Sunday, August 24, 2008

MI5 To Mukasey: Profiling Doesn’t Work So Don’t Bother

With the frightening but not unsurprising news that Bush’s lickspittle Attorney General Michael Mukasey plans to spy on everyone for no legitimate reason other than collecting an enormous data base on every American’s activities, beliefs, spending, bowel movements and who knows what else just to be able to spot a terrorist, comes saner advice from Britain’s MI5: Don’t bother; profiling doesn’t work.

Given the comparative track records of MI5 and the FBI in catching real terrorists – the FBI seems to opt for goofballs who usually turn out to be extortionists or, like the Miami group, a bunch of scam artists who really only wanted new boots – I’m willing to take the work of the Brits over Washington’s.

Unlike the operating assumption of the FBI, MI5’s study concludes there is no easy way to identify those who become involved in terrorism, according to a classified internal research document.

The sophisticated analysis, based on hundreds of case studies by the security service, says there is no single pathway to violent extremism. It concludes that it is not possible to draw up a typical profile of a "terrorist" as most are "demographically unremarkable" and simply reflect the communities in which they live. The MI5 report takes apart many of the common stereotypes about those involved in terrorism and de-bunks the myth pushed by the Republicans and other right wingnuts that there’s a terrorist under every bed.

In fact, MI5 reports, would-be terrorists living in the West are mostly native born, not illegal immigrants and, far from being Islamist fundamentalists, most are religious novices. Nor are they "mad and bad." Those over 30 are just as likely to have a wife and children as to be loners with no ties. The security service also plays down the importance of extremist clerics, saying their influence in radicalising Western terrorists has into the background over recent years.

The main findings include:

 The majority are native born and the remainder, with a few exceptions, are here legally. Some immigrants fled traumatic experiences and oppressive regimes and claimed asylum, but more came West to study, or for family or economic reasons, and became radicalised many years after arriving.
 Far from being religious zealots, a large number of those involved in terrorism do not practise their faith regularly. Many lack religious literacy and could actually be regarded as religious novices. Some are involved in drug-taking, drinking alcohol and visiting prostitutes. MI5 says there is evidence that a well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation.
 The "mad and bad" theory to explain why people turn to terrorism does not stand up, with no more evidence of mental illness or pathological personality traits found among terrorism suspects than is found in the general population.
 British-based terrorists are as ethnically diverse as the UK Muslim population, with individuals from Pakistani, Middle Eastern and Caucasian backgrounds. MI5 says assumptions cannot be made about suspects based on skin colour, ethnic heritage or nationality.
 Most UK terrorists are male, but women also play an important role. Sometimes they are aware of the activities of husbands, brothers or sons, but do not object or try to stop them.
 While the majority are in their early to mid-20s when they become radicalised, a small but not insignificant minority first become involved in violent extremism at over the age of 30.
 Far from being lone individuals with no ties, the majority of those over 30 have steady relationships, and most have children. MI5 says this challenges the idea that terrorists lured to "martyrdom" by the promise of beautiful virgins waiting for them in paradise. It is wrong to assume that someone with a wife and children is less likely to commit acts of terrorism.
 Those involved in British terrorism are not unintelligent or gullible, and nor are they more likely to be well-educated; their educational achievement ranges from total lack of qualifications to degree-level education. However, they are almost all employed in low-grade jobs.

The researchers conclude that the results of their work "challenge many of the stereotypes that are held about who becomes a terrorist and why."

Crucially, the research has revealed that those who become terrorists "are a diverse collection of individuals, fitting no single demographic profile, nor do they all follow a typical pathway to violent extremism."

The security service believes the terrorist groups operating in Britain today are different in many important respects both from Islamist extremist activity in other parts of the world and from historical terrorist movements such as the IRA or the Red Army Faction.

The MI5 "operational briefing note" warns that, unless they understand the varied backgrounds of those drawn to terrorism, the security services will fail to counter their activities in the short term and fail to prevent violent radicalisation continuing in the long term.

It also concludes that the research results have important lessons for the government's programme to tackle the spread of violent extremism, underlining the need for "attractive alternatives" to terrorist involvement but also warning that traditional law enforcement tactics could backfire if handled badly or used against people who are not seen as legitimate targets, such as those who simply hold politically extreme views.

I doubt anyone inside the FBI or Justice Dept., let alone the White House, read the MI5 study; sometimes I wonder if anyone in those particular Washington bunkers know how to read, period, and even if they do MI5 so contradicts their perverted view of “justice” that they won’t pay heed anyway. But as Bush, Cheney, McCain and Mukasey try setting up one more permanent violation of the law before they’re kicked out of town still wearing the brown shirts and jackboots they seem to love, it behoves Congress to put a stop to this nonsense when it reconvenes in September.

As if it will.