TBR News November 12, 2014

Nov 12 2014

The Voice of the White House

            Washington, D.C., November 11, 2014: “Little by little America is being turned into a classic police state. Using the threat of foreign terrorism as an excuse, we have government observation and recording of almost every aspect of American social and business life.

            There is not enough room to lock up every American who is, or might be, hostile to official government policy nor are there enough personnel to guard them but systems now in place are capable of picking out perceived trouble-makers for future punishment.

            The FBI now has a facial recognition program that has cost the American taxpayers billions of dollars in place. With this system, the FBI, and its local police connections, can scan faces at political meetings and even shopping malls and this ability, in conjunction with such treasure-troves of free information such as Facebook and Twitter, make future oppressive moves on the part of increasingly militant law enforcement far easier.

            And persons who wear the so-called “V masks” anywhere are thwarting the observations and enraging the FBI and its many branches.

            There is an interesting memo said to be floating around the Internet which is a request by the FBI to have Congress pass a law forbidding any citizen to wear a “concealing facial mask” anywhere in public at any time under threat of arrest and prosecution.

            A militant, irrational right wing Congress just might do this and in the end, this sort of repression could easily lead to dangerous civil protests and violence.”





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FBI’s facial recognition program hits ‘full operational capability’

September 15, 2014


The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Next Generation Identification System, a biometric database reliant on tens of millions of facial-recognition records, is now fully operational, the agency announced Monday.

The NGI system, after three years of development, is billed by the FBI as a new breakthrough for criminal identification and data-sharing between law enforcement agencies.

“This effort is a significant step forward for the criminal justice community in utilizing biometrics as an investigative enabler,” the FBI said in a statement.

The NGI database contains over 100 million individual records that link a person’s fingerprints, palm prints, iris scans and facial-recognition data with personal information like their home address, age, legal status and other potentially compromising details.

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the NGI is the facial-recognition information, which civil liberties advocates have said for years is among the most serious future threats to Americans’ privacy. The NGI database is expected to contain 52 million facial-recognition images alone by 2015.

The FBI said Monday that two new features of the database are now complete, capping off the NGI’s “operational capability.”

One feature, the Rap Back, will allow officials to receive ongoing status notifications of any criminal history reported on individuals holding positions of trust, such as school teachers.

Additionally, the Interstate Photo System (IPS) facial recognition service will provide the nations law enforcement community with an investigative tool that provides an image-searching capability of photographs associated with criminal identities.

But Americans not suspected of any criminal activity could easily be swept up into the NGI, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), in any number of ways. An individual who goes through a fingerprint background check for an employment opportunity, for instance, could soon be required to submit a picture of herself as well.

That picture could be stored alongside images of suspected criminals, unlike fingerprints, where a clear differentiation is made between law-abiding citizens and those who have been in trouble with the law before.

According to EFF senior staff attorney Jennifer Lynch, there is cause for concern because the FBI and Congress have thus far failed to enact meaningful restrictions on what types of data can be submitted to the system, who can access the data and how the data can be used.

For example, although the FBI has said in these documents that it will not allow non-mug shot photos such as images from social networking sites to be saved from the system, there are no legal or even written FBI policy restrictions in place to prevent this from occurring, Lynch said.

In June, EFF and other privacy advocates warned that the FBI’s facial-recognition database is in desperate need of more oversight.

“One of the risks here, without assessing the privacy considerations, is the prospect of mission creep with the use of biometric identifiers,” Jeramie Scott of the Electronic Privacy Information Center told National Journal. “It’s been almost two years since the FBI said they were going to do an updated privacy assessment, and nothing has occurred.”

A 2010 report of the FBI’s facial-recognition technology found that it could fail one in every five instances it was used, a rate higher than fingerprinting or iris scans.

Yet FBI Director James Comey has told Congress that the database would not amass photos of innocent people, and that it is only intended to “find bad guys by matching pictures to mugshots.”

In a milestone announcement, the FBI said in August that it had tracked down a 14-year fugitive suspected of child abuse using facial-recognition technology.

Meanwhile, US government intelligence researchers are developing the Janus program, which will radically expand the range of conditions under which automated face recognition can establish identity.

There are currently no federal restraints on the use of facial-recognition software.


