Using Racial Profiling in the Fight Against Terrorism After the London bombings, New York City announced random bag searches on the subway. But with 7 million people a day in the system, how do police narrow down their pool of suspects? Neal Conan and guests examine the advantages -- and abuses -- of profiling to prevent terrorism.
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Using Racial Profiling in the Fight Against Terrorism

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Using Racial Profiling in the Fight Against Terrorism

Using Racial Profiling in the Fight Against Terrorism

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

As London police continue to piece together the circumstances of last month's attacks on the city's transit system, a distinct profile has emerged of the suspects. They are young, male, Muslim and non-white. Mass transit officials in London and cities in the US have stepped up security measures since the bombings, hoping to reassure commuters that similar attacks can be prevented. Police in New York now search some subway passengers and their backpacks. London has a similar stop-and-search policy, and we've all become accustomed to scans and scrutiny at airports. But some argue that subway searches are unproductive, invite racial profiling and violate our civil liberties, and many wonder if random searches make any sense. Grandmothers and Girl Scouts seem unlikely terrorists.

Two New York officials have called for legislation that would limit subway searches to only those passengers who fit a terrorist profile. And British officials have noted in media interviews that police would consider a Tube passenger's ethnic origin in their stop-and-search policy. Advocates of racial profiling argue that searches would be more efficient if they targeted the minority groups that have been most likely to commit terrorist crimes in the past. Opponents counter that racial profiling is less effective than behavioral profiling and counterproductive.

Today we continue our series of conversations about tools to fight terrorism with a discussion of profiling. Later in the program, our friend Robert Krulwich joins us to remember ABC News anchor Peter Jennings, who died last night of lung cancer.

But first, profiling a terrorist. We'd be especially interested to hear from law enforcement and transportation officials about profiling and random searches. Do they work? We'd also like to hear from those of you who wonder if you might be one of those people who would get profiled. Our number here in Washington is (800) 989-8255; that's (800) 989-TALK. The e-mail address is

And joining us now is Tunku Varadarajan. He's the Op-Ed editor for The Wall Street Journal. He's with us by phone from his office in Manhattan.

And it's good of you to be with us today on TALK OF THE NATION.

Mr. TUNKU VARADARAJAN (The Wall Street Journal): Oh, my pleasure.

CONAN: In a recent Op-Ed article, you wrote that, well, you support ethnic profiling, though you, in fact, are one of those people who might end up being, in your case, mistakenly identified as one of these groups.

Mr. VARADARAJAN: Yeah. I think `support' is--I'd probably put it in a little more nuanced way. What I argued for was the need not to foreclose on that particular option.

CONAN: `Not to foreclose on that particular option.' In other words, if there's credible intelligence saying that a gang of South Asians is about to launch an attack, at that point you might look for people who look South Asian?

Mr. VARADARAJAN: Yes. And I wouldn't, again, tailor it quite so narrowly. I think we have enough credible evidence that people of a particular--you know, it's not like cars--you know, the New Jersey situation where black men were stopped on the turnpike. I think people of all races commit crimes of the sort that people would search for in New Jersey. But here it's only a particular group of people, radical Muslims who are crashing airplanes into buildings and blowing up subways. So it is justifiable to focus on them, I think.

CONAN: And the first thing I'm sure that people say to you is Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, who maybe was a Muslim but otherwise didn't fit that profile and would have gotten through.

Mr. VARADARAJAN: Oh, sure. No, I mean, I'm not suggesting that profiling should be the only forensic option. That would be lazy. I'm suggesting that it shouldn't be ruled out as a forensic option.

CONAN: In your Op-Ed in The Wall Street Journal, you wrote: `When scrutiny becomes stigma and stigma leads to victimization, a clear jump to evil has occurred.' Where is that line?

Mr. VARADARAJAN: Well, it's a good point. I think--look, there's always going to be an assumption in the minds of some of the people who are profiled that they're being stigmatized. So it's important that those who profile them don't--are not seen to be conferring stigma, which is why it's very important for the profiler to treat the profilee with as much courtesy and dignity as possible and that the mens rea or the mental state which underpins the profiling process be one which seeks to prevent undesirable actions, rather than one which seeks to confer a status of discrimination on people.

CONAN: Yet, when you're asking a large number of police officers in a large number of circumstances to carry out these examinations, I think it was the suit brought by the ACLU against New York subway searches, said `This invites racial profiling.'

