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An FBI Informant's Unlikely Role in Upcoming Supreme Court Case on Surveillance of Muslims

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 12/09/2021 - 8:00pm in

Craig Monteilh was no stranger to federal agents. A hulking man who’d spent much of his teenage and adult years as an amateur bodybuilder, Monteilh had once made a living ripping off drug dealers. One time, in 1986, the deal went bad, and Monteilh found himself sitting across the table from agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration. They gave him two options: Go to prison, or become an informant.

Monteilh chose the latter, launching a career as a professional snitch that lasted more than two decades. Because of his ethnically ambiguous appearance, Monteilh was a versatile informant for both the DEA and the FBI — going into cases with covers ranging from a white supremacist to a Russian hit man to a Sicilian drug trafficker.

“I was very good at what I did,” Monteilh boasted.

In 2006, two agents with the FBI’s counterterrorism section — which had gone from a low-priority outfit prior to 9/11 to the bureau’s best-funded one — approached Monteilh with an ambitious new assignment. They wanted him to pose as a Muslim convert and infiltrate mosques throughout Southern California, home to an estimated half-million Muslims, a diverse set of Islamic worshippers living in shadows of Disneyland in sprawling Orange County.

“This was a massive undertaking for the FBI,” Monteilh said. “It was an experiment — that’s what they called it — to see if I could actually fool an entire community. I’m a white guy, right? My backstory was that my mother was Syrian. My father was French. My father suppressed our religious heritage on my mother’s side.”

Monteilh spent the next 18 months secretly recording conversations with unsuspecting Muslims and providing intelligence back to the FBI about scores of men and women whose only apparent transgression was practicing their religion. The name of the FBI program, Operation Flex, came from Monteilh being a lifelong gym rat. By offering his services as a fitness instructor to Muslim men, the FBI figured, Monteilh could build trust and identify potential security threats.

“I remember being introduced to him as a new convert,” said Yassir Fazaga, an imam in Southern California at the time. “He was very fit. I remember telling him that. He even mentioned that he could train with me.”

Monteilh eventually had a falling-out with the FBI after he was sent to prison on state criminal charges. Upon his release in 2008, he had a score to settle. He held a makeshift press conference with local media in his living room and blew the whistle on Operation Flex, describing how he spied on Muslims for the FBI without having any reason to believe that these people were committing crimes.

Not long after Monteilh went public, the American Civil Liberties Union contacted him to explore an alliance. Monteilh agreed to document his activities for the FBI in a sworn affidavit, and the ACLU filed a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. government in 2011 alleging that federal agents had violated constitutional protections.

“The use of the state secrets privilege was entirely to protect the FBI’s methodology from public scrutiny and legal accountability.”

In November, the case will go before the U.S. Supreme Court, which will consider whether the Justice Department should be allowed to effectively scuttle the lawsuit without a trial. As in many cases of the post-9/11 era, the federal government hopes to do so by asserting the so-called state secrets privilege — which allows the U.S. government to block the release of information that could harm national security.

Michael German, a former FBI agent who is now a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, believes that the government isn’t concerned about state secrets so much as about escaping public accountability for its actions. “The use of the state secrets privilege was entirely to protect the FBI’s methodology from public scrutiny and legal accountability, so that the practices could continue without a public acknowledgement that might drive reform efforts,” German said.

The case has become one of the most significant legal challenges of the FBI’s post-9/11 surveillance of Muslims — with Monteilh, a brawny and uncouth man, the unlikely central figure.

But the ACLU and Monteilh have fundamentally different motivations for trying to force the government to reveal what happened during Operation Flex. The ACLU is attempting to hold the government accountable for what it views as an unconstitutional spying program that targeted a religious minority, while Monteilh said he wants the world to know that he’s a world-class spy singularly responsible for one of the most significant domestic intelligence-gathering programs of the post-9/11 era.

“It benefits me to be involved in this case,” Monteilh said after the Supreme Court announced it would hear the case. “It’s my legacy. I created it. This is me. I am Operation Flex.”

 Mohammed Ali, 85, leaves the Garden Grove mosque on November 14, 2010, in Garden Grove, CA.  There is growing tension between the Muslim community of southern California and the FBI after an informant, Craig Monteilh, infiltrated local mosques to gather information only a month after local FBI leaders told the leaders of the Muslim community that the FBI would do no such thing.  Now, Monteilh is suing the FBI over their treatment of him and he's telling details of his operation. (Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

A Muslim man leaves a mosque on Nov. 14, 2010, in Garden Grove, Calif.

Photo: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The Post-9/11 Surveillance Apparatus

Eleven years ago, while researching how the FBI responded to terrorism threats during the first decade after the 9/11 attacks, I met Craig Monteilh in his lawyer’s office near the John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California.

Monteilh was wearing dark dress slacks and a light-purple button-down shirt made of a synthetic silk material that glimmered below the neon lights of the office. Monteilh has a muscular, top-heavy frame, and he moves like a child’s action-figure toy. His neck is so thick, he never fastens the top button of his shirt. His shaved head gives you a clear view of his large skull, and on the sides of his forehead, you can plainly see the veins bulging below the taut skin near his temples.

“I’m not Mr. Universe, but I am Mr. Inconspicuous, right?” Monteilh told me.

The FBI’s post-9/11 surveillance program in Muslim communities nationwide is something that we know a lot about now, two decades into the so-called war on terror: The bureau recruited more than 15,000 informants, the most ever in its history, and used these people to find information, such as immigration, criminal, or financial problems, that could be used as leverage to recruit other informants. The informant ranks swelled so quickly that the FBI developed a software program, called Delta, to track and manage its human sources. These informants also led hundreds of Muslims nationwide into aggressive FBI counterterrorism sting operations, in which undercover agents or informants played essential parts in supposed terror plots, often providing the weapons, money, and logistical support needed.

But a decade ago, around when I first met Monteilh, journalists like me were only beginning to understand the full scale and potential illegality of the FBI’s post-9/11 surveillance of Muslims. It was difficult then to assess Monteilh’s credibility: While he had documents that proved he had worked for the government, including a letter from the FBI that referred to a nondisclosure agreement he signed during Operation Flex, Monteilh had a checkered past. He’d been in and out of trouble with the law, and as a longtime government informant, he’d effectively become a professional liar — not an innately trustworthy source.

Monteilh also had a habit of dribbling out over time new details about what he did in Operation Flex. That made it appear that he was playing the press in a fairly sophisticated attempt to stay in the limelight — or that he was just making up more and more salacious details, such as his claim that the FBI ordered him to have sexual relationships with Muslim women, that he knew would titillate journalists. As a result, early news reports about Monteilh danced around questions of his credibility: His story was incredible, and important if true, but should we believe it?

Two decades after 9/11, the blanket surveillance of U.S. Muslim communities under the guise of counterterrorism is no longer surprising or controversial. But in the first decade after 9/11, when Monteilh went public with what he’d done, that wasn’t the case.

“A lot of the surveillance of the Muslim community that people were so upset about during that period has become normalized,” said Ahilan Arulanantham, the ACLU lawyer who is suing the government over Monteilh’s spying. “The FBI still goes out and interviews people in the Muslim community, still sometimes asking people about where they go mosque, what does the imam say, how many times you pray. The whole infrastructure for watchlisting — with the no-fly list and the terrorist screening database and all that — is in place.”

The FBI’s surveillance of Muslim communities was rooted in an effort to correct the intelligence failures of 9/11. In the run-up to the attacks, the FBI was technologically hobbled, having suffered for years under its previous director, Louis Freeh, an avowed Luddite. On the day the twin towers fell, for example, FBI agents were forced to use fax machines to distribute photos of the suspected hijackers. “Agents lacked access to even the most basic internet technology,” John Ashcroft, then the attorney general, explained to the 9/11 Commission, which was created to investigate the U.S.’s failure to prevent the attack.

After the attacks, President George W. Bush told Robert Mueller, who had taken over as FBI director just a week earlier, that a “never again” counterterrorism policy needed to be instituted. Mueller’s FBI responded to this by aggressively recruiting informants from Muslim communities and following up on any lead, no matter how ridiculous, encouraged by the government’s splashy “If you see something, say something” sloganeering.

The bureau also embraced technology and data as tools for fighting crime and preventing terrorism. In 2005, Mueller brought Philip Mudd, the former second-in-command of the CIA Counterterrorism Mission Center, to the FBI as deputy director of the newly established national security branch. Mudd took over an FBI program, called Domain Management, that tracked immigrants suspected of being involved in industrial espionage for their home countries. Mudd expanded Domain Management to include government and commercial data in a way that allowed the FBI to map Muslim communities throughout the United States. Inside the bureau, some veteran agents described Mudd’s expanded Domain Management as unproductive and intrusive, with one FBI executive alleging during a high-level meeting that Mudd had pushed the bureau to “the dark side.” (Mudd has since remade himself as a fire-breathing commentator on CNN.)

Some FBI agents referred to Domain Management as “Battlefield Management,” for the way it allowed the bureau to target specific geographic areas based on estimated Muslim populations. It was in this context that the FBI secretly launched Operation Flex in Southern California in 2006 and brought in Monteilh as the primary informant.

 Khadija Bawahab, 3rd from left, walks with her grandchildren, from left, Rayhan Bawahab, Jamila Bawahab, and Bilal following Eid al-Adha prayers at the Omar al Farouk mosque on November 16, 2010, in Anaheim, CA.  There is growing tension between the Muslim community of southern California and the FBI after an informant, Craig Monteilh, infiltrated local mosques - including this mosque - to gather information only a month after local FBI leaders told the leaders of the Muslim community that the FBI would do no such thing.  Now, Monteilh is suing the FBI over their treatment of him and he's telling details of his operation. (Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

A Muslim woman walks with her grandchildren following Eid al-Adha prayers at the Omar Al-Farouk mosque on Nov. 16, 2010, in Anaheim, Calif.

Photo: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Operation Flex

Monteilh entered Orange County’s Muslim communities as someone interested in Islam. He was embraced by local Muslims, and he took shahada, the profession of faith. Monteilh worked out with dozens of men, played video games with others, went on dates with Muslim women, and in a short time became a well-known convert in Southern California’s Muslim communities. He carried around secret FBI recording devices that looked like car key fobs and surreptitiously recorded conversations with hundreds of Muslim worshippers.

He was the tip of the spear for a metastasizing surveillance operation that he says targeted a group of people based solely on their religious activity. If true, that is a constitutional violation. The FBI was most interested, Monteilh said, in information that could be used as leverage to recruit informants — such as information about financial or immigration problems.

“People think the FBI goes around making arrests of Muslims. They do not want to arrest Muslims,” Monteilh said. “They want to enlist them as informants, and they’ve done it. It’s been 15 years since I’ve been in, right? I look at some people who were 23 and now they’re 38, and they’re imams now. And they’re informants. And I know, because I gave the intel.”

Monteilh had been a federal informant long enough to know the game, and he worked the FBI as much as he did Southern California’s Muslim communities. Knowing that the bureau tries to keep compensation paid to informants artificially low — in order to prevent a potential jury from viewing an informant’s testimony as being bought by the FBI — Monteilh grossly inflated his reimbursable expenses, collecting receipts wherever he could and inflating his monthly living expenses. With a wink and a nod, the FBI paid Monteilh $177,000 for his spying on Muslims in Southern California.

But the whole FBI operation soon fell apart. The leadership of a local mosque, concerned that Monteilh was an extremist, reported him to the FBI and filed a restraining order. About six months later, local police arrested Monteilh for his involvement in a scheme to con two women out of more than $150,000. Monteilh pleaded guilty to the state criminal charge and spent eight months in prison.

During the time that Monteilh was secretly spying for the FBI, Southern California’s Muslim communities, and others nationwide, began to suspect that federal law enforcement agents were targeting them without cause. Fazaga, the Eritrean-born imam who had once complimented Monteilh on his physique, invited J. Stephen Tidwell, an FBI assistant director in charge of the bureau’s Los Angeles office, to his mosque to address community concerns. Tidwell told congregants at the meeting that the FBI was not spying on Muslim communities. During the meeting, Fazaga asked Tidwell about a local newspaper report that said the FBI was surveilling Muslim students at the University of California, Irvine. “We don’t trust that,” Fazaga said of Tidwell’s assurance that the FBI wasn’t spying.

Tidwell glared at Fazaga angrily. “You’re calling me a liar?” Tidwell said.

According to Monteilh, the FBI instructed him after this meeting to devote additional time on gathering more information about Fazaga. “The FBI was pissed,” Monteilh said.

GettyImages-566068019

Federal officials stand outside the home of Ahmadullah Sais Niazi in Tustin, Calif., on Feb. 20, 2009. Niazi was arrested as part of Operation Flex.

Photo: Don Bartletti/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

An Uneasy Alliance

Whether Operation Flex was a successful, productive mission for the FBI is debatable. Since the FBI won’t disclose what information agents obtained, the only available source is Monteilh, who claims that he not only provided information that led to the recruitment of dozens of informants but that he also led the government closer to Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was killed by U.S. special forces in Pakistan in 2011.

Monteilh’s bin Laden claim would be easy to dismiss as the bravado of an egotistical, self-interested informant were it not for the fact that there’s some evidence to suggest it could have merit. The most significant arrest to come out of Operation Flex was of Ahmadullah Sais Niazi, who was charged with immigration violations for allegedly not reporting his previous association with Al Qaeda on his U.S. citizenship application. Niazi’s brother-in-law was bin Laden’s former bodyguard, and Monteilh secretly recorded his conversations with Niazi, who allegedly described witnessing bin Laden arrive by helicopter to Afghanistan in 1996.

While working as an FBI informant, Monteilh recorded the incriminating statements Niazi had allegedly made. But Monteilh’s decision to turn against the FBI ultimately cost the government its case against Niazi. After going public with his claims about Operation Flex, Monteilh met with Niazi’s lawyers and claimed that the FBI had tried to recruit Niazi as an informant by threatening to leak embarrassing information about his personal life. The government then dismissed the charges against Niazi, who remains in the United States but has never spoken publicly about his case.

The alliance between the ACLU and Monteilh is an uneasy one, because they have markedly different motivations. Monteilh hopes the litigation will force the government to reveal what happened during Operation Flex — information that he believes will cast him as a kind of superspy and unsung American hero who played a supporting role in the death of bin Laden. “I believe that Operation Flex is illegal. It does violate the civil rights of Muslim Americans,” Monteilh said. “I don’t like that at all. At the same time, I do believe it’s a necessary evil. I believe that, because I lived it.”

