Lawsuit requests records from intelligence agencies that have unlawfully detained, searched, and interrogated filmmaker for six years
Award-winning journalist and filmmaker Laura Poitras on Monday filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and U.S. intelligence agencies for subjecting her to what she called “Kafkaesque” harassment at airports throughout the U.S. and the world on dozens of occasions.
Poitras, who won an Academy Award last year for Citizenfour, the documentary about NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, said she has been detained, searched without warrant, interrogated for hours, and had vital belongings confiscated more than 50 times over the course of six years—without ever being charged with a crime.
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit names the DOJ, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and demands the release of all records from those agencies on Poitras.
In a statement on Monday, the filmmaker, who is being represented by the civil liberties group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), made clear that her lawsuit stood for more than just her own experiences.
“I’m filing this lawsuit because the government uses the U.S. border to bypass the rule of law,” Poitras said. “This simply should not be tolerated in a democracy. I am also filing this suit in support of the countless other less high-profile people who have also been subjected to years of Kafkaesque harassment at the borders. We have a right to know how this system works and why we are targeted.”
Poitras has spoken openly about her harassment at U.S. borders, which included reportedly being placed on the government’s No Fly List after returning home from filming My Country, My Country, a 2006 documentary which profiled Iraqi critics of the U.S. occupation.
She has also had her laptop, camera, mobile phone, and reporter notebooks seized and their contents copied, according to the suit. On one occasion, Poitras was allegedly threatened with handcuffing for taking notes during her detention, as border agents said her pen could be used as a weapon.
This is not the first time that Poitras has filed FOIAs with intelligence agencies for their records on her detainment, but the departments have evaded her requests at every turn.
“The government used its power to detain people at airports, in the name of national security, to target a journalist whose work has focused on the effects of the U.S. war on terror,” said David Sobel, EFF senior counsel. “In refusing to respond to Poitras’ FOIA requests and wrongfully withholding the documents about her it has located, the government is flouting its responsibility to explain and defend why it subjected a law-abiding citizen—whose work has shone a light on post-9/11 military and intelligence activities—to interrogations and searches every time she entered her country.”
EFF attorney Jamie Lee Williams added: “We are suing the government to force it to disclose any records that would show why security officials targeted Poitras for six years, even though she had no criminal record and there was no indication that she posed any security risk. By spurning Poitras’ FOIA requests, the government leaves the impression that her detentions were a form of retaliation and harassment of a journalist whose work has focused on U.S. policy in the post-9/11 world.”
In addition to her documentary film work, Poitras is a recipient of the MacArthur Genius Grant and has won the Pulitzer for her reporting on the NSA leaks. My Country, My Country and Citizenfour are part of a series of films exploring post-9/11 America, along with 2010’s The Oath, a documentary about Guantanamo Bay prison.
The DOJ is investing millions of dollars in research to spy on students at public schools nationwide
The Department of Justice’s National Institute for Justice funds law enforcement research to the tune of tens of millions of dollars each year. The full list of grants, posted each year, is a valuable insight into future of law enforcement trends in the United States. NIJ funding for 2014 appears to have primarily focused on two issue areas: school safety and clearing DNA backlogs at police departments across the country.
Among the dozens of projects that focus on school safety, there are some that appear progressive, at least judging from the limited amount of information available online. But while a slice of the funding explicitly aims to examine and interrupt the school to prison pipeline using restorative justice methodologies, a lot of the money is going toward research that will probably further entrench disparate outcomes based on race in the criminalizing trend in school discipline.
One of those projects is a City of Chicago Board of Education program called “Connect and Redirect to Respect (CRR),” which aims “to use social media monitoring to identify and connect youth to behavioral interventions.” In other words, the DOJ is giving $2.1 million dollars to the Chicago public schools to conduct research on how spying on student social media can impact school discipline. In New York, police spying on youth social media has resulted in the criminalization of speech.
Elsewhere, DOJ awarded nearly $2.5 million to the University of Virginia to study how “student threat assessment” is a “safe and supportive prevention strategy.” DOJ gave the Miami-Dade public schools $4.2 million for research on a project called “Enhancing School Safety Through Digital Intelligence: Evaluating Campus Shield.”
Among the projects DOJ funded that are not related to DNA testing or schools are the following:
- Nearly $4 million to the private Rand Corporation to identify law enforcement technology needs;
- $200,000 to Rand for something called the “Electronic Surveillance Continuation Project”;
- About $500,000 to Carnegie Melon University for research into something called an “Adaptive Expert System that Learns to Detect and Track Patterns of Crime in Internet Advertisements”;
- Follow-up funding, to reach a total of nearly $5 million, to FBI-connected private firm ManTech for “contactless finger print assessment”;
- $261,000 to Arkansas State University to study internet “radicalization”;
- About $4 million to war contractor Lockheed Martin “to operate a National Criminal Justice Technology Information Resource Center (NCJ-TIRC) within the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center (NLECTC) System”;
- $330,000 to Boston’s Children’s Hospital for research on “Gang Affiliation and Radicalization to Violent Extremism within Somali-American Communities”; and
- $500,000 to the Chicago Police Department’s predictive policing program.
Read the full list of NIJ projects funded in 2014.
Though never elected to any office, for 50 years he was more powerful than presidents. As head of the FBI he knew what everyone else wanted to keep hidden.