Mr. VARADARAJAN: Oh, sure. I think there's going to be--as I say, there's going to be a certain amount of racial profiling given the profile, to use the word in a non-scientific sense, of the people who commit terrorists acts. I mean, the point I was making was we're talking about a situation where the payoff--the payoff from profiling is potentially huge. And the harm to the individual singled out is very minimal. We're talking about some inconvenience, some delay. It's nothing like the employment setting, for example, where a person stands to be passed over because the employer assumes he's less skilled because he's black. I mean, here the extra attention in the terrorism setting is likely to have monumental payoff. So I think we mustn't, for reasons of some perceived harm to the political aesthetics in our society, foreclose on that particular option.

CONAN: The experience of being singled out to be searched and examined can be degrading, depending--you know, obviously depending on the sensitivity with which it's carried out. But even so, it can be perceived as an assault of sorts. Might it not be counterproductive? Might it not create enemies where none existed before?

Mr. VARADARAJAN: Yes. You know, there is always that risk, which is why, as I said, the profiler has to be--I think we need some serious sensitivity training. We need the profilers to understand that they are to go about their business with the utmost courtesy, and the utmost courtesy in terms of body and other language.

CONAN: Yet given the fact that there are likely to be people who will go over that edge, do you really think it stops terrorism?

Mr. VARADARAJAN: Look, we have to believe that--we have to be open-minded about the options we have to stop terrorism. These options are rapidly running out. And if we foreclose on them intellectually, if we decide that it's always wrong to use race, there's not much potential for discussion. That's declaring a rule by fiat. But, I mean, all I'm saying is why is it wrong to take notice that a person is a member of a group that has a lot of bad actors? That doesn't mean he's bad, just that--society needs to make sure that he isn't. There's no shame in that.

CONAN: Yet mistakes will be made. A couple of weeks ago...


CONAN: ...a bus worker, New York, called police attention to five British Sikhs who were pulled off a tour bus, handcuffed and forced to kneel on the sidewalk, though they were not found to be doing anything illegal.

Mr. VARADARAJAN: Right. No, I know mistakes will be made. But if--think of the other sort of mistake, a failure to stop someone that results in a major detonation in Times Square simply because you've said, `Oh, no, I can't stop that guy. He might be upset.'

CONAN: All right. I'm...

Mr. VARADARAJAN: Mistakes of both sorts. There's one sort I can live with; one sort I can't.

CONAN: Our number if you'd like to join the conversation is (800) 989-8255. E-mail address is And let's talk with Richard. Richard's calling us from St. Louis, Missouri.

RICHARD (Caller): Thank you for taking the call, Neal. The problem that I have is somebody that--I'm not South Asian, but the great tragedy is that it's the continual badgering of--yes, there will be inconveniences here, but as somebody that looks very much like from over there, I'm continually stopped, you know, at airplanes. There's always an S on my card. It's--for me, it's the loss of presumption of innocence, and that's more scary to me, because that's a social--it's really what made England great, which is where it came from, and also the United States great. And it's actually--it's the demise of the presumption of innocence that I don't think we realize what it has been. But how wonderful it is, this actual jurisprudence that's been removed if we allow things like this to--you know, racial profiling to go ahead.

CONAN: Tunku Varadarajan? Excuse me, do you have a response? Evidently, he's left us. Anyway, Richard, thank you very much for the phone call. I think you raise an interesting question. And we appreciate it and we would also like to thank Tunku Varadarajan for joining us today. He's Op-Ed editor for The Wall Street Journal, and he joined us by phone from his office in Manhattan.

The idea of using physical profiling to combat terrorism has thus far been largely theoretical. In New York, as we mentioned, two officials are pushing for legislation that would support the practice as part of security searches now conducted on passengers of the city's subway system. James Oddo is Republican minority leader of the New York City Council. He's with us by phone from his office on Staten Island.

Nice to have you on the program.

Mr. JAMES ODDO (Republican, City Council, New York): Oh, thank you for having me.

CONAN: Your resolution would be introduced in the City Council in support of legislation that would permit physical profiling. Again, do you mean ethnic profiling by this?

