- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 4, 2002

Federal officials say heightened sensitivity to racial profiling is undermining federal agents' efforts to prevent further terrorist attacks in the United States.
"We've made people so frightened of doing their jobs because they have to be politically correct that they avoid the obvious," said Rep. Mark Foley, Florida Republican, who is pushing for tighter immigration controls. "Al Qaeda is not an equal-opportunity employer."
In the Justice Department, sources said yesterday that concern about being second-guessed by Congress and civil rights groups for targeting Arab or Muslim men has had a chilling effect on terrorism investigations.
"We know who's trying to kill us, and we know they're here," one Justice official said. "And yet we have to be extra sensitive as to not offend anyone.
"It makes it very difficult, particularly when certain Democratic senators were chastising the FBI for not connecting the dots while one of their colleagues was attacking the FBI for doing interviews of visitors from al Qaeda countries. It sends confusing signals."
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said concern about racial profiling hindered the FBI from aggressively investigating reports last year that men of Middle Eastern descent were training at U.S. flight schools.
"I believe it played a role in the reticence to really move ahead" with the FBI probe, Mrs. Feinstein said Sunday on CNN. "I think we're going to have to come to terms with it."
But Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican and a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said critics such as Mrs. Feinstein share the blame.
"It probably is true," Mr. Barr said of the FBI becoming too worried about racial profiling. "But I get a kick out of these folks like Dianne Feinstein and others who have been on the FBI's back for years criticizing them for that. Now they're saying, 'Oh gee, maybe this caused a problem.'"
Racial profiling refers to police focusing on certain races or ethnic backgrounds while investigating individuals for specific kinds of criminal activity, sometimes based on crime statistics. Attorney General John Ashcroft has said he won't tolerate the practice. The Supreme Court has not ruled directly on the issue.
In the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks which were carried out by Muslim men from Middle Eastern nations federal agents have tried to prevent further attacks without appearing to focus unfairly on Muslim men from the Middle East.
FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III announced last week that he is reorganizing the agency and will reassign hundreds of agents to counterterrorism.
Feinstein spokesman Howard Gantman said Mrs. Feinstein was not criticizing those who complain about racial profiling by police. He said she was referring only to the reaction within the FBI in the terrorism investigations.
"There is evidence she's reviewed that there was a concern about racial profiling that might have kept part of that investigation from proceeding as early as it might have," Mr. Gantman said. "The FBI agent [in Phoenix] was writing a memo saying we might need to explore this issue about people from certain Arab countries coming here and studying in our flight schools. There did seem to be a way in which a concern about racial profiling hampered the investigation."
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, said the FBI may have been too concerned about accusations of racial profiling. But speaking Sunday on "Face the Nation," Mr. Leahy said it would be "pure balderdash" to suggest such concerns hampered any investigation.
"If that is part of what's going on, then that is the weakest, slimmest, most ridiculous excuse that could be used," he said. "The fact is, you go after criminals, whoever they are."
Mr. Foley said federal authorities should be profiling Muslim men between the ages of 18 to 40 from Middle Eastern countries.
"We've been so lax on the job with [the Immigration and Naturalization Service] and border enforcement, and now we're taking it to the extreme by saying, 'Oh my God, here comes a Muslim from Saudi Arabia, I better not even talk to him because they'll be fearful that I'm profiling him,'" Mr. Foley said. "Well, yes, profile him, that's my word to the troops.
"Strong tactics deserve strong medicine. We're in a war. We know [they are] largely Arab-world, Saudis, Muslims, extremist males that's fairly indicative of who will rain terror on us."
A retired FBI agent familiar with counterterrorism investigations noted that all of the 19 hijackers on September 11 were of similar ethnicity and belonged to a specific secular religious group.
"What do terrorists look like?" the former agent asked. "Well, look at the 19 involved in the September 11 attacks or those who struck the World Trade Center in 1993. Had any of the 19 been stopped at the airports and questioned based on their appearance, some people might have been appalled, but the real question remains on whether we could have prevented those attacks with such tactics."
Mr. Barr said the FBI should not be intimidated by second-guessers.
"They're always going to be sued for something. So why let that stand in the way of doing what you think is right?" Mr. Barr asked. "As long as you have a rational law-enforcement basis on which to say, 'This set of characteristics produces a person that is more likely than another to engage in criminal activity in this particular instance,' I think you have every legitimate right to operate on that basis. That's good police work."
The House took a step two weeks ago to prevent federal employees from being sued for conducting searches of people entering the country. It approved the Customs Border Security Act, which includes a provision granting immunity from civil liability to U.S. officials who conduct good-faith searches of persons traveling to the United States.
Jerry Seper contributed to this report.


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