There exist significant similarities between the profiling used to capture serial killers and the profiling used to prevent attacks on planes. The implicitly shared overarching goal to identify and deter future killers and assailants is fundamental for both types of profiling, despite the extremely distinctive means of achieving this shared end. Criminal profiling is used in serial killer cases and in those cases it is started because of one or more related murders or assaults, and thereby exhibits a noteworthy difference in the starting positions of each situation. In preventing future airplane bombers there exists no power once the first crime is committed. Airplane attackers such as the explosive-shoe bomber, the Yemenese underwear bomber, or the 9/11 attacks, are each limited to one chance to pull it off, forcing airport security to profile their behavior in ways that will strongly indicate intentions without allowing the attackers to get close to performing their destructive act.
When looking for information to profile potential bombers in airports, the approach has been oriented towards racial or ethnic profiling. The classic example of Driving While Black surfaced in airport security as Flying While Muslim after the attack of 9/11. However, airlines like LL Airlines engage in vigorous questioning regarding the details of their trip, such as asking where passengers are headed, where they are from, who they will be staying with, and for how long they will be staying. An airplane bombing attempt by the Yemenese man brought the importance of such specific questions to light.
The predominantly racial or ethnic profiling methods used for preventative airplane bombings are born from events such as 9/11. The asian official who “visited our class” debated with conviction his position on the unconstitutionality of using only race or ethnicity to profile potential criminals. Airport bombing also has yet to reach a level of regularity comparable to the rates of serial killing. Thus, the significantly smaller pool of data for previous cases of airport attackers leaves any extrapolation of such minimal data less trustworthy. To create any strong case, enough sampling and evidence must be collected such that the profiling can identify patterns and outliers with statistical, scientific certainty independent of our natural tendency to create prejudice through memory’s sins of bias, misattribution, and suggestibility.
In the book Mind Hunter, author Jonathan Douglas describes how each case provided more insight into the behavioral patterns of serial killers. Speaking with serial killers like Edmund Kemper after he was caught and incarcerated, combined with a growing collection of killers to research, drastically aided Douglas in building behavioral profiles containing specific, recognizable modus operandi (categorical, unconscious habits and evolution exhibited across certain types of cases) and how that was...