As ThinkProgress has repeatedly noted, the right-wing has used the failed terrorist attack by Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to renew calls for greater ethnic profiling of Muslims. “There should be a separate line to scrutinize anybody with the name Abdul or Ahmed or Mohammed,” said conservative talk radio host Mike Gallagher on Fox News last week.
But when David Gregory asked former Bush CIA director Michael Hayden on Meet The Press today if we are “effectively ethnically profiling” potential terrorism suspects, Hayden pushed back against the idea of ethnic profiling as a solution:
HAYDEN: I’m not quite sure the context in which you’re asking the question David about ethnically profiling, but with regard to intelligence…
GREGORY: Isn’t there a profile of who we think the terrorists are?
HAYDEN: Of course there is, but it’s based more on behavior. I mean, for example, the individual in question here, Abdulmutallab, I mean he would not have automatically fit a profile if you were standing next to him in the visa line at Dulles, for example. So it’s the behavior that we’re attempting to profile. And it’s the behavior, these little bits and pieces of information that were in the databases that we didn’t quite stitch together at this point in time. But it wasn’t a question of ethnicity or religion. Those are contributing factors, but it’s what people do that we should be paying attention to.
Unsatisfied, Gregory pressed his point to former Bush Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff, saying that counterterrorism officials have told him that religion and ethnicity are more than “contributing factors” because “90 percent” of “these terrorists” are “Islamic males between the ages of 20 and 30.”
But Chertoff pushed back, arguing that “relying on preconceptions or stereotypes is actually kind of misleading and arguably dangerous.” Chertoff noted that al Qaeda has intentionally recruited people “who don’t fit the stereotype.” Watch it:
Earlier this week, Chertoff told NPR that Abdulmutallab’s case “illustrates the danger and the foolishness of profiling because people’s conception of what a potential terrorist looks like often doesn’t match reality.” “I think it’s not only problematic from civil rights’ standpoint, but frankly,” Chertoff said, “I think it winds up not being terribly effective.”