Jan 27, 2010

Press Release: AAI, ADC and MPAC Meet with Attorney General Holder to Discuss Profiling; Encourage Engagement

WASHINGTON – Tuesday, January 26—Executives of the Arab American Institute (AAI), American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), met with Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday (January 25) to discuss issues of concern to the Arab American and Muslim communities.

Leaders spoke with Attorney General Holder about several controversial policies developed under the 2003 Department of Justice Guidance on Profiling, which include several loopholes allowing for widespread profiling based on race, ethnicity, religion and national origin. Among the topics discussed were the 2008 Investigative Operational Guidelines (DIOGs), disclosures in the 2010 Inspector General Report on FBI data collection of identified “communities of interest”, the use of informants in terrorism cases, and the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), and PATRIOT Act reauthorization.

Representatives from the Arab American Institute (AAI), the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) stressed the importance of continued dialogue and additional efforts to promote partnerships between local communities and law enforcement.

James Zogby, President of the Arab American Institute (AAI) said: “It is the national security loophole in the 2003 Attorney General guidelines on profiling that has provided the legal cover for many of the policies put in place during the previous Administration, including the round ups of thousands of Arab and Muslim immigrants targeted for ‘special registration’ and the 2008 Mukasey guidelines for the FBI. As has been repeatedly demonstrated, profiling is ineffective, wastes precious law enforcement resources, and alienates American communities eager to assist in keeping our country safe and secure.”

Mary Rose Oakar, President of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), said: “We urged the Attorney General to repeal the 2008 Department of Justice FBIGuidelines that were put into effect in the last month of the Bush Administration and asked him to assist in repealing the NSEERS program, which targets young men from Arab and Muslim countries.”

Salam Al-Marayati, Executive Director of MPAC, said: “Problematic polices over the past 8 years have lead to a chilling effect in our community. We encourage the DOJ to address some of these very pertinent issues to ensure respect for the rule of law and security policies that work”

AAI, ADC, and MPAC appreciate the opportunity to address these concerns with Attorney General Holder and look forward to working with the Department of Justice on substantive policy reform.

Targeting Needles or Adding More Hay?: Airport Profiling, 'Countries of Interest', and American Security

On January 11, the Arab American Institute hosted a Hill briefing where the Department of Homeland Security's newest changes in airport security were discussed.

The briefing included perspectives and recommendations from experts on national security, civil liberties, and the ethnic American experience and featured:

Michael German: Policy Counsel, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

Jumana Musa: Policy Director, Rights Working Group (RWG)

Amardeep Singh: Director of Programs and Advocacy, Sikh Coalition

Moderated by Dr. James Zogby: President, Arab American Institute

For more information and to watch the briefing, visit:


Jan 11, 2010

Profiling is back..!

Airport profiling is back, with a vengeance. In the aftermath of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's failed effort to bring down Northwest Flight 253 on December 25, the White House swung into action. President Barack Obama addressed the nation on three separate occasions, and ordered two comprehensive reviews of policy and practices in an effort to determine what broke down in airport security and inter-agency intelligence co-operation. He also instituted a number of new (and not so new) directives designed to provide greater security.

Many of these directives were focused on ensuring that various intelligence and law enforcement agencies were working together, as had been mandated by post 9/11 reforms. The President and others in the administration were deeply troubled by reports of system wide inertia, and some bureaucratic resistance to change, that had left "dots" unconnected, allowing Abdulmuttab to board a plane to the US, unimpeded.

Eight years ago reforms were instituted so as to ensure such breakdowns in intelligence sharing did not occur again. Now the President, clearly upset by what he called an "unacceptable" breakdown, was insisting that it be done. This initiative was well received.

Not so well received, on the other hand, were reports that the administration had reinstated a form of country-specific airport profiling, targeting passengers travelling from, through, or holding passports from 14 countries (13 of which are majority Muslim, and Cuba). Early reports indicate that passengers from these countries are being singled out for intense secondary screening involving both discomfort and delay.

What is most troubling is not just the discriminatory intent behind this singling out of Muslim majority nations, and the inconvenience and resentment it will create among their citizens toward the US. More to the point is that profiling of this sort has been used, on at least two occasions in the past, and been found wanting.

