The Department of Homeland Security is under investigation for purchasing large stockpiles of ammunition, days before legislation was introduced that would restrict the amount a government agency can legally buy.
The Government Accountability Office is now conducting the investigation into the alleged DHS purchases, which is “just getting underway,” GAO spokesman Chuck Young told US News & World Report.
DHS officials have repeatedly denied stockpiling ammunition, but AP reports claim that the agency plans to buy more than 1.6 billion rounds of ammunition over the next four or five years, and has already bought 360,000 rounds of hollow point bullets and 1.5 billion rounds in 2012.
DHS claims that it is buying ammo in bulk to save money, but experts have pointed out that hollow point bullets cost nearly twice as much as full metal jacket rounds. They also explode on impact for maximum damage, which has caused some Americans to wonder what purpose they would serve the DHS domestically. Purchasing 1.6 billion rounds of ammo would also give DHS the means to fight the equivalent of a 24-year Iraq War. Members of Congress say the DHS has repeatedly refused to tell them the purpose of procuring such large amounts of ammo.
“They have no answer for that question,” Congressman Timothy Huelscamp told Infowars in March, pointing out that the purchases are being made at a time when sequestration should be limiting the agency’s spending. “…We’re going to find out… I say we don’t fund them until we get an answer.”
DHS officials testified last week that it was only planning to purchase up to 750 million rounds of ammunition for training centers and law enforcement over the next five years. The agency’s spokesman, Peter Boogaard, told Congress that the media reports are ‘misleading’. But Boogard also mentioned a second five-year contract for up to 450 million rounds of ammunition for law enforcement purposes. Together, the two DHS contracts for ammunition would result in purchases of up to 1.2 billion rounds of ammo.
“With more than 100,000 armed law enforcement personnel in DHS, significant quantities of ammunition are used to support law enforcement operations, quarterly qualifications, and training, to include advanced firearms training exercises,” Boogard said.
But the DHS testimony did not provide an adequate explanation for the large amount of ammo it plans to procure, prompting a GAO investigation at approximately the same time as the introduction of the AMMO Act.
The new legislation, which was introduced in both the Senate and the House on Friday, would prevent government agencies from buying any more ammunition if its stockpiles are already larger than what they were in previous presidential administrations.
Proponents of the bill suspect that government agencies may be making large ammunition purchases to keep the supplies out of the hands of Americans at a time when the administration has been trying to reduce gun violence.
“President Obama has been adamant about curbing law-abiding Americans’ access and opportunities to exercise their Second Amendment rights,” US Sen. Jim Inhofe, who introduced the bill, said in a news release. “One way the Obama Administration is able to do this is by limiting what’s available in the market with federal agencies purchasing unnecessary stockpiles of ammunition… [DHS] has two years worth of ammo on hand and allots nearly 1,000 more rounds of ammunition for DHS officers than is used on average by our Army officers.”
Congressman Frank Lucas cited an ammunition shortage in Oklahoma and blamed the DHS for taking away Americans’ Second Amendment rights by removing ammo from the market.
The GAO investigation will attempt to determine whether there truly is a reason for the large ammo purchases, or whether DHS is simply buying large quantities to save money in the long run.
EPIC has filed appeals in two Freedom of Information Act cases seeking documents related to airport body scanners from the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration.
The TSA is currently developing formal rules for the use of body scanners in response to a court order in one of EPIC’s previous cases.
Body scanners allow routine digital strip searches of individuals who are not suspected of any crime.
- Judge: DHS Must Release Body Scanner Safety Reports (reason.com)
- Letter From a Screener: So We Found a Suicide Bomber With The Full Body Scanner: Now What? (takingsenseaway.wordpress.com)
The government does not have the unchecked authority to place individuals on a secret blacklist without providing them any meaningful opportunity to object, the ACLU argued in a brief filed last Friday with the federal district court in Oregon.
We made the filing in Latif v. Holder, our lawsuit asserting that the government violated the Fifth Amendment due process rights of 13 Americans, including four military veterans, by placing them on the No Fly List and refusing to give them any after-the-fact explanation or a hearing at which they can clear their names.
Our brief highlighted the utter irrationality of the government’s No Fly List procedures. The plaintiffs in Latif all flew for years without any problems. But more than two years ago, they were suddenly branded as suspected terrorists based on secret evidence, publicly denied boarding on flights, and told by U.S. and airline officials that they were banned from flying perhaps forever. Each of them asked the government to remove them from the No Fly List through the only “redress” mechanism available—the Department of Homeland Security Traveler Redress Inquiry Program. But the government has refused to provide any explanation or basis for their inclusion in the list. Our clients have been stuck in limbo ever since.
We submitted evidence to the court showing that the No Fly List burdens our clients’ constitutionally protected liberties, with devastating consequences for their personal and professional lives. It deprives them of the ability to fly—an essential means of travel in modern life. It also stigmatizes them as suspected terrorists, although they have never been charged with any crime, let alone convicted of one.
