What a Difference a Decade Makes: Ten Years of “Homeland Security”

September 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nancy Murray and Kade Crockford, “Ten Years Later: Surveillance in the ‘Homeland’”

090111tenOn August 5, 2002, President George Bush declared, “We’re fighting … to secure freedom in the homeland.” Strikingly, he did not use the word “nation,” or “republic,” but instead adopted a term, with its Germanic overtones of blood, roots and loyalty going back generations, for a country that is not the ancestral home of most of its citizens.

Soon after, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 created the massive Department of Homeland Security (DHS), an amalgam of 22 agencies and nearly 200,000 employees. The FBI and CIA remained outside the DHS, while the military, in October 2002, established its own Northern Command (NORTHCOM) to defend the “homeland.”

In the years since then, the full weight of government has been bent on ensuring “homeland security” – a term rarely heard before the 2001 attacks. Over the decade, the government’s powers of surveillance have expanded dramatically. They are directed not just at people suspected of wrongdoing, but at all of us. Our phone calls, our emails and web site visits, our financial records, our travel itineraries, and our digital images captured on powerful surveillance cameras are swelling the mountain of data that is being mined for suspicious patterns and associations. 

It doesn’t take much to come to the attention of the watchers, as 13-year-old Vito LaPinta discovered earlier this year. Members of the Secret Service came to his Tacoma, Washington, middle school to question him about his Facebook posting urging President Obama to be aware of the danger from suicide bombers in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s assassination.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Tennessee was no less surprised to find itself listed by the Tennessee Fusion Center on an Internet map of “Terrorism Events and other Suspicious Activity.” Why? The organization had carried out a “suspicious activity” by sending a letter to the state’s school superintendents encouraging them to be supportive of all religions during the holiday season. 

While the government has gained more and more power to watch us, we are being kept in the dark about what it is doing. Over the past decade, a new architecture of mass surveillance has been erected, and we know very little about it.

Surveillance in what we term the “age of Total Information Awareness” will be the subject of our Truthout postings throughout September. After providing an overview of 20th century surveillance, we will examine both the intelligence failures that opened the door to the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the government’s response. Rather than fix the obvious problems and hold specific individuals and institutions accountable, the government embarked on a radical shift in how intelligence and law enforcement agencies interact and do their work and rapidly expanded their powers. 

Over the decade, we have seen the emergence of a national security surveillance state, in which some 800,000 local and state operatives file reports on the most common everyday behaviors and members of the public contribute hotline tips about “suspicious” people and activities. We will trace the contours of the new domestic intelligence architecture in terms of its nationwide and regional structures and its evolving technologies, drawing upon public sources and information obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and leaks. We will also describe the impact of the surveillance system on specific targets – Muslims, political activists, immigrants – as well as on the general public, and on what have long been assumed to be core American values.

It is our hope that this series will help stimulate a broader debate about whether we are on the right track in the “war against terrorism.” In the decade since 9/11, there has been no sustained national attempt to probe root causes behind the September 11 attacks and subsequent plots. The federal government has yet to come up with a single definition of “terrorism,” and there is not even a public agreement about what constitutes a ‘”terrorist” attack. So cowed was the DHS by the shrill denunciation of its April 2009 report on the danger of “right-wing extremism” that it has reportedly decided to focus its attention solely on “homegrown extremism” involving Muslims – despite the fact that the Southern Poverty Law Center has compiled a long list of homegrown plots in its report, “Terror from the Right,” and that the DHS itself recognizes that Muslims have had nothing to do with the majority of terrorist plots and attacks within the United States in the 21st century.

Amid all these ambiguities, a new surveillance network has been steadily constructed in the shadows with the help of DHS grants. Among the questions that should be asked is this:  What happens to actual public safety when “homeland security” commands the lion’s share of federal funds to fight the “terrorist” threat?

The statistics suggest skewed priorities. According to the FBI, terrorist incidents in the United States accounted for 3,178 deaths in the period between 1980 and 2005. Apart from those killed in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the September 11, 2001 attacks, 48 people lost their lives to terrorism in that 25-year period. Within the same time frame, 500,000 people were murdered in the United States. Being listed on a terrorist watch list might keep someone from getting on an airplane – and could conceivably land an American citizen on a government assassination list -  but it will not prevent that person from legally buying a weapon  – or several! – at a local gun store.

What kind of “homeland” will we become if we do not demand that secretive domestic surveillance operations are brought in line with longstanding principles of liberty and the Constitution?

13-37

Michigan: Police Search Cell Phones During Traffic Stops

May 5, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

TheNewspaper.com

The ACLU seeks information on Michigan program that allows cops to download information from smart phones belonging to stopped motorists.

The Michigan State Police have a high-tech mobile forensics device that can be used to extract information from cell phones belonging to motorists stopped for minor traffic violations. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan last Wednesday demanded that state officials stop stonewalling freedom of information requests for information on the program.

