The Washington Post reports: The construction of a massive new headquarters for the Department of Homeland Security, billed as critical for national security and the revitalization of Southeast Washington, is running more than $1.5 billion over budget, is 11 years behind schedule and may never be completed, according to planning documents and federal officials.
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the George W. Bush administration called for a new, centralized headquarters to strengthen the department’s ability to coordinate the fight against terrorism and respond to natural disasters. More than 50 historic buildings would be renovated and new ones erected on the grounds of St. Elizabeths, a onetime insane asylum with a panoramic view of the District.
The entire complex was to be finished as early as this year, at a cost of less than $3 billion, according to the initial plan.
Instead, with the exception of a Coast Guard building that opened last year, the grounds remain entirely undeveloped, with the occasional deer grazing amid the vacant Gothic Revival-style structures. The budget has ballooned to $4.5 billion, with completion pushed back to 2026. [Continue reading...]
Sometimes you really do need a map if you want to know where you are. In 2008, the ACLU issued just such a map of this country and it’s like nothing ever seen before. Titled “the Constitution-Free Zone of the United States,” it traces our country’s borders. Maybe you’re already tuning out. After all, you probably don’t think you live on or near such a border. Well, think again. As it happens, in our brave, new, post-9/11 world, as long as we’re talking “homeland security” or “war on terror,” anything can be redefined. So why not a border?
Our borders have, conveniently enough, long been Constitution-free zones where more or less anything goes, including warrantless searches of various sorts. In the twenty-first century, however, the border itself, north as well as south, has not only been increasingly up-armored, but redefined as a 100-mile-wide strip around the United States (and Alaska). In other words — check that map again — our “borders” now cover an expanse in which nearly 200 million Americans, or two-thirds of the U.S. population, live. Included are nine of the 10 largest metropolitan areas. If you live in Florida, Maine, or Michigan, for example, no matter how far inland you may be, you are “on the border.”
Imagine that. And then imagine what it means. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, as Todd Miller points out today, is not only the largest law enforcement agency in the country you know next to nothing about, but the largest, flat and simple. Now, its agents can act as if the Constitution has been put to bed up to 100 miles inland anywhere. This, in turn, means — as the ACLU has written — that at new checkpoints and elsewhere in areas no American would once have considered borderlands, you can be stopped, interrogated, and searched “on an everyday basis with absolutely no suspicion of wrongdoing.”
Under the circumstances, it’s startling that, since the ACLU made its case back in 2008, this new American reality has gotten remarkably little attention. So it’s lucky that TomDispatch regular Miller’s invaluable and gripping book, Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Homeland Security, has just been published. It’s an eye opener, and it’s about time that “border” issues stopped being left to those on the old-fashioned version of the border and immigration mavens. It’s a subject that, by definition, now concerns at least two-thirds of us in a big way. Tom Engelhardt
They are watching you
The national security state and the U.S.-Mexican border
By Todd Miller
With the agility of a seasoned Border Patrol veteran, the woman rushed after the students. She caught up with them just before they entered the exhibition hall of the eighth annual Border Security Expo, reaching out and grabbing the nearest of them by the shoulder. Slightly out of breath, she said, “You can’t go in there, give me back your badges.”
The astonished students had barely caught a glimpse of the dazzling pavilion of science-fiction-style products in that exhibition hall at the Phoenix Convention Center. There, just beyond their view, more than 100 companies, including Raytheon, General Dynamics, and Verizon, were trying to sell the latest in futuristic border policing technology to anyone with the money to buy it.
The students from Northeastern Illinois University didn’t happen to fall into that category. An earnest manager at a nearby registration table insisted that, as they were not studying “border security,” they weren’t to be admitted. I asked him how he knew just what they were studying. His only answer was to assure me that next year no students would be allowed in at all.
Among the wonders those students would miss was a fake barrel cactus with a hollow interior (for the southern border) and similarly hollow tree stumps (for the northern border), all capable of being outfitted with surveillance cameras. “Anything that grows or exists in nature,” Kurt Lugwisen of TimberSpy told a local Phoenix television station, “we build it.”
