Oklahoma governor: Racial profiling has a role in preventing terrorism

Sunday, February 3rd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Some kinds of racial profiling are just what the country needs to track potential terrorists inside American borders and keep out those who have ``mischief on their minds,'' one governor told the country's top terrorism prosecutor Saturday.

``I think it is negligent not to look at everything, including racial factors,'' when assessing potential terrorists, Gov. Frank Keating, R-Okla., said.

Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff had just finished assuring an American Bar Association audience that the United States is not using racial or ethnic profiling in the war on terror, although police and immigration officials on the front line may consider whether a potential suspect shares ``common characteristics'' with previously identified terrorists.

Keating and Chertoff were part of a panel discussing the security of Americans at home, and the legal and civil liberties issues arising from the government response to the Sept. 11 jetliner attacks.

Some of the assertions from the mostly conservative panel:

_Beefed-up airport security is mostly for show, and may do little to prevent another terrorist attack.

_The Bush administration's new director of homeland security, Tom Ridge, has too little money or direct authority.

_The United States had plenty of warning that al-Qaida or other terrorist groups might be planning an attack.

Keating and others took the federal government to task, both for failing to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks and for not doing enough to stop future threats.

The Transportation Department is foolish to tell airport screeners not to consider some racial and ethnic factors when screening passengers, Keating said.

The department has instructed ``if someone is speaking Arabic or reading the Quran or praying, that is not to be a factor at all,'' Keating said. ``Well, that's reckless in my view.''

He also said the 1993 terrorist bombing at the World Trade Center should have put the government of full alert to ``keep people out who mean us harm.''

``Here we have this crush of people coming into our country, many of whom have hostility and mischief on their minds, and we've made no effort to background them,'' Keating said. ``Once they're here, we have absolutely no system to track them.''

Keating had been in office less than a year when Timothy McVeigh blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. The attack killed 168 people, and was the most deadly terrorist assault on U.S. soil until Sept. 11. McVeigh was a U.S. citizen and Army veteran who would not have crossed paths with immigration officials.

Chertoff said the government and Congress are taking a sensible, one-step-at-a-time approach, and have strengthened security without gutting civil liberties.

``We need to understand with specificity who it is who poses a threat to American security,'' Chertoff said. When the enemy is overseas they should be bombed or shot by the military, he said. At home, traditional investigative tools such as search warrants are appropriate, he said.

``We have to have the flexibility on the margins,'' when the hunt for terror suspects blurs the lines between national security protection and criminal investigation, Chertoff said.

``I don't think that means we have to seriously erode core civil liberties, but I do think it requires us to separate what is a real civil liberty and what is a habit of thinking that ... may not necessarily touch on what our core constitutional rights are,'' Chertoff said.