The ACLU, meanwhile, is trying to hold the government accountable for illegal spying. “It’s a complicated relationship, to put it mildly,” said Arulanantham, the ACLU lawyer. “Craig Monteilh is obviously a critical witness insofar as he’s the one who engaged in all the illegal activity at the heart of this litigation, but it’s also extensively corroborated by our clients because they interacted with Craig. They remember very well how he came into their community and how over the course of several months really made life miserable for at least hundreds of Muslims once they realized the government was trying to spy on them.”

Monteilh is transparent about one thing: He’s in this for himself. “I sought two things — fame and fortune, in that order,” Monteilh said. “I wanted to make a name for myself. I wanted to make a reputation for myself that I’m proud of. And the money comes later. I was an American spy, and I pulled it off, didn’t I? I love that about me.”

Ahilan Arulanantham, 2016 MacArthur Fellow, ACLU Southern California Offices, Los Angeles, CA, 09.10.2016

Left: Ahilan Arulanantham of the American Civil Liberties Union. Right: Council of American-Islamic Relations California deputy executive director and staff attorney Ameena Mirza Qazi, middle, takes questions at the ACLU Foundation of Southern California headquarters in Los Angeles on Feb. 23, 2011.

Photo: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Damian Dovarganes/AP

State Secrets

Monteilh’s road to fame and fortune has been a long one. The ACLU filed its lawsuit in 2011. Just six months later, then-Attorney General Eric Holder declared the state secrets privilege — which allows the U.S. government to block the release of information that could harm national security. Holder’s claim covered all potential evidence in the ACLU’s lawsuit, a tactic the Bush administration had used aggressively in earlier cases, such as the ACLU’s challenge to the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program.

“The government is saying: ‘We didn’t target people solely on the basis of religion. Beyond that, we can’t say anything because of state secrets, and therefore, the whole case has to be dismissed,’” said Arulanantham.

The ACLU is not asking the U.S. government for any information related to Operation Flex. Arulanantham and the rest of the ACLU’s legal team believe that they can adequately make their case with testimony from Monteilh and the people he spied on for the FBI.

The Justice Department isn’t asserting the state secrets privilege to stop the ACLU from rooting around in classified files. Instead, the Justice Department is asserting that the ACLU’s claims are untrue — that no one was targeted solely for their religious beliefs — but that they can’t reveal the evidence to support that claim, even confidentially to a federal judge, because of national security concerns.

The state secrets privilege is a legal doctrine that was built on a lie. In 1948, an Air Force B-29 bomber, carrying secret navigational equipment, crashed in a rural area of Georgia. Four civilian crew members were killed in the crash, and their widows sued the government for copies of the accident report. The government asserted state secrets privilege, claiming that the release of the report would damage national security, and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with the government. Decades later, in the 1990s, the Air Force crash report from 1948 was declassified, and it did not contain national security secrets. Instead, the report contained only evidence of the government’s negligence to maintain the aircraft and train the civilian crew members on escape procedures.

The state secrets privilege is a legal doctrine that was built on a lie.

State secrets privilege became more common in the post-9/11 era. From 2001 to 2009, for example, the government asserted the privilege in more than 100 cases, according to a report by Georgetown University. Earlier this month, the U.S. government asserted the privilege in a lawsuit filed by former Saudi counterterrorism official Saad Aljabri, who claims that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman tried to have him killed.

As with the 1948 crash case and the case involving the former Saudi official, the U.S. government claimed that information from Operation Flex would damage national security if it were made public in federal court.

In response to the government’s state secrets claim, a federal district court upheld the privilege and dismissed the lawsuit out of hand. A federal appellate court in 2019 then reversed the lower court’s decision on all but one of the claims and ruled that the state secrets privilege was an overreach. The appellate court also ruled that the ACLU’s class of plaintiffs could seek monetary damages from the FBI for any warrantless wiretaps of their homes and offices associated with Operation Flex.

The appellate court suggested that the Justice Department can resolve the state secrets issue by following protocols established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Under that law, a federal judge can review secret government evidence and rule on whether the evidence supports the government’s claims.

If the government has secret evidence that exonerates the FBI in Operation Flex, Arulanantham will argue before the Supreme Court, “then they have to show it to a court and the court has to evaluate if that’s actually true.”

That’s the issue now before the Supreme Court, which will hear arguments on November 8. The Supreme Court ruling won’t be on whether Operation Flex and similar post-9/11 surveillance programs were illegal but rather whether the U.S. government can assert state secrets privilege to avoid that very legal challenge. For that reason, this unusual case, involving a self-interested informant who believes that his spying was illegal but justified, has become one of the most significant legal challenges of the FBI’s post-9/11 abuses.

“We are at the highest court,” Monteilh said. “I don’t mind saying this part out loud: We’re at that place because of me. I am the central figure of this case, aren’t I? Undoubtedly. And I am proud of that.”

The post An FBI Informant’s Unlikely Role in Upcoming Supreme Court Case on Surveillance of Muslims appeared first on The Intercept.

How Post-9/11 Visions of an Imperiled Homeland Supercharged U.S. Immigration Enforcement

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 11/09/2021 - 12:07am in

Nine days after the September 11 attacks, President George W. Bush stood before Congress and delivered one of the most consequential speeches in modern history, outlining for the country and the world the shape his administration’s new “war on terror” would take. There would be no quarter for America’s enemies, Bush vowed, and the campaign would be waged at home as well as abroad.

“Our nation has been put on notice: We are not immune from attack,” the president said. To address this vulnerability, Bush announced the creation of a new Office of Homeland Security, which would oversee “a comprehensive national strategy to safeguard our country against terrorism and respond to any attacks that may come.” Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, a Republican, Vietnam combat veteran, and friend of the president’s, would lead the effort. “These measures are essential,” Bush said. “The only way to defeat terrorism as a threat to our way of life is to stop it, eliminate it, and destroy it where it grows.”

Just over a year later, on November 25, 2002, Bush signed the Homeland Security Act, paving the way for the largest restructuring of the U.S. national security state since the creation of the CIA and the Department of Defense a half-century earlier.

Bush’s once compassionate descriptions of life on the southern border gave way to a narrative of unending existential threat.

With the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, a megabureaucracy comprised of 22 federal agencies, Bush’s once compassionate descriptions of life on the southern border gave way to a narrative of unending existential threat. Just six days before 9/11, Bush had stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Mexican President Vicente Fox on the South Lawn of the White House to herald a new era of sweeping immigration reform. “I want to remind people: Fearful people build walls. Confident people tear them down,” he said. By the time he signed the landmark homeland security legislation 14 months later, Bush was telling reporters and lawmakers that “the front of the new war is here in America.”

Two decades after 9/11, the birth of DHS stands out as the most significant domestic consequence of the war on terror, having taken the intensity, scope, and funding of U.S. border and immigration enforcement to heights previously unseen in the nation’s history.

  Former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge (R) is sworn-in as Director of the newly created Cabinet-level position of the Office of Homeland Security 08 October, 2001 by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (L) as US President George W. Bush watches in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC. The new position was created by the president to deal with terrorism within US borders.   AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images)

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, right, is sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, left, as director of the Office of Homeland Security while President George W. Bush looks on, in the White House in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 8, 2001.

Photo: Paul J. Richards /AFP via Getty Images

Through the department’s two largest components — Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which receive more federal funding than the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Secret Service, the U.S. Marshals, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives combined — the U.S. has become the world’s leading jailer of immigrants. Most of those individuals are held in a network of for-profit jails that exploded in profitability following the attacks. Across the Southwest, pressure to increase DHS enforcement reshaped the federal court system, with daily mass prosecutions of migrants and other low level immigration offenses consistently consuming more of the federal docket than any other crime for much of the past two decades.

Since 2001, the binational border communities that Bush once celebrated have been cut off by taller and taller walls and the planet’s most sophisticated border surveillance apparatus. In the past two decades, at least 9,000 migrants pushed by this apparatus into the country’s deadliest terrain have died. While lining the pockets of defense contractors north of the international divide, the militarization has transformed unauthorized border crossing into a massive black market, attracting organized crime, corrupt U.S. agents, and abusive Mexican security forces who target migrants as disposable commodities through systematic kidnapping and extortion.

Under President Donald Trump, public questioning of DHS, including whether it should continue to exist, became common. Family separations at the border, Border Patrol special operations teams in Portland, reports of intelligence tampering at the highest levels of the department — the scandals and reports of abuse were unending. By the summer of 2020, sitting lawmakers were expressing regret for having ever voted for the creation of the department. Top Bush and Obama-era national security officials have since called for a serious retooling of the department. Others have called for its full dismantlement.

Michael Chertoff, the second secretary of DHS, oversaw the department in the formative years of 2005 to 2009, presiding over a historic expansion of the Border Patrol and the construction of hundreds of miles of border wall. He rejects the notion that the actions the government took post-9/11 qualify as militarization.

Chertoff Visits Arizona-Mexico Border Crossing

Framed between two U.S. Border Patrol agents, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff addresses the media at a press conference at a Border Patrol station in Douglass, Ariz., on May 5, 2005.

Photo: Jeff Topping/Getty Images

“The truth is, the border was not well patrolled,” Chertoff told The Intercept. “I don’t think we militarized it.” By incorporating radars and sensors, DHS was aiming to “build more technical capability,” he said. “We did build some barriers, but we did not intend to build barriers across 2,000 miles,” Chertoff said. “The idea was to simply make it possible to deter and intercept illegal cross-border smuggling and that’s part of what your responsibility is — not just because of terrorism, but just in general. You’ve got to be able to control your borders.”

Erika Andiola sees that history differently. For her, the creation of DHS was about something deeper. Today, Andiola is chief advocacy officer at the Texas-based Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, or RAICES, but in 1998, she was an 11-year-old girl from Mexico crossing the border with her mother to escape an abusive father. In 2013, Andiola’s mother and brother were arrested by ICE in Phoenix. By that point, Andiola was already a nationally known undocumented activist. An online outcry spared her family members from deportation. Andiola has been fighting for the creation of a humane immigration system ever since.

“The entire narrative just became that we were the threat — we were the actual enemy of the nation.”

Last year, Andiola and RAICES produced a podcast series examining the creation and legacy of DHS. Throughout the series, Andiola makes the case that the post-9/11 collapsing of immigration into national security radically altered the quality of life for immigrants and undocumented people in the U.S. — and not for the better.

“It wasn’t just the actual policies and the funding and creation of these agencies, it was also how the framing of immigration started changing,” Andiola told The Intercept. “The entire narrative just became that we were the threat — we were the actual enemy of the nation.”

USA-Mexico Border

U.S. National Guard members patrol the U.S.-Mexico border fence near San Ysidro, Calif., on May 14, 2004.

Photo: Christopher Morris/Corbis via Getty Images

Think Big

In the early days, a minor mystery surrounded the origins of DHS: How exactly did the Bush administration settle on the name?

“Etymology unknown, don’t have a clue,” Ridge told the New York Times in 2002. The name, with its linguistic ties to authoritarian regimes from the Nazis to Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, was controversial. “The word ‘homeland’ is a strange word,” then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld observed in a February 2001 memo. “‘Homeland’ Defense sounds more German than American. Also, it smacks of isolationism, which I am uncomfortable with. Third, what we are really talking about, I suppose, is ‘population’ as opposed to ‘homeland.’ Let’s visit about this.”

Concerns about the word “homeland” would continue to crop up again and again in the coming years. The Times, in the same article that quoted Ridge, reported that the administration borrowed the term from a 1997 Pentagon report. Ridge, who suffered a stroke in July, declined through a spokesperson to be interviewed for this story. One of his top deputies at the time, James Loy, said the paper’s reporting was accurate.

The use of “homeland” was “a clear reference to the already existing homeland defense staff inside the Pentagon,” Loy told The Intercept. For Loy, who was commandant of the Coast Guard on September 11 and later served as deputy secretary of DHS, the move from homeland defense to homeland security was the “very logical extrapolation of what it was determined the nation needed in the aftermath of the attacks on 9/11.” In his view, the U.S. had suffered an invasion by nonstate actors, specifically foreigners who had breached its perimeters. “This was something that happened to us on our turf,” Loy said. “In my estimation and in the estimation of many, many, many others, the designed effort to build a construct known as the Department of Homeland Security was exactly what this country needed in the aftermath of 9/11 because of the unique nature of that attack.”

Getting there was not easy. Though Ridge was a well-liked Republican figure — “This is a guy that left law school, left Harvard Law School, so as to be able to sign up as a sergeant in the Army in Vietnam,” Loy said — the Bush administration had long resisted calls to stand up a whole new department, let alone one of the size that DHS would become.

In the spring of 2001, former Sens. Gary Hart and Warren B. Rudman had released a report on the nation’s state of preparedness in the face of a national catastrophe, including a terror attack. The report found that the federal government’s capacities were “fragmented and inadequate.” Though he did order a “national preparedness review,” Vice President Dick Cheney opposed the creation of a new department in response to the findings on the grounds that it was “a big-government mistake,” aides told the Washington Post. Ridge was facing an uphill battle.

Multiple factors influenced the administration’s eventual change of heart. For one, Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Democrat, was moving forward with proposed legislation to create a homeland-focused department. “While many Republicans were leery about a vast new bureaucracy, they did not want to cede the homeland security issue to the Democrats,” the Post reported. In April 2002, White House chief of staff Andrew Card called together a small group of mid-level staffers to explore options for addressing concerns that the nation’s domestic security apparatus was riddled with vulnerabilities. The group became known as the “Gang of Five.” Mark Everson, then a deputy director at the Office of Management and Budget, was one of the members.

“Think big, do what’s right, and don’t worry about the politics.”

Everson, who later headed the IRS and ran against Trump on the 2016 Republican ticket, had served as deputy commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, or INS, in the 1980s, overseeing the implementation of President Ronald Reagan’s landmark 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act. He recalled his boss at OMB, Mitch Daniels, giving him three instructions before joining Card’s select team: “Think big, do what’s right, and don’t worry about the politics.” Beyond that, the gang was on its own. They poured over the Hart-Rudman Commission and past studies on military homeland defense. “We looked at all of the existing proposals,” Everson told The Intercept. “There were never instructions to achieve a particular outcome.”

The gang met on a nearly daily basis and regularly presented their progress to a tightly controlled group of senior administration officials in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center, the same nuclear-proof bunker under the East Wing of the White House where Cheney sheltered during 9/11. The work was highly secretive. “People were brought into the office on a need-to-know basis,” Everson recalled. After six weeks, they completed their proposal. “The remarkable thing about this in the context of Washington is the president didn’t announce the proposal until June 6, and I remember that morning turning on the radio and there was no leak of it,” Everson said. Not even Bush’s Cabinet secretaries saw it coming.