Alejandra Marchevsky and Beth Baker report: On March 13, President Obama ordered the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to review its deportation practices, acknowledging the toll that record-high deportation rates are taking on local communities. A White House statement issued later that day read, “The president emphasized his deep concern about the pain too many families feel from the separation that comes from our broken immigration system.”
The President’s pledge came in response to growing pressure from immigrant rights advocates and progressive Democrats outraged by the Obama administration’s five-year deportation spree. Since taking the oath of office, Obama has deported immigrants at a faster rate than any other president in US history, nearly a record 2 million people. On a typical day, there are over 30,000 immigrants imprisoned in the world’s largest immigration detention system. Most deportees never see an attorney or have a hearing before a judge before they are expelled from the country. Deportation carries a high price for families and communities across America: one-quarter of all deportees are separated from their US citizen children and countless others from spouses and other family members.
Obama’s claim to sympathize with immigrant families’ “pain” obscures a troubling fact: while the review he ordered may lead to more “humane” treatment of some undocumented immigrants — a welcome if still-modest outcome — it will do nothing for the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who get snared each year in the nation’s thickening national security and criminal enforcement webs. And these immigrants represent the majority of persons deported during the Obama era.
For the last twenty-five years, and particularly since the start of the “War on Terror,” immigration has become increasingly tangled with criminal enforcement and national security. George W. Bush cemented the relationship in 2003 when he folded the Immigration and Naturalization Service into a mammoth new agency, the Department of Homeland Security, which was charged with overseeing both counterterrorism and immigration enforcement. The message was obvious: immigration was a threat to the country, and thus, immigration authorities had become an arm of the national security apparatus. [Continue reading...]
NBC News reports: The Russian government warned U.S. authorities that Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a violent radical Islamist more than a year and a half before the April 2013 bombing, but authorities missed multiple chances to detain Tsarnaev when he was traveling to and from Dagestan for terror training, according to a soon-to-be released Congressional report.
In one instance, according to the report prepared by investigators for the House Homeland Security Committee and copies of documents reviewed by NBC News, Tsarnaev was supposed to be pulled aside for questioning at JFK airport because he was considered potentially armed and dangerous, but he slipped through undetected because someone had misspelled his last name in a security database.
“This sounds like a huge hole and an opportunity missed,” said Ed Davis, who was Boston’s chief of police at the time of the Marathon bombing.
IntelNews.org reports: Articles in the Israeli media have accused the United States of quietly instituting a policy of denying entry visa requests from members of Israel’s security and intelligence agencies. In an article published on Tuesday, centrist newspaper Maariv cited “senior security personnel” who have allegedly been barred from entering the US. The centrist Hebrew-language daily said the past 12 months have seen “hundreds of cases” of employees in the Israeli intelligence community who have been told by US consular officials that they could not step foot on US soil. The paper said the visa rejections appear to affect mostly members of the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security agency, and the Mossad, which conducts covert operations abroad. Visa bans have also affected employees in Israel’s defense industries, said the article. The report suggests that the targeting of Israeli security and intelligence personnel appears to be deliberate, adding that it applies even to those Israeli intelligence or security officers that are already stationed on US soil. In what seems to be a change in policy, the latter are now being issued short-term visas, rather than multiyear entry permits. As a result, the paper says they are “forced” to cross from the US into Canada at regular intervals, in order to apply to have their visas renewed.
By Tom Engelhardt
Here, at least, is a place to start: intelligence officials have weighed in with an estimate of just how many secret files National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden took with him when he headed for Hong Kong last June. Brace yourself: 1.7 million. At least they claim that as the number he or his web crawler accessed before he left town. Let’s assume for a moment that it’s accurate and add a caveat. Whatever he had with him on those thumb drives when he left the agency, Edward Snowden did not take all the NSA’s classified documents. Not by a long shot. He only downloaded a portion of them. We don’t have any idea what percentage, but assumedly millions of NSA secret documents did not get the Snowden treatment.