Our brief argued that the Constitution’s core promise of procedural due process requires the government to provide at least some explanation and some hearing where Americans can defend themselves after it deprives them of their liberties. The government’s categorical refusal to provide either is unconstitutional. We explained:
Defendants’ refusal to provide the bare rudiments of due process stems from their embrace of an explicit policy—known as the “Glomar” policy—of refusing to confirm or deny any information concerning a person’s status on the No Fly List. The Glomar policy and Defendants’ inadequate process cannot be reconciled with governing due process doctrine. Courts routinely require notice and some form of hearing for much less severe deprivations of liberty than Plaintiffs have suffered. Thus, the government cannot suspend a student from school for ten days, or recover excess Social Security payments, or terminate state assistance for utility bills without some kind of notice and hearing.
In its own brief to the court defending its “redress” program, the government’s arguments boiled down to two sweeping—and extraordinary—claims. First, according to the government, the Constitution has nothing to say about the adequacy and fairness of the procedures the government provides Americans to challenge their inclusion on the No Fly List because “alternatives” to flying are available. We countered that argument in a separate brief (also filed on Friday) showing that the government relied on the wrong law, and by providing evidence confirming what is obvious: the No Fly List so severely restricts Americans’ ability to travel that it triggers due process rights. Not only does the list ban Americans from the skies, it even bars them from travel on boats. As a result, two of our clients have been effectively banned from traveling from the United States to be with their families in Ireland and Yemen.
The government’s second sweeping claim is that even confirming or denying No Fly List-status (much less actually providing notice of the reasons and basis for inclusion in the list) will cause a parade of national security horribles, including the disclosure of sensitive or classified information. Our brief, however, showed that this argument is based on a fiction: all of our clients already know they are on the No Fly list; they were each prevented from flying and explicitly told that they are on the list. We also pointed out that the mere possibility that sensitive national security information might be involved is no reason to categorically foreclose the hearings that due process requires.
Americans have a right to know what kind of “evidence” or innuendo is sufficient to land them on the No Fly List, and to have a hearing where they can defend themselves. Without this bare minimum, there is no meaningful check to correct the government’s mistakes or ensure that it uses the blacklisting power it claims fairly and appropriately. We are asking the court, therefore, to vindicate a basic yet fundamentally important proposition: a government black list that denies Americans the ability to fly without giving them an explanation or fair chance to clear their names violates the Constitution.
President Barack Obama’s plan to protect the United States’ critical infrastructure against cyberattacks is accelerating quickly as more private sector businesses are signing on to share information with the federal government.
When Pres. Obama rolled out his ‘Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity’ executive order last month, he asked that classified cyber threat and technical information collected by the government be given to eligible commercial service providers that offer security services to businesses linked to the country’s critical infrastructure.
But in the few short weeks since the order was announced during the president’s annual State of the Union address, warnings of an imminent attack have only increased. CIA Director John Brennan told a panel last week that “the seriousness and the diversity of the threats that this country faces in the cyber domain are increasing on a daily basis,” and US national intelligence chief James Clapper claims there is “a remote chance of a major cyberattack against US critical infrastructure systems during the next two years that would result in long-term, wide-scale disruption of services, such as a regional power outage.”
Upon announcement of the executive order, a handful of defense contractors and telecom companies — namely Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, AT&T and CenturyLink — confirmed that they’d be voluntarily sharing information back and forth with the country’s top intelligence agencies in order to closely monitor any threats that could collapse the country’s critical infrastructure, a vaguely defined category assumed to include the nation’s power systems, telecommunication wires and other major utilities.
“The demand is there. I think the priority is there, and the threat is serious,” Steve Hawkins, vice president of information and security solutions for Raytheon, told Bloomberg earlier in the month.
As warnings of a cyberattack increase, however, the latest news out of Washington is that even more private sector companies with ties to critical infrastructure will be participating in the program. In a report published on Thursday by Reuters, the newswire notes that the framework first outlined during last month’s executive order is already quickly shaping up, with tasks being delegated throughout the US so that threat information can be adequately passed to applicable persons.
According to Reuters’ latest write-up, the executive order will require the National Security Agency to collect classified intelligence on serious hacking attempts aimed at American businesses, which will then be handed over to the Department of Homeland Security to pass on to the telecom and cybersecurity providers — Raytheon, AT&T and others — where employees holding security clearances will scan incoming emails and routine Web traffic for threats to the infrastructure.
But while the government has long asked the entities to open up lines of communication with the NSA and other offices, smaller private-sector businesses could soon be signing on. According to Joseph Menn and Deborah Charles of Reuters, the government is already expanding their cybersecurity program so that even more Web traffic heading into and out of defense contractors will be scanned to include far more of the country’s private, civilian-run infrastructure.
“As a result, more private sector employees than ever before, including those at big banks, utilities and key transportation companies, will have their emails and Web surfing scanned as a precaution against cyberattacks,” they write.
Once those participating companies sign on to get data from Homeland Security, the DHS will send them computer threat “signatures” obtained by the NSA that will offer a list of red flags to be watching out for as huge amounts of Web data is scanned second-by-second and bit-by-bit.
“The companies can use this intelligence to strengthen cybersecurity services they sell to businesses that maintain critical infrastructure,” Bloomberg News reports.
That intelligence, including but not limited to cyber timestamps, indicators and the critical sector potentially, can then be monitored to search for malicious code and viruses sent through America’s Internet with the intent of causing harm. In exchange, the critical infrastructure companies that could be targeted by cyberterrorists will pay the contractors and telecoms for their help.
