Israeli spies find it increasingly difficult to enter the U.S.

n13-iconIntelNews.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.

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Tom Engelhardt: Thug state U.S.A.

Documenting darkness
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.

[Read more...]

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Israelis caught by U.S. trying to sell arms to Iran

n13-iconKathimerini 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...]

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NSA and DHS grant permission to be mocked

n13-iconThe 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.

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A threat to the U.S. power grid?

e13-iconAn 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.

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Why I hate coming home to America

OpinionHost/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...]

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Who is watching the watch lists?

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...]

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Todd Miller: The border-industrial complex goes abroad

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.

[Read more...]

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National Security State: FBI and DHS warn Congress about the domestic threat

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.

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NSA and DHS try to suppress free speech

nsa-t-shirt

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...]

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Security check now starts long before you fly

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...]

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Stop Ray Kelly from leading Homeland Security Department

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...]

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Oscars-bound Palestinian film-maker describes ‘unpleasant’ LAX detention

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.

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British fascist leader gets jailed in the U.K. after illegally sneaking into the U.S.

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.

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Video: Bollywood star in U.S. ‘racial profiling’ row

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Homeland Security kept tabs on Occupy Wall Street

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...]

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