London Plot Revives Profiling Debate

While X-ray machines and explosive scanners search for weapons, information may be the key to identifying the terrorists.

Even before the London bomb plot surfaced, U.S. security agents were already digging deep into the personal backgrounds of all airline passengers inbound from Europe, CBS News correspondent Bob Orr reports.

In addition to matching names, birthdates, and addresses against terror watch lists, agents have been combing through credit-card accounts, phone numbers, e-mails, and even rental car reservations looking for suspicious links — for example, unrelated passengers who bought their flights with the same credit card, shared a hotel room or traded e-mail messages.

Now, the Department of Homeland Security wants to be even more aggressive. It's pushing the European Union for permission to share that personal passenger information with the FBI, CIA and various law enforcement agencies.

Background checks are far more limited for domestic passengers. Names are checked — but credit-card histories are not.

Security agents are increasingly on guard for suspicious behavior, but the former head of security for Israeli airline El Al says the United States needs to do more.

"We must do what we need to do. We must do profiling," Marvin Badler says.

Badler says the United States is taking a big risk by not allowing racial profiling. All 19 hijackers on 9/11 were young Muslim males, and the suspects in the London bomb plot share the same ethnic and religious background.

"If you have 10 Muslims that we know have been trying to blow up our planes, why are you going to pick on an old Jewish lady sitting in a wheelchair? It doesn't make sense," Badler says.

But Arab-Americans complain they are being singled out for harassment. The Iberahim family claims they were recently detained and questioned for six hours with no explanation after returning to JFK Airport in New York on a flight from Dubai.

"We were constantly being yelled at, we were threatened with arrest, and our requests to speak to supervisors were denied," Sumia Iberahim tells Orr.

U.S. officials deny that any passenger is being targeted because of race. But they're unapologetic in their push for access for the kind of personal information they believe could stop the next terror attack.