Nearly two dozen agencies, from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to the Secret Service, were folded into the new department. The biggest changes were in the border and immigration agencies, which became Everson’s responsibility. INS was axed entirely. Customs, previously under the Treasury Department, was attached to the Border Patrol to form CBP, while an entirely new agency, ICE, was created to carry out immigration enforcement and criminal investigations with a nexus to the border.

The last time the U.S. government had done something as big as the creation of DHS, it was coming out of a world war. Forty years later, in the mid-1980s, Congress was still fine-tuning the results through legislation restructuring the Pentagon. Everson and his colleagues expected a similar, multidecade tweaking process for DHS. “There were no illusions amongst the five of us that this was going to be a perfect Swiss watch right from the get-go,” he said.

Looking back, Everson believes that the department’s creation was properly matched to the terrifying uncertainty of the moment. Experts were warning of terrorists walking into malls with bombs strapped to their backs, he noted. From his vantage point in Washington, D.C., where the most powerful military in history had seen a jet-size hole blown into its global headquarters, that scenario that felt entirely plausible. “It wasn’t a question of if,” he said, “but when.”

  The Department of Homeland Security main complex is shown January 8, 2010 in Washington, DC. U.S. President Barack Obama has ordered DHS to "aggressively pursue" advanced screening technology and to fix gaps in the way intelligence is distributed, analyzed and compared to watch lists used to identify potential threats against the U.S.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The Department of Homeland Security main complex is seen in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 8, 2010.

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Shockwaves and Shortcomings

The surprise unveiling of DHS sent shockwaves through the federal bureaucracy. James Tomsheck remembers the moment he saw the department’s organizational chart for the first time. “Literally it looked like a plate of spaghetti,” he told The Intercept. “There were so many lines pointing in different directions and connecting different entities of the new department.”

Beginning his law enforcement career as a local cop, Tomsheck had spent two and half decades rising to the senior ranks of the Secret Service. With the creation of DHS, he would serve as the contact point between the service and the “new department.” Bit by bit, as he learned more about how the new arrangement came together, he grew increasingly concerned.

James Tomsheck

James Tomsheck poses in his office in Washington, D.C., on June 5, 2009.

Photo: Alex Brandon/AP

As Tomsheck saw it, the foundational problems with DHS were two-fold. First, it was conceived in a vacuum. Based on his interactions, he concluded that the Gang of Five were “very nice, very smart people, none of which had a clue how to execute a law enforcement mission.” He added: “They made a lot of mistakes because the department was created in a vacuum without any input from those that would execute the mission.” Second, once the wheels were publicly in motion, the voices shaping the creation of the largest domestic law enforcement agency in the history of the country were often those of U.S. military officials.

“A lot of good people that came from the Navy, the Coast Guard, a lot of Marines, more than a few Army — generals and admirals,” Tomsheck said. “Smart people that had served our country well but had never been involved in the execution of law enforcement and had no idea how to relate to law enforcement organizations.”

DHS officially began operations on January 24, 2003, becoming the largest agency in the federal government after the military. Ridge was sworn in that day. From the start, there were questions as to whether the new department could carry out its core missions.

In the wake of 9/11, lawmakers were intensely focused on improving information sharing between the FBI and the CIA. The new department was supposed to address the issue. One of the great ironies of DHS, however, is that despite the central role that the intelligence sharing problem played in justifying its creation, the department would never have the authority or institutional weight to meaningfully influence the relationship between the country’s premier law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Four days after Ridge was sworn in, Bush announced the creation of a new Terrorist Threat Integration Center that would specifically exist to synthesize FBI and CIA intelligence sharing — it would not fall under DHS. Ridge learned of the news from watching the president’s speech.

In place of a reckoning, the FBI and CIA became flush with cash, swagger, and congressional support.

In place of a reckoning, the FBI and CIA became flush with cash, swagger, and congressional support. When DHS officials proposed naming one of their new agencies “Investigation and Criminal Enforcement,” then-FBI director Robert Mueller quickly shot it down, telling an aide: “Over my dead body.” The bureau forced the agency to drop an investigation into terrorism funding and even got Ridge to sign a memo committing that DHS components would not undertake similar operations going forward. That agency became Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In the coming years, the DHS brand of counterterrorism for many Americans became synonymous with inconvenient and at times discriminatory airport experiences. Congress, meanwhile, would eventually find that DHS fusion centers, one of the core components of the department’s efforts to improve information sharing among local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, almost never produced valuable intelligence despite more than $1 billion in funding.

Perhaps most concerning, when elements of DHS did disseminate information on domestic threats, they sometimes found themselves in serious trouble. That was the case for Daryl Johnson. A domestic terrorism expert in the department’s intelligence office, Johnson and his team wrote a report in 2009 warning that the election of the nation’s first Black president could ignite a wave of far-right organizing, particularly around issues related to the border and immigration and blowback from wars abroad. Under pressure from Republicans, DHS quashed the report. Johnson and his team lost their jobs.

Allegations of high-level DHS intelligence meddling continued as recently last year, with a top DHS official reporting that the heads of the department pressured his office to exaggerate threats related to anti-fascists and downplay those related to the far right to legitimize Trump’s domestic political agenda.

Portland Protests Continue Unabated Despite Federal Law Enforcement Presence

A Department of Homeland Security federal police officer is seen in downtown Portland, Ore., as the city experiences another night of protests against police violence on July 24, 2020.

Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A Matter of National Security

DHS won several turf battles in the early post-9/11 era, but it had seemingly lost the war. Elbowed out of the counterterrorism big leagues, department officials turned their attention elsewhere, casting other elements of their operations as components of the global campaign against “Al Qaeda and associated forces.”

Thankfully for its most high-level proponents, this conceptual flexibility had been written into DHS’s DNA. In testimony he gave to the Senate in 2002, Ridge said that “the war on terrorism can only be conducted if we are all engaged as troops in that effort.” He also linked the department’s No. 1 priority — stopping another terror attack — to the nation’s borders: “Because terrorism is a global threat, we must have complete control over who and what enters the United States.”

In the two decades prior to 9/11, the Border Patrol had been steadily growing in size while embracing an increasingly militarized posture in the Southwest through its close relationship to the Pentagon in the war on drugs. By 2004, DHS officials, “citing concerns about terrorists crossing the nation’s borders,” had given the agency “sweeping new powers to deport illegal aliens from the frontiers with Mexico and Canada without providing them the opportunity to make their case before an immigration judge.” The following summer, Congress authorized hiring 10,000 new agents over the next five years.

Ridge announced his retirement from DHS in November 2004, before the hiring surge truly took off. Chertoff, his successor, shared the view that undocumented immigration was a clear national security threat and made it the department’s core mission to do something about it.

As head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Chertoff had spent much of 9/11 holed up inside FBI headquarters examining leads. In the two years that followed, he co-authored the Patriot Act and became one of the early legal architects of Bush’s emerging war on terror. In 2003, he was appointed as a judge on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where he remained until 2005, when the White House came calling.

“Leaving the bench for a job in executive branch is not something that would normally be attractive,” Chertoff told The Intercept. “But because I had been very much involved in the immediate response to 9/11, I felt a special obligation to follow through on what I had lived through those first couple of years.”

“The president believes — and I agree — that illegal immigration threatens our communities and our national security.”

Chertoff found a department in disarray on multiple levels. “You never have time to collect your thoughts because there are dozens of things coming at you,” he said of his feelings at the time. Chertoff quickly turned his attention to immigration and the border, issuing a six-point agenda for whipping the department into shape. That fall, in his first appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee as secretary, he delivered a report on the state of his efforts.

Since 9/11, the Bush administration had deported “several million” undocumented immigrants, Chertoff testified. Border security spending had increased by nearly 60 percent, rising to $2.7 billion a year. That very day, he said, Bush’s signing of a DHS appropriations bill would open more than $890 million to CBP and ICE alone.

The goal, the secretary told lawmakers, was the immediate removal of all undocumented individuals crossing the border and the construction of the “tough enforcement regime” throughout the interior of the country.

“The president believes — and I agree — that illegal immigration threatens our communities and our national security,” Chertoff testified.

Border Patrol Recruitment

Border Patrol agent recruits practice small arms firing as senior agents, in red, watch at the Border Patrol Academy in Artesia, N.M., on April 5, 2007.

Photo: Matt York/AP

The Surge

When the twin towers fell in 2001, the Border Patrol had just over 9,000 agents. By the end of the Bush administration, it had twice that.

Thanks to a lowering of hiring standards and a relaxation of background checks, it was the largest expansion of a law enforcement agency in the shortest amount of time ever, and it made CBP the biggest domestic policing agency in the world. By the time President Barack Obama left office, there were 21,000 Border Patrol agents, the vast majority posted in the Southwest. An agency that had a $326 million budget in 1992 had a $4.7 billion budget in 2019. The eye-popping figures reflect the spending bonanza that accompanied post-9/11 homeland security — as Ridge later told Politico, describing the early days of DHS, “People just wanted to give me unlimited amounts of money.”

As the Border Patrol’s ranks swelled, DHS applied a battlefield mindset to the agency’s area of operations, building “forward operating bases” — austere Border Patrol operations centers — north of the international divide. The department expanded the Border Patrol’s network of vehicle checkpoints. Armed federal agents — who, thanks to legislation from the Cold War, enjoyed sweeping powers to conduct warrantless searches of people and things within 100 miles of the nation’s boundaries — were posted along highways with orders to scrutinize the nationality of passing motorists.

Ostensibly meant to make border apprehensions easier, the checkpoints altered the texture of day-to-day life in border communities across the Southwest. In addition to systematic civil liberties violations against border residents and American citizens, researchers have found correlations between the checkpoint interdiction strategy and the unprecedented post-9/11 explosion in migrant deaths on the border.

Just as the war on terror spawned a network of detention centers abroad, where individuals deemed a threat to the homeland could be housed indefinitely, DHS did the same at home. Like the wars, it was a system built on private contractors. Two months after the attacks, comments by Steve Logan, CEO of the private prison company Cornell Companies, which was later bought by the industry giant GEO Group, captured the thinking of the time.

“It’s clear that since September 11, there’s a heightened focus on detention, both on the borders and in the U.S.,” Logan said in a call with investors. “Federal business is the best business for us. It’s the most consistent business for us, and the events of September 11 is increasing that business.”

Illness, physical and sexual abuse, and even deaths have been a persistent problem in the notorious facilities.

Three million people were shuttled through the U.S. immigration detention system in the decade that followed, as private immigration detention went from an industry that barely existed prior to 2001 to a $3 billion-a-year cash cow with a well-documented history of horrific abuse and negligence. For men, women, and children detained in the borderlands, entry into this apparatus nearly always entailed passing through an hielera, or ice box — cold, border jail cells absent of furniture or privacy. Like immigration detention centers more broadly, illness, physical and sexual abuse, and even deaths have been a persistent problem in the notorious facilities.

In the summer of 2006, Tomsheck retired from the Secret Service and moved over to CBP, where he soon became the agency’s top internal affairs official. For Tomsheck, this second window into the post-9/11 evolution of homeland security in America was far more disturbing than the first.

In the years after the Border Patrol hiring surge, CBP saw an average of nearly one employee a day arrested on misconduct charges, a rate that far outpaced any other law enforcement agency in the country. In 2012, the FBI deemed corruption inside the nation’s post-9/11 homeland security agencies its No. 1 domestic criminal priority.

By that point, Tomsheck had already filed a whistleblower complaint accusing top DHS officials of pressuring his office to redefine corruption so that CBP’s numbers wouldn’t be so high. Tomsheck refused and was pushed out of the agency in 2014. He has since described the CBP hiring surge as “the greatest compromise of law enforcement integrity our country has ever seen.” Earlier this year, Tomsheck and two former senior DHS colleagues went on the record with sworn statements describing an entrenched pattern of senior Border Patrol leadership covering abuses in use-of-force cases, particularly cases of lethal force.

These days, Tomsheck said, whenever he sees a story of some local or state law enforcement official accused of excessive force, he finds himself thinking about 9/11, the nation’s response to terrorism then and after, and the mentality that DHS fostered.

“Those three things together have created this militaristic mindset on the part of many state and local law enforcement officers — that they are every day going to work mentally prepared to engage with terrorists, forgetting that 99.9 percent of the time they’re functioning as local law enforcement officers, a difficult and often dangerous job,” he said. “But they’re not fighting a war.”

US-POLITICS-IMMIGRATION-REFORM

A young girl whose father was deported cries during a protest in response to President Barack Obama’s delay on immigration reform in front of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 8, 2014.

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The Path Forward

In the mid-2000s, while he was attending law school on the East Coast, César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández made a visit home that he would not forget.

Though García grew up in McAllen, Texas, the Mexican city of Reynosa, just across the border, was like a second home; it was where his siblings were born, and it was where they were all headed for lunch when they saw the steel bollards of the border wall rising out of the banks of the Rio Grande for the first time.

“We just stared at it silently,” García told The Intercept. It felt like a message straight from the U.S. government, he said, a warning about the dangerous people on the other side of the divide. It was in that moment García understood that life as he knew it had changed, and things wouldn’t be going back to the way they were before, maybe ever.

García finished school and began making his way as a legal scholar during the Obama years, when DHS carried out a record 3 million deportations — even Trump, despite his best efforts, was unable to break Obama’s record. Today, he is a law professor at Ohio State University and one the nation’s leading experts on the intersection of criminal and immigration law. Like border militarization more broadly, “crimmigration,” as experts in the field call it, was gathering momentum in the decades before 9/11 and rocketed into the stratosphere with the creation of DHS.

“Without question, it is thrown into overdrive in the aftermath of September 11,” García said. “All of the sudden, targeting migrants became a part of how presidential administrations thought of their obligation to protect the nation.”

If ever there was an opportunity to break from this tradition, it may have been post-Trump. For many Americans, the Trump years were a horrifying introduction to the extraordinary system of immigration enforcement that has been built over the past two decades.

“All of the sudden, targeting migrants became a part of how presidential administrations thought of their obligation to protect the nation.”

So far, Alejandro Mayorkas, President Joe Biden’s DHS secretary, has continued the most sweeping border restriction of the Trump era: Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention measure that’s been used to summarily expel upward of 1 million migrants, including asylum-seekers, without a hearing. The policy has caused a bottleneck of vulnerable people in the border’s most dangerous cities. In August, the organization Human Rights First documented more than 6,300 cases of violent attacks targeting individuals waiting at the border in the first seven months of the Biden administration.

