Hispanic terrorist proves profiling works
6/12/2002 12:00:00 AM - Jonah Goldberg
When radical Islamic terrorist groups start using Hispanics as agents, you know racial profiling is working.
As we all know by now, Jose Padilla, AKA Abdullah al Muhajir, an American citizen of Puerto Rican ancestry, was arrested last month for plotting to attack the United States with a so-called radioactive "dirty bomb."
Padilla's early apprehension was a huge victory for American intelligence officials. Attorney General John Ashcroft (for whom my wife works, in case the full-disclosure fascists are unsatisfied with my previous divulgences on this score) declared that Padilla's plot to attack Washington with a "radiological" bomb was derived from "multiple independent and corroborating sources."
The initial lead, however, clearly came from Abu Zubaydah the high-ranking al-Qaida leader held in an undisclosed location by the U.S. government. Presumably Zubaydah disclosed the information after being relentlessly tickled and perhaps even forced to watch the film "Beaches" over and over again.
According to various news reports, al-Qaida was keen on using Padilla for the obvious reason he might have an easier time getting through security. "Padilla's Hispanic background and U.S. citizenship suggest that (Osama) bin Laden's al-Qaida network is seeking to recruit non-Middle Easterners, preferably Americans with valid passports, to elude detection based on profiling," reported The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Nonetheless, I can guarantee you that opponents of racial profiling will add Padilla to the list of examples they use to "debunk" the need for profiling. These folks cite the few known examples of non-Arab or non-Middle Eastern members of al-Qaida and declare "See! profiling doesn't work."
For example, on June 9, the day before Padilla's arrest was announced, the often thoughtful Clarence Page made precisely this argument in the Chicago Tribune. Responding to Congressman Mark Foley's comment that "Al-Qaida is not an equal-opportunity employer." Page responded, "Oh, I wouldn't be so sure about that.
Richard Reid, who was caught trying to light his explosive sneakers aboard an America-bound jetliner, is British. Zacarias Moussaoui, the alleged 20th hijacker, is French."
And Page added, "And, how about John Walker Lindh, the `American Taliban' who trained with al-Qaida? He grew up in Maryland, where he was born, and in California, an all-American boy." Page concludes, "from here, al-Qaida's looking like a rainbow coalition."
With all due respect, this is silliness on stilts. Nobody disputes that al-Qaida's membership is overwhelmingly Middle Eastern and Arab in its makeup. For example, when the FBI revised its Most Wanted list after Sept. 11, everyone on the roster was Arabic. To cite three -or for that matter 30 -examples of American or "Western" drones in al-Qaida is like citing the relative handful of American citizens who fought for the Nazis to dispute that we were at war with Germany.
The only way John Walker Lindh, or for that matter Timothy McVeigh, refute the case for ethnic profiling is if you believe that profiling is foolproof. Nobody is saying that. If profiling were a surefire way to prevent terrorist attacks, we wouldn't need a CIA or a military capable of taking the fight to Afghanistan. Indeed, if profiling were flawless, we wouldn't even need to torment Zubaydah with endless Bette Midler movies. All we'd have to do is hang back at airports and other points of entry and use our clipboard checklist to profile people.
The point is that profiling is a tool, useful in some cases, less so in others. But it is a straw-man argument, as the debaters say, to suggest that proponents of profiling consider it a silver bullet in the war on terrorism.
In fact, as far as I know, nobody seriously advocates the notion that security officials scrutinize, say, airline passengers simply because they're Arab-looking. That would be a waste of everyone's time, which is why it hasn't happened very much. Indeed, despite what you may hear from the ACLU, most of the "racial profiling" horror stories pushed by the media involve a lot more factors than mere skin color.
Nevertheless, a good profiling system would take into account the fact you're Arab or Arab-looking, that you have a Muslim name (100 percent of al-Qaida members are Muslims, by the way), you're the right age and gender, and if you've been to Pakistan or Saudi Arabia in the last year or so, in which case you probably deserve some extra attention. Undoubtedly, this is unfair to some people. But it's no more unfair than the random searches which catch, say, elderly Norwegian women who fit absolutely none of the criteria for potential terrorists.
Again, the clearest proof that profiling works is that al-Qaida is using agents who don't fit the standard profile. When your enemy has to abandon its most plentiful weapons -in this case, suicidal Arab murderers -because you've learned to defend against them, that's good news.
Obviously, al-Qaida has a lot more Arabs than Hispanics. But, they've rightly concluded that Hispanics would have an easier time making it through our defenses. They're right, of course, which is why profiling alone isn't an all-purpose tool. But since when do you abandon a tool because it can't do everything? I can't use my hammer as a screwdriver, but my screwdriver is still pretty useful.