Tag Archives: Dhs

REAL ID and Islamophobia: Resisting Our Legibility To The State


In most parts of Europe, since the totalitarian governments of the inter-war period, pressure from governments to make their citizens legible has been hard to resist. Germany now has universal biometric ID cards for all adults, which police have a right to demand to see, irrespective of whether they have probable cause of your involvement in a crime; 24 of the 27 EU states have mandatory national ID cards.

Biometrics matter, because outside of science fiction, they can’t be changed. During refugee crises, deep anxieties – Who are these people? Why are they coming here? – induce governments to pin people down to an unchanging identity, like bugs in a biologist’s cabinet.

This is a fundamental difference between mainly-autochthonous and mainly-settler societies. Ideologically, the United States came to be out of westward conquest, by people eager to refashion themselves away from the religious and social strictures of more settled societies. At Ellis Island, you could change your name; on the frontier, a white man could be whoever he declared himself to be. As Walt Whitman wrote, “Of every hue and caste am I, of every rank and religion, / A farmer, mechanic, artist, gentleman, sailor, quaker, / Prisoner, fancy-man, rowdy, lawyer, physician, priest. / I resist any thing better than my own diversity, Breathe the air but leave plenty after me.” Settler societies are supposed to “leave plenty” of air to breathe for those who come to settle after them; they’re supposed to leave room to self-refashion. Anonymity, pseudonymity and the ability to erase your tracks bolster your power versus the state.

Which brings us to Donald Trump, and his calls for registration of suspiciously Muslim people; and which also brings us to efforts here in Massachusetts to increase our legibility by implementing the REAL ID Act.

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Penny-Ante State-Based Spies Want To Force Big Kids To Let Them Play With All The Data


The U. S. House just passed two bills under suspension, HR. 3503 and HR. 3598, sponsored by Rep. McCaul (R-TX-10) and Rep. Peter King (R-NY-2). For some reason, McCaul and King are fans of the inept and wasteful “fusion centers”, a network of 78 state-based centers funded partly through DHS.

The idea back in 2006 was that fusion centers would provide “joined-up intelligence”, coordinating federal and state information that would then thwart terrorist attacks in advance.

It didn’t quite work out that way. In fact, there’s good reason why fusion centers are not now the focus of intelligence sharing efforts: They turned out to be a waste of time and resources better spent elsewhere.

A bipartisan 2012 US Senate report blasted the fusion centers for failing to thwart any attacks, for wasting public funds on things like widescreen TVs (for “open source intelligence collection”), and for articulating absurd rationales for surveilling peaceful domestic activists. One fusion center labeled supporters of Ron Paul and the Campaign for Liberty as potential domestic terrorists; in Boston and around the country, veterans’ groups, the Occupy movement and Black Lives Matter have come under sustained scrutiny. Fusion centers don’t thwart terrorism; they offer states a bureaucratic mechanism to funnel DHS grants to, say, northeastern Ohio (which has its own fusion center), distributing them away from areas more likely to be targeted by terrorists. They collect and sit on mounds of unverified gossip about “suspicious” people, gossip that often appears motivated by racial or religious bias. These threats are nonsensical; there is no reason to lend them credence.

These bills should be seen clearly for what they are. They’re not efforts to actually thwart terrorist attacks better; they’re salvos in a turf war between intelligence agencies. Fusion centers are often left out of data sharing by other surveillance agencies, such as the FBI, TSA, CBP and other DHS agencies. Instead of allowing discretionary sharing with individual fusion centers, H. 3598 requires support for the National Fusion Center Network specifically, and aims to “ensur[e] that fusion centers in the Network are the primary focal points for the sharing of homeland security information, terrorism information, and weapons of mass destruction information with state and local entities.” HR. 3503 seeks to integrate fusion centers more closely with border security, in the form of CBP, TSA and the Coast Guard, forcing those agencies to analyze whether it would be beneficial to station CBP, TSA and CG personnel at fusion centers, in lieu of simply sharing data electronically. The bill gives the Under-Secretary of Intelligence and Analysis at DHS an ultimatum to agree within one year with all 78 fusion centers how DHS and the fusion centers will share and disclose data. Of course, the bills take no steps to make fusion centers effective in the future, so there’s no way to test whether the bills will actually do good if they pass. All they offer Congress is reports on whether fusion centers have particular policies, not whether the policies work; whether they are sharing information, not whether the sharing actually results in less terrorism or less crime.