US-TEXAS-BORDER-IMMIGRATION-DETENTION

Children lie inside a Customs and Border Protection pod at a detention center for unaccompanied minors in Donna, Texas, on March 30, 2021.

Photo: Dario Lopez-Mills/AFP via Getty Images

At its peak under Trump, DHS was detaining an average of roughly 55,000 immigrants on any given day. After waves of infections, deaths, and detention releases resulting from Covid-19, that number dropped to a record low of 14,000 individuals earlier this year. In recent months, however, those numbers have been shooting back up.

“That was the most promising moment in the last 20 years,” García said. “The Biden administration has allowed that to evaporate.”

Among the founding and former officials who spoke to The Intercept, the legacy of DHS remains largely celebrated. Acknowledging that there were bumps along the road, most pointed to the absence of another 9/11-like event as evidence of the department’s success; none supported its wholesale dismantling. “You’re going to have a fragmented homeland security,” Chertoff said. “Everything is going to be just thrown up in the air, and you’re going to spend a lot of time trying to coordinate things that right now actually are coordinated.”

For many whose communities now exist in the shadow of the border wall, the mark that DHS has left since 9/11 looks somewhat different. “Under Republican and Democratic administrations, the wall gets longer, and it gets taller, and the surveillance gets more intense, and we continue to view migrants as dangerous and immigration as threatening,” García said. “It’s a road which has no end.”

The post How Post-9/11 Visions of an Imperiled Homeland Supercharged U.S. Immigration Enforcement appeared first on The Intercept.

FBI Pressured U.S. Resident to Sign Away His Green Card, Forcing Him Into Exile

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 09/09/2021 - 2:58am in

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Justice

When Akram Djumaev, a 33-year-old permanent resident of the United States, took a trip to visit his family and fiancé in Uzbekistan in early 2016, he expected to be away from home for just over two months. Five years later, Djumaev has never returned to the United States, pushed into exile after a terrifying encounter with FBI agents at the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent and, he suspects, his placement on the no-fly list.

The FBI agents pressured Djumaev into giving up his permanent resident status, accusing him of criminal activity and interrogating him about former employers who had faced federal criminal charges, according to a lawsuit filed on Wednesday. Djumaev himself has never faced any criminal charge nor even been brought before an immigration court. When he later booked travel to the United States, the authorities blocked his return.

The lawsuit — brought by City University of New York’s Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility Project, or CLEAR, against the FBI and the departments of Homeland Security and State on Djumaev’s behalf — asks the federal government to honor his permanent residence status or otherwise allow him to return to the United States. The lawsuit aims to shed light on the extraordinary steps that federal agents took to circumvent due process by warning Djumaev that he would face dire consequences if he did not comply with their demand to sign a form relinquishing his green card, as the permanent residence document is known.

“The FBI went to extreme lengths to prevent our client from returning to the United States, sending its agents to Uzbekistan and coercing him to sign a form which he did not understand,” said Naz Ahmad, senior staff attorney at CLEAR, in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “This practice, in combination with the FBI’s abuse of its power to place people on the No-Fly List, borders on unlawful banishment, and Akram Djumaev should be allowed to fly home.”

The FBI did not respond to a request for comment.

Immigration law experts say that coercing someone into giving up their green card through threats and intimidation is not just an abuse of power, but also an attempt to evade legal processes in which the government would have to meet a burden of proof that would justify revoking a person’s permanent resident status. Without such status, the person would not legally be allowed to live in the United States.

“The proper means of stripping someone of a green card requires an immigration court process here in the U.S., in which the government must file charges against the immigrant and prove by clear, unequivocal, and convincing evidence that someone is deportable,” said Erin Quinn, senior staff attorney at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center. “What seems incredibly egregious about this situation is the targeting of a permanent resident during a temporary trip overseas, coercing and threatening them into surrendering their green card without taking the legal steps required to strip them of permanent resident status.”

“For the form to have legal significance, it should be submitted knowingly and voluntarily by the applicant, without coercion.”

The document that Djumaev signed forfeiting his residency, Form I-407, or “Record of Abandonment of Lawful Permanent Resident Status,” is intended to be a voluntary request to abandon status made by a permanent resident who has decided to move abroad. In cases in which the federal government seeks to revoke a person’s residency, the government must inform the person of their right to a hearing before an immigration court and to be represented by an attorney. In his lawsuit, Djumaev claims that the agents did not inform him of these rights.

“The typical application of Form I-407 is done by someone who moves back to their home country, decides that they no longer plan to live in the U.S., and wants to signal that fact to the U.S. government,” Quinn said. “However, for the form to have legal significance, it should be submitted knowingly and voluntarily by the applicant, without coercion.”

US-embassy-uzbekistan

Security guards walk past a logo at the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in a video posted to the embassy’s Facebook page on May 20, 2021.

Still: U.S. Embassy Tashkent

At the time that Djumaev’s ordeal began in 2016, the United States was locked in a conflict with the Islamic State. This conflict played out via military force abroad and also through controversial FBI tactics at home. Those included the use of informants and sting operations, which became one of the FBI’s signature tactics after 9/11, with hundreds of individuals swept up in investigations that often involved substantial encouragement from government-paid informants. One man caught in an informant-driven case was Abror Habibov, for whom Djumaev had once worked at a jewelry store. Habibov was arrested in 2015 following a sting involving covert government informants who helped foment a plot to raise money to send two younger men from the United States to Syria to take part in the conflict there. Djumaev was not legally implicated in the case nor has he ever been charged or accused of any crime related to terrorism.

Djumaev, who lived in Chicago and worked as a truck driver, became a permanent resident in March 2013. In early 2016, he set off for Uzbekistan to visit his family. He traveled through John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, where FBI agents interrogated him about his personal background and whether he had any connections to Syria, Afghanistan, or Turkey before confiscating his phone. To date, the government has yet to return Djumaev’s phone. (According to the lawsuit, an embassy official told Djumaev in late 2016 to come to the embassy to retrieve his phone but reversed course after a CLEAR attorney got involved. The lawsuit asks the federal government for information on how the information on his phone was disseminated and used.)

Despite being harassed at the airport, he was allowed to board his flight to Tashkent. When he attempted to return home to the United States two months later, however, he was prevented from boarding at the airport — an indication that he had been placed on the no-fly list. In response, Djumaev filed a Department of Homeland Security Traveler Redress Inquiry Program, known as TRIP, inquiry in March 2016, which is a standard means of determining whether a U.S. citizen or permanent resident has been placed on the list.

Two months later, Djumaev was contacted by the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent and instructed to attend a meeting there. He assumed that the meeting was related to his recent difficulties flying.

When he arrived, he was placed in a windowless room and met by agents from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, as well as two State Department officials. One of the embassy employees translated to and from Russian, which is not Djumaev’s first language.

The agents questioned him about events in Syria, which was then in the middle of a grueling war that had drawn in international terrorist groups including ISIS, according to Djumaev’s lawsuit. The agents aggressively insisted that Djumaev must admit to his own involvement in terrorism, though they never made any specific allegations or provided any evidence against him. The lawsuit claims that agents yelled at Djumaev during the interrogation, exhorting him to admit that he was somehow guilty of supporting terrorism by telling him, among other things, “You’re lying, just be honest with us, we know everything” and “We know you’re guilty, just admit it, just admit it.”

After about an hour of interrogation, Djumaev was told that he had two options: He could return to the United States, where agents told him there was a “100% guarantee” of him being arrested, or he could sign a form relinquishing his green card, in which case, “the FBI will leave you alone.”

The agents further told Djumaev that “we have to come to an understanding before you leave this room.” Terrified by their threats, Djumaev signed an I-407, which the agents had already filled out with his details. On the copy of the form that he signed, according to court filings, Djumaev “had to write the date three separate times because his hands were shaking.” After being instructed that he would have to write the reason he was giving up his residency, Djumaev told the State Department official that he was scared of returning to the United States for fear of arrest ­— precisely what the agents had been threatening him with. The official instead wrote, “I am accused of participation in ISIS and will be arrested when I go back. That is why I will not return,” something that Djumaev, in his lawsuit, says he did not instruct the official to write.

“The scary part is that we don’t know how often it is that FBI agents are flying to embassies around the world and coercing permanent residents of the U.S. into giving up their green cards.”

Djumaev has since made two unsuccessful efforts to fly back to the United States. His lawyers believe that he is likely on the no-fly list, as well as potentially other secret U.S. government watchlists that could cause him serious problems while traveling or crossing borders anywhere in the world. The federal government is required to inform citizens and permanent residents of their placement on the no-fly list, but it has not meaningfully responded to Djumaev’s efforts to get more information about his status, according to his lawsuit.

His lawyers say that the case is a window into a larger problem of FBI intimidation of immigrants and permanent residents, as well as of how rights are often violated by law enforcement agents at liminal spaces like border crossings and embassies, where federal officials have more latitude to act without due process constraints.

“This case showcases the extent to which the FBI has been willing to force exile onto people who otherwise have the right to stay in the U.S., by cornering them in places where they don’t know their rights or have access to legal support,” Ahmad of CLEAR said in an interview. “The scary part is that we don’t know how often it is that FBI agents are flying to embassies around the world and coercing permanent residents of the U.S. into giving up their green cards. These are people who don’t know what options are available to them, and are often terrified.”

The post FBI Pressured U.S. Resident to Sign Away His Green Card, Forcing Him Into Exile appeared first on The Intercept.

Legal Observers Sue the NYPD Over Assault and Detention at Bronx Protest

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 09/09/2021 - 1:50am in

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The rash of civil rights lawsuits against the New York Police Department as a result of its behavior during last summer’s protests continues to grow, with a new suit filed September 2 by a group of people alleging police violated their constitutional rights during the now notorious Mott Haven kettle.

Unlike many of the other suits filed so far, the dozen plaintiffs in this case weren’t protesters. Rather, they were in the Bronx that day as legal observers, participants in a long-running National Lawyers Guild program that trains and equips volunteers to observe protests and document the conduct of the police who respond to them.

The lawsuit describes targeted harassment and violence by the NYPD against legal observers on June 4, 2020, by rank-and-file cops, their supervisors, and the NYPD’s own in-house lawyers. In the 15 months since, the police have conducted no investigation into the treatment of the legal observers, have not responded to letters from the observers’ lawyers, and have insisted that there was nothing inappropriate in their treatment.

The effect, says Gideon Oliver, one of the lawyers for the 12 legal observers bringing the suit, is an NYPD that has escalated its attacks on one of the vital organs of free speech in New York City. “Legal observers perform important functions when police make arrests at demonstrations, and this targeted roundup of legal NLG legal observers at the scene is something that the NYPD brass and city officials have sanctioned by refusing to do a real investigation of what happened, or impose any discipline,” Oliver said. “It’s been dead silence from the police department in response to these plaintiffs’ attempts to get some transparency and accountability.”

“Don’t Let Them Go”

The New York City chapter of the National Lawyers Guild has been training lawyers, law students, and legal workers to observe and document the way police respond to protests since 1968. Trained NLG observers are identified by a lanyard badge and a neon green baseball cap.

Official observers don’t enjoy any special constitutional status; everyone on the street, from passersby to journalists, enjoys the same legal right to observe and document public police actions. But the work legal observers do is important. Collecting the names of people arrested at protests is the first step toward ensuring that they have legal representation. During the mass arrests at the 2004 Republican National Convention, those names allowed lawyers to secure a habeas corpus writ for hundreds of protesters who were unlawfully detained by the NYPD, sometimes for days, without access to lawyers.

The NYPD Patrol Guide recognizes the right of people to observe, record, and document the police and specifies that properly identified legal observers are entitled to courtesy and cooperation, including free access through police lines at demonstrations: “Observers shall be permitted to remain in any area, or observe any police activity, subject only to restrictions necessitated by personal safety factors, as determined by the incident commander.”

None of those provisions seemed to be in effect in Mott Haven last June, however, as police rounded up legal observers along with protesters, cuffing them, throwing them to the ground, riffling through their legal notes, forcing them to sit where they could not observe the mass arrests and police violence taking place, and coercing them to leave the scene and cease their observation of police conduct.

The ostensible reason for the mass arrest was that the protest participants were breaking an 8 p.m. curfew then in effect. While this justification is undercut by the fact that the NYPD trapped protesters well before 8 p.m. and then made it impossible for them to leave, it is doubly nonsensical in the case of the legal observers, who were carrying documentation confirming that the mayor’s office had identified them as essential workers exempt from curfew restrictions.

Video from the event shows Sgt. Kenneth Rice, wearing an NYPD Legal Bureau shirt, directing officers to arrest the green-hatted legal observers. “Legal observers CAN be arrested,” he says. The NYPD often says that it deploys the in-house lawyers of its Legal Bureau to protest scenes to ensure that police are following the law, but civil rights lawyers contend that Legal Bureau lawyers often help officers violate the rights of the people they’re interacting with. In Mott Haven, Rice’s legal direction had immediate consequences.

Krystin Hernandez, a law student at the City University of New York and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, was working as a legal observer at the protest when they were seized by police. Hernandez tried to show police the documents identifying them as an essential worker, but, as recorded on video, police knocked the documents out of their hand and then threw them to the ground, face-first, before cuffing them.

Hernandez and other legal observers were rounded up and placed on the ground in a line facing away from the protest and arrests, according to the complaint. A police supervisor came over and told the group that they would have “one chance” to “go home.”

“Because you don’t want us to see what you’re doing here right now?” one of the legal observers asked.

“You know, never mind, don’t let them go,” the supervisor responded.

Another plaintiff, Rex Santus, also a CUNY law student, encountered trouble from the police even before the kettle, according to the complaint. Santus was in Mott Haven around 6:30 p.m. when eight police officers jumped out of an unmarked van and surrounded him. Santus was wearing his green hat and identifying badge and carrying papers showing that he was an essential worker exempt from curfew, but the police kept him from leaving, questioned him, and grabbed his notebook, reading through his notes. One of them accused him of “illegal countersurveillance of the NYPD.” Eventually, the police let Santus go, and he carried on with his work at the protest, only to be shoved to the ground by police and put in flex cuffs. Santus hasn’t worked as a legal observer since.

Eventually, all of the legal observers were released at the scene, their arrests never processed. Police continued to push them away from the protest, threatening them with rearrest. Many of those bringing the lawsuit say the experience has traumatized them and discouraged them from doing further legal observer work.

 NYPD officers stand in line near a demonstration denouncing systemic racism in law enforcement in the borough of Brooklyn minutes before a citywide curfew went into effect on June 4, 2020 in New York City. Days of protest, sometimes violent, have followed in many cities across the country in response to the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25th. (Photo by Scott Heins/Getty Images)

NYPD officers stand in line near a demonstration denouncing systemic racism in law enforcement in Brooklyn, New York, minutes before a citywide curfew went into effect on June 4, 2020.