Mr. ODDO: Yeah. Well, let me try to explain my position because in a soundbite on the evening news, it really does it an injustice. I'm not saying, and I don't believe Assemblyman Dov Hikind was saying, that we should create a specific profile and profile solely those people. What we're saying is let's be a little bit more honest with ourselves and New Yorkers, and if we're going to engage in these searches in the subways, we should do them in a more efficient and effective manner. And currently, there is a law on the books in New York state that bans, quote, unquote "racial profiling." What we're saying is remove that prohibition so that you take away the reticence or the reluctance of members of the New York City Police Department when they're engaging in these searches from stopping--a reluctance that they may have of stopping certain people who look a certain way.

Right now it seems that the New York City Police Department policy is a moving target. We've heard the numbers one in five randomly, one in 10 randomly. We've--I've now read quotes from the New York City Police Department spokesman saying, "Well, there is some certain discretion." My fear is that the men and women in the New York City Police Department, the men and women in the subways doing the searches, have in the back of their minds this notion that `If I stop an inordinate amount of people who look a certain way, my superior might give me a hard time. I might be accused of violating someone's rights. I might be doing something wrong.' And thus, whether it's subconsciously or overtly, they might let some people who normally they would want to stop--let those people go.

So while the media has said that this is racial profiling and that phrase is an inflammatory phrase across America, but particularly in New York City, given what happened during the Giuliani administration, I'm not saying that we should create a profile and stop only those people. Certainly you should stop people who look like me: lean, balding Italian-Americans from Staten Island. You should stop the Irish-looking guy. But don't have a system in place that really instills a reticence in police officers from doing his or her job. Let them--let law enforcement use its discretion as it sees fit.

CONAN: Well, we're going to have to take a short break, and I hope you can stay with us.

Mr. ODDO: Absolutely.

CONAN: All right. We're going to take a short break and take some more calls on this question. If you'd like to joins us, it's (800) 989-8255; (800) 989-TALK. The e-mail address is We're talking about the value of profiling as a tool to combat terrorism. If you work in a career where you have to be vigilant against attacks--law enforcement, public transportation, for example--do you employ profiling? How so? What kind? Again, (800) 989-8255. We'll be back after the break.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

As law enforcement agencies try to evolve to meet possible threats of terrorism, they're adding a range of new weapons and techniques to their arsenal, few without controversy. Today we're talking about new rules, new uses of profiling, racial, behavioral and otherwise. Is it a valid technique? Are there better and worse ways to employ it? We want to hear from you. If you work in a field like law enforcement, do you use profiling? And for members of the public, how do you identify possible suspects in your own mind without sacrificing the ideals of our society? (800) 989-8255; (800) 989-TALK. The e-mail address is

Joining us from Staten Island is James Oddo, Republican majority leader on the New York City Council. And we're, of course, welcoming your calls.

And I did want to ask you, Councilman Oddo, as you were describing the kind of profiling system you were talking about, well, you're talking about stopping one in thousands, maybe one in tens of thousands of people who try to board the New York City subway every day. There's millions of people who ride every day. If you're picking out one group in particular, people are going to notice.

Mr. ODDO: You know, again, I think I join lots of New Yorkers who are a little bit dubious and a little bit skeptical about just how effective searches are. I happen to think that, quote, unquote, "random searches" are less effective. But we all have to realize that this is--these searches are but one tool that the New York City Police Department is engaging in its efforts to try to protect us. I think if we're going to spend resources, we should spend them more wisely. But these subway searches are no panacea. They aren't the only think that the NYPD is using, and if it were, we'd really be in trouble. I just think that we need to realize that the stakes are incredibly high and we need to be willing to be frank with each other, and if you look what the British did, the British said to heck with political correctness and the British police department said to its members, do not shy away form focusing on certain groups that are most likely to present the greatest threat. And I think that that's a mind-set that we need to have here in the States as well.

CONAN: And there will be many in the audience who will point out that in pursuit of that theory, they chased a young man into a subway car who fit their profile and shot him to death and turned out he had nothing to do with it.

Mr. ODDO: An absolutely tragedy. An absolute tragedy. I just point out that he was not shot because of the color of his skin; he was shot because there were some other suspicious types of behavior that he was engaged in. He didn't respond to the police officers. Yeah, absolutely, it was a tragedy and mistakes will be made. And, please, I am not insensitive to the fact that there are people--people, good Americans, who will be insulted by this, who will be upset by this, who will be inconvenienced by this. But every day in government, on every level of government, we are asked to, you know, balance different things, and here you have rights and privileges and freedoms being balanced with safety.

