Racial, Religious and Political Profiling

We have a problem when law enforcement -- or the media or politicians -- use race, religion, ethnicity or political beliefs rather than criminal behavior to decide who should be pulled over, put on a watch list, brought in for questioning, investigated or kept out of the country. But it happens all the time.

For an example of profiling run amok, I suggest the Virgina Fusion Center 2009 Terrorism Threat Assesment. This 'intelligence' report warns police to closely watch racially and ethnically diverse populations, peaceful political activists, college students and religious groups because they are all potential terrorists.

Use of Racial, Religious and Political Profiling in Law Enforcement:
Profiling and the FBI

Profiling and State and Local Police
Deparment of Homeland Security and Fusion Center Reports

Congress and Profiling:

-- March 2011: House Homeland Security Committee Targets American Muslims
-- Who is a Terrorist?
-- Key facts about terrorism in the U.S.
-- Loyalty Oaths
-- Ideological Exclusion
-- Homegrown Terrorism, Violent Radicalization and Extremism


  • Profiling and the FBI

    -- FBI Guidelines allow profiling
    -- FBI Training Teaches Profiling
    -- FBI Investigations are often based on Race, Religion, Ethnicity, Political or Religious Belief

    At the very end of the Bush Administration, Attorney General Mukasey adopted new guidelines, ignoring protests from civil liberties groups and some members of Congress. These new guidelines vastly expanded the investigatory authorities available to agents without any predicating facts or allegations, by creating an Assessment tier of investigative activity. The 2008 Guidelines authorize a number of intrusive investigative techniques during Assessments, including pretext interviews, interviewing members of the public, recruiting and tasking informants, physical surveillance not requiring a court order, grand jury subpoenas for telephone or electronic mail subscriber information, and more.

    The Guidelines give FBI agents broad individual discretion to investigate Americans using these techniques without reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing, or supervisory approval or oversight. They also allow race or religion to be used as a factor, among others, justifying scrutiny. Given the pressure on agents to identify unknown threats to national security before they emerge, such unchecked power invites abuse, including inappropriate profiling according to race, religion or national origin.

    This area is ripe for congressional oversight and long overdue for legislative parameters. At a recent oversight hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committe, FBI Director Mueller testified that religious groups are protected from profiling because FBI agents cannot begin an investigation without reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing. WRONG! The guidelines allow FBI agents to investigate anyone without any suspicion of wrongdoing whatsoever. After the hearing, Mueller sent a note to the committee saying he had ‘misspoken’. Duh

    At a minimum, Congress should obtain and examine aggregate data about the number and type of FBI assessments, the number of individuals who have been targeted with these assessments and whether information gathered in the assessment led to the opening of predicated investigations. Demographic information about the targets of these investigations should also be evaluated in order to establish the empirical extent of profiling according to race, religion and national origin.

    In July, DDF and others sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee asking for important reforms to the way the FBI operates.

    FBI Training
    The Defending Dissent Foundation issued a press release on September 16 calling on the FBI to immediately review its counterterrorism training curriculum to ensure that all materials and trainers accurately identify terrorist threats rather than relying on trainers and materials that vilify Islam and Muslim-Americans. At a subsequent press conference in front of FBI headquarters, DDF called upon Congress to undertake a thorough investigation of problematic training as well as the investigative practices in the field that have been influenced by hate-filled trainings.

    DDF made the call in response to an expose on Wired.com of FBI training materials that teach agents that "main stream (sic) American Muslims are likely to be terrorist sympathizers." DDF advocates a counterterrorism policy based on proven indicators of criminal activity rather than using religion or ideology to malign whole groups of people . "The training material, aside from being offensive and counterproductive, is designed to lead FBI agents down a road which violates the Constitutional rights of Americans who practice Islam," said Sue Udry, DDF's Executive Director, "in fact, the FBI has consistently and inappropriately targeted Muslim Americans for surveillance, including infiltrating houses of worship."

    In the press release, DDF noted that the problem of biased training material is not limited to the FBI, it is a national problem involving all levels of the homeland security apparatus. Even Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) have voiced their concern, writing to John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism and Deputy National Security Advisor on September 12, noting "cases of trainers spewing inaccurate or even bigoted information to state and local law enforcement personnel, stigmatizing Muslim-Americans generally, and in effect, lending support or the false narrative that we are "at war" with Islam."

    Read the full press release, press statement, and to find out more about the how cops are being trained to hate Muslims.