We support the sharing of important, verified leads, based on probable cause of actual criminal plots. But these bills make us less, not more, safe, by encouraging the kind of information sharing that will overwhelm agencies like FBI and other parts of DHS with useless false positives. They will waste the time of FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force personnel, forcing them to spend time dealing with an extra agency when time is of the essence. There is no language that would involve actual evaluation of whether the information they hold is accurate, useful or constitutionally appropriate to hold. As constitutional activists, we’re no fans of the FBI’s efforts to convert themselves into a federal counterterrorism and domestic surveillance agency, and there’s plenty of overlap already among federal agencies fighting for a piece of the seemingly unending stream of counterterrorism tax dollars; but extending sharing further by forcing everything to go via the fusion centers seems even more counterproductive.

Call your Senator, and urge them to vote against these bills!

Levitating the Pentagon Is Now A Terrorist Act


Back in 1967, the much-missed Abbie Hoffman and several hundred of his friends hatched a plan to exorcise and levitate the Pentagon, so that they could end the war in Vietnam. They meticulously went through all the steps for requesting a permit (including negotiating the proposed levitation down to three feet, from the initially suggested 300 feet). Most amazingly of all, to our tired War-on-Terror eyes, they were allowed to go through with it, albeit with several thousand US troops and a couple hundred US Marshals standing ready in case of chaos.

Authoritarians of both major parties will be happy to hear that today’s law enforcement won’t stand for such peaceful acts of political theater. At a time when the newspapers are dutifully parroting the paramount need for a Democratic President to bomb ISIS so hard that it will make the rubble bounce, our domestic law enforcement agencies and private security companies are getting floods of easy money to deal with the devastating terroristic threats posed by people who drop glitter or take photos of factory farms or who hold hippy parties in the woods.

Pity, in this last context, the Rainbow Family of Living Light, who make the mistake of “stressing non-violence, peace and love.” We Are Change reports that Missoula’s police chief has applied for a grant from DHS (who else?) to purchase a mobile command unit to spy on the Rainbow Family as an “extremist” organization. One of its gatherings was described as “rowdy” and as “creat[ing] a mess that [needed] to be cleaned up”. If that makes you an extremist, then based on the appearance of our toy room I appear to have two domestic extremist seven-year-olds; maybe I should be applying for a quarter-million dollar grant from DHS myself?

My goodness gracious. Well, the last thing we Americans want is any rowdiness. Leave that to the Canadians, or possibly the British. We, unlike them, are sober and obedient people who dutifully obey orders from the powers that be. It’s the only safe thing to do in this post-9/11 world.

The House Wants to Defund DHS. Let’s Restructure It Instead.


Media outlets and blogs are taking to the fainting couches because Very Evil House Republicans who Hate America are threatening to defund the much-mocked Department of Homeland Security.

Sadly, they’re not failing to fund it because, say, it’s a gargantuan bureaucratic waste of time that funnels billions of taxpayer dollars to security grifting companies, or because it hands out military equipment to police departments with all the brio and experience of a private just out of basic training, or because DHS funding suppresses legitimate dissent by communities of color across the United States.

No, what’s really got House Republicans in a lather about DHS is realizing that something “must-pass” like a DHS funding bill would be a great vehicle for a poison-pill amendment overturning the President’s executive actions on immigration. So they sent that bill up to the Senate, and Senate Republicans, needing five Democratic votes to push through a DHS funding bill, somehow can’t find any Democrats willing to commit electoral hara-kiri with their own base in order to please the Republicans’ base. Go figure!

As a result, in two weeks’ time the DHS will run out of money, and apologists for the security state are beginning to panic – but they’re having trouble getting their stories straight. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) warns us all, “We can’t go too far here because look what happened in Paris.” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) fulminates, “We can’t shut down the DHS. Not with the threats the homeland is subjected to as a result of the rise of ISIS.” [Note: There is no threat to “the homeland” from ISIS.] For God’s sake, the TSA might run out of money! What an awful shame that would be!

The DHS is a failure. It was a bad idea to begin with, coming out of the incorrect notion that the 9/11 attacks could have been prevented by “joined-up intelligence.” It never made sense to yoke the Coast Guard, FEMA, and the customs/border/transportation security/immigration agencies awkwardly together. DHS has always been poorly managed. It just layers an extra frosting of highly remunerated officials on top of agencies that would do just as fine where they were before. So let’s take a closer look at what a sensible structure would look like.

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It Takes A Massive Surveillance Apparatus To Hold Us Back: Fusion Centers, Ferguson and the Deep State


Here’s a question: How much of a national security threat are people protesting the non-indictment of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown?

If you answered, There’s no national security threat; they’re exercising their First Amendment rights, which should be celebrated, then you’re obviously a pre-9/11-American, which is enough to get you disinvited from the major TV propaganda shows.