Such figures should stagger us and what he did take will undoubtedly occupy journalists for months or years more (and historians long after that). Keep this in mind, however: the NSA is only one of 17 intelligence outfits in what is called the U.S. Intelligence Community. Some of the others are as large and well funded, and all of them generate their own troves of secret documents, undoubtedly stretching into the many millions.
And keep something else in mind: that’s just intelligence agencies. If you’re thinking about the full sweep of our national security state (NSS), you also have to include places like the Department of Homeland Security, the Energy Department (responsible for the U.S. nuclear arsenal), and the Pentagon. In other words, we’re talking about the kind of secret documentation that an army of journalists, researchers, and historians wouldn’t have a hope of getting through, not in a century.
We do know that, in 2011, the whole government reportedly classified 92,064,862 documents. If accurate and reasonably typical, that means, in the twenty-first century, the NSS has already generated hundreds of millions of documents that could not be read by an American without a security clearance. Of those, thanks to one man (via various journalists), we have had access to a tiny percentage of perhaps 1.7 million of them. Or put another way, you, the voter, the taxpayer, the citizen — in what we still like to think of as a democracy — are automatically excluded from knowing or learning about most of what the national security state does in your name. That’s unless, of course, its officials decide to selectively cherry-pick information they feel you are capable of safely and securely absorbing, or an Edward Snowden releases documents to the world over the bitter protests, death threats, and teeth gnashing of Washington officialdom and retired versions of the same.
Kathimerini reports: Israeli arms dealers tried to send spare parts for F-4 Phantom aircraft via Greece to Iran in violation of an arms embargo, according to a secret probe by the US government agency Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) carried out in cooperation with the drugs and weapons unit of Greece’s Financial Crimes Squad (SDOE).
According to the probe, which Kathimerini has had access to, the operation was carried out in two phases – one in December 2012 and the second in April 2013. In both cases, officials traced containers packed with the F-4 parts on Greek territory. The cargo had been sent by courier from the Israeli town of Binyamina-Giv’at Ada and had been destined for Iran, which has a large fleet of F-4 aircraft, via a Greek company registered under the name Tassos Karras SA in Votanikos, near central Athens. SDOE officials established that the firm was a ghost company, while the company’s contact number was found to belong to a British national residing in Thessaloniki who could not be located.
According to HSI memos, the cargo appears to have been sent by arms dealers based in Israel, seeking to supply Iran in contravention of an arms embargo, and using Greece as a transit nation. [Continue reading...]
The Wall Street Journal reports: The National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security acknowledged in a settlement made public Tuesday that they were wrong to ban a leading custom-merchandise retailer from selling t-shirts, mugs, and posters that poked fun at the agencies.
The agreement puts to rest a First Amendment lawsuit against the federal government brought last year by a t-shirt designer, Dan McCall, who hawked merchandise on Zazzle.com that parodied the official seal of the NSA with jokes referencing the spy program disclosures. Another design imprinted on mugs featured a look-alike Homeland Security logo for a “Department of Homeland Stupidity.”
Mr. McCall’s lawsuit, which Law Blog wrote about earlier, came in response to cease-and-desist letters that the NSA and Homeland Security sent to Zazzle in 2011, ordering the retailer to remove the parody products from its site or face legal action.
An attack on a California power station last year “appears to be preparation for an act of war,” according to a senior technical executive for the Electric Power Research Institute, the Wall Street Journal reports.
After the attack, Jon Wellinghoff, who was chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission at the time, flew to California accompanied by experts from the U.S. Navy’s Dahlgren Surface Warfare Center in Virginia, where Navy SEALs train.
After walking the site with PG&E officials and FBI agents, Mr. Wellinghoff said, the military experts told him it looked like a professional job.
In addition to fingerprint-free shell casings, they pointed out small piles of rocks, which they said could have been left by an advance scout to tell the attackers where to get the best shots.
“They said it was a targeting package just like they would put together for an attack,” Mr. Wellinghoff said.