The threat of a cyberwar crippling America’s power grid and communication systems has been ramped-up in recent weeks, particularly in light of a highly-touted report that linked Chinese state actors with repeated attempts to sabotage US businesses and conduct espionage to steal secrets.
“Increasingly, US businesses are speaking out about their serious concerns about sophisticated, targeted theft of confidential business information and proprietary technologies through cyber intrusions emanating from China on an unprecedented scale,” National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon told the Asia Society in New York last week. “The international community cannot afford to tolerate such activity from any country.”
Given the current controversy surrounding the extent of the U.S. drone program and targeted killings, it is important to revisit that in the summer of 2012, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency announced that unmanned drones would begin patrolling Caribbean airspace as an expansion of the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI). This is only one aspect of how the War on Drugs in the Caribbean is increasingly looking like the War on Terror.
The U.S.–Caribbean border is the often ignored “Third Border,” which the Department of Homeland Security has referred to as an “open door for drug traffickers and terrorists.” A recent study by the National Defence University has stated that “the region’s nexus to the United States uniquely positions it in the proximate U.S. geopolitical and strategic sphere. Thus, there is an incentive, if not an urgency, for the United States to proactively pursue security capacity-building measures in the Caribbean region.”
While the drones are unarmed for the time being, they will be primarily used to locate drug traffickers operating fishing boats, fast boats, and semi-submarines and would relay information to the Coast Guard, Navy or Caribbean authorities to carry out the interception and arrests. It has been revealed that the drones will be operating out of bases in Corpus Christi, Texas, Cocoa Beach, Florida and potentially the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
The shift towards the use of drones in the region is largely based off of an unconvincing pilot program carried out over 18 months in the Bahamas, in which “During more than 1,260 hours in the air off the southeastern coast of Florida, the Guardian (drones) assisted in only a handful of large-scale busts.” That said, the Caribbean governments increased militarization in the region when they implemented the never-ending War on Drugs without any public consultation or debate. This erosion of regional sovereignty may be a slippery slope to a dangerous future in which Caribbean nationals may very well find themselves on kill lists instead of facing a trial.
Such a conclusion is not baseless, as a November 2012 report by the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security recommended that Latin American drug cartels be classified as terrorist organizations “so there is increased ability to counter their threat to national security.” Furthermore, in 2009, the U.S. Military drew criticism for placing 50 suspected Afghani drug traffickers on a “kill list” as part of their ongoing efforts to cut off finance stream of the Taliban. The controversy arose due to the fact that drug traffickers (generally classified as civilians) had now been placed into the same legal category as the Taliban “insurgents” and thus became legitimate targets.
This is especially important in light of how the extradition of Jamaican kingpin Christopher “Dudus” Coke was handled. In September 2009, the United States requested his extradition to face drug trafficking charges, but Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding blocked the request due to his deep political connections with Coke. It was only after months of intense pressure that Golding caved in May 2010. Jamaican Police and the Jamaican Defense Forces led the bloody operation to arrest Coke, which resulted in the deaths of more than 70 civilians—the vast majority of which were unarmed.
The resulting scandal led to the downfall of Golding as Prime Minister but highlighted the power that drug traffickers and gang leaders have had in Jamaican government and politics. It has since been reinforced that the operation was “assisted by the U.S. government and carried out, to a large degree, at its behest.” Information has emerged which reveals that a U.S. spy plane participated in the raid of Coke’s stronghold of Tivoli Gardens, and a Freedom of Information Act action has recently been levied against the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) by a group of law students to reveal the extent of U.S. involvement.
To prevent such explosive outcomes in the future, there has been a call for closer integration between Caribbean police forces and the U.S. DEA in a clear escalation of the War on Drugs. A September 2012 Senate Report revealed that Jamaica has been floated as a target for a Sensitive Investigative Unit, which consists of a highly trained police that collaborate with the DEA. A similar program exists in Kandahar, where U.S. and British troops have created and participated in a task force made up of Afghan police officers and U.S. DEA agents to disrupt the drug trade and investigate corrupt Afghan officials.
According to a seemingly benign Department of Homeland Security (DHS) press release announcing the drone program, the “DHS is partnering with Caribbean nations to enhance border security in the region through the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI) . . . . The DHS is conducting border security training in conjunction with CBSI to increase partner nation capacity to secure their borders.” The problem with such statements is that there is always more shady business going on behind the scenes. Given the direction of U.S. policy in the region, it will only be a matter of time until the War on Drugs becomes eerily similar to the War on Terror.
Homeland Security Approves Seizure of Cell Phones and Laptops within 100 Miles of Border; Report Remains Secret
Americans have no Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures if they happen to be within 100 miles of the border, according to the “Executive Summary” of a still-secret report by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). As the ACLU-created map above shows, nearly 2/3 of Americans (197 million people)—including the entire populations of Florida, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Washington, DC, and Michigan—live in this “Constitution free” zone, as do the residents of the nation’s five most populous cities: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia.
