- The Washington Times - Friday, June 7, 2002

Fears of racial profiling did impede the FBI's terrorism investigation of Arab men, Director Robert S. Mueller III testified yesterday, even as he pledged that his agents will not engage in the practice.

"I've seen indications of concerns about taking certain action, because that action may be perceived as profiling," Mr. Mueller told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

He said one agent expressed worries about being accused of racial profiling last summer, when an FBI agent in Phoenix wrote a memo detailing the efforts of Arab men to train in flight schools.

"A person who was involved in the process articulated that as a possible concern," Mr. Mueller said.

President Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft have said they will not tolerate profiling, a practice in which some law-enforcement officials use race as a factor in targeting individuals for investigation.

The FBI is trying to prevent further attacks without unfairly focusing on Muslim men from the Middle East. All 19 terrorists who committed the September 11 hijackings were Muslim men from the Middle East.

Mr. Mueller told lawmakers that the FBI "is against, has been and will be against any form of profiling."

Pressed on whether he believed the agent's concern about racial profiling was legitimate, Mr. Mueller at first declined to second-guess the unnamed agent.

"I cannot put myself in that context," he told Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat. "All I can say is it was a concern to that individual."

Mr. Feingold said that answer "troubled" him.

"I was hoping for a different answer," he told Mr. Mueller. "I was hoping for you to say that, clearly, what was needed there was not some sort of an exception from a rule against racial profiling."

Mr. Mueller then retreated, telling the senator, "If the question is, do I believe that that was a valid concern, no."

Mr. Feingold said reports that fears of racial profiling hampered terrorism probes "may very well be a distortion, maybe even a deliberate distortion, to distract attention from real mistakes or to cast aspersions on responsible and still necessary efforts to eliminate racial profiling in our country.

"I think it's a distortion to say that acting on the [Phoenix] memo would have resulted in racial profiling," Mr. Feingold said. "That memo contains specific information about specific individuals. I think there's been a serious misunderstanding of racial profiling and what it means."

But his Democratic colleague, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, said confusion about what constitutes racial profiling is the problem.

"Racial profiling is defined differently by different people," Mrs. Feinstein said during a break in the hearing. "That's sort of the bottom line. It is a very difficult issue. Do I believe it has had a chilling effect on field agents? Yes, I do."

Among those attending the Senate hearing was Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, Texas Democrat and a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, who commended The Washington Times for covering the issue of profiling in the terrorism probes.

"We have to clarify [the policy], because there's not one of us who's not unified in fighting terrorism," she said, adding that Mr. Ashcroft's proposal to fingerprint noncitizens "has merit."

But she said she was "particularly offended by the utilization of racial profiling as a significant reason for a chilling effect of the FBI doing its duty."

"I would ask [the FBI] to send out an internal memoranda that indicates to all of its agents what racial profiling is, how we encourage them to vigorously investigate terrorism," Mrs. Jackson-Lee said. "If they have the basis of fact that an individual has the characteristics and/or the propensity to carry out some horrific act, that is not racial profiling."

After September 11, she said, Mr. Bush "asked the nation not to stigmatize and/or to racially profile people of Arab descent." But Mrs. Jackson-Lee said showing bias against an ethnic group is different from investigators who have "probable cause" to target specific individuals.

"If you have factual probable cause, which I believe the [FBI] memo evidenced, you absolutely have no grounds suggesting that racial profiling would be a chilling effect," she said. "You have every right to investigate individuals of any descent at a flight school that are peculiar, and there were certain individuals who were peculiar. They only asked to be trained in certain ways. Some asked, 'I want to take off, but I'm not interested in landing.'"

Mr. Feingold said he hopes a clearer understanding of racial profiling will emerge.

"I'm hoping even though some people want to make [the September 11 attacks] the excuse to not deal with racial profiling, that the opposite will occur, that the public and all law-enforcement people will come to realize that there is a big difference between illegitimate racial profiling and following up on legitimate leads," he said. "We need to fend off these claims that the inability to racially profile somehow had anything significant to do with what happened on [September 11]."

Mrs. Feinstein, however, said she intends to pursue the issue in a congressional investigation into intelligence failures surrounding September 11.

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