And as someone who witnessed his hometown, you know, brought to its knees, I think that we need to be honest and we have to say that, yes,there are the Timothy McVeighs out there, yes, there are blond-haired, blue-eyed people who want to kill Americans, but if you look at just about every jihadi who has attacked a Western European or American target, they have been a young, Muslim fundamentalist. We should not shy away from that fact. We should not ignore that fact. And that should be but one factor in law enforcement's decision-making process as to whom should be stopped.

CONAN: Let's get a caller in on the line. Let's begin with Camilla. Camilla calling from Phoenix, Arizona.

CAMILLA (Caller): Hi. I've actually been racially profiled, and it's more than just upsetting, it's painful, it's heartbreaking. I was born in America. My boyfriend is Boston Irish. I was born in Minnesota. I'm French Canadian. And it's really painful. My mother's second husband adopted me, giving me the last name Hussan(ph). And I am 5'3", I have red hair and I travel. I fly to California every month, and I've been stopped. I--it's just a feeling of not being trusted in your own country by people that you may have grown up with. And more than anything, it's heartbreaking and it's painful and it's not just racial, it's not just the way you look, it's your name. And that is the most horrifying thing to me that your name--not just the way you look, but your name. You know, this is a country where it's a melting pot. That is what you're taught. You are taught in elementary school that this is a melting pot, and what's horrifying to me is that everybody, every culture has some form of terrorism in it. I mean, Timothy McVeigh. You know, and then there was the guy in the middle of the woods mailing packages to people...

CONAN: Yeah, the Unabomber, yeah.

CAMILLA: ...that--and that was completely random. Yeah, exactly.

CONAN: Camilla, well, let's put your points to James Oddo. This is something that is corrosive, is it not?

Mr. ODDO: Yeah, there's nothing pleasant about this. And I wish that we lived in a world where we didn't have to do this. But, you know, as painful as that situation is for your caller, I can describe to her what it's like to spend a bulk of the fall of 2001 going from funeral Mass to wake to memorial service as I buried friends and community members. And in the big picture, I just hope people understand what the stakes are. And I--again, I understand how insulting and degrading it is, particularly to people who have to endure this repeatedly. I mean, I've flown. I don't fly a lot, but I've flown and I've been asked to step aside and searched. To have that done numerous times must be a horrible experience. But, again, I balance that against what we are trying to do. We're trying to protect all New Yorkers, all Americans.

And this is the reality. This is the reality of the world that we live in here in New York City, and some of us are going to endure not-so-nice moments in the hopes of protecting all of us.

CONAN: Camilla, thank you very much for the call. We appreciate it.

Joining us now is David Harris. He's a professor at the University of Toledo College of Law, and he's written several books on profiling. He's with us from the studios of WGTE in Toledo.

And it's nice to have you on the program.

Professor DAVID HARRIS (University of Toledo; Author): Thank you very much, Neal. It's nice to be with you.

CONAN: We've been talking about profiling. Obviously, there are other definitions of profiling than racial profiling.

Prof. HARRIS: Yes. Profiling is used in crime fighting and hunting down serial killers in many different contexts. What we mean by racial profiling is simply using race or ethnic appearance as one factor among others, not the only factor, but one factor among others in deciding who is suspicious enough to stop, search and question. What happens when we use race as one of the factors is very surprising. Most people assume, as Councilman Oddo, I think, does, that if we use race to target a particular group or we know that group is trouble, we will get better results. It will give the police a leg up or a boost in finding the people we're actually interested in.

What happens actually, though, is quite different. The results that police get when they use race as one of the factors actually goes down. They become less accurate. They are less likely to find the bad guy, less likely to find the gun, whatever it is they're looking for, than when they simply focus on behavior. Behavior is the key. The only reason that race is being examined at all is because we figure it's a decent proxy for the behavior that we're interested in. We don't actually care if the bomber or the terrorist is white, black, whatever; we're just looking to find the killers. So we use race as a proxy. What we're actually interested in is behavior. If we watch for behavior, that's when we get ahead. If we use appearance, we are distracted, and it only takes a little bit of distraction and our accuracy drops and we simply cannot afford that. Now that's why racial profiling really fails as a law enforcement or security tactic.

CONAN: I assume you're referring there to racial profiling as used--as the councilman was talking about, in a New Jersey state police and those kinds of context since obviously the number of incidents involving terrorism is pretty small.