FBI Facial Recognition System Gives Officers an Investigative Lead

The powerful tool replaces legacy technology and lets police officers automatically compare a suspect’s digital facial image against more than 20 million images, but it has accuracy limits and has raised concerns among privacy groups.

October 20, 2014

by Jessica Hughes

Government Technology and Emergency Management


New FBI facial recognition technology released in September means more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies can search potential criminals by face in addition to fingerprint.

The facial recognition tool, called the Interstate Photo System, lets officers automatically compare a suspect’s digital facial image against the 20 million and growing images available for searches, giving officers an investigative lead.

“What this does for our criminal justice community is it provides them another tool to be able to go out and identify criminals,” said Stephen Morris, assistant director of the Criminal Justice Information Services Division of the FBI.

The facial recognition tool is part of CJIS’ Next Generation Identification (NGI) system, which is a 10-year IT project begun in 2008 to replace the decades-old legacy Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System. The project has been launched in stages, but the September release marks the biggest rollout and the official end of the legacy system. The facial recognition technology was piloted in six states and developed in collaboration with law enforcement agencies nationwide. NGI currently operates in about 75 percent of the country’s law enforcement agencies.

“This is a long overdue effort to replace legacy technology, old technology, with new, relevant, more efficient, cheaper technology and, more importantly, more accurate technology,” Morris said.

The facial recognition technology represents the first time officers can search CJIS’ criminal mug shot database, which can store up to 92 million photos, against digital photos culled from investigations. Previously, there was no way to automatically search against the images collected along with fingerprints taken during booking or incarceration. Law enforcement officers would have to submit photos to the CJIS Division for facial recognition processing. With the new system, officers can choose between two and 50 candidates for review.  

Any image used for search purposes is in law enforcement’s possession pursuant to a lawful investigation, Morris said. Digital photos, for example, can be taken from surveillance cameras or from digital devices that are seized with a search warrant. The ability to use the images captured on these devices is where the value in the tool lies, he said.

“Obviously you can’t pull a fingerprint off of a phone, but if there are images on a phone and you know that it’s that person’s phone, it’s the next best thing,” said Morris.

Facial recognition technology, however, is less reliable than fingerprint identification, with the Interstate Photo System returning the correct candidate a minimum of 85 percent of the time when a matching photos is in the repository. Any facial recognition hits are therefore investigative leads, not positive identifications, Morris said.

“In other words, it’s not an absolute identification,” Morris said. “When that agency gets that result back, they then have to go out and do the follow-up investigation.”

Additionally, controlled environments are best for facial recognition, a relatively young technology, which can be explained as an algorithm that make sense of millions of pixels describing facial features, said Chenjgun Liu, associate professor of computer science at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. DMV photos, for instance, are a good use for the technology.

“There is no such thing as a system or program that can recognize people without any constraint,” Liu said. “That is a fiction.”

Liu, who has received funding from the Department of Defense to support his research into improving the technology, recognizes the benefit of using the technology with digital images to narrow down the number of suspects in an investigation, reducing the search effort dramatically.

“The potential benefit is of course also obvious. We have nowadays images almost everywhere,” he said.

CJIS has put into place specifications to ensure photo quality for people submitting digital images to its database, requiring they be frontal facial images with no shadows, and be taken in controlled environments. The accuracy of the photos both in the database and for those that are searched against are correlated with faster and more accurate search results, Morris said.

And although it’s not an absolute, searching for both photo and fingerprint matches for one person can give officers almost virtual certainty of someone’s identify, he said.

“For the folks out there worried about it falsely identifying people, I would say it actually closes the gap and reduces the chance of an individual being falsely identified,” Morris said.

Indeed, the fact that law enforcement can search against such a large database of digital images, has some groups uncomfortable with its possible surveillance capabilities. The facial recognition technology received attention in the spring from a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Morris said NGI has been subject to privacy threat assessments and privacy impact assessments, and that abuse of the technology using photos on social networking sites is “patently false.”

“First and foremost all of these things are done with absolute guarantee that privacy and civil liberties are of first concern,” he said.

Cost of the technology overhaul is another concern. The entire NGI System is a billion-dollar project. But Morris said the high price tag is an investment. “Over a long run, over a 20-year span, the return on that will be significant. You’re talking about savings in the hundreds of millions of dollars.”

