Many FBI Agents Find Racial Profiling Useless, But Those Up Top Feel It's Just A Failure To Get Everyone On Board

from the Assistant-Regional-Director-of-First/Fourth-Amendment-Violations dept

The recently-released 9/11 Commission’s review of FBI tactics in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks seems to suggest the agency should perform even more racial profiling than it already does. As Kevin Gosztola of Firedoglake points out, the language in the report places a lot of emphasis on “domain awareness” and pre-crime policing.

Documents the American Civil Liberties Union have been able to obtain show [PDF] that “FBI analysts make judgments based on crude stereotypes about the types of crimes different racial and ethnic groups commit, which they then use to justify collecting demographic data to map where people with that racial or ethnic makeup live.” The FBI uses “domain analysis” to target American Muslims and Islamic institutions.

The similarities between this suggested course of action and the NYPD’s infamous “Demographics Unit” (led by a former CIA official) are notable. Both involve questionable tactics like declaring entire mosques “terrorist organizations” simply because attendees followed the same religion as the 9/11 attackers. Notably, the FBI found the NYPD’s tactics so thoroughly violated the rights of those being surveilled that it refused to access any of the intelligence gathered by the Demographics Unit. That decision ultimately cost the FBI nothing in terms of usable intel. Despite years of rights violations and round-the-clock surveillance, the NYPD’s special unit was never instrumental in preventing attacks or producing significant arrests.

Marcy Wheeler at Emptywheel notes that the FBI’s analysis of the 9/11 Commission’s reports indicates a significant percentage of FBI agents found racial profiling and pre-crime “investigations” to be a waste of time.

According to one anecdote, 20% of analysts (not even Field Agents!) understand the point of this. And even in offices where they do understand, the Field Agents won’t do their part by going and filling in the blanks analysts identify.

The “blanks” are contained in CSCCs (Central Strategic Coordinating Components), linked to field offices’ “domain awareness” programs. But one-fifth of agents refused to comply with this directive — not because 20% of FBI agents are necessarily against racial profiling (documents obtained by the ACLU show otherwise) — but because the tactic just doesn’t work.

Call me crazy. But maybe the people responding to actual crimes believe they learn enough in that process — and are plenty busy enough trying to catch criminals — that they don’t see the point of racially profiling people like NYPD does? Maybe they believe the ongoing threats are where the past ones have been, and there’s no need to spend their time investigating where there aren’t crimes in case there ever are in the future?

Doing investigative work like investigators, rather than like surveillance dragnets? That’s probably crazy enough to work. Not that the FBI has any desire to dial back its requests for encryption backdoors and unfettered access to electronic communications, but those actually out in the field seem to know what works and what doesn’t. And a constant APB for anyone fitting the “Muslim/Male” description isn’t exactly helpful.

Of course, those at the top — the ones finding this to be a credible way to fight terrorism — see this 20% as outliers who have failed to “get on the bus.” And in a mixture of the worst parts of bureaucracy and corporate culture, they’ve responded with “do more of what isn’t productive, only faster and harder.”

Yet rather than analyzing whether this concept serves any purpose whatsoever, it instead says, “it’s corporate policy, no one is doing it well, so it needs to improve.”

There’s a lesson here, but those writing the review aren’t comprehending it. (Wheeler notes that many of those interviewed for the report aren’t actually FBI agents, but rather representatives of other intelligence agencies, like the CIA.) To catch terrorists, you need smarter investigative work, not work that involves blanket surveillance and the rote filling in of blanks. The NYPD should know this, considering its failure to catch plots later uncovered by the FBI, but it doesn’t. Despite the disbandment of the “Demographics Unit,” it still clings to the belief that mass surveillance beats real police work any day of the week. The FBI has figured this out — or at least a percentage of its agents have — but that’s not going to be enough to persuade those calling for more of everything to dial back their efforts a bit.

The FBI can be smart, but it’s apparently hampered by upper management with an obvious fondness for bad ideas that simultaneously expand the agency’s power. If it is how it looks, the real aim of the agency heads is more power, not fewer terrorist attacks.

Filed Under: , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Many FBI Agents Find Racial Profiling Useless, But Those Up Top Feel It's Just A Failure To Get Everyone On Board”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
23 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

“The FBI can be smart, but it’s apparently hampered by upper management with an obvious fondness for bad ideas that simultaneously expand the agency’s power. If it is how it looks, the real aim of the agency heads is more power, not fewer terrorist attacks.”