    Profiling by State and Local Police

    Learning to Profile: How We Teach Our Cops to Fear Islam
    There aren’t nearly enough counterterrorism experts to instruct all of America’s police. So we got these guys instead. Read a new article in Washington Monthly: How We Teach Our Cops to Fear Islam, By Meg Stalcup and Joshua Craze

    A new report by Political Research Associates looks more deeply into the way police are fed Islamaphobia in the guise of training: Manufacturing the Muslim Menace, looking at Private Firms, Public Servants, and the Threat to Rights and Security. It is a petition to Congress and relevant federal and local agencies to ensure that counterterrorism skills training delivered to public servants is accurate, consistent with national security policy, and respectful of constitutional rights.

    Suspicious Activity Reporting
    After September 11, 2001, Congress ordered the creation of an "information sharing environment" to improve communication between law enforcement and intelligence agencies, with a special emphasis on "Suspicious Activity Reporting."

    Instead of better connecting the dots, the Department of Homeland Security funded a counterproductive program that threatens to clog intelligence pipelines with junk data derived from racial, ethnic, religious, and ideological bias, a new report from Political Research Associates (PRA) has discovered.

    Platform for Prejudice, a groundbreaking investigation by PRA Civil Liberties Project director Thomas Cincotta, exposes how Suspicious Activity Reporting undermines our Constitutional civil liberties and illuminates the structural flaws in the program that promote a reliance on existing prejudices and stereotypes.

    The report's release comes as the Department of Justice and Director of National Intelligence are prepared to link up local Suspicious Activity Reporting programs into a national network and deploy it to all 72 intelligence fusion centers. The SARs program involves enlisting law enforcement as intelligence officers by training police to report 1st Amendment protected activities like photography, taking notes, making diagrams, and "espousing extremist views." The report documents numerous incidents where law-abiding people of "Middle Eastern appearance" received intimidating visits from cops or FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force agents simply because they videotaped a tourist attraction, rented a boat without fishing gear, engaged in religious practice, or took a picture with a friend at an airport.

    In one instance, a van of seven Muslim men, one of them a U.S. armed forces veteran, was pulled over and harassed by police after it was reported that they prayed in a gas station parking lot near Henderson, Nevada. In another case, Duane Kerzic was detained because he took pictures of trains at New York's Penn Station. It turns out he was participating in Amtrak's annual photography contest.

    Rather than random mistakes, Platform for Prejudice contends that such cases of racial and ethnic profiling are the inevitable result of the Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative's design.

    What happens when the New York York City Police Department gets together with the CIA? They create an unconstitutional domestic intelligence program based on racial, ethnic, religious and political profiling, that extends even beyond the borders of New York. According to an investigative report by the Associated Press into the secret program, the CIA helped the NYPD set up an intelligence unit after September 11, providing advise, training and even personnel in violation of the prohibition against CIA domestic intelligence activity.

    According to the AP, New York police officers in the "Demographics Unit" spread throughout the city and beyond, infiltrating Muslim neighborhoods, monitoring everyday legal activity in order to map the ethnic neighborhoods in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. The mapping focused on activity protected by the First Amendment, and was based on profiling, not criminal activity. "Mosque crawlers" were used to "monitor weekly sermons and report what was said" to produce an analytical report on every mosque within 100 miles of the City. "Rakers" were undercover cops sent to Muslim neighborhoods and ethnic businesses to look for "hot spots" and signs of radicalization (such as looking at "radical literature"). According to police documents, they were told to engage in social activities such as cricket, analyze religious institutions, locations and congregations, and "identify businesses and or employment that is indicative of a specific ethnicity (Pakistani cab drivers)".

    In order to recruit the informants the program relied on, police turned to blackmail; NYPD sent officers to Pakistani neighborhoods and "instructed them to look for reasons to stop cars: speeding, broken tail lights, running stop signs, whatever. The traffic stop gave police an opportunity to search for outstanding warrants or look for suspicious behavior. An arrest could be the leverage the police needed to persuade someone to become an informant." NYPD also targeted Pakistani taxi drivers, looking for ways to blackmail them into becoming informants.

    Without evidence of wrongdoing or intent to commit a crime, the intelligence unit has targeted whole communities based on their religion, ethnicity, country of origin or politics. Many readers will remember the 1985 Handshu order, which prohibited NYPD from engaging in intelligence gathering without a criminal predicate. That order was modified in 2003 when police claimed it made it "virtually impossible" to detect terrorist plots... thus opening the door to rampant profiling. Unfortunately, the police don't understand the problem. A retired NYPD intelligence agent asserts, "it's not a question of profiling. It's a question of going where the problem could arise."

