Tag Archives: Terrorism

Security Grifting At Work: Million-Dollar ALPR System In Vermont Solves Four (4) Crimes in 2013

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Vermont Public Radio does the spadework to find out whether automated license plate surveillance systems offer a reasonable return on investment:

“…Even with the millions of scans, the system has not led to many arrests or breakthroughs in major criminal investigations. […] They were helpful in solving fewer than five crimes in 2013. [Officer] Cram [of Winooski PD] says the federally-funded ALPR is a valuable tool, even though he doesn’t think the city would have put up $25,000 of its own money to buy one.

At a cost of “over $1 million” over five years, that works out at around $50,000 per crime solved. [Note: Initial calculations of $40,000 per crime solved were based on an inaccurate figure of five crimes solved.]

At a rate of $50,000 per crime, you could hire one part-time police officer, and I suspect that that part-time police officer would solve more than one crime per year. So what gives?

This is what gives, for ALPR, for surveillance cameras, and for military surplus equipment. Police departments count the cost of new surveillance equipment at zero, even when it’s not (taxpayers ultimately pay). It’s hard for police chiefs to turn down free, even if free offers only the most marginal prospect of reducing crime. But it says everything about the utility of this technology that, had the City of Winooski been asked to put up its own money, Officer Cram thought that they wouldn’t have done it. Oh – and I almost forgot to mention – as the article mentions, the entity charged with managing the data from this boondoggle is, naturally, the Vermont fusion center.

Meanwhile, only half of American roads are in good repair, and our public transportation is an international laughingstock. Americans’ median incomes are falling, and more and more of us are just a paycheck or two from disaster. We scrutinize every milligram of social spending to uncover with great fanfare a rate of fraud of $0.0073 per dollar spent, because we can’t abide any of them Cadillac-driving fur-coat-clad welfare queens. And yet somehow, funding for more surveillance, more militarization, and more war, is never-ending and never requires proper accounting or justification.

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

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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.

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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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Racial profiling, Muslim surveillance, and the NYPD

NYPDOn Tuesday, April 15 the New York City Police Department (NYPD) announced it was disbanding a controversial unit that had been spying on Muslims since its inception in 2003. The NYPD’s “Demographics Unit” specifically gathered intelligence on Muslims living in New York City, New Jersey, and even as far away as Philadelphia. It sent plain clothed detectives to cafes, restaurants, and other community centers frequented by Muslims with the stated purpose of identifying potential centers of terrorist activity. Detectives were told to speak with the employees at such establishments about political issues in attempt to identify anti American sentiment. The NYPD also sent informants to Muslim student groups on various college campuses. Despite the wide breadth of surveillance, even the NYPD acknowledged that the program has failed to create a single lead.

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At 2014 Boston Marathon, bags searched without warrants at police checkpoints

UPDATE: The Bay State Examiner has informed us that the correct byline for this story is “Andrew.”

For the 2014 Boston Marathon, police established checkpoints on various streets near the finish line where private security guards searched the bags of any spectators who attempted to pass through. The checkpoints were part of a new security plan, which was put in place in response to last year’s Boston Marathon bombings, which killed three and injured more than 260 people.

Prior to the race, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) published a list of recommendations for spectators including no backpacks, no loose clothing, no costumes or masks, no liquids in excess of one liter, and no weapons of any kind. MEMA also said that spectators may have their bags and bulky items searched at the aforementioned checkpoints.

We saw a number of these checkpoints in action and observed that the searches were primarily carried out by private security guards under the watch of Boston police officers. Once a person’s bag had been searched, the security guards would attach a tag to it and allow the person through.

The searches were not voluntary. Each checkpoint featured a banner reading “All bags and containers are subject to search.” We saw one man being forcibly removed from the area beyond a checkpoint by police officers who noticed that his mesh bag did not have a tag on it. Police took the bag away from the man and would not allow him back into the area until a security guard had searched it.

search 1024x575 At 2014 Boston Marathon, bags searched without warrants at police checkpoints

A security guard searches through a man’s bag after police removed him from the area beyond a checkpoint

It was apparent that the police did not suspect the man had a bomb because they did not call a bomb squad to the scene. Instead, they asked the man for personal information such as his address, which they wrote down, and lectured him about the need to follow the rules the police had established.

“You got a bag, you put a tag on it. Okay? Simple,” one police officer told the man.