Local news media reported on the Black Lives Matter protest in Boston, and noted, without really thinking about it, that “the state police Commonwealth Fusion Center monitored social media, which provided “critical intelligence about protesters’ plans to try to disrupt traffic on state highways.” It didn’t really register because journalists are mostly not watching fusion centers like we are, and aren’t seeing them come up again and again and again and again, lurking at the edges of stories about free speech and national security, and policing the boundaries of what is acceptable to say.

Think, then, of fusion centers as state-based NSAs overseen loosely by the Department of Homeland Security. Set up after 9/11 to provide “joined-up intelligence” and thwart terrorist attacks, they quickly found that there just wasn’t enough terrorism of the kind not ginned up by government informants themselves to sustain 88 separate local antiterrorism centers in addition to the NSA, FBI and CIA. So they expanded their definition of terrorism to cover many other things, which in Massachusetts have included harassing peaceful activists and elected officials while missing actual terrorist plots, and now, for lack of anything better to do with their tax dollars, vetting licenseholders for marijuana dispensaries and fostering anonymous threat reporting in public schools.

We have advocated against fusion centers for a long time. Last week, we received the results of a FOIA request to Massachusetts’ Commonwealth Fusion Center that throws more light on the kind of information they hold, and the kind of society that is being constructed without our consent.

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The Executive’s Humpty-Dumpty Terrorism Watchlisting Policy: Lessons from People v. Morales


The Intercept’s publication of the criteria for the terrorism watchlists throws some light at least on what the government tells itself a terrorist is. This is a matter of keen interest to many of us, since a close reading of the following text tells you a lot about the values and priorities of our new-minted surveillance state overlords.


Not to go all mise en abyme about it, but this definition is, well, abysmal. Let’s take it a step at a time.

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Turns out, MBTA has plenty of dollars – for surveillance.

Kade Crockford reports that DHS has awarded the MBTA $7 million to refit its buses with fancy new surveillance cameras. Why? Oh, no reason in particular. But the MBTA is at pains to point out that they spent none of their own money on the project. What’s wrong with free money?

Let me tell you what’s wrong with free money. Whether it’s coming from MBTA, DHS, the NSA or the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, it all comes from you and me in the end, and I care just the same about whether it’s being spent wisely.

I understand the politics. MBTA, being a local agency, tends to come under fire if it, say, has a massive budget crisis and hikes fares by 23% to help make up the shortfall. DHS, on the other hand, won’t be protested, and this one grant is a drop in the bucket. Nobody’s going to lose their job at DHS if the money does no good.

Crockford rightly comments:

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Democratic process challenges use of DHS surveillance cameras

This is a guest post by Adam Weiss of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee.

camera-500x333From 2008 to 2010, Boston and eight surrounding cities and towns installed surveillance cameras provided by a grant through the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Urban Areas Security Initiative. DHS’ website describes the cameras as part of a system that has “nine, independent and interoperable nodes tied together through a central hub and is made up of over 100 cameras.” The cameras were justified for the protection of “critical infrastructure” from terrorist attack, but their use has faced scrutiny from citizens concerned about threats to civil liberties. In Brookline and Cambridge, two municipalities covered by the grant, residents are using local governments to attempt to ban surveillance cameras.

Four members of Brookline’s Town Meeting, the two hundred and forty-five member legislature of the town government, are co-sponsoring a resolution calling on Brookline’s Board of Selectmen to remove all DHS-provided cameras. The resolution is expected to be voted on by Thursday, November 21. While the Town Meeting cannot set binding policy on the use of surveillance cameras, which is left to the Board of Selectmen, its role as the voice for public opinion can have major impact. In 2009, the Town Meeting passed a similar resolution, which led to a compromise with the Brookline Police Department that the cameras would only operate from 10 pm to 6 am. However, the Brookline police are seeking to implement a policy of 24-hour surveillance following the Boston Marathon bombing, which now has prompted four Town Meeting members to co-sponsor another resolution.

The proposed resolution states that mass surveillance is not appropriate for a free society, and further declares:

“Permanent surveillance cameras are another step in the wrong direction toward radically changing our sense of being a free society…While public places may not, in a technical legal sense, be places where we have an ‘expectation of privacy,’ the right to be let alone and not identified or tracked by the police is a fundamental aspect of a free society.”

One of those co-sponsors, Clint Richmond, expressed concern about the chilling effect surveillance cameras can have on the First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and assembly, specifically citing that one camera is located at a popular site in Brookline for political activity. Richmond stated his belief that when people know they are under surveillance, their “behavior becomes inhibitive, impairing the right to free speech.”