Photo: Scott Heins/Getty Images

NYPD Brass Doubles Down

What happened in Mott Haven on June 4, including the treatment of the legal observers, made headlines immediately. But confronted with accounts from protesters, onlookers, and news media, both NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea and Mayor Bill de Blasio insisted that police conduct that evening had been exemplary. At a press conference the following day, Shea said the NYPD “had a plan which was executed nearly flawlessly in the Bronx.” De Blasio insisted that reporters describing what they had witnessed were mistaken, that what happened in Mott Haven was “something that the NYPD saw coming,” and that they had responded “effectively.”

Not everyone was persuaded. Two weeks after the Mott Haven kettle, the New York City Bar Association issued a statement describing itself as “gravely concerned.” “The fact that legal observers have become targets for the police indicates that policing strategies in these communities have failed,” the statement concluded. “The reports of police warnings that legal observers are in the area, the subsequent targeting and detention of those observers, and the forced disclosure of privileged material indicates a startling disregard by police forces that their conduct is governed in our society by the rule of law.”

In the months that followed, other investigations confirmed what observers on the ground had reported and decried the NYPD’s treatment of protesters, onlookers, and legal observers. A September 2020 Human Rights Watch report concluded that police conduct in Mott Haven amounted to “serious violations of international human rights law,” noting that “legal observers and volunteers providing jail support are human rights defenders who are protected under international human rights law and should never be targeted for this work.” Reports by the New York City Department of Investigation and the state attorney general also made note of the NYPD’s detention of legal observers.

But none of these letters or reports have elicited any response from the NYPD concerning its treatment of legal observers, according to the complaint. There’s no evidence that Rice or anyone in the Legal Bureau was disciplined or even investigated over the direction to arrest the legal observers, and the NYPD has persisted in its claim that the arrests were entirely appropriate.

The NYPD declined to answer questions about police conduct in Mott Haven and NYPD policy with regard to legal observers. The New York City Law Department, which is representing the NYPD, the mayor, and the various individual NYPD officials and officers named in the suit, did not respond to questions by the time of publication.

“Legal observers do critical work to protect protest rights on the streets, and attacks on legal observers are attacks on those rights.”

In a September 2020 letter to Human Rights Watch, NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Legal Matters Ernest Hart maintained that legal observers were not targeted in Mott Haven, and claimed that in fact they were not exempt from the curfew restrictions and were therefore subject to arrest. “Plainly,” he wrote, “there cannot be a legal observer of a protest that itself is illegal.”

Terence Monahan, then the NYPD chief of department, who personally supervised the Mott Haven action, told DOI investigators that responsibility for the detention of the legal observers fell on the Legal Bureau, but that he ordered them released as soon as he learned they had been detained. Monahan was talking to a representative of the mayor’s office who was on the scene, he said. “I told his person I was going to release all the legal observers.”

Shea, for his part, has answered questions about the detention of legal observers by insinuating that they might be using their status as cover for illegal activity. Interviewed by the DOI, Shea couldn’t recall whether the NYPD had any specific protections for legal observers in mass arrest situations. “If there is a situation where they are arrested, what I have seen is that they are committing violations under the guise of being, whether it is an essential worker or legal observers or something along those lines,” he told investigators.

Testifying before New York Attorney General Letitia James, Shea sounded a similarly skeptical note. “Legal observers, I’m not sure what you’re referring to there,” he told James. “Having a shirt or a hat that says Legal Observer, does not mean that person is an attorney … that they’re actually performing any legal function. We go on the facts in front of us, and we had incidents of many people committing crimes and violations, and we responded to those facts.”

Absent any indication that the NYPD has reconsidered the harassment, assault, and detention of a group that functions as the eyes and ears of the legal institutions ensuring that the right to protest is protected, civil rights lawyers say they fear the NYPD and the government of New York City will continue to brutalize and sideline legal observers at future protests.

“Legal observers do critical work to protect protest rights on the streets, and attacks on legal observers are attacks on those rights,” said Oliver, the lawyer bringing the suit, along with Elena Cohen and Remy Green. “The presence of legal observers is a deterrence to police misconduct. … When there’s misconduct that targets legal observers but no meaningful transparency and accountability, it sends two messages: that it’s OK to treat legal observers that way, and that people who volunteer to be legal observers should expect that kind of treatment.”

The post Legal Observers Sue the NYPD Over Assault and Detention at Bronx Protest appeared first on The Intercept.

Turning Prisons into Pure Potential

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 09/09/2021 - 1:23am in

Picturing prison abolition

Prison abolition is a big dream, and some communities are finding small ways to realize it — or at least reflect it — as friend-of-RTBC publication Scalawag details. 

In Atlanta, a group founded and run by formerly incarcerated women has been instrumental in the process of shutting down an Atlanta jail. In May 2019 they helped get the city to set a closing date for the facility. “We came together and we strategized for specific goals for our community,” one of the group’s community organizers said. In North Carolina, a former prison has been turned into a farm run by at-risk teenagers, and some 95 percent of the youth involved with the program have avoided recidivism. Finally, in New Orleans, an artist is working with incarcerated folks, having them design gardens that could fit exactly within the parameters of their cells. She then plants these gardens outside the prison walls to symbolize the idea that growth can only happen in a place of freedom.

Scalawag ties together all three of these projects as examples of a movement that is finding its footing as it steps into the mainstream. “I would argue that abolition, much like growing a plant, requires daily attention and care,” said the New Orleans artist, jackie sumell. “Much like love, hope and compassion, social equity, like a garden, needs practice, time and nurturing to fully blossom.” 

Read more at Scalawag

The coast is clear

A group of scientists has discovered that a simple tweak to the way we restore coastal areas could dramatically improve the success of those restoration projects, with little to no extra effort.

Typically, marine environments are restored in much the same way we restore land-based ecosystems like forests and grasslands. Which is to say, the newly introduced lifeforms — seagrass, mangroves, oysters — are widely dispersed. But watery environments are more volatile than land: marshes fluctuate with the wind and rain, reefs are pummeled by waves and seabeds shift in harsh storms.

For this reason, the scientists found, clumping plantings together allows them to support each other: roots and stems interweave to offer each other stability. Clumps of marine plants can even pool oxygen in the soil beneath them. The results of the studies showed that clumping doubled survival rates of many of the restored environments. Now, the researchers say, the challenge is to win over decision-makers, who may not want to abandon the conventional process to venture toward more fertile ground.

Read more at Hakai

Steel this idea

Here’s a sobering statistic: nearly 10 percent of all the world’s carbon emissions are generated by just 553 steel-producing factories. Now the good news: Sweden just delivered the world’s first batch of steel produced entirely without fossil fuels, and industrial quantities of it could be on the market within five years.

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Steel is incredibly bad for the climate, requiring enormous quantities of fossil fuels to produce, including coking coal. And production of it is expected to surge by one-third by 2050. Finding greener ways of making it is an environmental imperative. Swedish steelmaker SSAB produced its emissions-free steel with a new technology that creates iron pellets (the key ingredient of steel) using green hydrogen. The breakthrough, if scaled up, could dramatically reduce Sweden’s total carbon emissions — SSAB was responsible for nine million of the 45 million metric tons of CO2 that Sweden generated last year.

Read more at Forbes

The post Turning Prisons into Pure Potential appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

How Sirhan Sirhan Was Mentored Through Parole by Suge Knight, Mafia Leaders

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 08/09/2021 - 8:00pm in

Tags 

Justice, Politics

When Sirhan Sirhan appeared at his parole board hearing in late August, he brought with him the memory of multiple failed attempts — 15 in 53 years — that had left the convicted murderer of Robert F. Kennedy no closer to release. His problem, he had become convinced, lay in his prior inability to accept responsibility for that which he knew that he had done.

Sirhan has long claimed that he has no memory of the moment Kennedy was killed. He has also long acknowledged that he brought a loaded gun to the presidential candidate’s California primary victory party in 1968 and that he drank heavily that night. But it took a yard full of fellow convicts to walk him toward a place where he could accept responsibility for the decision to bring the gun to the party, without which, he told the parole board, the crime couldn’t have been committed.

Accepting that responsibility and shedding his defensiveness was key to winning the support of the parole board, which recommended parole for Sirhan on Friday. Sirhan no longer presented himself as the victim of circumstance or lashed out against aggressive questioning — guaranteed ways to lose at a parole board hearing. Sirhan was originally sentenced to death row for the murder of RFK, but his sentence was commuted to life in prison with the possibility of parole when California briefly outlawed the death penalty in 1972.

Sirhan didn’t arrive at those epiphanies alone. A team of fellow prisoners at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego County collectively took up his cause, coaching and mentoring him through a prisoner-run organization called Redemption Row. They even conducted extensive mock parole board hearings to dissect his responses and redirect him toward a more empathetic place.

The collection of prisoners who guided Sirhan couldn’t have made a more unlikely crew: Joel Baptiste, a former leading figure in the Aryan Brotherhood, in for life for murder; Suge Knight, the founder of Death Row Records, serving 28 years for manslaughter; Mexican mafia leader Arturo Guzman; Roque Martinez, a top boss in the notorious crime syndicate Nuestra Familia; Cameron Morris, a former member of the Crips; and Michael Goodwin, convicted of the high-profile killing of Mickey Thompson and his wife in the couple’s driveway.

Each of his fellow inmates, in turn, was able to show Sirhan that they shared his experiences, said Jen Abreu, head of Redemption Row.

Knight, for instance, was able to speak to Sirhan about the experience of being globally despised, being something of an anti-celebrity. “I’m a global villain myself, people think I killed Tupac, and that was Tupac. You killed a Kennedy,” Knight told Sirhan, according to Abreu.

“Suge has to carry that,” said Baptiste, who has become friends with the former rap mogul, in a phone interview from prison. “He was able to talk to Sirhan about, I know what it’s like being ‘the guy,’ being hated or blamed for this or that, oftentimes erroneously. He was able to identify with him on that level. The biggest thing you can do for a man in prison is look at him and say you’re not alone, man, you’re not alone, I’m standing with you, and we’re going to do this process and do it together.”

Baptiste said his crew put the word out that Sirhan, whose throat was slashed in an assault in 2019, was not to be touched. Once Sirhan felt physical safety, opening up became easier.

Knight helped Sirhan, Abreu said, “with understanding the humanity of the event, and understanding that Sirhan is a cultural marker, a historical figure. How do you work with that and not let it weigh on you as a global villain, and how do you keep your mind in a positive place?”

The effort to assist Sirhan began early this year and involved endless conversations with the 77-year-old Palestinian immigrant. The mock parole hearings, Abreu said, were held in the day room, in Sirhan’s unit, in the yard, in the chapel, and while walking with him on the track. In the week leading up to the hearing, the murder boards, often involving four inmates, went for more than eight hours a day, grilling Sirhan with every possible question he might hear.

Most prisoners have a significant history of trauma prior to confinement, and all experience it while serving time. The Redemption Row inmates dig into that trauma. “We’re looking to find the nexus of how your trauma started. That’s what we did with him. We went back to Palestine and talked about the things he saw,” Baptiste said, noting that Sirhan was the first parole candidate the group worked with.

“We tried to really provoke him, get at things he doesn’t want to talk about, identify those things and dive into them as deep as we can,” Baptiste continued. “And then we’ll do it in a rapid-fire fashion: Before one of the questions is answered, we’ll ask him another one, try to get him stressed out, try to get him confused a little bit.”

Prosecutors at his murder trial alleged, citing notes Sirhan had left, that he was motivated to assassinate Kennedy by the senator’s support for Israel. The parole board dove immediately into the politics of the Israel-Palestine conflict at Sirhan’s hearing. Abreu, who testified at the hearing, witnessed the full event, though a transcript is not yet available.

Sirhan broke down emotionally under the questioning, Abreu said, but was able to recover his poise, which she credited to his work with the inmates. At one point, a parole board member asked him why he spoke up about the suffering of Palestinian children and not Israeli children, a remark that would have triggered an angry reaction in the past. Instead, Abreu said, he paused, collected himself, and told the board, “With all due respect, I never saw any Israeli children.”

A board member noted that if he were to be released, he’d be a hero among Palestinians. Sirhan responded that he does not remotely consider what he did heroic.

Sirhan has long had trouble discussing the Israel-Palestine situation. He was born in Jerusalem in 1944, four years before what Palestinians refer to as the Nakba, the successful declaration of the state of Israel. His home was taken over by proto-Israeli insurgents. “There was death pretty much surrounding him in war-torn Palestine,” Baptiste said.

One afternoon as a child, he saw an elder in the neighborhood leaned against a wall, and thought he was sleeping. When he got closer, he told the group, he realized the man had been shot and killed. One day, drawing water from a well, he pulled up a human arm. He watched as his brother, Munir, was run over and killed by a Jordanian army truck “swerving to escape Israeli gun fire,” according to documents in his psychological evaluation. Sirhan was so distraught at the death of his brother, the evaluation reports, his mother named her next son Munir. Munir now lives in Pasadena, where Sirhan hopes to return.

Munir Sirhan, brother of Sirhan Sirhan

Munir Sirhan, 70, poses for a portrait outside of his brother Sirhan’s room at his home in Pasadena, Calif., on May 10, 2018.

Photo: Philip Cheung for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Arturo Guzman in particular helped Sirhan open up about the violence in the Middle East. At the age of 17, Guzman was a helicopter gunner in Vietnam; he told Sirhan about the carnage, watching bodies blown apart in a war where he had no animosity against the enemy. Having a top-ranking member of the Mexican mafia talk about trauma and its consequences, said Baptiste, helped Sirhan cut through the “toxic masculinity” that was standing in the way of confronting his own.

Cameron Morris, the former Crip, told Sirhan about the people close to him who’d died of gun violence, and the way those losses changed him irrevocably. Hearing about gun violence from the perspective of the victims’ families, said Baptiste, helped Sirhan see his own crime from the perspective of the families who suffered as a result.

Aside from Kennedy, five others were wounded at the Ambassador Hotel in the shooting, and Sirhan addressed each individually at the hearing. One of them, Kennedy aide Paul Schrade, now in his 90s, spoke in support of Sirhan, arguing that the man had reformed and served his time.