That’s because the technology was built on a flexible framework, scalable as new biometric capabilities become economically and technically feasible. One such technology, iris image recognition, was just piloted under NGI.

Although the technology is not ready to be added to NGI’s set of biometrics tools, it soon may be, Morris said, just as facial recognition technology has come around.


V for Vendetta is a graphic novel written by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd (with additional art by Tony Weare), published by Vertigo, an imprint of DC Comics. The story depicts a dystopian and post-apocalyptic near-future history version of the United Kingdom in the 1990s, preceded by a nuclear war in the 1980s, which has left much of the world destroyed. The fascist Norsefire party has exterminated its opponents in concentration camps and rules the country as a police state. The comics follow its titular character and protagonist, V, an anarchist revolutionary dressed in a Guy Fawkes mask, as he begins an elaborate and theatrical revolutionist campaign to murder his former captors, bring down the government and convince the people to rule themselves, while inspiring a young woman, Evey Hammond, to be his protégé

Since the release in 2006 of the film V for Vendetta, the use of stylised “Guy Fawkes” masks, with moustache and pointed beard, has become widespread internationally among groups protesting against politicians, banks and financial institutions. The masks both conceal the identity and protect the face of individuals and demonstrate their commitment to a shared cause.

The government of Saudi Arabia banned the importation of the masks in May 2013, and said that it would confiscate any found on sale. The Ministry of Islamic Affairs stated that the mask is “a symbol of rebels and revenge”, and warned imams and parents that “they could be used to incite the youth to destabilize security and spread chaos…”[37] On 22 September 2013, Saudi religious police prohibited the wearing of the Guy Fawkes mask, the day before Saudi Arabia’s 83rd National Day

The wearing of masks during a riot or unlawful assembly has been banned in Canada, following the enactment of Bill C-309, and now carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence.

In current times masked political protestors, such as those in the Occupy Movement, and in particular, Anonymous, a collective group of online hackers with strong political beliefs, who consistently sport Guy Fawkes masks, have been targeted with anti-masking laws


In Austria since 2002 masking ban on demonstrations under § 9 of the Assembly Law (Versammlungsgesetz). Violation of the ban need not be prosecuted if the mask does not threaten public order and security. Violation of the ban entails, according to § 19a of the Law, imprisonment up to six months, repeated offenses one year or a fine.


Wearing masks at a protest is illegal in Denmark.


French ban on face covering is an act of parliament passed by the Senate of France on 14 September 2010, resulting in the ban on the wearing of face-covering headgear, including masks, helmets, balaclava, niqābs and other veils covering the face in public places, except under specified circumstances.


Since 1980s, according to § 17a Abs. 2 Versammlungsgesetz you may not disguise your identity in public meetings such as demonstrations so the police are able to identify you. This violation can be fined with imprisonment up to one year.


According to ‘Citizens’ Security Law’ passed by government, protesters who cover their faces at demonstrations could be fined up to 30,000 euros.


According to the Law on the Prohibition of masking in some cases, the prohibition for participants in the demonstration to fully or partially cover the face in a way that complicates identification. This prohibition applies only if there are disturbances of public order at demonstrations, or if there is an immediate danger of such disturbances. The ban does not apply to the covering of the face for religious reasons. It also does not apply to the extent participants (under 2 Ch. 7 a § Order Act ) authorized to fully or partially cover the face.


In the cantons of Basel-Stadt (1990), Zurich (1995), Bern (1999), Lucerne (2004), Thurgau (2004), Solothurn (2006) and St. Gallen (2009), there are laws banning use of masks.


Several days after Berkut riot police clashed with Euromaidan protesters Verkhovna Rada has enacted law 721-VII banning wearing masks, helmets or camouflage clothing by people taking part in a gathering, assembly, demonstration, protest, rally or other mass event. Fines for violating are monetary up to about $400 or administrative arrest up to 15 days.[15] The law was repealed in January 2014.[16][17][18]

United Kingdom

During the 2011 United Kingdom anti-austerity protests one of the temporary policies discussed in the COBRA meeting was to ban the covering of the face during the riots. Generally only enforced in areas in a riot stage, none were arrested solely for wearing masks, only ordered to take them off. However, many arrested who committed other crimes, such as looting and attacking police officers, were charged with failing to adhere to the mask ban as well as all the other infringements when placed in court.



