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President Bars Racial Profiling Except for Nat’l Security Cases

By Eric Lichtblau

THE NEW YORK TIMES -- WASHINGTON

President Bush issued guidelines on Tuesday barring federal agents from using race or ethnicity in their routine investigations.

But the policy carves out clear exemptions for investigations involving terrorism and national security matters.

The policy governs the conduct of 70 federal law enforcement agencies. A narcotics agent, for instance, cannot focus on a specific neighborhood simply because of its racial make-up, the policy states.

In national security operations, however, the policy allows agents to use race and ethnicity in “narrow” circumstances to help “identify terrorist threats and stop potential catastrophic attacks,” officials said.

Immigration officials, for instance, will continue to be able to require visitors from largely Middle Eastern countries to register with the government.

And if intelligence officials had information indicating that terrorists of a certain ethnic group planned to hijack a plane next week in California, authorities could impose “heightened scrutiny” on men of that ethnicity who boarded planes in that area, officials said.

Arab-American and civil rights groups said that the loopholes in the White House policy would give the authorities legal justification to single out Middle Easterners and others who may fall under suspicion, and they questioned whether the new policy -- issued as “guidance” -- would be aggressively enforced.

“This policy acknowledges racial profiling as a national concern, but it does nothing to stop it,” Laura Murphy, director of the Washington office of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in an interview. “It’s largely a rhetorical statement. The administration is trying to soften its image, but it’s smoke and mirrors.”

“The way the president looks at it,” a White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, said, “this is about stopping the abuses of a few, and the action on Tuesday should only strengthen the public’s confidence that the vast majority of law enforcement officials have earned and deserve credit for the job they do in protecting Americans.”

The policy lays out two distinct sets of guidelines: a broad prohibition on profiling in traditional and often routine law enforcement investigations; and a looser set of standards for national security cases.