnaev brothers’ behavior and then preventing them from carrying out the bombing, so too is the second part, with the media’s obsession with profiling and the parade of people whose longing for grievance is their primary reason for getting out of bed in the morning.

Witness a 2010 Washington Post report on security measures used on commercial flights to and from Israel.  Most passengers board their flights with relative ease, while a small number is selected for what sometimes is very lengthy and intrusive screening.  While acknowledging the success Israel has had with its methods, much of the story is given over to accounts of Arabs and other non-Jews being subjected to what they felt was unfair and excessive scrutiny.

Though successful profiling focuses on behavior rather than race, we live in the real world where the threat to an El Al flight or to a soft target like the Boston Marathon is most likely from a Muslim male between 17 and 30 years of age.  Officers searching for a potential terrorist from among a group of airline passengers or in a large crowd would be derelict in their duty if they failed to give a person who met that description a second look.  When the statistics are added up -- and you know these statistics are recorded in minute detail -- the ethnic balance of those stopped and questioned will likely be out of sync with the overall population.

And so what?

While the 9/11 hijackers were indeed Arabic and recognizably Muslim, the Tsarnaev brothers were not.  But anyone familiar with the history of Muslim terrorism realizes that though the odds favor a terror bomber being of Middle Eastern appearance, he may also be a white from Chechnya, a Uyghur from China, or a black from Sub-Saharan Africa.  That such people are subjected to more police attention than some great-grandmother from Dubuque or a sorority girl from Ole Miss is a sign of a security arrangement’s reasonableness rather than its insensitivity.

But none of this matters, of course, to those responsible for making security policy in America.  Better to inconvenience every last passenger going through an airport, better to hoist paraplegics out of their wheelchairs so as to search them than focus attention on those who history teaches are most likely to blow up an airplane or fly it into a skyscraper.  And better to let a few people get blown to bits and a few dozen others get maimed every so often than employ techniques that will prevent such horrors, albeit with the side effect of having members of the racial grievance industry get their backs up on television.

The threat of Muslim terror is not abating.  How many more Americans will be killed before this changes?