Prof. HARRIS: Yes. It has been used in all kinds of law enforcement contexts for many years, and every time we have solid numbers on this, including, I might mention, New York City, which did an extensive study on stop-and-frisk behavior by NYPD officers in the late '90s, every single time what we find is the hit rate--the rate of success that officers have when they use race actually is lower compared to the hit rate they get when they don't use race. When they focus on behavior, they're just simply more accurate. Because the actual behavior is what they're really interested in and they don't have the distraction of race, which tends to be overvalued in human thinking in terms of who poses a threat.

CONAN: Let's get another caller in on the conversation. Now this is Maria. Maria, you're calling from Iowa City.

MARIA (Caller): Yes.


MARIA: Thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

MARIA: My husband is a bus driver in Iowa City, and they recently implemented a policy where they need to search the bus from time to time and make sure that there are no suspicious packages or anything on it. And the response of a lot of the bus drivers--I know it wasn't my husband's response, but some of them felt that this was kind of silly, that it's Iowa City, Iowa, we don't need to pay attention. And yet we have a large Arab-American population here. I think it would be irresponsible not to use racial profiling; at the same time I think it encourages going under the radar, so to speak, that, OK in Chechnya and in Russia when young Muslim males were racially profiled, they went to women instead. And so I think what you have to do is you have to be random and yet use racial profiling at the same time and kind of alternate, not be afraid to target certain people but not let the terrorists get under the radar at the same time by choosing the identity, choosing the sex differently based on the profiling.

CONAN: Get a response to that. First from David Harris and then from James Oddo.

Prof. HARRIS: Yes. You know, I love the way that the caller put it: `under the radar.' That's exactly the problem with profiling. I share the caller's instinct that just because she's in Iowa City doesn't mean that they should not be taking precautions. Let's not forget that before 9/11, the greatest single act of terrorism occurred not in New York City but in Oklahoma City. As far as flying under the radar, though, that's really the flaw of profiling in a nutshell. When you put out a profile that says `A terrorist should look like--something like this,' or `We're going to focus on people who look something like this, who look like Arab-Americans or people from South Asia,' what happens is you're distracted from looking at behavior, which is the only real predictive clue you have. And also, you are then focusing on many of the wrong people. So you're adding false positives into the system.

This is a sort of game of resources, as the first gentleman who was on your program said. We cannot afford to waste our resources. It is like looking for a needle in a haystack, and all profiling does it put more hay on the stack.

CONAN: Can...

Prof. HARRIS: It just makes it harder to get to the people we want to get to.

CONAN: Let's get a response from Councilman Oddo.

Mr. ODDO: Well, I think your caller is right to the extent that this is a chess game of sorts of epic proportions and serious consequences, and it is a move and countermove, and again, I repeat the fact that the basis or the rationale behind the searches is that this is just but one of many tools that Ray Kelly and the New York City Police Department are engaging. I think the one good thing that will come out of the lawsuit brought by the civil liberties here in the city is that we'll get a clearer understanding of what the police policy is. Again, it was one in five; it was one in 10; there's certain discretion. And if it is truly random, then is it taking into consideration the behavioral profiling that David alluded to? And frankly, it's been a moving target. I don't know what the NYPD is doing.

But again, I just want to stress the point that I'm not saying that we need to create this affirmative duty of profiling particular people. I'm saying that with a law on the books and with the stigma and the inflammatory nature, particularly in the city, associated with the phrase `racial profiling,' I think that police officers will be reluctant if they stop three people that happen to look the same way, when that fourth person comes in--I mean, these are men and women; these are human beings. Are they going to engage in a search or are they going to be concerned that their superior's going to be breathing down their necks because they are, quote, unquote, "racial profiling" someone? So I'm not saying that we create--you know, people said, `Well, what's the profile?' I don't think it's my obligation to create the profile. I'm not calling for the creation of a profile. I'm saying free them up so that they can use discretion and factor in things that David alluded to.

MARIA: May I make another comment?

CONAN: If you keep it quick, Maria, please?

MARIA: OK. I will. One of the tragedies I think of defending against terrorism is that as we defend against them, we necessarily become more like them. Our behavior becomes more rigid. We have fewer freedoms, and I think this is one of the tragedies that we get into, that we become more like them as we defend against them.

CONAN: Maria, thanks very much for the phone call.

MARIA: Sure. Bye.

CONAN: We appreciate it. We're talking today about profiling as a tool against terrorism.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's see if we can get another caller in on the line. Now this is Ivan--Ivan, calling us from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

IVAN (Caller): Yes. Good afternoon.