Uncle Sam’s Databases of Suspicion: A Shadow Form of National ID

November 11, 2014

by Hina Shamsi and Matthew Harwood



             It began with an unexpected rapping on the front door.

            When Wiley Gill opened up, no one was there. Suddenly, two police officers appeared, their guns drawn, yelling, “Chico Police Department.”

“I had tunnel vision,” Gill said, “The only thing I could see was their guns.”

            After telling him to step outside with his hands in the air, the officers lowered their guns and explained. They had received a report — later determined to be unfounded — that a suspect in a domestic disturbance had fled into Gill’s house. The police officers asked the then-26-year-old if one of them could do a sweep of the premises. Afraid and feeling he had no alternative, Gill agreed. One officer remained with him, while the other conducted the search. After that they took down Gill’s identification information. Then they were gone — but not out of his life.

            Instead, Gill became the subject of a “suspicious activity report,” or SAR, which police officers fill out when they believe they’re encountering a person or situation that “reasonably” might be connected in some way to terrorism. The one-page report, filed shortly after the May 2012 incident, offered no hint of terrorism. It did, however, suggest that the two officers had focused on Gill’s religion, noting that his “full conversion to Islam as a young [white male] and pious demeanor is [sic] rare.”

            The report also indicated that the officer who entered the house had looked at Gill’s computer screen and recalled something “similar to ‘Games that fly under the radar’” on it. According to the SAR, this meant Gill “had potential access to flight simulators via the Internet.” Gill suspects that he was probably looking at a website about video games. The SAR also noted earlier police encounters with Gill, in his mosque and on the street.  It recorded his “full beard and traditional garb” and claimed that he avoided “eye contact.”

            In short, the Chico Police Department was secretly keeping tabs on Gill as a suspected terrorist. Yet nowhere in the SAR was there a scintilla of evidence that he was engaged in any kind of criminal activity whatsoever. Nevertheless, that report was uploaded to the Central California Intelligence Center, one of a network of Department of Homeland Security-approved domestic intelligence fusion centers. It was then disseminated through the federal government’s domestic intelligence-sharing network as well as uploaded into an FBI database known as e-Guardian, after which the Bureau opened a file on Gill.

We do not know how many government agencies now associate Wiley Gill’s good name with terrorism. We do know that the nation’s domestic-intelligence network is massive, including at least 59 federal agencies, over 300 Defense Department units, and approximately 78 state-based fusion centers, as well as the multitude of law enforcement agencies they serve. We also know that local law enforcement agencies have themselves raised concerns about the system’s lack of privacy protections.

            And it wouldn’t end there for Gill.


The Architecture of Mass Suspicion


            The SAR database is part of an ever-expanding domestic surveillance system established after 9/11 to gather intelligence on potential terrorism threats. At an abstract level, such a system may seem sensible: far better to prevent terrorism before it happens than to investigate and prosecute after a tragedy. Based on that reasoning, the government exhorts Americans to “see something, say something” — the SAR program’s slogan.

            Indeed, just this week at a conference in New York City, FBI Director James Comey asked the public to report any suspicions they have to authorities. “When the hair on the back of your neck stands, listen to that instinct and just tell somebody,” said Comey. And seeking to reassure those who do not want to get their fellow Americans in trouble based on instinct alone, the FBI director added, “We investigate in secret for a very good reason, we don’t want to smear innocent people.”

There are any number of problems with this approach, starting with its premise.  Predicting who exactly is a future threat before a person has done anything wrong is a perilous undertaking. That’s especially the case if the public is encouraged to report suspicions of neighbors, colleagues, and community members based on a “hair-on-the-back-of-your-neck” threshold. Nor is it any comfort that the FBI promises to protect the innocent by investigating “suspicious” people in secret. The civil liberties and privacy implications are, in fact, truly hair-raising, particularly when the Bureau engages in abusive and discriminatory sting operations and other rights violations.

            At a fundamental level, suspicious activity reporting, as well as the digital and physical infrastructure of networked computer servers and fusion centers built around it, depends on what the government defines as suspicious.  As it happens, this turns out to include innocuous, First Amendment-protected behavior.