In the mid-1990s the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) implemented country-specific profiling and also subjective profiling (in which airport personnel singled out people who looked Arab or Muslim for pre-boarding screening). Thousands were harassed and in some cases humiliated with no net gain in security. When I testified before a Congressional committee investigating this practice and urged the committee to inquire from the FAA whether or not these practices had ever caught, detained or found suspicion of terrorist activities-the FAA was unable to provide evidence of even a single instance where the programme had produced a result.

Post 9/11, the Bush administration, under the leadership of then Attorney General John Ashcroft, put in place the National Special Entry and Exit Registration System (NSEERS), once again almost exclusively targeting Arab and Muslim immigrants and non-immigrant visitors to the US. Not a single terrorist was apprehended by this programme. What NSEERS did do, on the other hand, was make entry to the US more burdensome and unwelcoming, creating a clear sense among Muslims worldwide that they were being discriminated against.

The question that now should be posed to the Obama administration is "if airport profiling has been tried twice and failed, without contributing to making the country more secure, then why is it being reinstituted once again?"

For example, in its current manifestation, travellers from 14 countries will be targeted, with no provision made for travellers from countries not on the list. So, all Lebanese will be targeted, but Richard Reid (the failed "shoe bomber", who holds UK citizenship, will not be screened). Secondly, as the saying goes, "when looking for a needle in a haystack, adding hay to the stack only makes the job more difficult."

Discriminatory profiling of this sort damages national security in another way. If the purpose of Al Qaeda, in organising these attacks, is to create panic and deepen the divide between Muslims worldwide and the US, the resentment created by a massive profiling regime plays right into their hands.

What law enforcement professionals propose instead is "evidence-based, targeted, and narrowly tailored investigations based on individualised suspicion" - in other words, good old fashioned police work.

When the two reviews ordered by the President have been completed, and the gaps in intelligence sharing have been closed, a review of "profiling", its use and abuse, is in order.

Jan 8, 2010

ADC Statement Regarding New TSA Directives

New TSA Guidelines Troubling and Ultimately Ineffective

Washington, D.C. | January 5, 2010 | www.adc.org |The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) is deeply concerned by the new Transportation and Security Administration (TSA) directives, which went into effect on January 4th at midnight. According to news sources, these directives will require citizens from 14 countries, all Arab or Muslim countries, with the exception of Cuba, to go through enhanced security screening. Such screening can include full pat-downs, scans, delays, and anything associated with secondary screening - an extra search of the passenger's carry-on luggage may also be required. News sources also stated that the directives are applicable to any travelers, including US CITIZENS, who have passed through one of these 14 countries, or who have taken flights that have originated from these 14 countries.

ADC is very troubled as such directives will have negative ramifications on Arab-Americans, citizens of the 14 countries, and all Americans who visit these countries. A disparate segment of the Arab-American community will be scrutinized because of these new guidelines. The blanket labeling of hundreds of millions of civilians based solely on their country of citizenship or travel is not only unfairly discriminatory based on national origin, but also improperly labels millions of innocent people as somehow suspect or possible terrorists.

The new directives came following the Christmas Day attempted airline attack that threatened our national security, and which ADC has strongly condemned. Implementing an effective and productive counterterrorism tool is paramount. However, casting a wide net against individuals based on their country of origin, race or religion is not an effective counterterrorism tool. During the past decade, similar racial, ethnic and religious profiling tactics and practices have time and again misdirected precious counterterrorism resources, damaged foreign relations with key allies, fueled the fires of extremists by giving them an excuse, stigmatized communities, and most importantly did not have any discernible impact on security. Based on precedent, these new directives will be no different than these past practices and their adverse consequences; and while such directives may appear to make us feel safer, the reality is that they discriminate against innocent persons and divert attention from real threats.

Resources must instead be focused on high-risk individuals based on proper intelligence, better coordination and communication between different governmental agencies. In addition, continued engagement with the Arab, Muslim, Sikh, and South Asian community groups must be strengthened, and must not be discouraged by ethnic profiling tactics.

ADC has been in contact with TSA and the Department Homeland Security (DHS) and is planning to file a complaint and request for additional information with the Department. ADC urges all travelers affected by these new guidelines to always comply with the Transportation Security Officer's (TSO's) request. In the event of any abuse or misuse of authority, please request the TSO's name and badge number, and file a complaint with ADC's Legal Department at legal@adc.org.