Kade Crockford, director of the Technology for Liberty program at the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts (ACLUM), has worked with Brookline PAX, a progressive organization of Brookline residents, providing community organizing support against the DHS cameras. Crockford conveyed her belief that the mass use of surveillance cameras foregoes more effective alternatives to reducing crime, since they do not deter crime and when perpetrators are caught after the fact, the vast majority of cases are for minor crimes, such as petty theft. She said it is thus “misleading” to claim that cameras can be effective at stopping terrorism. Another fear Crockford discussed was the “centralization of surveillance” provided by the cameras, since they are part of a larger network throughout Greater Boston, meaning they could potentially allow a person to be followed over a large geographical area.

Residents of Cambridge have thus far achieved the most success in limiting camera use of the nine Greater Boston municipalities that have them. As with Brookline, the Cambridge Police Department (CPD) also supports turning the cameras on twenty-four hours a day. However, in response to pressure from the Cambridge City Council, they have not been turned on at any point, despite being installed in 2009. The CPD recently published a draft policy for the use of the cameras, which was discussed at a public hearing on September 26, 2013. The ACLUM provided a statement at this meeting, which addressed the larger context of surveillance camera use, stating

“After 9/11, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security catalyzed a transfer of funds, technologies, strategies, and tactics from the military and intelligence worlds down to the state and local levels. These transfers are part of a larger, dangerous trend of powerful and largely unaccountable federal agencies conscripting local police to act as eyes and ears for the national surveillance state.”

The City Council is waiting for the CPD to release its final draft of a policy before voting again on the issue, which is likely to happen in early 2015. Melissa Gonzalez, a member of Cambridge’s Human Rights Commission, the town government agency responsible for investigating unlawful discrimination, said there was great concern that cameras were placed in neighborhoods that could be profiling people of specific ethnicities and religion. She also expressed concern that there was insufficient accountability for camera use if activated, because the CPD cites only its own internal review procedures to ensure appropriate usage.

The fate of the cameras in both municipalities remains uncertain, as the impact of the Boston Marathon bombing has affected many people’s attitudes towards surveillance cameras. Richmond says he expects the vote in Brookline this week to be very close. In Cambridge, it is unclear how the City Council will react to a final CPD policy on camera use. Nonetheless, both municipalities exemplify how the democratic process can be used to limit the growing surveillance state.

StopWatchingUs DC rally rocks out: 3,000+ people call for NSA reforms

This Saturday, DC saw something it had never seen before.

A city that treats the superficial hatreds of party politics as its lifeblood, saw thousands of people from across the political spectrum gather to denounce NSA mass spying. We heard, and roared approval for, the words of feminist Naomi Wolf, Dennis Kucinich (Democrat), Justin Amash (Republican), and Gary Johnson (Libertarian). Kymone Freeman spoke movingly about the impact of surveillance on minority communities and the civil rights movement. Whistleblowers Thomas Drake and Russell Tice were there, and Edward Snowden sent a message to be read by leading whistleblower-protecting attorney Jesselynn Radack. Tea Party people up from Richmond, VA, proudly put on Code Pink stickers labeled “Make Out Not War”. The press reported wonderingly that it was not put together “by any of the “usual” well-connected DC organizers.” I should know: I’m proud to say that, in a small way, I was one of them, and this was the first time most of us had done anything like this.

That wasn’t all. Here in Boston, activist Joan Livingston put together a solidarity rally at Park Street Station:

and ACLU organizer Raquel Ronzone arranged for the rally to livestream at the Digital Media Conference in Cambridge.

If you want updates on the StopWatchingUs campaign going forward, text “PRIVACY” to 877877. Stay tuned for the next stage of the campaign, which will be to pass the “USA FREEDOM Act.” Personally, just to hammer home the point, I’d have preferred the “USA FREEDOM Fourth Amendment Restoration – Objective: Undermining Tyranny Act of 2013”, because I too can do acronyms, but such frivolity is apparently frowned upon in the legislature that gave us the Uniting (and) Strengthening America (by) Providing Appropriate Tools Required (to) Intercept (and) Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 in the first place.

UPDATE: Oh yeah, I nearly forgot. I’m the tall guy to the left of Rep. Amash!


David House lawsuit sheds light on border laptop searches

david house


Cambridge resident David House got a nasty shock back in December 2010, when on his way back from vacation in Mexico he landed in Chicago, and found himself in a Homeland Security interrogation room. What was House’s crime? Being involved with the Bradley Manning Support Network. He was generally sympathetic to Wikileaks’ efforts to publicize the war crimes revealed by the Bradley Manning leaks. Or, as the “lookout” alert put it, he was “wanted for questioning re leak of classified material.”



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