Promoting Fear of Muslim Terror Government Continues Invasion into Privacy, Civil Rights
Did you know that the nation’s Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) has given $31 billion in grants, including $3.8 billion in 2010 alone, to state and local governments to find and protect Americans from terrorists?
A recent, detailed report in the Washington Post, titled Monitoring America, written by Dana Priest and William H. Arkin, said there is now “a web of 4,058 federal, state and local organizations, each with its own counterterrorism responsibilities.” At least 935 of these agencies were established in the wake of 9/11 Twin Tower attacks in New York City.
A first impression would consider this a good thing: that American law enforcement and intelligence agencies on “on their game” protecting us from unlikely but potentially real terrorists. This “feel good” impression was given buoyancy by several recent FBI sting operations over the last couple of months: one involving a Baltimore construction worker who wanted to blow up a Maryland military recruiting station; another involving a Somali-born naturalized U.S. citizen who wanted to detonate a car bomb among a large gathering of people attending a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland, Oregon; and yet another involving a Virginia man arrested for wanting to bomb Washington and metro stations.
Arrests in these sting operations occurred within weeks of each other with all of them being a lead story on network and cable news. While it was disturbing to think that there are potential domestic terrorists in our midst, the FBI made a big media splash with these arrests to reassure Americans that the nation’s law enforcement and intelligence agencies are working diligently to protect us.
But protection at what cost?
Each of these FBI sting operations were born out of what the Post said is a “vast domestic intelligence apparatus to collect information about Americans, using the FBI, local police, state homeland security offices and military criminal investigators.” This coordinated state, federal, local and military intelligence gathering is known as “Top Secret America.” The Post conducted an extensive, months-long investigation that was based on nearly 100 interviews and 1,000 documents and the newspaper’s key findings were:
- Technologies and techniques honed for use on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan have migrated into the hands of law enforcement agencies in America.
- The FBI is building a database with the names and certain personal information, such as employment history, of thousands of U.S. citizens and residents whom a local police officer or a fellow citizen believed to be acting suspiciously. It is accessible to an increasing number of local law enforcement and military criminal investigators, increasing concerns that it could somehow end up in the public domain.
- Seeking to learn about Islam and terrorism, some law enforcement have hired as trainers self-described experts whose extremist views on Islam and terrorism are considered inaccurate and counterproductive to the FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies.
- The Department of Homeland Security sends its state and local partners intelligence reports with little meaningful guidance, and state reports have sometimes inappropriately reported on lawful meetings.
One of the prime movers of these increased domestic surveillance efforts is none other than DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano who was quoted by the Post as recently telling a group of police and firefighters: “The old view that ‘if we fight the terrorists abroad, we won’t have to fight them here’ is just that—the old view.” That is a public face Napolitano likes to display. As the former governor of Arizona, the Post said she “built one of the strongest state intelligence organizations outside of New York to try to stop illegal immigration and drug importation.” The DHS secretary has enlisted the assistance of major public forces like Wal-Mart, Amtrak, major league sports, hotel chains and metro riders to fight the “war on terror” much like Americans fought the “Cold War” against communism in the 1950s, especially through her “See Something, Say Something” campaign.
But DHS’s fast-developing and far-reaching emphasis on state and local domestic intelligence gathering has not been without its downside in costs to both personal privacy and community brotherhood. The surveillance technology developed in the war zones and Iraq and Afghanistan has become prominent in local enforcement crime-fighting strategies and very quietly given us a “Big Brother” kind of society.
For example, the Post reported that Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Maricopa County department in Arizona has a “Facial Recognition Unit” that records some 9,000 “biometric” digital mug shots each month while Memphis police cars cruise around the city with “military-grade” infrared cameras mounted on their hoods snapping digital images of license plates as the camera moves from left to right as officers wait for a red light to flash on a screen signaling “warrant.”
The Memphis police department has become so addicted to gathering photos, video images and other personal data about its residents that it took money from DHS to buy surveillance cameras which now monitor residents near what the Post called “high-crime housing projects, problematic street corners, and bridges and other critical infrastructure”—all without the city ever having discovered one terrorist or even a potential terrorist in its midst. Since 2001, the city of Memphis has spent $11 million in DHS money, most of which has been used to fight crime and underwrite its cost for setting up a “crime-analysis center.”