Jan 7, 2010

Politico Article Draws Ties Between New TSA Security Measures and NSEERS

TSA's echoes of Ashcroft

The U.S. government's announcement Sunday that it would impose stricter airport security on citizens of 14 "nations that are state sponsors of terrorism or other countries of interest" probably wasn't intended as a homage to former Attorney General John Ashcroft.

But strident critics of Ashcroft and even some of his associates said the Obama administration's move bore strong parallels to the "special registration" or NSEERS (National Security Entry-Exit Registration System) program President George W. Bush's first attorney general ordered beginning in 2002, which required male nationals of what eventually became 25 countries who were working, visiting or living in the U.S. to report to immigration authorities for fingerprinting and interviews. Critics of the program said it failed to nab any terrorists, while about 14,000 of the men were put into deportation proceedings.

Critics contend that the focus on national origin in both programs is simply a proxy for religion. In the Ashcroft immigration program, 24 of the 25 countries were predominantly Muslim. (The exception was North Korea.) In the new airline security program, 13 of the 14 affected countries are largely Muslim. (The exception is Cuba.)

"There are a lot of eerie similarities," said Nawar Shora of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. "This takes millions of people and frankly labels them for the general public. ... You're telling broader society it's OK to treat them different because they are different. Because we have one 23-year-old Nigerian do something very dangerous and stupid, 100 million Nigerians are going to be labeled?"

"There are some similarities," said Michael Sullivan, who took over as the U.S. attorney for Massachusetts days after Sept. 11. "I think the president is doing the right thing by tightening security requirements coming from certain countries where you have your potential greatest risk. It only makes sense from a law enforcement, national security perspective that you focus in on where the greatest risk potentially is coming from. ... Attorney General [Ashcroft] was trying to do the exact same thing in a climate of great risk of further terrorist attacks."

For its part, the Transportation Security Administration denies that the new effort amounts to profiling. "TSA does not profile," spokeswoman Sarah Horowitz said. "As is always the case, TSA security measures are based on threat, not ethnic or religious background."

Of course, the two programs are not entirely identical. The TSA 14-countries program involves a brief search that many passengers who aren't from the designated countries will also be subject to. The "special registration" program took hours and sometimes days for people to complete and often wound up with the registrant, who came forward in good faith, being imprisoned and/or deported.

"From a detention perspective, I suppose [the TSA program] is not as bad. ... It's not as severe. Just an extra pat-down, extra scanning, but the messaging — the labeling — is equivalent," said Shora.

While the hue and cry over special registration was loud and sustained, the early reaction to the TSA 14-countries program was more muted. However, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and Muslim Advocates are all publicly questioning the wisdom of the new approach. So, too, have some terrorism analysts and scholars.

"I see it as a do-something, do-anything response," said Bruce Hoffman of Georgetown University. "There is probably a greater threat of Western nationals being co-opted by Al Qaeda. This'll do nothing against them."

"I think this is an ill-considered response that'll do more harm to the United States than it does good," said Edward Alden of the Council on Foreign Relations. "That's a crude sort of measure that is going to alienate a lot of people who are otherwise friendly to the United States."

Some said the new TSA measure will probably do some good but is far from a major enhancement of security. "You can argue that the bad guys will just find more Richard Reids who carry British passports and have Western names, but at least you force them to work a little harder if you don't allow someone named Mohammed from Yemen to get on an airplane without going through secondary screening," said a former senior intelligence official who asked not to be named. "You could also argue that it you make it difficult for people from some of these countries to get on airplanes, they might complain about it to their government, and you'll have a clampdown there on Al Qaeda."

However, the ex-official said, there is little doubt that the tactic amounts to religious and ethnic profiling. "They wont call it that, but, sure, that's what it is," the former official said.

Even TSA's use of the term "countries of interest" evokes one of Ashcroft's most famous phrases, "person of interest." Ashcroft used that construction in TV interviews and a news conference to describe Dr. Stephen Hatfill's connection to an investigation into the anthrax attacks in 2001. In 2008, the U.S. government later paid Hatfill $5.8 million to settle a Privacy Act lawsuit claiming that his reputation was damaged by Ashcroft and other officials. Hatfill was never charged in the attacks. The government's investigative focus eventually moved to another scientist, Bruce Ivins, who killed himself after learning he was about to be indicted in the case.

Posted by Josh Gerstein