9News failed to offer counter-opinion of unnamed experts' endorsement of ethnic profiling

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

During a report about airline security, 9News co-anchor Bob Kendrick stated, "Some experts say American ... airlines ... need to set aside political correctness in favor of methods employed by Israeli airlines ... Ethnic profiling is part of their security." But Kendrick failed to name the experts who support such profiling and failed to mention that some experts oppose the practice.

Following an August 10 report on the disruption of an apparent terrorist plot originating in Great Britain, KUSA 9News co-anchor Bob Kendrick stated, "Some experts say American and European airlines need to set aside political correctness in favor of the methods employed by Israeli airlines -- considered the most secure in the world. No questions are considered off limits. Ethnic profiling is part of their security."

From the August 10 broadcast of Denver NBC affiliate KUSA's 9News at 10 p.m.:

KENDRICK: What passengers take on airplanes is considered the Achilles' Heel of airline travel. And explosives expert James Keller from the University of Denver says the items we all like on board may make air travel extremely vulnerable.

KELLER: Without pointing at specific things to give things away, there are at least two or three of those that are even the right color for one of the components for a binary, or two-component, explosive materials. How much would it take to bring down an airplane? And that would depend on where it was put, but large aircraft have come down with a very small amount of explosive involved.

KENDRICK: Some experts say American and European airlines need to set aside political correctness in favor of the methods employed by Israeli airlines, considered the most secure in the world. No questions are considered off limits; ethnic profiling is part of their security.

Kendrick did not name the "experts" who apparently support such profiling. Moreover, Kendrick did not provide any opposing viewpoints and gave no indication that other experts oppose the use of racial and ethnic profiling.

One such opponent of racial profiling is Patrick Smith, an airline pilot, air travel columnist, and author of Ask The Pilot -- Everything You Need To Know About Air Travel (Riverhead Trade, 2004), who has written "The trouble with profiling isn't necessarily that it's racist or discriminatory. The trouble is that it doesn't work." In a June 9 article for Salon.com, Smith asked: "Why can't we, or why don't we, have a system like [Israel's]?" Smith wrote:

The United States has dozens of mega-terminals, and hundreds more of varying sizes; the nation's top 25 airports each process more than 20 million people a year. Tel Aviv is Israel's sole major airport, handling 9 million passengers annually -- about the same as Raleigh-Durham, N.C. The ability to focus on this single, consolidated portal makes the job comparatively simple. There are aspects worth borrowing, for sure, but it's naive to think Israeli protocols can, in whole, be fitted to a nation that is 50 times more populous, and immeasurably more diverse and decentralized.

In a follow-up piece on June 16, comparing profiling at Israeli border checks to security at U.S. airports, Smith continued:

Contrary to what some would have you believe, land crossings in the Middle East and air terminals in the United States are very different things facing very different challenges. Yes, the Sept. 11 skyjackers -- along with many around the globe who, we assume, desire to emulate them -- were, without exception, young Arab males. But that, however illogical it first seems, in no way suggests that obsessing over dark skin and Saudi passports is an efficient way to root out saboteurs. On the contrary.

The 19 skyjackers succeeded not because we failed to flag them -- in fact, several of the cabal, including Mohammed Atta, were singled out by the CAPPS-1 (for computer-assisted passenger prescreening system) program then in place -- but because they knowingly anticipated what levels of resistance they would face, from previously gathered intelligence available to check-in staff, and, most important, physical resistance (or lack thereof) from passengers and crew aboard the four doomed Boeings. The attackers took advantage of the skyjack paradigm as it existed at the time. They did not exploit a loophole in airport security; they exploited a loophole in our mind-set and expectations. And whatever can be said of terrorists, they're generally not stupid; the more narrowly we profile, the easier the system becomes to skirt. Routine, as any security or antiterror expert will tell you, is weakness. The trouble with profiling isn't necessarily that it's racist or discriminatory. The trouble is that it doesn't work.

Smith also cited the book Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly about Security in an Uncertain World (Springer-Verlag New York, Incorporated, 2003), by Bruce Schneier, whom Smith says, "smartly maintains that the most valuable front-line defense against terror is not a one-dimensional preoccupation with skin color," and "advocates a mix of random screening and a cadre of well-trained, experienced professionals, skilled in the art of behavioral profiling."

Schneier is the founder and chief technical officer of Counterpane Internet Security, Inc., which provides security monitoring services to Fortune 2000 companies worldwide. He is the author of six books on security and cryptography and has written extensively for Wired magazine as well as for, among other publications, The Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, Sydney Morning Herald, International Herald Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, Newsday, Salon.com, and the San Jose Mercury News. Schneier has testified on security policies before the United States Senate and has talked to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration about airline security.

In Beyond Fear, Schneier wrote:

Ethics aside, institutionalized profiling fails because real attackers are so rare: Active failures will be much more common than passive failures. The great majority of people who fit the profile will be innocent. At the same time, some real attackers are going to deliberately try to sneak past the profile. During World War II, a Japanese American saboteur could try to evade imprisonment by pretending to be Chinese. Similarly, an Arab terrorist could dye his hair blond, practice an American accent, and so on.

Profiling can also blind you to threats outside the profile. If U.S. border guards stop and search everyone who's young, Arab, and male, they're not going to have the time to stop and search all sorts of other people, no matter how hinky they might be acting.

And in a December 2004 interview for the University of Louisiana-Monroe journal turnrow, Schneier offered the following on the shortcomings of racial profiling:

But as soon as you profile, you create an avenue for the attacker to gain an advantage. Any attacker that doesn't meet the profile is going to have an easier time getting through whatever security system you have in place. Think of a wolf in sheep's clothing.

It's no different with people. If we knew that Arab men, and only Arab men, were terrorists, then profiling would make security sense. But we don't.

Schneier also offers the following additional points on his website:

  • Whenever you design a security system with two ways through -- an easy way and a hard way -- you invite the attacker to take the easy way. Profile for young Arab males, and you'll get terrorists that are old non-Arab females. This paper looks at the security effectiveness of profiling versus random searching.
  • If we are going to increase security against terrorism, the young Arab males living in our country are precisely the people we want on our side. Discriminating against them in the name of security is not going to make them more likely to help.
  • Despite what many people think, terrorism is not confined to young Arab males. Shoe-bomber Richard Reid was British. Germaine Lindsay, one of the 7/7 London bombers, was Afro-Caribbean. Here are some more examples.
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