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In the Crossfire

Does new system finger terrorism?

(CNN) -- Immigration agents will begin fingerprinting international visitors this week who they think may pose security risks. Is this a form of racial profiling or cutting down the threat of future attacks? Former federal prosecutor Victoria Toensing and James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, step into the "Crossfire" with hosts Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.

BEGALA: In principle, I don't have a problem with this policy. That may surprise you. But I have practical concerns. For example, the Justice Department spokesman said today that people from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan and Libya would automatically be photographed and fingerprinted.

None of those countries contributed hijackers to September 11. Saudi Arabia contributed 14. Why not the Saudis?

TOENSING: First of all, let me tell you why you need me, because nobody seems to understand how this process works. There is already a database, a database of 100,000 names of felons or 100,000 fingerprints of felons, and several thousand fingerprints of terrorists.

So what happens is, with the people who are put aside to be fingerprinted -- it's a computer thing, it isn't like the old ink thing that was in the past. This is a computer data program where you put your two fingers down and within a minute they can find out if they are one of the 100,000 felons who are wanted, or several of the thousand terrorists fingerprints having been collected from foreign intelligence services and caves in Afghanistan, I mean, all over the place.

Do you remember the cry right after September 11, how could two people on the CIA wanted list ever get into this country? Why didn't they catch them at the border? Well, this is exactly the program that does it. Already they've had this program in effect for just 100,000 felons, a database to connect people up with that. They have averaged 75 felons a week trying to get into the United States. You're way off in the way that you're talking about how it works.

ZOGBY: The INS today, Victoria...

TOENSING: It's the INS who is still, you know, writing letters to the terrorists to tell them they can stay.

BEGALA: That's why I think talked about it the way I did...

TOENSING: The INS, yeah.

BEGALA: Instead of John Ashcroft giving you pieces.

TOENSING: The commissioner is gone.

ZOGBY: You can discredit the people in law enforcement and they've made mistakes. It is largely because they're underfunded, understaffed and are being given too many conflicting guidances like this one, that won't work.

TOENSING: Why is it conflicting if you've got a database?

ZOGBY: If you catch people who are here as visa violators, and you conflate that with terrorist suspects, you do what the Justice Department is doing right now: create the impression that we're making American safe. Law enforcement people are saying to us that this stunt is not going to make us safer or more secure.

What the State Department says if, you beef up counselor services and you give us the ability to do these fingerprints on the ground when people apply for visas, they can...

CARLSON: That sounds like a marvelous idea. I'd be for that. Absolutely. But you haven't addressed what I think is a very compelling point, the idea, as Victoria Toensing just said, that 70 -- I think you said 70 -- felons a week have been stopped at the border. Now I don't want to hurt the feelings of our felonious visitors here, but what's wrong with -- what's wrong with that?

ZOGBY: Nothing is wrong with it. But none of them have anything -- my friend, none of them have anything to do with terrorism.

CARLSON: How do you know?

ZOGBY: Well, I know that because we met with the INS today, and we talked to them about the entire process as it worked. None of the people who have been detained so far as a result of this process have anything to do with terrorism.

Are we fighting terrorism -- Are we fighting terrorism, or are we trying to create a new boondoggle?




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