Wellinghoff branded this as “the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred.”
On the one hand this attacks appears to have been meticulously planned and professionally executed, yet to what end? It’s primary effect appears to have been to provoke fears of a larger attack, or even — at the hyperbolic level of interpretations — the fear of war.
One can’t discount the possibility that some as-yet unknown group has the ambition of crippling America’s energy supply. Yet if they were willing to go to these lengths to plan such an operation, why would they have exposed their hand and given the utility industry a heads-up on what to expect?
Just as plausible, if not more so, is the possibility that the goal of whoever carried this out has already been accomplished.
That is to say, it’s purpose may have been simply to elevate fear of domestic terrorism.
Host/producer for HuffPost Live, Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, writes: It’s not easy coming back home to America when your name is Ahmed.
I want to look forward to returning home from a trip abroad, but thanks to my name or as the TSA officer put it — my “profile” — I’ve come to dread it.
The last four times I’ve traveled abroad (to Turkey, Kuwait, Lebanon and Switzerland), Homeland Security has detained me upon arrival. It’s as frustrating as it is ironic, because although in Arabic my name, Ahmed, means, “blessed,” each time I land at JFK airport, I can’t help but feel somewhat cursed.
On Sunday night, after attending the World Economic Forum in Davos for the first time, I was detained for two hours upon arrival. In October, I was held for almost four, returning home after a 14-hour trip to Turkey where I moderated a UN conference on peace in the Middle East. For what it’s worth, I breezed through security in Istanbul.
In Davos — where I interviewed some of the world’s wealthiest, most powerful and highest-profile people — the running joke among our production team, and many of the other participants was how unusually friendly and hospitable the thousands of police officers, special forces, and security guards were. My team passed through security checkpoint after checkpoint at each of the various venues with respect and dignity.
Why then, you might be wondering, am I detained every time I set foot on U.S. soil? As it is always abstractly and bluntly explained to me: My “name” and “my profile” are simply a “match.”
Like all Americans (and every human being for that matter), I want to be safe. But I can’t help but question the efficacy of our national security policy, including the practice of detaining U.S. citizens because something (never specifically explained) about a name or person’s identity is said to match that of someone somewhere in the world who is deemed to pose a threat to America. [Continue reading...]
Susan Stellin writes: Governments wade into treacherous waters when they compile lists of people who might cause their countries harm. As fears about Japanese-Americans and Communists have demonstrated in the past, predictions about individual behavior are often inaccurate, the motivations for list-making aren’t always noble and concerns about threats are frequently overblown.
So it might seem that current efforts to identify and track potential terrorists would be approached with caution. Yet the federal government’s main terrorist watch list has grown to at least 700,000 people, with little scrutiny over how the determinations are made or the impact on those marked with the terrorist label.
“If you’ve done the paperwork correctly, then you can effectively enter someone onto the watch list,” said Anya Bernstein, an associate professor at the SUNY Buffalo Law School and author of “The Hidden Costs of Terrorist Watch Lists,” published by the Buffalo Law Review in May. “There’s no indication that agencies undertake any kind of regular retrospective review to assess how good they are at predicting the conduct they’re targeting.”
What’s more, the government refuses to confirm or deny whether someone is on the list, officially called the Terrorist Screening Database, or divulge the criteria used to make the decisions — other than to say the database includes “individuals known or suspected to be or have been engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism and terrorist activities.”
Even less is known about the secondary watch lists that are derived from the main one, including the no-fly list (used to prevent people from boarding aircraft), the selectee and expanded selectee lists (used to flag travelers for extra screening at airport checkpoints), the TECS database (used to vet people entering or leaving the United States), the Consular Lookout and Support System (used to screen visa applications) and the known or suspected terrorists list (used by law enforcement in routine police encounters).
For people who have landed on these lists, the terrorist designation has been difficult to challenge legally — although that may be about to change. On Monday, a lawsuit brought by a traveler seeking removal of her name from the no-fly list, or at least due process to challenge that list, is going to trial in Federal District Court in San Francisco, after almost eight years of legal wrangling. [Continue reading...]