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Commonwealth Fusion Center Violates Constitution, New Report Says

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Massachusetts has two “fusion centers”, mostly state-funded, which aggregate enormous amounts of data on innocent Massachusetts residents, with the notion of preventing terrorist attacks. When you call the “See Something, Say Something” line, the information goes into “Suspicious Activity Reports.” The ACLU of Massachusetts documented that the Boston fusion center (“BRIC”) had actually spent its time harassing peaceful activists rather than thwarting terrorism, which is one of the reasons why there will be nationwide protests against fusion centers on April 10, including in Boston.

In response to the ACLU revelations, Rep. Jason Lewis (now the newly elected Sen. Jason Lewis) filed a fusion center reform bill on Beacon Hill. Disconcerted at the prospect of more sunshine on their work, the Commonwealth Fusion Center, the fusion center in Maynard, offered him and other legislators a courtesy tour of their facility, to try to explain what good work they were doing. As an example of that work, they cited their First Amendment-violating harassment of an Arlington man who was not actually planning any violent crime, but who had tweeted about it being a good idea to shoot statists. They also provided to Rep. Lewis copies of various policies that they follow, including their Privacy Policy (updated 06.13.2013) and their policy on First Amendment investigations. Rep. Lewis then asked Digital Fourth to evaluate the policies they had provided, to assess whether they were constitutional. We enthusiastically agreed, and the resulting report is here.

Here are our main recommendations:

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FBI: Look Mom, We “Found” Another Terrorist!

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The news this morning is full of the arrest of yet another American on charges of “attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.” Nobody’s suggesting that 20-year-old National Guardsman Nicholas Teausant of Acampo, CA is a terrorist, or that he provided any help whatsoever to terrorists, or that he was in contact, ever, with any actual terrorists. But, the media breathlessly report, he’s still facing charges that can put him in jail through to the 2030s.

Why?

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Bring Us Back Food, Or Be Food Yourself: The FBI and Ayyub Abdul-Alim

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The Deep State requires terrorists as its food. Only by claiming, falsely, to thwart terrorist attacks before they happen, can the three-letter agencies justify their vast increases in budget, manpower and technology over the last ten years. The problem is that there’s just not enough terrorism to go around. On the amount of actual terrorism we have – which, excluding school shootings, has killed about thirty Americans in the last twelve years – you simply can’t justify NSA mass surveillance, 78 state-funded fusion centers, the massive and unnecessary DHS, or the ruinously expensive foreign adventures that have resulted in over 100,000 deaths and trillions of wasted dollars. If you can’t find enough terrorists, the obvious recourse - obvious, that is, if you have no decency and no actual love for justice - is to make your own terrorists. In Oregon and California and Ohio and New York and Massachusetts, the FBI has offered Muslims the same, terrible deal: Be our spy with your fellow Muslims, or we will ruin your life.

I have not come to this analysis lightly. It is a terrible observation to make about people who are supposed to protect us. But the bureaucratic imperative at work here is too powerful. Bring back a terrorist, and your career is made. Fail to find any, and people will start asking questions about why you need all those tax dollars to do your work.

Which brings us to the sad story of Amherst-born Springfield resident Ayyub Abdul-Alim – building manager, owner of the “Nature’s Garden” store, and the creator of “Connections Transportation”, which provided families with free commuter services to and from local prisons to visit their loved ones.

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Thou Shalt Not Connect The Dots: FBI Flat-Out Refusing All FOIA Requests From MIT PhD Candidate, Because He Might Learn Too Much

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Item #2 on the NSA’s Official Talking Points to Justify Mass Surveillance (see p. 3) is “The NSA And Its Partners Must Make Sure We Connect The Dots So That The Nation Is Never Attacked Again Like On 9/11.” The government is fighting furiously against any attempt to restrict, say, its collection of metadata on all US telephone calls, because they argue that only collecting everything enables them to detect patterns and conduct analyses that would otherwise be impossible.

But what happens if instead of the government, the public starts using the same tools on the government? What happens when the burning eye of the surveillance state is turned back on itself?

Mother Jones reports that that’s what MIT PhD candidate Ryan Shapiro is doing. He has long been active in the field of animal rights, and became interested in the FBI’s characterization of “the eco-terrorism animal rights movement” as “the number one domestic terrorism threat” that we face. He has figured out a way of getting responses to FOIA that is so effective that the FBI is going to court to stop him.

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