The secret report is DHS’s response (two years late) to critics of its policy, in place since at least 2008, of allowing border control agents, without a warrant or even a suspicion of wrongdoing, to search any travelers’ electronic devices (laptops, cell phones, tablets, cameras, etc.) and seize data they find. According to a Freedom of Information Act request (FOIA) filed three years ago by the ACLU, DHS subjected more than 6,500 travelers—nearly half of them U.S. citizens—to searches under this policy between October 2008 and June 2010.
The Executive Summary of the secret report, which DHS is allowing the public to see, sets forth its conclusions without even summarizing the reasoning underlying them. Thus it asserts that “imposing a requirement that officers have reasonable suspicion in order to conduct a border search of an electronic device would be operationally harmful without concomitant civil rights/civil liberties benefits,” but is silent on how DHS defines “civil rights/civil liberties benefits” or how it balances these against its institutional needs.
The ACLU, which has already filed an FOIA request demanding the full report, released a statement arguing that “allowing government agents to search through all of a traveler’s data without reasonable suspicion is completely incompatible with our fundamental rights: our Fourth Amendment right to privacy—and more specifically the right to be free from unreasonable searches—is implicated when the government can rummage through our computers and cell phones for no reason other than that we happen to have traveled abroad. Suspicionless searches also open the door to profiling based on perceived or actual race, ethnicity, or religion. And our First Amendment rights to free speech and free association are inhibited when agents at the border can target us for searches based on our exercise of those rights.”
To Learn More:
DHS Watchdog OKs ‘Suspicionless’ Seizure of Electronic Devices Along Border (by David Kravets, Wired)
A recently published story from the New York Times reports a “secret legal review” has been conducted on the use of cyber warfare by the United States. It concluded President Barack Obama has “the broad power to order a preemptive strike if the United States detects credible evidence of a major digital attack looming from abroad.”
Unnamed officials involved in the review inform that the administration is moving in the coming weeks to “approve the nation’s first rules for how the military can defend, or retaliate, against a major cyber attack.” These rules, according to David Sanger and Thom Shanker, will “govern how the intelligence agencies can carry out searches of faraway computer networks for signs of potential attacks on the United States.” If the president approves a strike, the government will be able to “attack adversaries by injecting them with destructive code — even if there is no declared war.”
It further adds, “The Pentagon would not be involved in defending against ordinary cyberattacks on American companies or individuals, even though it has the largest array of cybertools. Domestically, that responsibility falls to the Department of Homeland Security, and investigations of cyberattacks or theft are carried out by the FBI.”
The Times story points out the rules—like the rules “governing drone strikes”—are highly classified and will be kept secret. The officials from the administration providing details spoke “on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk on the record.” They selectively leaked a scant amount of details on evolving cyber warfare policy to allay concerns about this power the administration is claiming.
One official claimed the US had been “restrained in its use of cyberweapons” and said, “There are levels of cyberwarfare that are far more aggressive than anything that has been used or recommended to be done.” A “senior American official” said cyberweapons were as powerful as nuclear weapons and “should be unleashed only on the direct orders of the commander in chief.” The official added the decision to launch cyber operations will rarely be made by someone at a level “below the president,” which means “‘automatic’ retaliation if a cyber attack on America’s infrastructure is detected” has reportedly been “ruled out.”
The story suggests the Obama administration had their best and brightest minds think about preemptive attack and the ramifications of launching such strikes on a country. “One senior official” said a country could “claim it was innocent” and undermine the “justification for the attack” because it would be “very hard to provide evidence to the world that you hit some deadly dangerous computer code.” They also thought through “‘what constitutes reasonable and proportionate force’ in halting or retaliating against a cyber attack,” according to another official.
The leaking of details on the “secret legal review” comes just over a week after the Washington Post reported the FBI was engaging in a fishing expedition for journalistic communications as part of an investigation into the sources of leaks on Stuxnet or Olympic Games, the cyber warfare against Iranian nuclear enrichment facilities that was launched by Obama (which Sanger published details on in a major story in June of last year and also described in detail in his book, Confront & Conceal).
It is a bit appalling that officials are speaking without authorization when it is known the FBI has spent the past six or seven months prying into the communications of government employees, who were sources for the Times story.
Back in November, the Post reported the White House was engaged in “the most extensive” effort “to date to wrestle with what constitutes an ‘offensive’ and a ‘defensive’ action in the rapidly evolving world of cyberwar and cyberterrorism.” This “secret legal review” may or may not be a result of this effort that was authorized by Presidential Policy Directive 20 to make it possible for the United States military to respond more aggressively to “thwart cyberattacks on the nation’s web of government and private computer networks.” But, given what Ellen Nakashima reported, the secret directive was to “establish” a “broad and strict set of standards to guide the operations of federal agencies.” It was also to, for the first time, make “a distinction between network defense and cyber operations to guide officials charged with making often rapid decisions when confronted with threats.”
As I wrote, the “secret policy” was to map out a process for vetting “operations outside government and defense networks” and ensuring “US citizens’ and foreign allies’ data and privacy are protected and international laws of war are followed.” As one senior administration official told the Post, “What it does, really for the first time, is it explicitly talks about how we will use cyber operations…Network defense is what you’re doing inside your own networks. . . .Cyber operations is stuff outside that space, and recognizing that you could be doing that for what might be called defensive purposes.”