As with the rest of our homeland security state, when it comes to border security, reality checks aren’t often in the cards. The money just pours into a world of remarkable secrecy and unaccountability. Last week, however, the Government Accountability Office released a report about a Transportation Security Administration decision to spend $200 million a year on a “behavioral screening program” involving 3,000 “behavior detection officers” at 176 airports. The GAO concluded that, $1 billion later, it worked “probably no better than chance.” Put another way, 3,000 specially trained TSA agents could rely on their expensive profiling techniques to pick twitchy passengers out of screening lines as likely terrorists, or they could look at you and flip a coin.
The lesson here: nothing, not even a program without meaningful content that costs an arm and a leg, will stop our national security officials from constantly up-armoring this country and so making it more secure from one of the least pressing dangers Americans face: terrorism. That endless securitization process is transparent in a way that, until the Snowden revelations, nothing much else about our security state was. Any alarming incident, any nut who tries to light his shoes or stashes a bomb in his underwear or enters an airport and blows away a TSA agent, and you promptly get the next set of calls for more: more weaponry, more surveillance, more guards, more draconian regulations, more security technology, more high-tech walls, more billions of dollars going to one “complex” or another, and more of what passes in twenty-first-century America for safety. Much of this — like that TSA profiling program or our vast set of global eavesdropping operations – has a kind of coin-flipping quality to it.
Still, it should never be claimed that this mania for what we insist on calling “security” provides no security for anyone. After all, it guarantees the safety of those officially guarding us. They always know that some small set of maniacs or other will make sure the funding never stops, their jobs will remain secure, and the military-industrial-complex, homeland-security complex, and border-security complex will continue to thrive in a country that’s been looking a little on the peaked side of late. In this context, TomDispatch regular Todd Miller, who covers our borderlands for this site, offers us the latest news about how to keep border security rolling in dough. The formula is simple enough, if nonetheless startling: stop thinking of our borders as just those strips of land running between the U.S. and Mexico and the U.S. and Canada. Turning borderlands into Border World is the obvious way to create a cash cow. Tom Engelhardt
Border Patrol International
“The American homeland is the planet”
By Todd Miller
It isn’t exactly the towering 20-foot wall that runs like a scar through significant parts of the U.S.-Mexican borderlands. Imagine instead the sort of metal police barricades you see at protests. These are unevenly lined up like so many crooked teeth on the Dominican Republic’s side of the river that acts as its border with Haiti. Like dazed versions of U.S. Border Patrol agents, the armed Dominican border guards sit at their assigned posts, staring at the opposite shore. There, on Haitian territory, children splash in the water and women wash clothes on rocks.
One of those CESFRONT (Specialized Border Security Corps) guards, carrying an assault rifle, is walking six young Haitian men back to the main base in Dajabon, which is painted desert camouflage as if it were in a Middle Eastern war zone.
If the scene looks like a five-and-dime version of what happens on the U.S. southern border, that’s because it is. The enforcement model the Dominican Republic uses to police its boundary with Haiti is an import from the United States.
The Washington Post reports: FBI Director James B. Comey testified Thursday that the risk of cyberattacks is likely to exceed the danger posed by al-Qaeda and other terrorist networks as the top national security threat to the United States and will become the dominant focus of law enforcement and intelligence services.
Appearing before the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Comey said he expected Internet-related attacks, espionage and theft to emerge as the most consuming security issue for the United States by the end of his 10-year FBI term.
“We have connected all of our lives — personal, professional and national — to the Internet,” Comey said. “That’s where the bad guys will go because that’s where our lives are, our money, our secrets.”
The warning underscored the growing sense of alarm among officials in Washington over the nation’s vulnerability to online attacks as well as the diminished ability of al-Qaeda to mount plots against the United States after more than a decade of CIA drone strikes and other counterterrorism operations.
Rand Beers, the acting homeland security secretary, said his agency is working with European allies to identify and track militants from Western nations who may travel to Syria and then seek to return.