Kennedy’s widow, Ethel Kennedy, opposes parole and some of Kennedy’s children have urged Gov. Gavin Newsom to reject the parole recommendation, but Doug Kennedy, who attended the hearing, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. have advocated on behalf of his release. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. sent a note to the board that was read aloud during the hearing, in which he pledged his support and said that he would be proud to be Sirhan’s friend if he’s released. (Robert F. Kennedy Jr. believes a second shooter was responsible for the shots that killed his father, and sloppy work by the Los Angeles Police Department has left that theory open, but it’s not widely held by those who’ve looked closely at the case.)

After the board recommended parole, Sirhan found members of the Redemption Row crew waiting for him. “It just so happened we were the only people on the yard,” Baptiste said. “We started cheering and yelling and hugging and lifting him up on our shoulders. It was pretty much the most amazing wave of emotion I’ve felt since I’ve been in prison.”

Newsom can reject the board’s recommendation of parole, but if he approves it, Sirhan still has one more hurdle to overcome: his immigration status. Sirhan was a green card holder but faces potential deportation to Jordan — where he lived as a refugee — if he is freed. Baptiste said Sirhan desperately hopes to stay in Pasadena, where he dreams of sitting on the beach and sharing long conversations with Munir.

The post How Sirhan Sirhan Was Mentored Through Parole by Suge Knight, Mafia Leaders appeared first on The Intercept.

My Husband Died on 9/11. I Am Still Waiting for a Trial of His Killers.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 04/09/2021 - 10:00pm in

Tags 

Justice

  Colleen Ryan of New Jersey, holds a photo of an office staff in which all but two parished in the attacks on the World Trade Center including her brother John J. Ryan. Families of Sept. 11 victims gathered on Upper Senate Park, Tuesday, to urge Congress to set up a commission to investigate the events that led up to the terrorist attacks.  (Photo By Tom Williams/Roll Call/Getty Images)

Colleen Ryan holds a photo of an office staff, all but two of whom died in the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, including her brother, to urge Congress to set up a commission to investigate the events that led up to the attacks, on Nov. 23, 2002.

Photo: Tom Williams/Roll Call/Getty Images

After the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, the U.S. Justice Department brought the co-conspirators before the federal court in the Southern District of New York for a criminal trial.

After the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania killed 12 Americans and more than 200 others, the U.S. Justice Department similarly brought the perpetrators to public criminal trials in downtown Manhattan.

Notably, both the World Trade Center bombing and the embassy bombings involved many of the same operatives, training camps, financial banking networks, communications facilities and hubs, methods of communications, sources, and methods of travel, travel networks, and travel “identifiers” as the 9/11 attacks. In fact, Al Qaeda was closely linked to the World Trade Center bombing and orchestrated the embassy attacks as well as the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in October 2000.

Of course, the number killed in the 9/11 attacks far eclipses the count of those injured and killed in the World Trade Center 1993 bombing, the embassy bombings, and the USS Cole bombing combined. Historically speaking, the 9/11 families are the largest group of terrorism victims for terrorist attacks carried out inside the country. And yet the U.S. Justice Department has never indicted and fully prosecuted one co-conspirator for the crime.

Quite inexplicably, the 3,000 homicides by hijacking and bombing on September 11 will go unanswered for in these United States. Even the case of Zacarias Moussaoui, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy for failing to prevent the attacks, was a debacle that for the 9/11 families only raised more uncomfortable questions surrounding the U.S. government’s abject and systemic failures. As the Associated Press reported, “The FBI agent who arrested Zacarias Moussaoui in August 2001 testified … [that] he spent almost four weeks trying to warn U.S. officials about the radical Islamic student pilot but ‘criminal negligence’ by superiors in Washington thwarted a chance to stop the 9/11 attacks.”

Without justice and accountability, the very dangerous message sent to terrorist murderers is that they may operate with free license to kill innocent civilians — not just in places far from Americans, like Afghanistan, but also closer to their home, in the streets of lower Manhattan on sunny, blue-skied mornings. With the consent of Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Joe Biden; Attorneys General John Ashcroft, Alberto Gonzales, Michael Mukasey, Loretta Lynch, Eric Holder, Jeff Sessions, William Barr, and Merrick Garland; Manhattan District Attorneys Robert Morgenthau and Cy Vance Jr. — all of whom, as the saying goes, could easily indict even a “ham sandwich” — and two decades’ worth of prestigious members of Congress vowing to “never forget,” a demand has never been made for full truth, transparency, accountability, and justice for the 3,000 dead.

Why?

Screaming Facts and Official Silence

I have studied this issue extensively, testifying twice before Congress and, with other 9/11 widows, forcing the creation of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, known as the 9/11 Commission, and helping push through some of the national security reforms it recommended. I’ve had scores of communications over 20 years with presidents and members of their national security councils, members of Congress, the director of the FBI, heads of counterterrorism divisions and joint terror task forces, CIA officials, ex-CIA agents, FBI agents and ex-FBI agents, former NSA analysts, whistleblowers, and even terrorist defense attorneys. I believe it’s clear that the U.S. government has plenty of evidence and information in its files to refer enough incriminating facts and irrefutable evidence to a myriad of grand juries, secure indictments, and thereafter prosecute all of the living 9/11 conspirators who contributed to the homicide of 3,000 innocent people on the morning of September 11, 2001. And yet justice is simply not sought.

Rather pointedly, the 9/11 hijackers did not act alone.

They had a substantial support network that was deeply embedded inside the United States and abroad for nearly a decade prior to, on, and after the 9/11 attacks. It is my understanding that this support network spanned several states including California; Arizona; Nevada; Washington; Minnesota; Oklahoma; Illinois; Florida; North Carolina; Virginia; Massachusetts; Maine; New York; New Jersey; and Texas. The support network also included several countries like Germany; Spain; France; the U.K.; Egypt; Kenya; Tanzania; Sudan; Yemen; Saudi Arabia; the United Arab Emirates; Qatar; Pakistan; Malaysia; Thailand; Iran; and Afghanistan.

Known and lethal terrorists openly and freely operated inside the U.S. for years before the 9/11 attacks, and yet authorities failed to prevent the cold-blooded murders of our 3,000 loved ones. More than 14 U.S. local and federal jurisdictions had law enforcement agencies that brushed up against the 9/11 hijackers and their supporters. Moreover, more than 18 foreign law enforcement counterparts also investigated some of those involved in the 9/11 attacks. They unearthed evidence, wrote reports, monitored activities, watched money wires, and investigated stock sales, arms and weapons shipments across borders, eyebrow-raising passports and visa documents, and lethal operatives roaming the world, planning murder, with impunity. These people remain fully aware of the truth and how their one part of the damning puzzle fits together. Yet none speak out.

Indeed, when a person looks at the facts and circumstances of the 9/11 attacks, taken as a whole, it would seem implausible that not one individual, entity, bank, or business has been fully prosecuted and found criminally responsible as a co-conspirator for the crime that took place. I say a crime, because my husband’s death certificate, like every other 9/11 victim’s, lists the manner of his death as “homicide,” not “war.” And yet our nation, a democracy based upon the rule of law, that supposedly protects and entitles all of its citizens with a Constitution and clear Bill of Rights (and certainly the most basic universal human right to live and not be blown up in a building) has not found, and will not ever find, it necessary to hold any co-conspirator of the 9/11 hijackers accountable in a court of criminal law. The typically exceedingly easy-to-meet thresholds for who and what qualifies as a criminal “co-conspirator” and “conspiracy” have never quite been met by the screaming facts and circumstances of 9/11 — and I’d argue that’s by systemic prosecutorial choice to look the other way for matters of political expediency, cover-up, or in the best case scenario, sheer embarrassment.

In this file photo taken on November 29, 2001 United States Marines from Bravo Co. of the 15th MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unity) march into the barracks in full battle gear as they arrive very early morning at the US Marines forward base in southern Afghanistan. - Launched in the wake of the September 11 attacks, the war in Afghanistan claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Afghans along with around 2,400 US soldiers and saw trillions squandered in what has largely been deemed a failed nation-building project. (Photo by JIM HOLLANDER / POOL / AFP) (Photo by JIM HOLLANDER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

U.S. Marines arrive at a base in southern Afghanistan on Nov. 29, 2001.

Photo: Jim Hollander/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Hijacking the Bill of Rights

While not using the September 11 murders to prosecute the obvious crime and deliver justice to the 9/11 families, this country’s leaders have alternatively used the 3,000 homicides to do many other things — none of which have anything to do with serving and protecting the best interests of civilians and 9/11 victims, but everything to do with government overreach and the trampling of Americans’ constitutional rights. It wasn’t Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda that cracked the bedrock of our hallowed democracy; it was our very own leaders who carried out their own hijacking of our Bill of Rights in the wake of 9/11.

On the backs of the 9/11 dead, our leaders have chosen to start wars, some of which were illegal and based upon the shady unilateral decisions of presidents (both Democrat and Republican). These wars, which have lasted two full decades, cost trillions of dollars, the lives and physical and mental well-being of hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops, and the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians who were unlucky enough to be caught up in “American-made” war zones. All of these wars, interventions, and occupations have only further fomented terrorism and clearly inflamed global hostilities toward American foreign policy “objectives” that have little to do with what is truly in the best interests of citizens here or abroad.

On the backs of the 9/11 dead, our leaders have chosen to start wars, some of which were illegal and based upon the shady unilateral decisions of presidents.

I can say this with unimpeachable authority since I speak, firsthand, as one small piece of the collateral damage of four decades’ worth of this nation’s bad foreign policy decisions, starting in the 1980s with the Iran-Contra affair and the arming of the mujahideen to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan; both President George H.W. Bush and the younger President Bush overlooking their oil-rich Saudi friends before and after 9/11; Obama’s inexplicable veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act that was meant to hold terrorists and their co-sponsors accountable; Trump rubbing magical orbs with Saudi leaders prior to Jamal Khashoggi getting sliced into bits; and ultimately bookended by Biden’s horrifying, grossly mismanaged withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Our government passed legislation in the name of 9/11 that has eviscerated our constitutional rights based upon the premise that such legislative action (the Patriot Act, Titles I-X, and subsequent reauthorizations by all presidents, Democrat or Republican) was needed to keep us safe from terrorists, when the truth is that all the information, evidence, and legal authorities the U.S. government needed to prevent the 9/11 attacks was readily available and at its fingertips beforehand. If only it had chosen to use that information to stop bin Laden and his operatives before they very successfully blew up my husband Ron’s building.

As the former chair and vice chair of the 9/11 Commission — Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton, respectively — have alarmingly confirmed, the 9/11 attacks were preventable because everything needed to prevent them was there before the attacks occurred. It wasn’t an intelligence wall that stopped information from flowing before 9/11; it was purposeful (and I’d argue criminal) withholding of evidence and information by foreign and domestic intelligence agencies that enabled Al Qaeda operatives to carry out their attacks unhampered. Chillingly, such purposeful withholding of information continues to this very day, since with no further executive or congressional demand for responsibility or accountability for 9/11, there is simply no incentive for our intelligence officials and policymakers to alter their toxic patterns, including repeated cost-benefit analyses in which the cost is only ever paid by the innocent — known as “collateral damage” — both here and abroad. Truly, is it any real surprise that former CIA Director George Tenet provided bad intelligence on weapons of mass destruction that led us into a war with Iraq, when just a few years before he had carried out poor intelligence decision-making (and cherry-picking of information) that left us vulnerable to the 9/11 attacks? Incidentally, Tenet was given the Medal of Freedom. He should be in jail.

During the past 20 years, extrajudicial drone strikes, illegal renditions, unlawful and inhuman torture, and indefinite detentions have become the norm — all done, as well, in the name of our loved ones and to prevent another 9/11. Sadly, these inhumane and unlawful methods do not make any of us safer; they just allow presidents to unilaterally act outside the law, without oversight. Moreover, in addition to being a stain on the legacy of America, these unlawful methods have also further robbed the 9/11 families of our right to justice and our ability to hold terrorists accountable. None of the people detained at Guantánamo Bay with direct links to the 9/11 attacks (including the mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and alleged co-conspirators like Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Walid bin Attash, known as Khallad) are likely to ever be tried and brought to justice. Congress blocked their transfer to civilian courts in the U.S., and even within the military commission system at Guantánamo, trials are going nowhere because they were tortured by the CIA.

Theresa Regan (2nd L), who lost her husband and FDNY firefighter Donald Regan at the South Tower of the World Trade Center during the 9/11 terrorists attacks, listens with her son Peter (L) and daughterJill (3rd L) during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill November 18, 2009 in Washington, DC.

Theresa Regan, second left, who lost her husband during the 9/11 terrorists attacks, listens with her son Peter, left, and daughter Jill, third left, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Nov. 18, 2009, in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Lonely Fight for Truth

So without being able to hold the known 9/11 terrorists in custody accountable, and without any standing indictments or prosecutions meted out by the Department of Justice against the other identifiable co-conspirators, the job of seeking out accountability and justice has fallen on the shoulders of the 9/11 families, who were left to take matters of justice into our own hands through the second-rate route of civil litigation. Unlike the embassy bombing and the 1993 World Trade Center attack victims, who were able to use evidence brought forth during the government’s public trials and prosecutions of the perpetrators of the killers of their loved ones, the 9/11 families have never been given such help, assistance, access to evidence, or prosecutorial favor. This leaves us alone and with a stark disadvantage as we try to hold terrorists and their co-conspirators accountable for the murder of our loved ones in federal civil court. For a country that invokes 9/11 so freely to start wars and attack terrorists and innocent civilians around them with drones, and expands executive branch powers beyond anything our Founding Fathers would have ever felt comfortable with, such use of the 9/11 tagline abruptly halts at the courthouse steps.

For a country that invokes 9/11 so freely to start wars and attack terrorists and innocent civilians around them with drones, such use of the 9/11 tagline abruptly halts at the courthouse steps.

For 20 years, the 9/11 families have only faced a Department of Justice that spends more of its time covering up for terrorists and terrorist co-conspirators, errant intelligence community agents, and officials’ bad (arguably criminal) decisions that either directly killed or in many ways strongly contributed to the mass murder of our innocent loved ones. Year after year, Department of Justice lawyers, attorneys general, and prosecutors willfully choose to not help the 9/11 families as we fight the terrorists in court; they nastily refuse to share or declassify the information and evidence they have in their files so that we can nail terrorists and terrorist supporters. Instead, horrifically, some U.S. prosecutors literally sit on the side of the defendants (in this case, Saudi Arabia) and help the key evidence we need stay secret.

Two decades down, it is now enough. We believe it is time for our families to have closure and truth.

We believe that all information surrounding 9/11 should be made public. Using the Khashoggi case as precedent, we want all members of Congress to be fully briefed on the 9/11 case files. Moreover, we want members of Congress to pass meaningful legislation that will achieve the same transparency, accountability, and justice that they called for immediately after Khashoggi was killed.