On May 30, 2011, the Wall Street Journal reported the Pentagon had “concluded that computer sabotage from another country” could “constitute an act of war.” WSJ suggested this would open the door to responding to sabotage with “traditional military force.” These details came from a formal cyber strategy the Pentagon had put together for responding to cyber threats to critical infrastructure. One imperious military official was quoted, “If you shut down our power grid, maybe we will put a missile down one of your smokestacks.”
About a week ago, the Pentagon announced it would be expanding its “cyber security unit.” Glenn Greenwald detailed how the force that was expected to go from 900 to over 4000 individuals would continue a trend of “disguising aggression as ‘defense.’”
The Pentagon now has a policy, a “cyber security” policy authorized by a presidential directive has now pushed for the development of policy and a “secret legal review” has grappled with questions and determined preemptive strikes on countries’ infrastructure could be carried out if the president orders such attacks.
What we know about the legal questions Obama has grappled with is all secret. The development of “cybersecurity” policy or cyber warfare policies indicate a further expansion of the body of secret law under Obama.
The government has secret legal opinions on when it can and cannot kill US citizens with drones. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon has made requests to view these opinions but the Obama administration has refused to let him see targeted killing memos, even though he is by law supposed to view them so he can conduct oversight. The ACLU has requested these memos be released but a judge ruled that the government was within its right under FOIA to not release the legal interpretations.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court makes rulings authorizing warrantless surveillance under the FISA Amendments Act (FAA). Despite efforts by Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon to amend the reauthorization of the FAA at the end of 2012, this was rejected by the Obama administration (even though the administration had previously indicated to Wyden it would be open to a process of making the court’s secret rulings public in some form).
The government also has secret interpretations of at least one section of the PATRIOT Act—Section 215. The ACLU’s Alexander Abdo said they make it possible for “the government to get secret orders from a special surveillance court (the FISA Court) requiring Internet service providers and other companies to turn over ‘any tangible things.’” (Not to mention the fact that there are national security directives issued by President George W. Bush that to this day remain secret and could have been released at least in summary form.)
The administration’s argument for keeping the “rules” or legal basis is that sources or methods would be revealed that would make it easier for adversaries to attack the United States. That is simply an argument to provide cover for the fact that the government wants wide latitude to be able to respond without being constrained by the law or politics. It is possible to inform the public of when the administration thinks the government has the power to launch attacks and go through several hypothetical scenarios. The reality is the government just does not want to do that because, if the scenario occurred and the administration responded differently, there could be controversy if it was found out they did not follow the “rules.”
Finally, like with the drone program, President Barack Obama is presiding over the creation and development of a power that previous presidents never imagined having. The national security state is effectively appointing him and all future presidents the proverbial judge, jury and executioner when it comes to cyber warfare.
There is no indication that any group of members in Congress or judicial body will have to approve of a preemptive strike before it is carried out. As has become typical, the president wants to be able to conduct war without needing authorization.
The policy will expand the imperial presidency and the public and civil society organizations, which have a distinct interest in knowing what the government is doing, will be kept in the dark on what is legal and illegal in cyber operations. The Congress will barely make any effort to defend its right to provide oversight of this new power. And any future details on this power will mostly come from selective leaks provided by officials, who do not think they will face repercussions for talking to the press. The policy itself, the rules for cyber war, will remain concealed.
FBI documents just obtained by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) pursuant to the PCJF’s Freedom of Information Act demands reveal that from its inception, the FBI treated the Occupy movement as a potential criminal and terrorist threat even though the agency acknowledges in documents that organizers explicitly called for peaceful protest and did “not condone the use of violence” at occupy protests.
The PCJF has obtained heavily redacted documents showing that FBI offices and agents around the country were in high gear conducting surveillance against the movement even as early as August 2011, a month prior to the establishment of the OWS encampment in Zuccotti Park and other Occupy actions around the country.
“This production, which we believe is just the tip of the iceberg, is a window into the nationwide scope of the FBI’s surveillance, monitoring, and reporting on peaceful protestors organizing with the Occupy movement,” stated Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Executive Director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF). “These documents show that the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are treating protests against the corporate and banking structure of America as potential criminal and terrorist activity. These documents also show these federal agencies functioning as a de facto intelligence arm of Wall Street and Corporate America.”
“The documents are heavily redacted, and it is clear from the production that the FBI is withholding far more material. We are filing an appeal challenging this response and demanding full disclosure to the public of the records of this operation,” stated Heather Benno, staff attorney with the PCJF.
As early as August 19, 2011, the FBI in New York was meeting with the New York Stock Exchange to discuss the Occupy Wall Street protests that wouldn’t start for another month. By September, prior to the start of the OWS, the FBI was notifying businesses that they might be the focus of an OWS protest.
The FBI’s Indianapolis division released a “Potential Criminal Activity Alert” on September 15, 2011, even though they acknowledged that no specific protest date had been scheduled in Indiana. The documents show that the Indianapolis division of the FBI was coordinating with “All Indiana State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies,” as well as the “Indiana Intelligence Fusion Center,” the FBI “Directorate of Intelligence” and other national FBI coordinating mechanisms.