ACLU learned that the police had acquired the cell phone scanning devices and in August 2008 filed an official request for records on the program, including logs of how the devices were used. The state police responded by saying they would provide the information only in return for a payment of $544,680. The ACLU found the charge outrageous.

“Law enforcement officers are known, on occasion, to encourage citizens to cooperate if they have nothing to hide,” ACLU staff attorney Mark P. Fancher wrote. “No less should be expected of law enforcement, and the Michigan State Police should be willing to assuage concerns that these powerful extraction devices are being used illegally by honoring our requests for cooperation and disclosure.”

A US Department of Justice test of the CelleBrite UFED used by Michigan police found the device could grab all of the photos and video off of an iPhone within one-and-a-half minutes. The device works with 3000 different phone models and can even defeat password protections.

“Complete extraction of existing, hidden, and deleted phone data, including call history, text messages, contacts, images, and geotags,” a CelleBrite brochure explains regarding the device’s capabilities. “The Physical Analyzer allows visualization of both existing and deleted locations on Google Earth. In addition, location information from GPS devices and image geotags can be mapped on Google Maps.”

The ACLU is concerned that these powerful capabilities are being quietly used to bypass Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches.

“With certain exceptions that do not apply here, a search cannot occur without a warrant in which a judicial officer determines that there is probable cause to believe that the search will yield evidence of criminal activity,” Fancher wrote. “A device that allows immediate, surreptitious intrusion into private data creates enormous risks that troopers will ignore these requirements to the detriment of the constitutional rights of persons whose cell phones are searched.”

The national ACLU is currently suing the Department of Homeland Security for its policy of warrantless electronic searches of laptops and cell phones belonging to people entering the country who are not suspected of committing any crime.

13-19

US Silencing Palestinian Journalist Mohammed Omer

March 25, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Haymarket Books

Effectively canceling a planned speaking tour, the US consulate in the Netherlands has put an extended hold on the visa application of award-winning Palestinian journalist and photographer Mohammed Omer, scheduled to speak on conditions in Palestine, on 5 April in Chicago.

In 2008, Omer became the youngest recipient of the prestigious Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, for his firsthand reportage of life in the besieged Gaza Strip. As his prize citation explained, “Every day, he reports from a war zone, where he is also a prisoner. He is a profoundly humane witness to one of the great injustices of our time. He is the voice of the voiceless … Working alone in extremely difficult and often dangerous circumstances, [Omer has] reported unpalatable truths validated by powerful facts.”

Upon attempting to return to Gaza following his acceptance of the Gellhorn award in London, Omer was detained, interrogated and beaten by the Shin Bet Israeli security force for over 12 hours, and eventually hospitalized with cracked ribs and respiratory problems. He has since resided in the Netherlands and continues to undergo medical treatment there for his subsequent health problems.

The US consulate has now held his visa application for an extended period of time, effectively canceling a planned US speaking tour without the explanation that a denial would require. In recent years, numerous foreign scholars and experts have been subject to visa delays and denials that have prohibited them from speaking and teaching in the US — a process the American Civil Liberties Union describes as “Ideological Exclusion,” which they say violates Americans’ first amendment right to hear constitutionally protected speech by denying foreign scholars, artists, politicians and others entry to the United States. Foreign nationals who have recently been denied visas include Fulbright scholar Marixa Lasso; respected South African scholar and vocal Iraq War critic Dr. Adam Habib; Iraqi doctor Riyadh Lafta, who disputed the official Iraqi civilian death numbers in the respected British medical journal The Lancet; and Oxford’s Tariq Ramadan, who has just received a visa to speak in the United States after more than five years of delays and denials.

Fellow Gellhorn recipient Dahr Jamail, expressed his disbelief at Omer’s visa hold. “Why would the US government, when we consider the premise that we have `free speech’ in this country, place on hold a visa for Mohammed Omer, or any other journalist planning to come to the United States to give talks about what they report on? This is a travesty, and the only redemption available for the US government in this situation is to issue Omer’s visa immediately, and with a deep apology.”

Omer was to visit Houston, Santa Fe and Chicago, where local publisher Haymarket Books was to host his Newberry Library event, “Reflections on Life and War in Gaza,” alongside a broad set of interfaith religious, community and political organizations.

Rather than cancel the meeting, organizers are calling on supporters to write letters and emails calling for the US consulate’s approval of Omer’s visa. They are also proceeding with the event as planned, via live satellite or skype, if necessary.