We want Biden to release the 9/11 files to the American public just as he released intelligence from the Khashoggi files. And just as sanctions were assessed against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s “Tiger Squad” for Khashoggi’s murder, we want sanctions to be brought against those Saudis implicated in 9/11. If the powers of the Magnitsky Act applied to the gross human rights violation that occurred when Khashoggi was murdered and dismembered with a bone saw, then it should also apply to the gross human rights violations that occurred when thousands of people were crushed to death on the morning of September 11.

Most pointedly, the Khashoggi reports and evidence were used to publicly incriminate a sitting Saudi crown prince. We, too, believe that the 9/11 evidence should be used to incriminate any Saudi, be they a member of the royal family, part of an intelligence service, a diplomat — anyone, regardless of privilege. Please note that in the Khashoggi matter, information from wiretaps of a Saudi royal’s private communications, which implicated him in Khashoggi’s murder, were leaked, and an intelligence summary was officially released, openly stating that Salman approved the killing. Such highly sensitive information clearly collected through secret sources and methods was somehow breezily declassified and made available to the public. And yet the 9/11 families cannot get basic wiretap information surrounding an Al Qaeda communications hub in Yemen from 1998-2001 or NSA intercepts for the 9/11 hijackers’ phone calls from inside the U.S. — cases that don’t involve the surveillance of a sitting Saudi crown prince, just the private communications of Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda operatives planning attacks like the embassy bombings, the USS Cole Bombing, and 9/11. So why can’t Americans read the transcripts of those conversations and know what the NSA, CIA, FBI, Saudi intelligence, and other intelligence agencies heard about those attacks before they happened? Why can’t such information be used by the 9/11 families so that we can hold terrorists and their co-conspirators accountable?

Jamal Khashoggi was not an American citizen. In fact, he was a close friend of Osama bin Laden’s and said he wept when he was killed, adding that he wished bin Laden had not “succumbed to anger.” Our loved ones were Americans. And their cold-blooded, brutal murders in broad daylight should be given the same transparency, accountability, and justice. On the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, there should be nothing left to hide. As Biden has directed in a more recent context, all terrorists and their co-conspirators should be “hunt[ed] down and made to pay” for their crimes.

The post My Husband Died on 9/11. I Am Still Waiting for a Trial of His Killers. appeared first on The Intercept.

Secretive CBP Counterterrorism Teams Interrogated 180,000 U.S. Citizens Over Two-Year Period

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 04/09/2021 - 9:00pm in

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More than four years have passed since Aaron Gach, a sculptor and installation artist, was detained at San Francisco International Airport. He was interrogated by U.S. border agents, and his cellphone was searched. He still doesn’t know why. “It has absolutely had a chilling effect on myself and my art practice,” he said. “They wouldn’t tell me why I was stopped or why I was detained.”

portrait-Aaron-on-Angel-Island

Aaron Gach speaking in September 2013 at an art symposium at Angel Island State Park in San Francisco.

Photo: Center for Tactical Magic

Gach is one of tens of thousands of Americans caught up in an effort by the Department of Homeland Security to collect personal information about travelers at land borders and airports. To further this goal, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the DHS agency responsible for policing America’s borders, relies on secretive units called Tactical Terrorism Response Teams, documents from an ongoing Freedom of Information Act lawsuit reveal.

A CBP spokesperson told The Intercept and Type Investigations that the teams, which are trained to conduct counterterrorism interrogations, currently operate at 79 ports of entry and in all 20 of the Border Patrol sectors nationwide. The units consist of CBP officers and Border Patrol agents who work closely with CBP’s National Targeting Center, which gathers and vets intelligence. Since its inception in 2015, the TTRT program has expanded its scope beyond counterterrorism, the spokesperson added, to include other areas such as “counterintelligence, transnational organized crime as well as biological threats.”

Between 2017 and 2019, the documents show, the units detained and interrogated more than 600,000 travelers — about a third of them U.S. citizens. Of those detained, more than 8,000 foreign visitors with legal travel documents were denied entry to the United States. A handful of U.S. citizens were also prevented from entering the country, which civil liberties advocates say violated their rights. Lower court and Supreme Court rulings affirm the constitutional right of U.S. citizens to freedom of movement and the ability to enter and leave the country.

Very little is known about how the secretive units operate, and CBP declined to respond to detailed questions for this story. The more than 1,000 pages — which include emails, training materials, and travelers’ complaints, most of them heavily redacted — offer a broader picture of how the program works as well as the type of information that CBP collects from travelers. The documents were released to the American Civil Liberties Union and the legal advocacy organization Creating Law Enforcement Accountability and Responsibility, or CLEAR, last year as part of a FOIA lawsuit that sought information on how the teams operated and whether constitutional and privacy protections were being violated.

Among the pages are several complaints sent to CBP by U.S. citizens, including Aaron Gach, who only discovered that TTRT agents were responsible for his detention after The Intercept and Type Investigations showed him the documents. “This at least gives some validation to my feeling at the time that my stop felt targeted and not random at all,” Gach said.

drawing12

Two sketches Gach made while waiting to be questioned by TTRT agents at San Francisco International Airport in February 2017.

Sketches: Aaron Gach

A Fishing Expedition

Gach was traveling home from showing his work at an art show in Belgium in February 2017 when he was stopped in the San Francisco airport. As Gach tells it, after waiting in a secondary holding area, two agents led him down a “dark, narrow, and grimy corridor” and seated him at a desk in a corner with a surveillance camera on the wall behind him.

The two officers, who said they were from CBP, questioned him about his art practice, how often he traveled for work, the show he had attended in Brussels, and who he had associated with there, including their phone numbers and email addresses.

As the interrogation continued, Gach said, he began questioning the two agents about his rights as a U.S. citizen, especially after they told him that he could not leave until they had searched his cellphone. “Do I have a choice in the matter?” he asked.

“Of course, you have a choice, but we can also be dicks and just take your phone as part of our investigations if we see fit,” one of the agents said, according to Gach. “Your phone and its contents are part of your personal effects, which are subject to examination when crossing any border into the U.S.”

“What is crystal clear is that they search people’s phones for any reason or no reason and that’s what they did to Aaron.”

Throughout the interrogation the two agents kept their tone jovial, which Gach said he found even more unsettling. If he did not unlock his phone for a search, according to Gach, the agents said they would confiscate his computer, hard drives, and other personal effects. “As a professor and as an artist, most of my work happens on my computer and on my hard drives,” he said. “I never consented to the search, but I did give them my cellphone.”

The reason for Gach’s detention is redacted in the documents. But a few hours before his arrival in San Francisco, the documents show, an analyst from the National Targeting Center sent an email to the TTRT at the airport requesting that Gach be detained and questioned. Emails show the agents discussing “open source” intelligence about the artist before his detention — presumably information compiled from public social media profiles and websites that led to him being flagged. While names and personal information are redacted, Gach and his lawyer reviewed the documents and confirmed he was the subject of the emails.

“Based on some of the info we found in open source, he may be uncooperative,” the analyst wrote to a TTRT supervisor shortly before Gach was detained. “Interesting character though. We’re looking forward to reading the closeout!”

“I have no idea what that means,” Gach said, after reading the emails. “I’m a practicing artist and I have a public presence. I give lectures and write articles.” Gach said he wonders whether the political nature of his work made him a target. A professor at California College of the Arts, he is also founder of the Center for Tactical Magic, an art collective that frequently criticizes U.S. policy, focusing on such issues as government surveillance, civil liberties, and police brutality. At the time Gach was detained, President Donald Trump had recently issued a controversial travel ban aimed at travelers from predominantly Muslim countries. But Gach was flying from Belgium, which wasn’t included in the ban.

After Gach unlocked his cellphone and handed it over to be searched, the agents finally let him go. Shortly thereafter, Gach filed a complaint against CBP regarding the invasive search with the help of the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy watchdog organization. But to date he’s received no response, he said, as to why he was detained or what was done with the information collected from his cellphone.

After viewing the documents, Adam Schwartz, a senior staff attorney with EFF who helped file Gach’s complaint, said it looked like the TTRT agents were on a “fishing expedition.” “What is crystal clear is that they search people’s phones for any reason or no reason and that’s what they did to Aaron.” A CBP spokesperson said the agency does not comment on specific inspections.

International passengers arrive at Miami international Airport where they are screened by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) using facial biometrics to automate manual document checks required for admission into the U.S. Friday, Nov. 20, 2020, in Miami. Miami International Airport is the latest airport to provide Simplified Arrival airport-wide. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Travelers arrive at Miami International Airport, where they are screened by CBP using facial biometrics to automate manual document checks required for admission into the U.S. on Nov. 20, 2020.

Photo: Lynne Sladky/AP

Acting on Instinct

The Department of Homeland Security is not only the country’s largest law enforcement presence, it has also become America’s largest collector of domestic intelligence, said Rachel Levinson-Waldman, deputy director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice.

“The NSA gets a lot of attention and rightly so, especially post-Snowden,” said Levinson-Waldman. “But if you think about DHS, it really dwarfs any of the other agencies. It is just massive, and it is holding tons and tons of data.”

Unlike other law enforcement or intelligence agencies, CBP has been given the authority by Congress to conduct warrantless searches, which it uses to collect enormous amounts of personal information, often from U.S. citizens. Within 100 miles of any U.S. land or coastal boundary, CBP can detain, question, search, and seize property with fewer restrictions than law enforcement in the interior of the country. The area encompasses some 200 million people and some of the country’s largest cities, including Houston and New York City.

“They can’t just detain any person on the street with essentially no pretext and question them,” said Scarlet Kim, one of the ACLU lawyers who filed the FOIA lawsuit. “But at the border where the restrictions are much looser … it becomes this zone where they can pump people for information.”

The TTRTs are an extension of Homeland Security’s massive push to collect intelligence about people on U.S. soil and those abroad applying for visas to enter the country. The task force first came to the attention of the ACLU in 2017, according to Kim, when a Somali man and lawful permanent resident, Abdikadir Mohamed, was detained by TTRT agents and interrogated at John F. Kennedy International Airport. The Intercept wrote about Mohamed’s case and the nearly two years he spent in immigration detention before a judge determined that the TTRT agent had had no valid reason for detaining him.

The same year Mohamed was stopped at the airport, Homeland Security officials briefly mentioned the TTRTs twice in testimonies before Congress. The special units work at some of the nation’s largest border crossings and airports, they testified, and look for travelers identified within the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Database, commonly known as the watchlist, or for those “suspected of having a nexus to terrorist activity.” TTRTs denied more than 1,400 people entry into the United States in 2017, testified Todd Owen, then-executive assistant commissioner for the Office of Field Operations at CBP, during a subcommittee hearing for the House Committee on Homeland Security.

“They have free rein to target folks that have never presented a security threat or red flag for the government.”

Kevin McAleenan, then-commissioner of CBP, said in a 2018 interview with a military publication that the TTRTs could target anyone for questioning. “The Tactical Terrorism Response Team concept was a conscious effort … to take advantage of those instincts and encounters that our officers have with travelers to make decisions based on risk for people that might not be known on a watch list, might not be a known security threat,” he explained. One of the goals, said McAleenan, who would go on to become acting secretary of DHS, was that the agents make “watchlist nominations that devolve from a good interview at the border.” The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to a request for comment about CBP agents using the interrogations to nominate people to watchlists.

“They have free rein to target folks that have never presented a security threat or red flag for the government — even put them on a terrorist watchlist,” said Kim, who added that the most surprising revelation from the documents was the number of U.S. citizens — more than 180,000 — who were questioned by TTRTs between 2017 and 2019. At least 14 of those U.S. citizens were ultimately denied entry into the United States. The reasoning behind the extreme measure is redacted in the FOIA documents. When CBP was asked under what circumstances TTRTs could deny entry to U.S. citizens, the agency declined to comment, issuing the following written statement instead: “Applicants for admission bear the burden of proof to establish that they are clearly eligible to enter the United States.”

The limited reporting that has come out about TTRTs suggests that CBP’s use of the secretive units has at times been politically or ideologically motivated. In May, ProPublica wrote about two U.S. immigration attorneys in El Paso, Texas, who were interrogated by the terrorism unit in 2019 and asked about their religious beliefs and opinion of Trump. Documents provided to ProPublica showed that agents suspected them of assisting Central American migrants traveling in caravans to the U.S. border, which DHS surmised were being organized by “Antifa,” an obsession shared by Trump and right-wing media at the time. Several other U.S. activists, journalists, and attorneys were also targeted in a secret database for interrogation at the border, and dossiers were created regarding their activities.

Another concern is racial profiling, since agents often rely on their “instincts,” as McAleenan described, rather than probable cause when detaining people. Gach noted that while waiting to be questioned by TTRT officers, he appeared to be the only white person among the two dozen other travelers who had been detained. “My biggest concern is that this kind of thing is happening unchecked to a lot of people who I think are more vulnerable than me,” Gach said. “There has to be some sort of accountability.”

After U.S. citizens, the top three nationalities targeted by TTRTs, according to the documents, were Canadians, Mexicans, and Pakistanis. For those denied entry to the United States, the top three included Canada, Iran, and Venezuela. The documents do not break down the denials or encounters by racial category.

The U.S. border patrol surveillance and communications center near the Canada- USA border at the Blaine sector U.S. Customs and Border Protection headquarters. Agents use video surveillance and other methods to monitor the border between Canada and the United States. The border patrol has been a part of the U.S. dept. of Homeland Security since 2001. (Photo by Christopher Morris/Corbis via Getty Images)

CBP officers use video surveillance and other methods to monitor the border between Canada and the U.S. at the agency’s Blaine Sector headquarters in Washington state.

Photo: Christopher Morris/Corbis via Getty Images

Database Upon Database

The Intercept and Type Investigations submitted several questions to CBP about the task force, including whether the agency keeps its own list of potential terrorist suspects, what the agency does with the information it collects from electronic device searches and interrogations, why it targets so many U.S. citizens, and whether it has protocols in place to prevent racial profiling.

The agency declined to comment other than to reply in a written response that CBP “strictly prohibits profiling on the basis of race or religion.”

While CBP would not elaborate on its intelligence gathering, much of what it collects goes into a massive database it administers called the Automated Targeting System. The TTRT units often act on requests from CBP’s analysts to interrogate certain individuals at airports and land borders to gather more information about them and their associates. Much of this information is poured back into the burgeoning ATS database, which includes data from at least 14 other databases within DHS, the FBI, and the Department of Justice, including immigration enforcement data, as well as the Terrorist Screening Database and other watchlists, according to a 2019 DHS Data Mining Report to Congress. CBP also continuously monitors social media sites, according to a 2019 DHS Privacy Impact Assessment.