    The NYPD Intelligence Division had a budget of $62 million last year, but it has never been audited. The City Council has never held hearings or conducted any oversight, neither has Congress, Department of Homeland Security or the Justice Department. Sensing a PR problem, the CIA announced it will undertake an internal investigation to determine whether any laws were broken. "It's my own personal view that that's not a good optic, to have CIA involved in any city-level police department," said James Clapper, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence. "...but I think CIA is going to address that."

    We don't have faith that the CIA is going to "address that" to our satisfaction, so Defending Dissent Foundation is demanding answers, oversight and accountability.

    Read More:
    AP article; second AP article;
    Read our statement demanding oversight and accountability:
    Police documents:

    Department of Homeland Security & Fusion Center Reports

    -- Virginia Fusion Center Report finds potential terrorists
    -- DHS Report on Rightwing Extremism

    Virginia Thought Police
    Beware of Boy and Girl Scouts conducting 'get out the vote' drives! The Virginia Fusion Center 2009 Terrorism Threat Assessment warns that they may have links to terrorism1. Scout troops are among the many worrisome features of life in Virginia that folks at the Fusion Center think may present an opportunity for terrorists. There are universities ("recognized as a radicalization node for almost every type of extremist group"), a diverse population ("affords terrorist operatives the opportunity to assimilate easily into society") and politically extreme groups, such as the New Black Panther Party, Nation of Islam, Life & Liberty Ministries, Greenpeace and Blue Ridge Earth First. Strikingly, most of the threats uncovered by the fusion center are based on political ideology or race, religion or country of origin. Read more…

    DHS Report on Rightwing Extremism
    The right-wing media and blogosphere have justifiably gone apoplectic over a Department of Homeland Security report that was leaked in April. We think the left should be outraged by the report as well. Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence In Radicalization and Recruitment targets legitimate political activities and beliefs for suspicion in the war on terror. The report defines right-wing "extremism" to include not only organized supremacist groups, but also antigovernment, anti-abortion and anti-immigration groups. Although the report finds no evidence that any right-wing groups are planning acts of violence, they all come under suspicion based on their political ideology, rather than any evidence of planning or perpetrating criminal acts. Read more…


    -- Rep. King Hearings
    -- House Hearing on Disrupting Terrorist Plots
    -- Legislation

    King Hearings on“Muslim Homegrown Terrorism”
    The House Homeland Security Committee held a hearing on March 10 entitled "The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community's Response." (video here) The hearing was big on theatrics, but short on any new information. However, witnesses and members of Congress were in agreement that the Muslim American community has overwhelmingly stepped up and stood against terrorism, demonstrating that the framing of the hearings was misguided.

    The Defending Dissent Foundation, which was founded in 1960 as the National Committee to Abolish HUAC (the House Un-American Activities Committee) has spoken out against the framing and content of the hearings:

    • press release
    • statement for the record to the committee
    • During the hearing, Rep. King proclaimed that there had not been a single terrorist plot in the U.S. in the past two years that was not inspired by Islam. That is flat out wrong. Perhaps he missed the news reports on March 9 announcing the arrest of Kevin William Harpham, who was charged with planting a bomb along the route of the MLK Day parade in Spokane Washington. He is understood to be a neo-Nazi. What about other terror plots? Take a look at the post 9/11 Terrorism Database here.

      Unfortunately, there was a tendency among Democrats to call for hearings with a broaderscope -- to look into radicalization across the political spectrum from the KuKluxKlan to "environmental extremists". The Washington Post published a letter from DDF executive director Sue Udry, warning, "As Americans, we are free to believe passionately in whatever we believe in, no matter how far out of the mainstream that may be. The King hearings are wrong, but they won't be made right just by broadening the scope."

    Disrupting Terrorist Plots (without profiling)
    On March 17, a subcommittee of the House Homeland Security Committee held a hearing titled "Working with Communities to Disrupt Terror Plots". It was the second in what Committee staff tell us will be a series of hearings to explore how to fight homegrown terrorism without trampling civil liberties. We had met with staff before the hearing to raise a number of concerns and were invited to suggest witnesses for this hearing. We were very pleased that the Committee asked Mohamed Elibiary, the President & CEO of The Freedom and Justice Foundation and active in our working group on homegrown terrorism. However, we were dismayed that Mohamed was the sole representative of a community-based organization asked to participate. The rest of the witnesses were academics or represented the police, the FBI or DHS. Of course they lauded their own efforts at community outreach and building relationships with the Muslim community (and to be fair, many of the witnesses are engaged in good faith and successful community outreach work). It still was left to Mohamed to raise concerns about FBI infiltration of Mosques, the use of agent provocateurs and other methods that are counterproductive.