Bureaucrats never admit they were wrong about anything. Bad results are always blamed on poor execution –not unsound policy– so they can always pin the blame on some underling. That’s the way government agencies work, the guys at the top are untouchable, while those at the bottom are the ones who get punished for following bad orders — or worse yet, daring to complain about bad orders.

Anonymous Coward says:

Mass survailence pretty worthless

It would be relatively easy to set up completely innocuous text as code worked into a conversation for contextual sense. Since if they think “So how is grandpa doing in the hospital.” or “Any plans for the weekend?” is code without an internal tip off they must be incredibly paranoid and going nuts on wild gooses chase.

Sheogorath (profile) says:

Many FBI Agents Find Racial Profiling Useless, But Those Up Top Feel It’s Just A Failure To Get Everyone On Board
That’s because they don’t remember when black Americans were getting lynched for every violent crime that occurred, but there was no parallel reduction in the rates of violent offences. Short memory the US Government has, young padawan.

jim says:

Re: Re:

Or how about, when the Irish were getting lynched for the imagined crimes, or the first slaves in america were what color? Get off the racist crap and just investigate damnit. Good police work by the few raises the bar by getting the bad guy off the street.
A better response would have been, to not mention just one race, even the Chinese recruit railroad workers were hung and the other races who came as immigrants were treated the same way until they formed their own communities and settled in. Shucks even cowboy, ones in white hats were hung because the were the wrong person in the neighborhood. Injustice is injustice. It don’t matter the race damnit.

lew says:

Muslims did not do 9-11, dammit

9/11 was a false flag operation.

I bet my relatives an ounce of gold that, with them as the sole judge, if they spend 10 hours watching the various 9-11 truth videos and looking at the web sites, evaluating the evidence and the people presenting the evidence, they will agree.

If you do not understand that 9/11 was a false flag operation done by our own government, a) You don’t understand the most important thing in our national life, and b) you haven’t studied the evidence.

I have never had to pay off. You will notice that there are no intelligent people arguing the gov’s case on the net any longer.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Moot point

Here’s the thing though: Ultimately, it doesn’t matter.

Whether it was a real attack or a staged one, what mattered was what came after it, both in the government, and among the public. That was were the real damage to the country took place after all, so focusing on ‘Was the attack a real one, or was it staged?’ is missing the forest for the trees.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Moot point

Whether it was a real attack or a staged one, what mattered was what came after it, both in the government, and among the public.

Actually what came after it proves that it was not staged. The objective of terror organisations is to undermine our freedonm, in short to make us behave as badly as they do, thus undermining our moral authority. In this they succeeded because of the moral weakness of out politicians.

I don’t believe that our politicians actually want to create a police state (although that cannot be said of some of the commercial organisations that sell them the equipment). However they are slaves to the “something must be done – this is something” fallacy and that is the real problem.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Muslims did not do 9-11, dammit - oh yes they did!

If you do not understand that 9/11 was a false flag operation done by our own government, a) You don’t understand the most important thing in our national life, and b) you haven’t studied the evidence.

I’ll bet you believe that the moon landings were faked too!

Look – if the government had staged it it would at least have managed to throw the blame directly on Iraq/Saddam instead of blaming Saudis who are supposed to be one of our allies (in spite of their human rights record).
It also would have avoided the embarassment of using Bin Laden who was initially supported (against the Soviets) by an administration that included George HW Bush as vice president.

It is an inconvenient truth for those of us on the left that the “minorities” that we believe are oppressed by western governments may not themselves live up to our own moral standards and that their religion could actually encourage them to behave worse than their “oppressors”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Islam is not a race

Whilst racial profiling is abhorrent it is important to note the Islam is not a race – it is an ideology. The article seems to have confused the two different things – as does the FBI itself which is one of the problems.

Many people of “Muslim” appearance may in fact be Christians, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, Agnostics or Atheists.

Conversely many people of western appearance and heritage could be Muslims.

Padpaw (profile) says:

If we are supporting the “they may turn out to be a criminal so lets harass and shoot them now” option. Lets go for bold territory and label all of those alphabet government organizations possible terrorists and traitors on the grounds that since many of them have committed crimes and broken their oaths, all of them probably will. Why not throw the police in there as well, if many of them shoot without warning unarmed and unresisting people its only safe to play the percentages and assume all of them are criminal cops.

Leave a Reply to DannyB Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Loading...