U.S. consulate information:

Ambassador Fay Hartog Levin
U.S. Embassy in The Hague
Lange Voorhout 102
2514 EJ
The Netherlands
T: +31 70 310-2209
F: +31 70 361-4688

ConsularAmster@state.gov

Background on Mohammed Omer:

Mohammed Omer was born and raised in the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. He maintains the website Rafah Today and is a correspondent for the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. His home in Rafah was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer while the family was inside, seriously injuring his mother. Yet, as Omer explained in an article he wrote upon winning the award, “My ambition was to get the truth out, not as pro-Palestinian or anti-Israeli, but as an independent voice and witness.” His reportage features interviews with regular Palestinians in Gazan attempting to survive amidst bombing, home demolitions and the crippling economic blockade, which has created devastating shortages of electricity, water, fuel and other necessities for survival.

Omer was to visit Chicago to discuss, with Ali Abunimah, Chicago-based author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, his reportage, personal experience, and the struggle for Palestinian rights. If the delay on his visa continues, he will take part in the event via live satellite connection or Skype.

12-13

The Center for Global Understanding Announces 25 Scholarships for Muslims

February 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

American students to Intern in Washington D.C.

Torrance, February 1, 2010 – The Center for Global Understanding (CFGU) in partnership with The Washington Center (TWC) announces the availability of 25 scholarships for Muslim American students to intern in Washington D.C.

Program components are as follows:

1. Placement: Tailored toward students’ interest. We work with students in all majors. Past placements include the Department of the Treasury, The White House, Voice of America, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Justice, National Institutes of Health, American Civil Liberties Union, National Endowment for the Arts, Congressional offices, law firms, corporations, think tanks, lobbying firms, and many more!

2. Academic Credits: Students will take a seminar-style class for about 3 hours one evening per week. Students may get academic credits from their college or university.

3. Housing: We have housing arrangement in an apartment setting.

4. Financial Aid: 25 scholarships of $3,000 each are available to qualified students for the summer of 2010.

5. CFGU Public Affairs: Lectures and discussions with Muslim American Leaders from Congress, Business, Public Health and other fields.

We encourage Muslim American students to visit our website for more details about the requirements and to apply online.

Please feel free to contact us at internship@cfgu.us or 310-710-3460 if you need any further information; 640 Maple Avenue, Torrance, Ca 90503 • Tel: (310) 710-3460 • Fax: (310) 787-7350 • Email: info@cfgu.us.

For details, please visit www.centerforglobalunderstanding.org

Racial Profiling Still Pervasive: ACLU Report

July 13, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Chris Levister, Black Voice News.com

U.S. authorities detain and harass thousands of people each year solely on the basis of religion, race or nationality despite efforts by senior law enforcement officials and the government to stop it, the American Civil Liberties Union said.

An ACLU report said racial profiling was often applied to immigrants from South Asia and to North Africans suspected of being Islamic militants following the September 11, 2001, attacks carried out by Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda militants.

The report, submitted on Tuesday to the U.N. Committee to End Racial Discrimination, said profiling could involve harassment, detention, arrest or investigation. Many Latin American immigrants were also targeted for immigration violations while others, including Black Americans, were profiled as suspected drug offenders, said the report, which did not provide precise figures.

President Barack Obama’s government upholds the policy of the previous Bush administration that such profiling should end, but related laws contain a significant gray area, said Chandra Bhatnagar, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s human rights program.

According to 2003 federal guidelines, it is illegal to detain or investigate someone solely on the basis of race, religion or ethnicity, but there are exceptions in the context of national security and border control.

“While there is a political consensus regarding the problem and a need for a solution it has not translated into concrete action,” Bhatnagar said. He referred to the End Racial Profiling Bill first introduced in 1997, but which had not passed into law.

One factor that had increased the profiling of Latin Americans was a federal program to shift responsibility and resources for immigration enforcement to local and state authorities, according to the report.

Anecdotal evidence suggested that an increasing number of people had been targeted under profiling for possible immigration offenses over the past eight years, it said.

“Police officers who are often not adequately trained and in some cases not trained at all, in federal immigration enforcement, will improperly rely on race or ethnicity as a proxy for undocumented status,” the report said.

The involvement of local police in this was having a “devastating impact” on some communities, Bhatnagar said.

In April the ACLU of Southern California filed suit against Moreno Valley police and city officials and the state Board of Barbering and Cosmetology claiming racial profiling.

The suit filed on behalf of three Moreno Valley barbers in U.S. District Court in Riverside alleged that “five of the six barbershops selected as targets for raid-style inspections on April 2, 2008, were owned by, operated by, and primarily frequented by African Americans.”

The officers, city employees and members of the state Board of Barbering and Cosmetology allegedly targeted six shops in warrantless raids because of race, said lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union. The suit also alleges innocent clients waiting for haircuts and other services were detained, harassed and forced to produce identification.

ACLU alleged the officers and other agents targeted the businesses “based, in part or in whole, on the race of the barbers and their clientele.”

Police, city and state officials have denied the claims. The case has attracted national attention for what ACLU lawyers and many in communities of color call blatant evidence that racial profiling is still pervasive.

11-29