CONAN: Good afternoon.

IVAN: Yes. If most of the people have spoken on the phone thus far--they're actually on the New York side of the racial profiling--I'm just guessing they're usually Caucasian, Anglo, middle-class, and as being an Hispanic, which I share phenotypes with Arab-Americans--it's very difficult for them to make these choices deciding how people look because I'm constantly being profiled even though I'm Christian, even though I'm not even an Arab, just because I'm tall, dark with a sharp nose and curly hair. I mean, I go to an airport, I'm constantly profiled, I'm constantly searched, and it's not--I believe we should use all our measures and invest money on different things, like for example devices that might detect plastic explosives like they use on airports, like sniffing devices, dogs rather than just go for, like, how people look, which actually creates resentment from all the parts of society, which might not even have had a problem with you in the first place.

CONAN: James Oddo, I'm sure you're in favor of all that machinery, but I think Ivan speaks to the problem some people have with racial profiling.

Mr. ODDO: Yeah, absolutely. And since Monday, Tuesday I've received e-mail from all over the city and literally all over the country, and folks have made it clear that they have a lot of passion on both sides of the issues. I just want to say two things. One is I think the caller's point about technology--and the British, I think, have proven the importance of the technology and the closed-circuit television, and frankly the MTA here and the city of New York has been behind the curve on that. And if I could just make one quick point in reference to the previous caller's last point--I don't think we become like them when we take these measures. These are cold-blooded killers, and to say that we're becoming like them because we're trying to adapt to their savagery I think misses the point.

Prof. HARRIS: Neal, may I respond to the caller?

IVAN: Yes, I...

CONAN: Yes, if you keep it quick. We have to--a few seconds left till the break.

Prof. HARRIS: Sure. I just want to say that the resentment that the man talked about is a very real thing, and it's damaging because it prevents police and security services from making common cause with people from whom they could get intelligence and information, and that's an absolutely critical mistake to make. That's one of the reasons we should not use racial profiling.

CONAN: Ivan, we have a few seconds left.

IVAN: Also, I like to respond saying I'm sure that there's a lot of emotions involved in this, and especially for me from the ...(unintelligible) seeing all his colleagues or maybe people that he'd known being hurt by the terrorist attack, but at the same time we're losing our own right, and the fact that you just look a certain way and that's going to, like, determine how the porkies are going to perceive you and how they're going to treat you that...

CONAN: Ivan, I'm afraid that's all the time we have, but we thank you for your call. And, Councilman Oddo, thank you for your time today.

Mr. ODDO: Thank you very much. David, be well.

CONAN: We'll talk more with David Harris after we come back from a short break.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.


CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

And here are the headlines from some of the stories we're following here today at NPR News. The president put his signature on the long-awaited energy bill today. The new law includes subsidies for energy companies and tax credits for energy-efficient windows and solar panels. It also includes measures to smooth the financial path for builders of new nuclear-powered plants. Also today, hockey great Wayne Gretzky is apparently becoming a coach. The Phoenix Coyotes have scheduled a news conference a short time from now. They're expected to say that they've signed Gretzky as head coach. We'll have more on that and many other stories later today on "All Things Considered" from NPR News.

Tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION, on the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki, we'll look at the deep impact of the A-bomb on Japanese culture and the many forms it's taken in art, literature and pop culture on both sides of the Atlantic. That's tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION.

Today we're talking about profiling as a tool in the war on terror. Are there effective ways to profile potential terrorists, or do we sacrifice too much as a society when some members are singled out? Our number, if you'd like to joins us, is (800) 989-8255. In a few minutes, we'll also be talking with our former colleague, Robert Krulwich, about his now former colleague Peter Jennings, who died last night of lung cancer. If you'd like to join that conversation, again, (800) 989-8255 or send us an e-mail: Our guest is David Harris, professor at the University of Toledo College of Law, the author of several books on profiling. He's with us from the studios of member station WGTE in Toledo. And let's get another caller on the line. This is Curtis; Curtis, calling from Boiling Springs in North Carolina.