Despite that potential danger, officials said that the main terrorist threat inside the United States is that U.S. citizens or residents could adopt militant ideologies and develop plans for domestic attacks without communicating with terrorist networks or traveling overseas.
Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, ethnic Chechen brothers accused of carrying out the bombings at the Boston Marathon this year, had “no formal or direct ties to al-Qaeda” but had embraced aspects of the terrorist group’s ideology, Olsen said. He added that cooperation with Russian intelligence services has improved since the Boston attacks.
The officials said counterterrorism efforts had been damaged by leaks of U.S. intelligence operations by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, and they warned of the impact of the budget cuts known as sequestration. Comey said the FBI is in the process of eliminating 3,500 positions because of budget pressures.
Despite concern about “homegrown extremists,” Comey said that he had concluded after just two months on the job that cyberthreats are likely to be more worrisome in the long term.
“That is why we anticipate that in the future, resources devoted to cyber-based threats will equal or even eclipse the resources devoted to non-cyber-based terrorist threats,” Comey said.
VOA reports: The U.S. National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security have threatened legal action to block the sale of T-shirts that ridicule these two powerful government agencies. But the T-shirt designer says NSA and DHS are the ones breaking the law by assaulting free speech, a pillar of democratic society.
A judge may decide who is right.
One T-shirt calls the NSA the “only part of the government that actually listens,” a joke that plays on the NSA’s controversial, and critics say overzealous, monitoring of communications worldwide. Americans tend to laugh out loud when they see the message.
Another shirt parodies the DHS logo, rewritten as the “Department of Homeland Stupidity.”
Agency officials have sent stern letters to the printer who makes and distributes these designs, demanding an immediate halt, according to T-shirt designer Dan McCall. He says the letters cite federal laws banning unauthorized use or defacement of official logos. [Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports: The Transportation Security Administration is expanding its screening of passengers before they arrive at the airport by searching a wide array of government and private databases that can include records like car registrations and employment information.
While the agency says that the goal is to streamline the security procedures for millions of passengers who pose no risk, the new measures give the government greater authority to use travelers’ data for domestic airport screenings. Previously that level of scrutiny applied only to individuals entering the United States.
The prescreening, some of which is already taking place, is described in documents the T.S.A. released to comply with government regulations about the collection and use of individuals’ data, but the details of the program have not been publicly announced.
It is unclear precisely what information the agency is relying upon to make these risk assessments, given the extensive range of records it can access, including tax identification number, past travel itineraries, property records, physical characteristics, and law enforcement or intelligence information.
The measures go beyond the background check the government has conducted for years, called Secure Flight, in which a passenger’s name, gender and date of birth are compared with terrorist watch lists. Now, the search includes using a traveler’s passport number, which is already used to screen people at the border, and other identifiers to access a system of databases maintained by the Department of Homeland Security.
Privacy groups contacted by The New York Times expressed concern over the security agency’s widening reach.
“I think the best way to look at it is as a pre-crime assessment every time you fly,” said Edward Hasbrouck, a consultant to the Identity Project, one of the groups that oppose the prescreening initiatives. “The default will be the highest, most intrusive level of search, and anything less will be conditioned on providing some additional information in some fashion.” [Continue reading...]
David Sirota writes: If you thought Big Brother couldn’t possibly get bigger, and if you thought this Dr. Strangelove era couldn’t possibly get any Strangelovier, welcome to the debate over the next head of the Department of Homeland Security.
In the midst of disclosures about the Obama administration’s sprawling — and likely illegal — national security state, the news today is that current Secretary Janet Napolitano is stepping down and that senior Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer is pushing New York City police commissioner Ray Kelly to fill the position. And predictably, from their green room couches, elite media blowhards are already frantically cheering on a potential Kelly nomination.
Lost in the noise is the fact that in the midst of disclosures about the Obama administration’s sprawling — and potentially illegal — national security state, a Kelly nomination would put a national surveillance apparatus fit for a sci-fi satire in the hands of a comic-book-worthy thug. [Continue reading...]