“We have got things now we didn’t have before,” Memphis Police Department Director Larry Godwin boasted to the Post, pointing to his department’s record number of arrests because of the new technologies and analysis. “Some of them we can talk about. Some of them we can’t.”
And indeed that is the scary part to us—the things Director Godwin cannot talk about. His department has shifted from relying primarily on the “cop on the beat” to a “technology specialist” named John Harvey. He is what the Post called the department’s “special ops” man who collects any and all data he can from government and industry about the city’s residents. The Post revealed a couple of his “achievements”:
- Rather than patrol officers wasting time knocking on doors to serve warrants, Harvey “persuaded” the local utility company to provide the department with a “daily update of the names and addresses of customers.”
- He created a program to store all emergency 911 calls which often provide the name and address of the persons making the calls. This enables investigators to gather valuable information from phones recovered at crime scenes.
- He created yet another program that uploads “new crime reports every five minutes and mine them for the phone numbers of victims, suspects, witnesses and anyone else listed on them.”
This kind of Orwellian technology allows patrol officers to use mined personal data about “all” residents, including law-abiding ones, to fight street crime. For example, the Memphis patrolman no longer has to type a license number into a computer console in his car, All he has to do now is drive around and let the “automatic plate reader” capture the plate numbers on every nearby vehicle. If the reader alerts to a problem, the officer no longer has to wait 20 minutes for someone back at the department to manually check the suspect’s records. He is equipped with a “hand-held device” that brings up the suspect’s mug shot, Social Security number, the status of his license, and whether he has any outstanding warrants.
Great crime-fighting tools, you think?
But the Post explained what happens after such a traffic stop, and that’s where your “Big Brother” problem starts: “A record of that stop—and the details of every other arrest made that night, and every summons written—[is] automatically transferred to the Memphis Real Time Crime Center, a command center with three walls of streaming surveillance video and analysis capabilities that rival those of an Army command center. There, the information [is] geocoded on a map to produce a visual rendering of crime patterns. This information [will] help the crime intelligence analysts predict trends so the department [can] figure out what neighborhoods to swarm with officers and surveillance cameras.”
Still not concerned?
“But that [is] still not the end of it,” the Post continued, “because the fingerprints from the crime records [will] also go to the FBI’s data campus in Clarksburg, W. Va. There, fingerprints from across the United States are stored, along with others collected by American authorities from prisoners in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan.”
That’s right, folks. The fingerprints of ordinary Americans stopped for routine traffic violations are ultimately stored with those of suspected foreign terrorists. This Clarksburg database already has some 96 million sets of prints that our government officials “view not as daunting but as an opportunity.” The Post reported that just this year the FBI, DHS, and the Defense Department achieved the capability to share each other’s fingerprint databases. The newspaper cited Myra Gray, the head of the Defense Department’s Biometrics Identity Management Agency, as telling an industry group that “hopefully in the not-too-distant future, our relationship with these federal agencies—along with state and local agencies—will be completely symbiotic.”
Now, doesn’t that sound like “Matrix Reloaded” kind of stuff to you?
Well, if the commingling of crime-fighting and “war on terror” strategies does not put your “pants on the ground,” perhaps “suspicious files” will. And just what are “suspicious files?”
As we speak, the FBI is building what the Post called a “vast repository” that will be under the control of people working in a “top-secret vault” on the fourth floor of the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building in Washington. This repository will store “the profiles of tens of thousands of Americans and legal residents who are not accused of any crime” but who have acted “suspiciously” to some “Barney Fife” small-town deputy, a prejudiced Texas traffic cop, or a nosey neighbor.
This system is called the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative (“SAR”), and the FBI hopes SAR will someday “hold files forwarded by all police departments across the country” which can be used by the agency in its “continuing search for terrorists within [our] borders.” The Post cited “Suspicious Activity Report No3821” which says that a local law enforcement officer observed “a suspicious suspect … taking photographs of the Orange County Sheriff Department Fire Boat and the Balboa Ferry with a cellular phone camera.” This “confidential” report was marked “For Official Use Only.” It added information that the “subject” then made a phone call, walked to his vehicle, returned five minutes later to take more photos, and was then joined by another person where they stood observing “the boat traffic in the harbor. A few moments later the “suspicious” duo was joined by yet another adult who had two small children at which time they all boarded a ferry and crossed the channel.
