As some politicians step up calls for increased racial or ethnic profiling to thwart terrorism, most experts say such profiling is inefficient and unfair - while pointing to behavioral profiling as an alternative.
Behavioral profiling can be very effective in fingering potential terrorism suspects, experts say. Israel's El Al airline uses profiling as part of a multilayered screening process that scrutinizes mannerisms, flier histories and body language, among other variables, and has a highly successful record.
While the types of countries a person has visited and their contacts might play a role, such profiling is not based solely on race or ethnicity.
"There's no place for racial profiling in a modern society," said Jamie Smith, chief executive of Virginia Beach-based SCG International, an international security services firm. "We have Indonesian terrorists. We have Chechen terrorists. There are Irish terrorists. You cannot apply that sort of methodology to solving this problem."
In the aftermath of last weekend's thwarted terrorist attack on a Detroit-bound plane, New York State Assemb. Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) has said he intends to introduce a bill allowing police to use ethnic profiling in terror probes.
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) has voiced support for using ethnic and religious information when evaluating individuals and allowing such information to "tip the balance."
But Muslims and civil liberties groups balk at calls for more profiling. "This is just a knee-jerk reaction," said Nayyar Imam, 53, of Mount Sinai, president of the Long Island Muslim Alliance. "We should train our people and improve our security instead of framing Muslims and saying Muslims are terrorists. It will make the conditions worse. We will create an enemy within ourselves."
But some experts say although race or religion has no role in traditional policing methods, it does in national security. "Clearly, when we're talking about national security and border stuff, I think that profiling, along with other methodologies, should play an overt and acknowledged, accepted part of the process," said John Winn, a professor at Shenandoah University in Virginia who specializes in national security law.
Some Long Island residents agree. Marilyn Peiser, 56, of Massapequa, said she supports profiling. "You know what - it could be anyone," she said of terrorists. "I do think it's OK, given the whole terrorist threat. They really need heightened security overall."
Arriving at Kennedy Airport earlier this week, David Sacks, 51, of Fort Lauderdale, said he wholeheartedly supports profiling. "I think it's worth noting that almost all the terrorists so far have been from the Middle East or that region," he said. "So it probably makes sense to concentrate resources on them, in a humane way."
Sheldon Jacobson, a University of Illinois engineering professor who specializes in aviation security modeling and risk management, said racial profiling itself is ineffective. "The fact of the matter is, we're dealing with a moving target," he said. "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."
Amy Zalman, a senior strategist at a Washington D.C.-based defense research company, said unless law enforcement is trained well, successful racial profiling is nearly impossible. "If they're unused to the ethnic groups that they are looking for, they might not be able to distinguish somebody from Costa Rica from somebody from Bangladesh."
That is a real concern for someone like Gurvinder Brar, 45, of Levittown. Brar practices the Sikh religion. Many Sikhs were physically and verbally harassed after the Sept. 11 attacks when people mis-identified them as Muslims.
"Anybody with a Muslim name, anybody who looks different, all other communities would be targeted," said Brar. "Americans will target everybody except Americans."
With Elizabeth Moore