PARKERSBURG - In the wake of the failed bombing attempt on a Detroit-bound airplane on Christmas Day, both federal and local law enforcement agencies are stepping up security initiatives.
While profiling individuals based on suspicious behavior or unusual activity to prevent terrorist acts is a common practice, profiling based on race and ethnicity is unjust and ineffective, officials said.
Wood County Sheriff Jeff Sandy, who has received specialized training in terrorism, said racial profiling is against the law and often counterproductive.
"We don't do it, and it's not something that is encouraged," said Sandy.
For the past five years, Sandy has been part of a group that trains local and state law enforcement agencies on how to conduct terrorism investigations, and he has worked at nine of the top 20 banks in the country teaching bank employees to detect terrorism monies entering the United States.
"Profiling based on race is ineffective," he said. "The al-Qaida training manual tells its followers to blend in with the majority and try not to stand out. If law enforcement starts picking out certain elements, they will avoid those elements. Suicide bombers often dyed their hair blond to foil profiling attempts by Israeli police."
Tom Campbell, a consultant on terrorist issues who has worked with Sandy in the past, has been in the field of counter-terrorism for 14 years.
"We do not profile based on ethnicity and race, what we do is profile behavior," said Campbell. "Terrorism is evolutionary. Terrorists are always changing their behavior, appearances and tactics. What we try to do to prevent terrorism is focus on the behavior. That's how we disrupt it before it happens. The emphasis is on prevention."
In the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, suspected of attempting to detonate plastic explosives on a Northwest Airlines plane bound for Detroit, several suspicious behaviors should have been detected by security officials, said Campbell.
The fact that he paid for his ticket in cash, had no checked baggage and no coat on a flight bound for snowy Detroit were odd behaviors, he said.
"These behaviors, while not criminal in nature, are suspicious activities. So yes, we profile, but we profile suspicious behavior and criminal acts," said Campbell.
With security heightened throughout the country, governments and agencies on the local, state and federal level are working together to fight terrorism.
"We are also trying to dispel some of the myths that terrorism only happens in large urban areas. This just isn't true," said Campbell. "On the local level, there is more training going on to create an awareness of the indicators of terrorist activity."
The West Virginia Intelligence Fusion Center, located in Charleston, was established in March 2008 to receive and disseminate information and intelligence to local, state and federal agencies. Nearly all 50 states now have a fusion center, designed to anticipate, identify and prevent all criminal activity, including acts of terrorism.
"Since we developed the fusion center, it's been like a portal to receive and disperse important information," said Thom Kirk, fusion center director. "It really has worked out well. In the past, there were numerous times we have received information that we really didn't know what to do with. Now, we can share that information more easily with other state and federal agencies."
Fusion centers began at the recommendation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"We can pass on information from agencies and the general public about suspicious behavior. As Sheriff Sandy has done many times, when he thinks any kind of information would be useful to us, he shares it so we can pass it on to other state and federal agencies," said Kirk.
"Suspicious acts are probably the most frequent calls we get, and we are able to get that information out. It could be part of a trend or a pattern that the Department of Homeland Security needs to be aware of. It's about cooperation on all levels and connecting the dots," said Kirk.