What happened to this particular report?
It was sent to a DHS Los Angeles “fusion center” where an officer ran the subject’s name and vehicle “through several crime databases” without finding anything criminal. While the authorities would not comment about where this particular “suspicious” report ended up, the Post said the LA center could have dismissed it as “harmless” or referred it to the FBI for further “investigation.” A subsequent FBI investigation may collected more information before finding that the subject had no connection to terrorism and closed the file.
But the most likely thing that happened to the report is that “no specific determination” was made about it. This means the report will sit in limbo for as long as “five years” during which time more information can be placed in the file not only about the subject photographing the boat but about his “employment, financial and residential histories; multiple phone numbers; audio files; video from the dashboard mounted camera in the police cruiser at the harbor where he took pictures; and anything else in government or commercial databases” the FBI may consider of value.
Michael German is a former FBI agent. He now leads the American Civil Liberties Union’s campaign on national security and privacy issues. “[SARs] opens a door for all kinds of abuses,” he told the Post. “How do we know there are enough controls?”
For example, if you buy fertilizer in this country, the FBI wants to know if you are buying it to plant vegetables or make a bomb; or if you’re taking a photo of a beach harbor, the FBI wants to know if you just like the harbor or whether you are plotting to blow it up. Either way, your actions can generate a SARs report—and the FBI is working hard to create a way to attach “biometric data” to such reports, and trying to develop software that will allow local law enforcement agencies to “map all suspicious incidents” of this kind in their jurisdictions.
You definitely should be getting scared now!
Orwell’s “1984” is fast becoming obsolete “child’s play” in today’s “war on terror.” Already the FBI (as of December) has compiled 161,948 “suspicious activity files” in its database—and in just the last two years some 890 state and local law enforcement agencies have sent the federal agency 7,197 such reports, according to the Post. 103 of these reports morphed into “full investigations” that resulted in a staggering “five arrests” but no convictions, yet.
Phillip Mudd is a 20-year CIA counterterrorism expert and an FBI national security official before his retirement nine months ago. “[SARs is] really resource-inefficient,” he told the Post. “If I were to have a dialogue with the country about this … it would be about not only how we chase the unknowns, but do you want to do suspicious activity reports across the country? Anyone who is not at least suspected of doing something criminal should not be in a database?”
Another longtime CIA official who led DHS’s intelligence office until 2009 seemed to agree. Claude Allen said “some senior people in the intelligence community” are skeptical about SAR’s ability to identify terrorists. “It’s more likely that other kinds of focused efforts by local police will gain you the information that you need about extremist activities,” he told the Post.
But FBI special agent in charge of the agency’s Knoxville office, Richard Lambert, counters: “Ninety-nine percent [of the SARs] doesn’t pan out or lead to anything, but we’re happy to wade through these things.”
Far too often, we suspect, “these things” are just innocent actions in the private lives of everyday law-abiding citizens which are none of the FBI’s business, the agency’s “war on terror” notwithstanding. Criminal investigations used to require a certain level of probable cause to trigger. That’s no longer the constitutional rule. A bag of fertilizer to plant tomatoes in your backyard can now be the catalyst for a wide-ranging and deep-reaching criminal investigation into every aspect of your personal life.
While this harsh reality may not anger some who blindly follow the other crazy sheep off the cliff, maybe Ramon Montijo will cause you to pause and think before you leap. The Post informed us that Montijo has taught “classes on terrorism and Islam” to state law enforcement agencies across the country. He is a self proclaimed “expert” on these two separate subjects that he somehow considers to be the same. He clicks off a list of states: “Alabama, Colorado, Vermont, California, Texas and Missouri.”