    One lawmaker, Rep. Souder (R-IN) tried to use the hearing to smear the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), claiming it has ties to terrorist organizations. One of the witnesses, Los Angeles County Sherriff Leroy Baca stood up to Rep. Souder vehemently and forcefully asserting that CAIR is not a terrorist organization and that Rep. Souder's attack was un-American. As you know, CAIR has been the target of a relentless smear campaign by various politicians and groups. It was great to see an elected official stand up to innuendo and smears. In fact, several of the witnesses spoke up for CAIR. Click here for a video of the hearing, as well as written testimony. Mohamed Elibiary's testimony starts at the 2:00 hour mark, Rep. Souder's attack on CAIR starts at the 0:59-1:09 hour mark.

    Who is a Terrorist?

    In February 2010, Congress passed a resolution labeling Joe Stack's suicide plane attack on an IRS building in Texas a terrorist act, on a 408-2 vote (Ron Paul (R-TX) and Don Young (R-AK) voted no). The initial reaction of some in Congress and the media was to deny that Stack's action was terrorism, in marked contrast to their response to the Fort Hood shooting. Many noted the hypocrisy, but, rather than insisting that Stack be labeled a terrorist like Major Hasan, we would do better to try to narrow the ever-expanding definition of terrorism. DDF board member Hussein Ibish makes a compelling case in his blog (www.ibishblog.com):

    Does it make sense, however, to lump these kinds of actions into the same category as carefully planned, ideologically-motivated conspiracies by organizations, no matter how small, to carry out acts of violence and sabotage in order to pursue a broader strategy, no matter how implausible? I doubt it. It seems to me that in order to deal with both problems effectively, distinguishing between the two is essential, since while they appear to share similar characteristics because the nature of the acts seems identical and the rhetoric similarly coincidental, in fact they are produced by very different dynamics and processes. What I'm arguing is that when two different equations produce similar results it does not make sense to deal with them as if they were reflective of the same essential problem. Of course fundamental security measures that would deter or prevent any act of violence, no matter the source or motivation, are essential in combating both of these phenomena and violence by organized criminals, gangs and others. But if we are serious about dealing with the problem of political terrorism it strongly behooves us not to confuse strategic actions by ideologically motivated organizations with the intersection of emotional crisis and political extremism that seems to produce these lone wolf atrocities.

    Some Key Facts About Terrorism in the U.S.

    The Muslim Public Affairs Council has released a report that looks at the number of actual and attempted terrorist attacks within the U.S. Anyone relying on the mainstream media for analysis of terrorism will be surprised with the findings:

    • There were 54 total plots by domestic non-Muslim perpetrators against the United States, compared to 31 total plots by domestic and international Muslim perpetrators since 9/11.
    • Less than half of individuals publicly associated with terrorism by the Department of Justice were actually charged with violating an anti-terrorism or national security statute.
    • There are at least 4 incidents of non-Muslims possessing or attempting to possess Chemical or Radiological weapons, but no cases involving Muslim have been reported since 9/11.
    Click here for the full report.

    California Loyalty Oath

    We reported last spring that the California Assembly was considering a bill that would eliminate California's loyalty oath and repeal the law that allowed the firing of public school and community college teachers who are Communist Party members. Read more…

    Ideological Exclusion

    The Obama Justice Department stuck with Bush in another court case this month, asking a judge to uphold the Bush administration's decision to deny a visa to an Islamic scholar. The scholar, Tariq Ramadan was hired by the University of Notre Dame (that cauldron of radicalism), but the Bush administration used "ideological exclusion" to keep him out of the country. That means he was denied entry based on his views or associations. We are disappointed that the Obama administration has decided to uphold the practice. Read more...

    Homegrown Terrorism, Violent Radicalization and Extremism

    In the fall of 2007, the House overwhelmingly passed H.R. 1955 the "Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act". The bill raised a number of red flags for us because it focused too much on political and religious beliefs, rather than violent activity. DDF pulled together a coalition of groups to fight the bill in the Senate, and we won. Read more here...