            As a start, a little history: the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative was established in 2008 as a way for federal agencies, law enforcement, and the public to report and share potential terrorism-related information. The federal government then developed a list of 16 behaviors that it considered “reasonably indicative of criminal activity associated with terrorism.” Nine of those 16 behaviors, as the government acknowledges, could have nothing to do with criminal activity and are constitutionally protected, including snapping photographs, taking notes, and “observation through binoculars.”

Under federal regulations, the government can only collect and maintain criminal intelligence information on an individual if there is a “reasonable suspicion” that he or she is “involved in criminal conduct or activity and the information is relevant to that criminal conduct or activity.” The SAR program officially lowered that bar significantly, violating the federal government’s own guidelines for maintaining a “criminal intelligence system.”

There’s good reason for, at a minimum, using a reasonable suspicion standard. Anything less and it’s garbage in, garbage out, meaning counterterrorism “intelligence” databases become anything but intelligent.


When the Mundane Looks Suspicious


The SAR program provides striking evidence of this.

In 2013, the ACLU of Northern California obtained nearly 2,000 SARs from two state fusion centers, which collect, store, and analyze such reports, and then share those their intelligence analysts find worthwhile across what the federal government calls its Information Sharing Environment. This connects the fusion centers and other federal agencies into an information-sharing network, or directly with the FBI.  Their contents proved revealing.

            A number of reports were concerned with “ME” — Middle Eastern — males. One headline proclaimed, “Suspicious ME Males Buy Several Large Pallets of Water at REDACTED.” Another read, “Suspicious Activities by a ME Male in Lodi, CA.” And just what was so suspicious about this male? Read into the document and you discover that a sergeant at the Elk Grove Police Department had long been “concerned about a residence in his neighborhood occupied by a Middle Eastern male adult physician who is very unfriendly.” And it’s not just “Middle Eastern males” who provoke such suspicion. Get involved in a civil rights protest against the police and California law enforcement might report you, too. A June 2012 SAR was headlined “Demonstration Against Law Enforcement Use of Excessive Force” and reported that “a scheduled protest” by demonstrators “concerned about the use of excessive force by law enforcement officers” was about to occur.

            What we have here isn’t just a failure to communicate genuine threat information, but the transformation of suspicion into pernicious ideological, racial, and religious profiling, often disproportionately targeting activists and American Muslims. Again, that’s not surprising. Throughout our history, in times of real or perceived fear of amorphously defined threats, government suspicion focuses on those who dissent or look or act differently.


Counterterrorism Accounting


            Law enforcement officials, including the Los Angeles Police Department’s top counterterrorism officer, have themselves exhibited skepticism about suspicious activity reporting (out of concern with the possibility of overloading the system).

In 2012, George Washington University’s Homeland Security Policy Institute surveyed counterterrorism personnel working in fusion centers and in a report generally accepting of SARs noted that the program had “flooded fusion centers, law enforcement, and other security outfits with white noise,” complicating “the intelligence process” and distorting “resource allocation and deployment decisions.” In other words, it was wasting time and sending personnel off on wild goose chases.

A few months later, a scathing report from the Senate subcommittee on homeland security described similar intelligence problems in state-based fusion centers. It found that Department of Homeland Security (DHS) personnel assigned to the centers “forwarded ‘intelligence’ of uneven quality — oftentimes shoddy, rarely timely, sometimes endangering citizens’ civil liberties and Privacy Act protections… and more often than not unrelated to terrorism.”

            Effectiveness doesn’t exactly turn out to be one of the SAR program’s strong suits, though the government has obscured this by citing the growing number of SARs that have triggered FBI investigations. However, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the FBI doesn’t track whether SARs uploaded into the domestic intelligence network actually help thwart terrorism or lead to arrests or convictions.

            You are, of course, what you measure — in this case, not much; and yet, despite its dubious record, the SAR program is alive and kicking. According to the GAO, the number of reports in the system exploded by 750%, from 3,256 in January 2010 to 27,855 in October 2012.

            And being entered in such a system, as Wiley Gill found out, can prove just the beginning of your problems. Several months after his home was searched, his telephone rang. It was a Chico police officer who told Gill to shut down his Facebook page. Gill refused, responding that there was only one reason he thought the police wanted his account deleted: its references to Islam. The phone call ended ominously with the officer warning Gill that he was on a “watchlist.”

