- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 5, 2002

A growing chorus of lawmakers expressed concern yesterday that increased sensitivity to racial profiling is hampering the FBI's investigation of terrorism.
Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican and a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said he believes such concerns "played at least somewhat of a part" in hindering the investigation of the so-called 20th hijacker, Zacarias Moussaoui, who was detained in Minnesota one month before the terrorist attacks September 11.
"I'm very concerned about it," Mr. Roberts said. "You don't single out people simply because of race or ethnic background. But if, in fact, it turns out there is somebody who is a prime suspect, you don't let that criteria deter you, and I think there's a big difference."
Justice Department sources speaking on the condition of anonymity have said worries about accusations of racial profiling have had a chilling effect on investigations of Arab and Muslim males for terrorist activities. Officially, however, Justice officials had no comment on those reports yesterday.
An FBI agent in Minnesota complained after September 11 that top officials at FBI headquarters did not take seriously enough suspicions that were raised about Moussaoui taking flight lessons in the United States.
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said heightened sensitivity to racial profiling "clearly was a chilling effect" on the terrorism investigations.
"I don't think it's a sufficient excuse, but I do think the Congress and other forces have made us overreact to that sort of a charge," Mr. Lott said. "I never have understood in America this preoccupation and fear that if we're going to have the necessary authority for our law enforcement people to do their jobs, it might infringe on your rights. If you're not doing something wrong, what's your concern? What's your problem?"
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union filed lawsuits yesterday on behalf of five Arab Americans who say they are victims of racial profiling because they were removed from commercial flights after September 11.
"The airlines were engaging in illegal discrimination, not enforcing security," said Kelli Evans, a lawyer in the District representing one of the plaintiffs. "They were humiliated, and they were treated like second-class citizens because of the color of their skin."
One of the passengers, Hassan Sader, 36, of Arlington, said he boarded an American Airlines jet at Baltimore-Washington International Airport on Oct. 31, but a gate agent asked him to get off the plane before it pulled away from the terminal. He was told that another passenger did not feel "comfortable" with him on the plane, according to the lawsuit.
Mr. Sader is a native of Morocco who became a U.S. citizen in 1994.
"I felt horrible, so confused and embarrassed," Mr. Sader said at a news conference. He said he filed suit "to restore my faith in the American way."
"I don't want this to happen to anyone," he said.
The airline put Mr. Sader on another flight, and he arrived at his destination in Seattle four hours later than he had intended.
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; legislation that would outlaw it is pending in Congress.
Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the ACLU lawsuits are "very important."
"The idea of yanking Arab Americans off of flights just because other people are uncomfortable is in the category of racial profiling," Mr. Feingold said. "And it's troubling."
But Mr. Feingold said FBI agents were confused if they believed that racial profiling could have impeded an investigation into someone suspected of being a terrorist.
"Some people in law enforcement may mistakenly believe that they can't go forward on legitimate leads," Mr. Feingold said. "That's not what racial profiling is about at all. Racial profiling is about pulling over everybody who happens to be an Arab American just because they're an Arab American. This had to do with specific information about the activities of specific people," he said of the FBI investigation.
Mr. Roberts said Congress must conduct a "very strong overview" role of the issue to ensure that federal investigators are not being handcuffed.
"It's a very difficult situation: civil liberties versus national security," Mr. Roberts said, adding that the majority of Americans favor stronger measures to ferret out terrorists and "let the chips fall where they may."
"I'm not saying racially profile them, but go after the people you should go after," he said.
Mr. Ashcroft proposed new surveillance tactics last week for federal agents to infiltrate public gatherings that might include people suspected to be terrorists. His proposal has raised concerns from Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike.
House Majority Leader Dick Armey said yesterday that he agreed with House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican, on the necessity of oversight hearings on the proposal. He said the FBI and CIA should be more cooperative about such a review because Congress included a five-year expiration date for new investigative powers that were authorized for Justice last year.
"In the end, who is charged with protecting the civil liberties of the citizens of the country is not those agencies, it is we in Congress," Mr. Armey said.


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