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...]
The Guardian reports: An Academy-nominated Palestinian film-maker has spoken of the “unpleasant experience” of being detained by US immigration officials when he arrived for this weekend’s Oscars ceremony.
Emad Burnat said that he was held for about an hour at Los Angeles airport on Tuesday, along with his wife and youngest son Gibreel, who plays a central role in Oscar-nominated documentary 5 Broken Cameras.
Burnat said that he thought that US immigration officials – who apparently doubted his credentials – would send him back to Palestine. He compared the incident to daily life for Palestinians under the Israeli occupation.
“Immigration officials asked for proof that I was nominated for an Academy Award for 5 Broken Cameras, and they told me that if I couldn’t prove the reason for my visit, my wife Soraya, my son Gibreel and I would be sent back to Turkey on the same day,” Burnat said in a statement.
“After 40 minutes of questions and answers, Gibreel asked me why we were still waiting in that small room. I simply told him the truth: ‘Maybe we’ll have to go back.’ I could see his heart sink.”
Five Broken Cameras chronicles the events surrounding Israel’s creation of a separation wall in Burnat’s West Bank village of Bil’in. Burnat, a farmer, initially bought the camera to capture Gibreel’s development before using footage for the documentary.
Burnat said his experience was “a very minor example of what my people face every day.”
Although it’s ironic that a possible recipient of America’s most celebrated cultural honor would get this kind of reception, what most Americans do not understand is that every foreigner entering this country is treated as a criminal suspect. Every noncitizen visitor is fingerprinted and this along with other biometric data is kept by the Department of Homeland Security for 75 years. Welcome to America.
What happens when someone tries to enter the U.S. using someone else’s passport? That’s what the leader of the neo-fascist English Defense League did and he got caught because his fingerprints didn’t match those associated with the passport he was using — a passport lent to him by a similar-looking friend. But then comes the strange part of the story: having been caught he then walked out of JFK airport, entering the U.S. illegally. How does that work?
The leader of the English Defence League has been jailed for 10 months for using someone else’s passport to travel to the United States.
Stephen Lennon, 30, pleaded guilty to possession of a false identity document with improper intention, contrary to the Identity Documents Act 2010, at Southwark crown court in London.
The court heard Lennon, who had previously been refused entry to the US, used his friend Andrew McMaster’s passport to travel to New York in September. He used a self-check-in kiosk to board the flight at Heathrow, and was allowed through when the document was checked in the bag-drop area.
But when he arrived at JFK, customs officials who took his fingerprints realised he was not McMaster. Lennon was asked to attend a second interview but left the airport, entering the US illegally.
He stayed one night and travelled back to the UK using his own passport, which bears the name Paul Harris. The EDL leader uses several aliases.
Rolling Stone reports: As Occupy Wall Street spread across the nation last fall, sparking protests in more than 70 cities, the Department of Homeland Security began keeping tabs on the movement. An internal DHS report entitled “SPECIAL COVERAGE: Occupy Wall Street,” dated October of last year, opens with the observation that “mass gatherings associated with public protest movements can have disruptive effects on transportation, commercial, and government services, especially when staged in major metropolitan areas.” While acknowledging the overwhelmingly peaceful nature of OWS, the report notes darkly that “large scale demonstrations also carry the potential for violence, presenting a significant challenge for law enforcement.”
The five-page report – contained in 5 million newly leaked documents examined by Rolling Stone in an investigative partnership with WikiLeaks – goes on to sum up the history of Occupy Wall Street and assess its “impact” on everything from financial services to government facilities. Many of the observations are benign, and appear to have been culled from publicly available sources. The report notes, for instance, that in Chicago “five women were arrested after dumping garbage taken from a foreclosed home owned by Bank of America in the lobby one of the bank’s branches,” and that “OWS in New York staged a ‘Millionaires March,’ from Zucotti Park to demonstrate outside the homes of some of the city’s richest residents.”
But the DHS also appears to have scoured OWS-related Twitter feeds for much of their information. The report includes a special feature on what it calls Occupy’s “social media and IT usage,” and provides an interactive map of protests and gatherings nationwide – borrowed, improbably enough, from the lefty blog Daily Kos. “Social media and the organic emergence of online communities,” the report notes, “have driven the rapid expansion of the OWS movement.” [Continue reading...]
BBC News reports: Holidaymakers have been warned to watch their words after two friends were refused entry to the US on security grounds after a tweet.
Before his trip, Leigh Van Bryan wrote that he was going to “destroy America”.
He insisted he was referring to simply having a good time – but was sent home.
Trade association Abta told the BBC that the case highlighted that holidaymakers should never do anything to raise “concern or suspicion in any way”.
The US Department for Homeland Security picked up Mr Bryan’s messages ahead of his holiday in Los Angeles.
The 26-year-old bar manager wrote a message to a friend on the micro-blogging service, saying: “Free this week, for quick gossip/prep before I go and destroy America.”
The Irish national told the Sun newspaper that he and his friend Emily Bunting were apprehended on arrival at Los Angeles International Airport before being sent home.
“The Homeland Security agents were treating me like some kind of terrorist,” Mr Bryan said.
“I kept saying they had got the wrong meaning from my tweet.”
AlterNet reports: The Department of Homeland Security says it needs a fleet of two-dozen Predator and Guardian drones to protect the homeland adequately. Designed for military use, 10 of these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are already patrolling U.S. borders in the hunt for unauthorized immigrants and illegal drugs.