CURTIS (Caller): Hi. I had an experience after 9/11 and it went on for about a year that I think was kind of interesting. The talk about banning profiling caused--what we saw was a reverse profiling when we traveled. My wife is--obviously she's female; she's Caucasian and she's blond. And when they're doing searches, they're going to only pick so many out of a hundred or so many out of a thousand, and we're not talking about in an investigation. You know, when we talk about investigations, if you were to have a hard profile, I could see where there could be some obvious problems. But when you're talking about a limited number of people that you're going to inspect and you know that you're only going to inspect, say, a hundred people within so many hours, they will intentionally reverse-profile just to keep from being--giving an appearance of profiling because during that first 12 months--and my wife and I usually are flying anywhere from eight to 12 times a year, and she--I know of at least six times that she...

CONAN: Curtis, I think we get the point. David Harris, why do people search grandmothers and Girl Scouts?

Prof. HARRIS: Well, searching grandmothers and Girl Scouts isn't good policy however you cut it. I think the point here is about the random searches that we've all experienced in airports and random searches in the subway more recently. Now random searches have--they are part of a good security system, one layer only. They deprive the terrorists of the ability to use an unwitting person to carry a weapon or a bomb. They deprive the terrorists of the ability to simply walk in and count on getting in; they're going to be deterred because they could turn out to be that fifth or 10th person who's picked. But you could do that with a very low level of random searching.

What I suspect is really going on--and your clip at the top of the show really alluded to this--random searching is only part of the picture in the subway. They have increased police presence in there now because they have a group of officers to do the random searches, and I am certain--I am certain as I can be--that Commissioner Kelly has people down there looking at the behavior of the riders. That's the key thing. He knows it because he has experience with this issue from his time as the commissioner of Customs of the United States. So NYPD officers are down there looking for behavior; some of them are probably people we wouldn't even recognize as police officers. They're in plainclothes. This is the way to do it. Behavior and intelligence--those are the two key elements.

CONAN: Curtis, thanks very much for the call. Behavior, when you're talking about behavior, what specifically are you talking about? Obviously, somebody acting suspicious, but what does that mean?

Prof. HARRIS: Well, it's very interesting. You know, in my new book "Good Cops," I have a chance to talk to a gentleman who had run the aviation security system in Israel for a number of years. And they have gone to a completely behavior-based profiling system for their security. And you know, their record is pretty impressive: 30 years without a hijacking in the crosshairs of international terrorism.

They look for behaviors along three dimensions: number one, weapons behavior; strategic behavior, number two; number three, physical and physiological clues--those kind of behaviors. Weapons behavior--if you're wearing an explosive belt, for example, it changes the way you walk, they way you're able to use your hands, things like that--very subtle kinds of changes. Strategic behavior--the people who are doing the security work go into the subway or into the airport terminal, and they study that layout incredibly carefully and they think like terrorists: Where would I stand? Where would I go? What would I do? And they look for those patterns of behavior in the people that they see. Physical behavior--we've all heard of terrorists doing things like taking Valium, things like that, to calm themselves down. But when you're going to blow yourself up along with a plane in an hour, people sweat, they get nervous, they get shifty-eyed--all of these things together give you a sort of broad picture of a person who is a possible terrorist candidate. And then you approach the person and do further investigation and questioning.

This has been a very successful method; it's been used--done, tried on the ground. That's the way we ought to be training people. Randomness is only one very small element of any security system.

CONAN: All right. Here's an e-mail question from O'Neal Isaac(ph) in Baton Rouge. `It seems that this is a conversation between proven science vs. gut feel even if it does not acknowledge its own prejudices or is aware of its existence.'

Prof. HARRIS: Well, I take the person's meaning, Neal. Many people simply do feel as a kind of gut instinct this has got to be right. It's got to be right to take into account the race of the people who are looking for us, the ethnic characteristics of the people who are gunning for us because we know who they are. Time after time, it's the young, Islamist extremist. But that's a mistake, just because people think it or feel it on a gut level. We have solid evidence that this tactic does not work well. The councilman said, you know, we've gotta be more honest, we've gotta be more frank. Yes, I would agree, but we should do what's smart. Doesn't mean that we have to follow our gut instinct. It means we should do what is smart and the smart thing is to avoid tactics that we know have failed. Just because the risk is higher now, and it certainly is, does not mean the tactic is going to work better. The tactic is the same even if the risk is higher.

CONAN: David Harris, thanks very much for being with us today.

Prof. HARRIS: It's a pleasure, Neal. Thank you.

CONAN: David Harris, professor at the University of Toledo College of Law, who's written several books on profiling. He joined us from the studios of WGTE in Toledo.

When we come back, a remembrance of Peter Jennings.

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