Documents show the spying abuses of the FBI’s “Campus Liaison Program” in which the FBI in Albany and the Syracuse Joint Terrorism Task Force disseminated information to “sixteen (16) different campus police officials,” and then “six (6) additional campus police officials.” Campus officials were in contact with the FBI for information on OWS. A representative of the State University of New York at Oswego contacted the FBI for information on the OWS protests and reported to the FBI on the SUNY-Oswego Occupy encampment made up of students and professors.
Documents released show coordination between the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and corporate America. They include a report by the Domestic Security Alliance Council (DSAC), described by the federal government as “a strategic partnership between the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the private sector,” discussing the OWS protests at the West Coast ports to “raise awareness concerning this type of criminal activity.” The DSAC report shows the nature of secret collaboration between American intelligence agencies and their corporate clients – the document contains a “handling notice” that the information is “meant for use primarily within the corporate security community. Such messages shall not be released in either written or oral form to the media, the general public or other personnel… ” (The DSAC document was also obtained by the Northern California ACLU which has sought local FBI surveillance files.)
Naval Criminal Investigative Services (NCIS) reported to the DSAC on the relationship between OWS and organized labor for the port actions. The NCIS describes itself as “an elite worldwide federal law enforcement organization” whose “mission is to investigate and defeat criminal, terrorist, and foreign intelligence threats to the United States Navy and Marine Corps ashore, afloat and in cyberspace.” The NCIS also assists with the transport of Guantanamo prisoners.
DSAC issued several tips to its corporate clients on “civil unrest” which it defines as ranging from “small, organized rallies to large-scale demonstrations and rioting.” It advised to dress conservatively, avoid political discussions and “avoid all large gatherings related to civil issues. Even seemingly peaceful rallies can spur violent activity or be met with resistance by security forces. Bystanders may be arrested or harmed by security forces using water cannons, tear gas or other measures to control crowds.”
The FBI in Anchorage reported from a Joint Terrorism Task Force meeting of November 3, 2011, about Occupy activities in Anchorage.
A port Facility Security Officer in Anchorage coordinated with the FBI to attend the meeting of protestors and gain intelligence on the planning of the port actions. He was advised to request the presence of an Anchorage Police Department official to also attend the event. The FBI Special Agent told the undercover private operative that he would notify the Joint Terrorism Task Force and that he would provide a point of contact at the Anchorage Police Department.
The Jacksonville, Florida FBI prepared a Domestic Terrorism briefing on the “spread of the Occupy Wall Street Movement” in October 2011. The intelligence meeting discussed Occupy venues identifying “Daytona, Gainesville and Ocala Resident Agency territories as portions … where some of the highest unemployment rates in Florida continue to exist.”
The Tampa, Florida FBI “Domestic Terrorism” liaison participated with the Tampa Police Department’s monthly intelligence meeting in which Occupy Lakeland, Occupy Polk County and Occupy St. Petersburg were discussed. They reported on an individual “leading the Occupy Tampa” and plans for travel to Gainesville for a protest planning meeting, as well as on Veterans for Peace plans to protest at MacDill Air Force Base.
The Federal Reserve in Richmond appears to have had personnel surveilling OWS planning. They were in contact with the FBI in Richmond to “pass on information regarding the movement known as occupy Wall Street.” There were repeated communications “to pass on updates of the events and decisions made during the small rallies and the following information received from the Capital Police Intelligence Unit through JTTF (Joint Terrorism Task Force).”
The Virginia FBI was collecting intelligence on the OWS movement for dissemination to the Virginia Fusion Center and other Intelligence divisions.
The Milwaukee division of the FBI was coordinating with the Ashwaubenon Public Safety division in Green Bay Wisconsin regarding Occupy.
The Memphis FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force met to discuss “domestic terrorism” threats, including, “Aryan Nations, Occupy Wall Street, and Anonymous.”
The Birmingham, AL division of the FBI sent communications to HAZMAT teams regarding the Occupy Wall Street movement.
The Jackson, Mississippi division of the FBI attended a meeting of the Bank Security Group in Biloxi, MS with multiple private banks and the Biloxi Police Department, in which they discussed an announced protest for “National Bad Bank Sit-In-Day” on December 7, 2011.
The Denver, CO FBI and its Bank Fraud Working Group met and were briefed on Occupy Wall Street in November 2011. Members of the Working Group include private financial institutions and local area law enforcement.
Jackson, MS Joint Terrorism Task Force issued a “Counterterrorism Preparedness” alert. This heavily redacted document includes the description, “To document…the Occupy Wall Street Movement.”
You can read the FBI – OWS documents below where we have uploaded them in searchable format for public viewing.
The PCJF filed Freedom of Information Act demands with multiple federal law enforcement agencies in the fall of 2011 as the Occupy crackdown began. The FBI initially attempted to limit its search to only one limited record keeping index. Recognizing this as a common tactic used by the FBI to conduct an inadequate search, the PCJF pressed forward demanding searches be performed of the FBI headquarters as well as FBI field offices nationwide.
The PCJF will continue to push for public disclosure of the government’s spy files and will release documents as they are obtained.
Related article and video
- Terrorists and criminals: Documents prove FBI monitored OWS (alethonews)
- Policing Dissent (video report)
The Wall Street Journal today published (alternate link) an in-depth review of a new, relatively unknown program run by the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). Although we have been warning about the dangers of the program for months, and I testified before Congress about the issue in July, the Journal’s story conveys how controversial the program was even inside the government. It also describes the broad scope of new authority the government is granting itself.