DHS is building its drone fleet at a rapid pace despite its continuing inability to demonstrate their purported cost-effectiveness. The unarmed Predator and Guardians (the maritime variant) cost about $20 million each. Yet DHS has little to show for its UAV spending spree other than stacks of seized marijuana and several thousand immigrants who crossed the border without visas.
Aside from a continuing funding bonanza for border security, to pursue its drone strategy DHS is also counting on the Federal Aviation Administration to continue authorizing the use of more domestic airspace by the unarmed drones. And FAA seems set to comply, having approved 35 of the 36 requests by the department’s Customs and Protection agency from 2005 to mid-2010. In congressional testimony in July 2010, the FAA said it was streamlining its authorization process for drones, including the hiring of 12 additional staff to process drone airspace requests.
While DHS is leading the way, national and local law enforcement agencies, as well as private entities, are demanding that FAA open the American skies to drone surveillance. Yet neither the FAA nor the Department of Transportation has been forthcoming in informing the U.S. public about the new robotic presence in the already congested American airways. The Electronic Frontier Foundation recently filed a suit against the transportation department for allegedly withholding information about drones in our skies.
Charles C. Mann writes: Not until I walked with Bruce Schneier toward the mass of people unloading their laptops did it occur to me that it might not be possible for us to hang around unnoticed near Reagan National Airport’s security line. Much as upscale restaurants hang mug shots of local food writers in their kitchens, I realized, the Transportation Security Administration might post photographs of Schneier, a 48-year-old cryptographer and security technologist who is probably its most relentless critic. In addition to writing books and articles, Schneier has a popular blog; a recent search for “TSA” in its archives elicited about 2,000 results, the vast majority of which refer to some aspect of the agency that he finds to be ineffective, invasive, incompetent, inexcusably costly, or all four.
As we came by the checkpoint line, Schneier described one of these aspects: the ease with which people can pass through airport security with fake boarding passes. First, scan an old boarding pass, he said—more loudly than necessary, it seemed to me. Alter it with Photoshop, then print the result with a laser printer. In his hand was an example, complete with the little squiggle the T.S.A. agent had drawn on it to indicate that it had been checked. “Feeling safer?” he asked.
Ten years ago, 19 men armed with utility knives hijacked four airplanes and within a few hours killed nearly 3,000 people. At a stroke, Americans were thrust into a menacing new world. “They are coming after us,” C.I.A. director George Tenet said of al-Qaeda. “They intend to strike this homeland again, and we better get about the business of putting the right structure in place as fast as we can.”
The United States tried to do just that. Federal and state governments embarked on a nationwide safety upgrade. Checkpoints proliferated in airports, train stations, and office buildings. A digital panopticon of radiation scanners, chemical sensors, and closed-circuit television cameras audited the movements of shipping containers, airborne chemicals, and ordinary Americans. None of this was or will be cheap. Since 9/11, the U.S. has spent more than $1.1 trillion on homeland security.
To a large number of security analysts, this expenditure makes no sense. The vast cost is not worth the infinitesimal benefit. Not only has the actual threat from terror been exaggerated, they say, but the great bulk of the post-9/11 measures to contain it are little more than what Schneier mocks as “security theater”: actions that accomplish nothing but are designed to make the government look like it is on the job. In fact, the continuing expenditure on security may actually have made the United States less safe.
Ayesha Kazmi writes: In our not-so-distant history, protest in the United States was handled by local law enforcement that treated demonstrations and marches as mere nuisance, mediating and directing as needed. Today, observing the interaction between Occupy movements and law enforcement suggests something different is afoot. Present Occupy protests are now being defined by a bewildering set of law enforcement strategies – and current practices display a worrying new trend.
While riot police are not necessarily an everyday feature at any given protest, the sheer frequency with which we are witnessing their presence on city streets throughout the United States is enough to give average citizens cause for concern; the excessive force being routinely deployed is alarming.
Within the first few days of Occupy Wall Street, protesters began to notice the presence of the NYPD’s Counter Terrorism Unit at Liberty Plaza. Joanne Stocker, who has become a fixture since day one at Wall Street, recalls within the first few days waking up to a Counter Terrorism Unit van, parked on the fringes of Liberty Plaza, which was taking video of her and her friends while they slept.
Protesters at other Occupy encampments give similar accounts. Robin Jacks, a member of Occupy Boston’s media team, relates being photographed multiple times by police. Dustin Slaughter, who has spent time both at Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Philadelphia, attests to the presence of the NYPD Counter Terrorism Unit at Liberty Plaza, saying that the Counter Terrorism Unit have been at Liberty Plaza filming on a regular basis. Slaughter also comments: “Philadelphia Police Homeland Security Units have had a regular presence at the Occupy Philadelphia encampment.”
Protesters are indeed correct to view the law enforcement they encounter at Occupy with a critical eye. The USA Patriot Act, which had its 10-year anniversary last week, gave the US government virtually unchecked powers to spy and track the activity of ordinary Americans without probable cause right after the 9/11 attacks. For that reason, it should come as no surprise that law enforcement agencies – thus empowered – have shown up at various Occupy protests armed with cameras, most certainly, to keep surveillance on protesters who are merely exercising their first amendment rights.
Reports of targeted arrests of informal “leaders” at Wall Street, Chicago and Boston indicate surveillance measures are operating. In Boston and Chicago, reports of extended and humiliating detentions of targeted occupy “leaders”, typically from Direct Action, media, legal and medics groups, are disturbing. Dan Massoglia of the Occupy Chicago media team further reports that arrested individuals were deprived of their phone call, food and water, and that mattresses were removed from cells, while one woman was placed in solitary confinement.