“The DHS databases are sort of like Escher’s stairs. It’s database upon database and they all seem to interrelate,” said Levinson-Waldman, who is co-authoring a series of reports on DHS, privacy, and civil liberties for the Brennan Center. “I don’t even know how it would be quantified. I don’t think DHS has even quantified it.”

“It imposes all of the same consequences, essentially, as placement on a watchlist but there’s not even a nominal redress.”

All this information is used to search for patterns and associations based on secretive algorithms to create a “risk assessment” for every foreign traveler and U.S. citizen, said Levinson-Waldman. CBP can change its criteria for risk at any time, which target certain travelers for increased scrutiny. Levinson-Waldman cited hypothetical examples of people who might be flagged, ranging from married couples traveling from Turkey to anyone who has flown from Syria. “We really have no idea,” she said.

“It’s essentially a black box algorithm,” said Hugh Handeyside, an attorney with the ACLU who has spent years litigating civil rights issues around the “no-fly list,” which bans anyone on the list from flying over or within U.S. airspace. But unlike the no-fly list, Handeyside said, there is no redress process for anyone flagged by the ATS database to challenge incorrect information or clear their name. Once targeted, a person can be subjected to interrogation and invasive searches every time they travel, and in a worst-case scenario, be prevented from entering or leaving the United States. “It imposes all of the same consequences, essentially, as placement on a watchlist but there’s not even a nominal redress,” he said.

Gach said he hasn’t been stopped again in the few times he’s traveled since the incident in 2017. But as a precaution, he now has a computer and cellphone that he only uses for travel. “Those are costs I can’t easily afford but I felt it was a necessary measure,” he said. “I feel anxious and apprehensive every time I travel now.”

The post Secretive CBP Counterterrorism Teams Interrogated 180,000 U.S. Citizens Over Two-Year Period appeared first on The Intercept.

The Supreme Court Will Not Save Us From the Decimation of Abortion Rights

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 02/09/2021 - 3:31am in

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 Pro-choice advocates, right, face off against anti-abortion supporters during a rally at the Supreme Court Wednesday March 2, 2016, as Justices hear a case concerning a Texas law regulating abortion clinics and providers.(Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Reproductive rights advocates, right, face off against anti-abortion demonstrators, left, during a rally at the Supreme Court on March 2, 2016, as justices hear a case concerning a Texas law regulating abortion clinics and providers.

As of Wednesday morning, abortion has, for all intents and purposes, been outlawed in the state of Texas. The most draconian anti-abortion law in the nation to date is now in effect. Senate Bill 8, which bans abortion after six weeks of pregnancy — long before many people know that they’re pregnant — passed into law as the clock struck midnight. It includes no exceptions for rape or incest.

The abortion ban was not instated in dramatic fashion by the far-right Supreme Court. There was no order to once and for all overturn Roe v. Wade — although such a ruling does loom in a case the court ominously has agreed to hear. Rather, S.B. 8 is now law because of pointed inaction by conservative justices. The Supreme Court knew the law was going into effect Wednesday, was asked to intervene by reproductive rights supporters, and chose not to.

The court let the ban become law — telling us everything we need to know about a future for reproductive rights if we rely on the courts to defend them.

On Friday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals canceled a hearing on the law’s constitutionality. Abortion providers were thus forced to ask the Supreme Court, with its expressly anti-abortion majority, for an injunction in an emergency filing Monday. Instead, the court let the ban become law — telling us everything we need to know about a future for reproductive rights if we rely on the courts to defend them.

Around 90 percent of abortion care in Texas takes place at least six weeks into pregnancy; all those abortions would now be in violation of the law, and anyone involved in helping people access these reproductive rights could face lawsuits. It is of the utmost significance that Texas has enacted an abortion ban with Roe still on the books — a devastating reminder that while upholding Roe is crucial, conservatives have long known that the decimation of reproductive rights never depended on overturning one Supreme Court decision.

As The Intercept’s Jordan Smith reported in July, S.B. 8 is designed to evade federal court challenges by letting anyone, anywhere act as deputies to file suits against so-called abettors of S.B. 8 violations, even based on mere speculation. Unlike most civil litigation, the plaintiff need not even prove that they have been harmed in any way. And it is not only abortion providers at risk, but also literally any person who could be deemed to “abet” the act — including an Uber driver who takes a person to an abortion appointment, or a therapist or pastor who has counseled a person on ending a pregnancy.

Private individuals, rather than state authorities, will bring these cases — a free-for-all for anti-abortion crusaders. As Smith noted, the law makes bounty hunters of anti-abortion vigilantes, promising $10,000 for every abortion performed in violation of the law to those who bring successful suits.

Protestors Rally Against Restrictive New Texas Abortion Law In Austin

Anti-abortion demonstrators protest outside the Texas Capitol on May 29, 2021, in Austin, Texas.

Photo: Sergio Flores/Getty Images

The Texas law came into being like a mutated virus, adapting from previous anti-abortion bills that have failed to bypass the minimal defenses federal law has afforded abortion-seekers and providers since 1973 when Roe was decided. S.B. 8 is devious: Similar bans enacted in 11 states have been blocked by federal courts, but the Texas law is specifically drafted to make it difficult to challenge in court. S.B. 8 was designed, in other words, to circumvent constitutional protections and undo over 50 years of legal precedent upholding the right to abortion before fetal viability.

An emergency application from abortion providers seeking to block the law remains pending before the Supreme Court. The conservative majority, however, has already indicated where it stands by allowing the law to come into effect in the first place.

As has been the case in conservative states where abortion is de facto inaccessible — Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming — Texas has now gone further than any other state in forcing people to carry a fetus to term and give birth against their wills.

Poor people of color will, as ever, suffer the most under a medical regime in which reproductive health services are already scant. Maternal morbidity rates among Black women are disproportionately high to an extreme degree. Texas already has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the nation, along with, more generally, a medical system rife with racist disparities. Anti-abortion laws sit in tandem with so much of the right-wing necropolitical agenda and its all-out assault against Black, brown, Indigenous, queer, and trans people.

“I’m thinking about the Black, brown, low-income, queer, and young folks in Texas. The folks this abortion health care ban will disproportionately harm,” Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., tweeted Wednesday. “Wealthy white folks will have the means to access abortion care. Our communities won’t.”

We can and should fight for the law to be on our side. In Texas and beyond, however, it’s not.

It’s a grim reality that those of us fighting for basic health care rights, which include expansive abortion access for all who seek it, must learn something from the conservative tactical playbook. Yes, their sights are set on overturning Roe, but conservatives have fought on numerous fronts to enact their patriarchal agenda. Liberal appeals to the sanctity of Roe and other legal precedents alone are insufficient in this battle. Reproductive rights activists on the front lines have long known this.

We must be willing to act collectively to share resources and enable those who need to cross state lines for abortions to do so. We must get behind the underground networks that make abortion materials available through whatever routes possible. And we must be willing to throw our full support behind those abortion providers and enablers acting against the law. We can and should fight for the law to be on our side. In Texas and beyond, however, it’s not. The abortion-seekers, providers, and other allies who may need to break the law for reproductive justice deserve our full solidarity.

The post The Supreme Court Will Not Save Us From the Decimation of Abortion Rights appeared first on The Intercept.

FBI Spy Planes Monitored a Single Suspect for Nearly 429 Hours

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/09/2021 - 8:30pm in

The FBI’s secretive spy plane program targeted a man in Florida last year with nearly constant surveillance, logging more than 400 hours in the air with a fleet of Cessna aircraft registered to what appear to be front companies.

This aerial surveillance, described in a filing made Monday in federal court, reveals for the first time the FBI’s enormous capacity to target a single individual inside the United States for prolonged monitoring using aircraft. The fleet of FBI planes, often small aircraft, are outfitted with high-tech video cameras and tracking devices known as “cell-site simulators” that trick mobile phones into connecting to the FBI’s device rather than to a legitimate cellphone tower.

The revelations came in the case of Muhammed Momtaz Alazhari, an alleged supporter of the Islamic State, who federal prosecutors said was plotting a terrorist attack in the Tampa Bay area. Alazhari pleaded not guilty to one count of providing material support to terrorists and two firearms charges. The filing outlined the extraordinary aerial surveillance in a motion to suppress all evidence derived from the FBI’s activities in the air.

Samuel Landes, a federal public defender, argued in the filing that the FBI’s aerial surveillance was an illegal, warrantless search and that information obtained from this surveillance may have been used to recruit informants and justify search warrants as well as authorize highly invasive monitoring under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

“The search was unreasonable because it was conducted without a warrant,” Landes wrote. “Finally, the government cannot show that any derivative evidence — whether in the form of in-person surveillance, new investigative leads, or FISA or traditional warrant searches — was not tainted by the illegal aerial surveillance.” (The FBI did not respond to a request to comment on its aerial surveillance of Alazhari or how frequently the bureau uses such persistent aerial surveillance against suspects.)

“Getting a warrant, when you have such an intense surveillance of one individual, is a very minimal burden before going ‘Enemy of the State’ on this guy.”

While law enforcement agencies are not required to obtain a warrant to surveil a criminal suspect using a car, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that any surveillance involving technology that allows police to monitor the entirety of a suspect’s movements requires a search warrant. As a result, the legal challenge in Florida could have repercussions for the FBI’s ability to use secret spy planes in future investigations.

“Getting a warrant, when you have such an intense surveillance of one individual, is a very minimal burden before going ‘Enemy of the State‘ on this guy,” said Brett Max Kaufman, a senior staff attorney in the American Civil Liberties Union’s Center for Democracy. “This case shows the extreme lengths that the government is willing to push the argument that the Fourth Amendment doesn’t apply to bar its observation of you in public. It would be surprising if this is the only instance in which they’ve trained this kind of surveillance on one individual, so I doubt this is the last time we’ll hear about this kind of situation.”

FBI Spy Planes

The existence of the FBI’s spy plane program was revealed after the 2015 protests in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody. At the request of the Baltimore Police Department, the FBI dispatched Cessna aircraft to monitor crowds from April 29 to May 3, 2015, and a year later the FBI released that video footage to the public.

The Associated Press and BuzzFeed News reported that the FBI’s spy plane program had been deployed nationwide and used more than 100 Cessna aircraft. Tail number registration records from the Federal Aviation Administration show that many of these aircraft were owned by what appeared to be FBI front companies, such as KQM Aviation and PXW Services. Surveillance cameras are mounted on the underside of the planes on the pilot’s side; pilots fly in a counterclockwise pattern in order to keep the camera constantly trained on targets.

“The FBI’s aviation program is not secret,” FBI spokesperson Christopher Allen told the Associated Press in 2015. “Specific aircraft and their capabilities are protected for operational security purposes.”

A BuzzFeed analysis of FBI spy planes, using data from the flight-tracking website Flightradar24, found that the FBI used its aerial surveillance program following the 2015 San Bernardino shooting, in which Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik killed 14 people and wounded 22 others at a company holiday party. Two aircraft circled the scene of the shooting, BuzzFeed reported, and the following week, flight records showed that three different FBI aircraft circled the mosque Farook had attended.

Until now, however, it has not been understood how the FBI might use its fleet of spy planes against an individual criminal suspect.

The Tampa Case

In May 2019, the FBI became interested in Alazhari, a Home Depot employee who was then 23 years old, after learning that he was watching ISIS propaganda and speaking favorably about the terrorist group, authorities claimed in court records. Federal agents also learned that Alazhari had been convicted in Saudi Arabia in 2015 on charges that alleged he was planning to travel to Syria to join Jaysh al-Islam, an Islamist militant group that was opposed to ISIS.

Alazhari allegedly tried to purchase a gun on eBay in April 2020. The FBI then took over the eBay seller’s account, and an undercover agent began to communicate directly with Alazhari. Alazhari told the undercover agent that he already had several guns and discussed selling those firearms, including an Uzi, to the undercover agent. “What’s actually really cool about this Uzi, it’s, it’s really accurate. I love it, I mean, the way it shoots,” Alazhari told the agent. Alazhari also discussed buying an AK-47 from the undercover agent, which he wanted to be modified for fully automatic fire.

The FBI’s near-constant aerial surveillance of Alazhari happened while he was communicating with the undercover agent who was pretending to be the eBay seller. From April 18, 2020, to May 12, 2020, the FBI surveilled Alazhari from the air every day except one — from two hours to as many as 20 hours per day during the period.

The only day the FBI didn’t surveil Alazhari by air was the one during which he was receiving in-patient mental health services.

In all, the FBI surveilled Alazhari from the air for nearly 429 hours. Some of this surveillance resulted in evidence the government has brought against Alazhari, including footage that the Justice Department claims shows him “scouting targets for a potential mass shooting attack.” Yet the FBI’s planes mostly followed Alazhari as he went about his life, following him to trips to Honeymoon Island State Park, off Florida’s west coast, and to Orlando.

The planes also followed Alazhari during routine events — including getting mail from his mailbox, visiting his sister, and going to an urgent-care clinic — and even once when he checked himself into an in-patient mental health facility. The only day the FBI didn’t surveil Alazhari by air during this period was the one during which he was receiving in-patient mental health services.

To keep eyes on Alazhari, the FBI used a rotation of planes, with a new plane taking off to pick up when another plane headed back to land. The planes’ cameras were able to zoom in close enough to identify people on the ground and could switch between various modes, including one that recognized heat signatures and could reveal people otherwise obstructed by trees or other objects.

The FBI used at least nine planes to surveil Alazhari — a fact that Alazhari’s lawyer was able to determine by the file names of the FBI’s videos, which were handed over to the defense as part of discovery in the criminal case. Each of the file names included what the lawyer described as “a seemingly meaningless alphanumeric pattern.” The alphanumerical designations were the FBI planes’ tail numbers.

FAA records show that the planes are registered to what appear to be FBI front companies, including RKT Productions, KQM Aviation, NG Research, OBR Leasing, and PSL Surveys. One of the planes used to surveil Alazhari — a Cessna 182T with the tail number N404KR — was also flown by the FBI in California in the days after the San Bernardino shooting.

“The surveillance sounds like the ravings of a paranoid schizophrenic,” Landes, Alazhari’s lawyer, wrote in the filing challenging the legality of this warrantless aerial surveillance, explaining why the court should view the surveillance as an illegal search. “Society is therefore prepared to recognize as reasonable Mr. Alazhari’s perfectly sane expectation that he was not being constantly watched from above by the FBI.”

The post FBI Spy Planes Monitored a Single Suspect for Nearly 429 Hours appeared first on The Intercept.

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