As the Journal reports, under new guidelines issued by the Attorney General back in March,
The rules now allow the little-known National Counterterrorism Center to examine the government files of U.S. citizens for possible criminal behavior, even if there is no reason to suspect them. That is a departure from past practice, which barred the agency from storing information about ordinary Americans unless a person was a terror suspect or related to an investigation.
Now, NCTC can copy entire government databases—flight records, casino-employee lists, the names of Americans hosting foreign-exchange students and many others. The agency has new authority to keep data about innocent U.S. citizens for up to five years, and to analyze it for suspicious patterns of behavior. Previously, both were prohibited.
The changes also allow databases of U.S. civilian information to be given to foreign governments for analysis of their own. In effect, U.S. and foreign governments would be using the information to look for clues that people might commit future crimes.
The program is striking in so many ways. Innocent people can be investigated and their data kept for years. It can be shared with foreign governments. All of this in service of not just terrorism investigations but also investigations of future crimes. In effect, the U.S. government is using information it gathers for its ordinary business to turn its own citizens into the subjects of terrorism investigations.
Meanwhile, all of this is supposed to be against the law. The Privacy Act of 1974 says that information collected by the federal government for one purpose is not supposed to be used for another. However, agencies are attempting to circumvent these rules by publishing boilerplate notices in the Federal Register. Sadly, that practice has become far too common.
Government officials who have a firsthand look at how the program works are stunned by it:
“It’s breathtaking” in its scope, said a former senior administration official familiar with the White House debate.
And from Mary Ellen Callahan, then the Chief Privacy Officer at the Department of Homeland Security:
the rules would constitute a “sea change” because, whenever citizens interact with the government, the first question asked will be, are they a terrorist?
Worse, all of this happened in secret, approved by National Security Advisor John Brennan and signed off on by Attorney General Eric Holder. No public debate or comment and suddenly, every citizen can be put under the terrorism microscope.
Ironically, all of these changes to the rules came in response to an attempted attack that had nothing to do with information collection or a U.S. citizen. The government cites the attempted 2009 Christmas bombing by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as the impetus for the changes. However, as the Journal story makes clear, Abdulmutallab wasn’t a U.S. citizen, and collecting information on him wasn’t a problem. Instead, his own father had identified him to the U.S. government as a potential terrorist. In short, an attack by a known foreign terror suspect was used to justify changes to rules about collecting information on U.S. citizens.
Finally, credit must be given to those who fought the program. It’s clear that DHS, especially the Privacy Officer, Mary Ellen Callahan, and the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties pushed back hard against this. Nancy Libin, the chief privacy officer at the Department of Justice, also expressed serious reservations and fought an internal battle against the changes. It’s probably not a surprise that none of them are still in government.
If you want to learn more here is a simple guide to the main changes created by the 2012 NCTC guidelines. And here are the Freedom of Information Act documents that we have gathered on NCTC—we will post more as we receive additional records.
Senate Report: Counterterrorism “Fusion Centers” Invade Innocent Americans’ Privacy and Don’t Stop Terrorism
The Department of Homeland Security’s 70 counterterrrorism “fusion centers” produce “predominantly useless information,” “a bunch of crap,” while “running afoul of departmental guidelines meant to guard against civil liberties” and are “possibly in violation of the Privacy Act.”
These may sound like the words of EFF, but in fact, these conclusions come from a new report issued by a US Senate committee. At the cost of up to $1.4 billion, these fusion centers are supposed to facilitate local law enforcement sharing of valuable counterterrorism information to DHS, but according to the report, they do almost everything but.
DHS described its fusion centers as “one of the centerpieces of [its] counterterrorism strategy” and its database was supposed to be a central repository of known or “appropriately suspected” terrorists. In theory, local law enforcement officers, in conjunction with DHS officials, conduct surveillance and write up a report—known as a Homeland Intelligence Report (HIR)—for DHS to review. If credible, DHS would then spread the information to the larger intelligence community.
Yet, the Senate report found the fusion centers failed to uncover a single terrorist threat. Instead, like so many post-9/11 surveillance laws passed under the vague guise of “national security,” the system was overwhelmingly used for ordinary criminal investigations, while at the same time facilitating an egregious amount of violations of innocent Americans’ rights.
An entire section of the Senate report is dedicated to Privacy Act violations and the collection of information completely unrelated to any criminal or terrorist activity in the HIRs. In one instance, a DHS intelligence officer filed a draft report about a US citizen who appeared at a Muslim organization to deliver a day-long motivational talk and a lecture on positive parenting. In another, one intelligence officer decided to report on two men who were fishing at the US-Mexican border. A reviewer commented, “I… think that this should never have been nominated for production, nor passed through three reviews.” A report was even initiated on a motorcycle group for passing out leaflets informing members of their legal rights. A reviewer commented, “The advice given to the groups’ members is protected by the First Amendment.”