What does Texas have in common with these other five states in this former Army Special Forces sergeant’s lexicon? Well, the former Los Angeles Police Department investigator who now works as a “private security consultant” says “most Muslims in the United States want to impose sharia law here.” And Montijo gets overly aggressive when he speaks about this subject: “[Muslims] want to make this world Islamic. The Islamic flag will fly over the White House – not only my watch! My job is to wake up the public, and first, the first responders.”
We suspect Gov. Rick Perry will soon be trying to hire someone like Montijo as the next director of the Texas Department of Public Safety or some other Texas “Homeland Security” agency. Unfortunately, it is these kinds of state and local law enforcement agencies which have been called upon to shoulder the bulk of the “war on terror” without its officers having undergone any training for such warfare.
“The CIA used to train analysts forever before they graduated to be real analyst,” Allen told the Post. “Today we take former law enforcement officers and we call them intelligence officers, and that’s not right, because they have not received any training or intelligence analysis.”
Allen was speaking directly to self-described “experts” like Montijo who are better trained to speak to Jerry Springer-type audiences than to law enforcement agencies. But even Montijo’s “expert” status pales in comparison to that of Walid Shoebat, a onetime Muslim who converted to Christianity. Shoebat also has a penchant for addressing state law enforcement agencies to educate them about Muslims because he too believes most of them want to impose sharia law in the United States.
But unlike Montijo’s “not on my watch” theatrics, Shoebat offers specific “expert” advise on how to combat this conspiracy. “You need to look at the entire pool of Muslims in a community,” he instructs officers. At the first annual South Dakota Fusion Center Conference in Sioux Falls this past June, Shoebat told the law enforcement audience they should “monitor student groups” and local mosques, including wiretapping their telephones. “You can find out a lot of information that way,” he suggested.
Think Montijo and Shoebat are just isolated “conspiracy theorists?” Think again.
The Washington-based neoconservative think-tank Center for Security Policy recently published a book, “Shariah: The Threat to America,” which presents the theory that a “stealth jihad” is underway in this country which must be stopped before they take control of the nation’s legal and political systems. Authors associated with this “right field” propaganda include former CIA Director R. James Woolsey and former undersecretary of defense for intelligence Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin. The Post pointed out that these authors contend most mosques in the United States have already been “radicalized;” most Muslim social organizations are fronts for “violent jihadists;” and most Muslims who practice “sharia law” want it imposed in this country.
“Members of our team have been involved in training programs for several years now, many of which have been focused on law enforcement intelligence, homeland security, state police, National Guard units, and the like,” the center’s director Frank Gaffney, Jr., told the Post. “We’re seeing a considerable ramping of interest in getting this kind of training.”
While we laud legitimate government efforts to protect us from terrorism, we are deeply concerned that political conservatives like Gaffney and Boykin, and extremists like Montijo and Shoebat, have injected a religious and political ideology into the domestic “war on terror” which now threaten the very core of our fundamental civil liberties and constitutional rights. We have seen the human rights violations and legal abuses engaged in by government officials during the Bush-era “war on terror” on the international front because of the political ideologues who ran that presidential war room. But injecting state and local law enforcement agencies into the domestic war on terror blurs the distinct line between “crime fighting” and “terrorism prevention” to the extent that no law-abiding citizen in this country is now immune from invasions of personal privacy and community surveillance. And, worst yet, there is a foreseeable future in this country where Americans will be watching their television or computer screens while being monitored by their own government officials. Can you imagine Gov. Rick Perry twirling his .9mm watching you eat your popcorn during a “Law and Order” re-run to see if you are eating it with your left or right hand? Left-hand eaters, of course, are “suspicious,” warranting “further investigation.”
We’re not being cavalier.
If you think TSA airport security “body scans” and “pat downs” are intrusive, just wait and see what “they” have planned for your personal, work, and social lives in the very near future. Imagine the day when attending an office “Christmas party,” where people tend to talk too much and say outlandish things, you find yourself the subject of a SAR because you make comments critical of the government or local police which are recorded and given to an “intelligence analyst” like Ramon Mantijo for possible “terror-related” analysis.
“My brother’s keeper” is about to take on a whole new definition, and don’t say we didn’t warn you.
By: Houston Criminal Attorney John Floyd and Paralegal Billy Sinclair