Over and over again the Senate report quotes reviewers chastising DHS officials for recording constitutionally protected activities and for publishing such reports. One reviewer wrote, “The number of things that scare me about this report are almost too many to write into this [review] form.” In some cases, DHS retained cancelled draft reports that may have contained information in violation of the Privacy Act for a year or more after the date of the reports’ cancellation. Worse, the intelligence officials responsible “faced no apparent sanction for their transgressions.”
While it’s commendable the Senate exposing these civil liberties violations, the problems detailed in the report are not new. Since the government started its various information sharing programs after 9/11, media organizations have extensively documented how, when they’re not being outright abused by local law enforcement, are overwhelmingly used for ordinary investigations that had nothing to do with terrorism. EFF has long warned that completely innocent Americans’ privacy has become collateral damage in the government’s thirst to collect more and more digital information on its own citizens.
Even DHS’ own internal audits of the fusion centers showed they didn’t work, according to the Senate report. The privacy disaster is also a boondoggle for taxpayers: DHS can’t account for much of the money it spent on the program, estimating they spent between $289 million and $1.4 billion—a discrepancy of more than $900 million dollars.
Despite these facts, Attorney General Eric Holder issued new guidelines in March for the National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) that dramatically expanded the NCTC’s information sharing powers. The NCTC can now mirror entire federal databases containing personal information and hold onto the information for ten times longer than they could before—even if the person is not suspected of any involvement in terrorism. Journalist Marcy Wheeler summed up the new guidelines at the time, saying, “So…the data the government keeps to track our travel, our taxes, our benefits, our identity? It just got transformed from bureaucratic data into national security intelligence.”
Now that the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations has issued this unusually harsh report lambasting the same type of information sharing centers, Eric Holder should also rescind his new data retention guidelines for NCTC counterterrorism centers until new safeguards are put in place. EFF also joins the ACLU’s call for full Congressional hearings on the DHS fusion centers. In fact, the government should issue a moratorium on all fusion centers until this problem is fixed. Local governments can also prevent their law enforcement agencies from participating.
While “information sharing” centers were sold to the American people as providing “a vital role in keeping communities safe all across America,” it’s clear all they’ve done is play a vital role in violating American’s civil liberties.
Homeland Security claimed it had “dropped the plans at an early stage”
Newly released documents clearly show that the The Homeland Security Department continued to pursue a mobile surveillance program, moving radiation firing body scanners out of airports and into streets and shopping malls, despite claiming it has dropped the plans altogether.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) yesterday released the documents, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, showing that the DHS was still operating the program in March 2011, just two days prior to claiming it had “dropped the projects in a very early phase after testing showed flaws”.
Previous EPIC FOIA work produced records showing that the DHS is actively moving to install radiation firing scanners in all manner of public places.
The technologies include “intelligent video,” backscatter x-ray, Millimeter Wave Radar, and Terahertz Wave, and could be deployed at subway platforms, sidewalks, sports arenas, and shopping malls.
EPIC filed a specific lawsuit against the DHS for attempting to keep the program secret.
EPIC’s suit asked a federal court to order disclosure of nearly 1,000 pages of additional records detailing the controversial program – records the agency repeatedly refused to make public, despite freedom of information requests and appeals over the course of several months.
The lawsuit points to an agency under the DHS umbrella, the Science and Technology Directorate, which has released only 15 full pages of documents on the mobile scanners, whilst heavily redacting another 158 pages and withholding 983 pages of documents.
In February 2011, EPIC discovered (PDF) that the DHS had paid contractors “millions of dollars on mobile body scanner technology that could be used at railways, stadiums, and elsewhere” on crowds of moving people.
According to the documents obtained by EPIC, the Transport Security Agency plans to expand the use of these systems to peer under clothes and inside bags away from airports.
The documents included a “Surface Transportation Security Priority Assessment” [PDF] which revealed details of conducting risk assessments and possible implementation of body scanners in “Mass transit, commuter and long-distance passenger rail, freight rail, commercial vehicles (including intercity buses), and pipelines, and related infrastructure (including roads and highways), that are within the territory of the United States.”
The DHS maintained that it had discontinued the program, but refused to provide the proof, invoking several FOIA exemption clauses, ironically including one that cited “invasion of personal privacy”.
EPIC also noted that the DHS has actively deployed “mobile body scanner technology in vans that are able to scan other vehicles while driving down public roadways.”
“These vans, known as ‘Z Backscatter Vans,’ are capable of seeing through vehicles and clothing and routinely store the images that they generate.” EPIC’s lawsuit notes.
As we previously reported, while the focus remained on the TSA’s use of naked body scanners at airports, the feds had already purchased hundreds of x-ray scanners mounted in vans that were being used to randomly scan vehicles, passengers and homes in complete violation of the 4th amendment and with wanton disregard for any health consequences.
WSBTV reported on one instance of the mobile scanners being used to check trucks for explosive devices at an internal checkpoint set up by Homeland Security, the Department of Transportation, and the TSA. Officials admitted there was no specific threat that justified the checkpoint, and although it was labeled a “counter-terror operation,” the scans were also being conducted in the name of “safety”.
EPIC will continue to pursue the case in an attempt to discover whether the DHS still plans to roll out mobile body scanners across America.
- Court Orders TSA to Explain Lawless Use of Naked Body Scanners (thenewamerican.com)
- TSA flouts the law on body scanners (juneauempire.com)