            The officer may have been referring to yet another burgeoning secret database that the federal government calls its “consolidated terrorism watchlist.” Inclusion in this database — and on government blacklists that are generated from it — can bring more severe repercussions than unwarranted law enforcement attention. It can devastate lives.


Twenty-First-Century Blacklists


            When small business owner Abe Mashal reached the ticket counter at Chicago’s Midway Airport on April 20, 2010, an airline representative informed him that he was on the no-fly list and could not travel to Spokane, Washington, on business. Suddenly, the former Marine found himself surrounded by TSA agents and Chicago police. Later, FBI agents questioned him at the airport and at home about his Muslim faith and his family members.

            The humiliation and intimidation didn’t end there. A few months later, FBI agents returned to interview Mashal, focusing again on his faith and family. Only this time they had an offer to make: if he became an FBI informant, his name would be deleted from the no-fly list and he would be paid for his services. Such manipulative quid pro quos have been made to others.

            Mashal refused. The meeting ended abruptly, and he wasn’t able to fly for four years.

            As of August 2013, there were approximately 47,000 people, including 800 U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents like Mashal, on that secretive no-fly list, all branded as “known or suspected terrorists.” All were barred from flying to, from, or over the United States without ever being given a reason why. On 9/11, just 16 names had been on the predecessor “no transport” list. The resulting increase of 293,650% — perhaps more since 2013 — isn’t an accurate gauge of danger, especially given that names are added to the list based on vague, broad, and error-prone standards.

            The harm of being stigmatized as a suspected terrorist and barred from flying is further compounded when innocent people try to get their names removed from the list.

            In 2007, the Department of Homeland Security established the Traveler Redress Inquiry Program through which those who believe they are wrongly blacklisted can theoretically attempt to correct the government’s error. But banned flyers quickly find themselves frustrated because they have to guess what evidence they must produce to refute the government’s unrevealed basis for watchlisting them in the first place. Redress then becomes a grim bureaucratic wonderland. In response to queries, blacklisted people receive a letter from the DHS that gives no explanation for why they were not allowed to board a plane, no confirmation of whether they are actually on the no-fly list, and no certainty about whether they can fly in the future. In the end, the only recourse for such victims is to roll the dice by buying a ticket, going to the airport, and hoping for the best.

            Being unable to board a plane can have devastating consequences, as Abe Mashal can attest. He lost business opportunities and the ability to mark life’s milestones with friends and family.

            There is hope, however. In August, four years after the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of 13 people on the no-fly list, a judge ruled that the government’s redress system is unconstitutional. In early October, the government notified Mashal and six others that they were no longer on the list. Six of the ACLU’s clients remain unable to fly, but at least the government now has to disclose just why they have been put in that category, so that they can contest their blacklisting. Soon, others should have the same opportunity.


Suspicion First, Innocence Later… Maybe


            The No Fly List is only the best known of the government’s web of terrorism watchlists. Many more exist, derived from the same master list.  Currently, there are more than one million names in the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, a database maintained by the National Counterterrorism Center. This classified source feeds the Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB), operated by the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center. The TSDB is an unclassified but still secret list known as the “master watchlist.” containing what the government describes as “known or suspected terrorists,” or KSTs.

            According to documents recently leaked to the Intercept, as of August 2013 that master watchlist contained 680,000 people, including 5,000 U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents. The government can add people’s names to it according to a shaky “reasonable suspicion” standard. There is, however, growing evidence that what’s “reasonable” to the government may only remotely resemble what that word means in everyday usage. Information from a single source, even an uncorroborated Facebook post, can allow a government agent to watchlist an individual with virtually no outside scrutiny. Perhaps that’s why 40% of those on the master watchlist have “no recognized terrorist group affiliation,” according to the government’s own records.

            Nothing encapsulates the post-9/11, Alice-in-Wonderland inversion of American notions of due process more strikingly than this “blacklist first, innocence later… maybe” mindset.

            The Terrorist Screening Database is then used to fill other lists. In the context of aviation, this means the no-fly list, as well as the selectee and expanded selectee lists. Transportation security agents subject travelers on the latter two lists to extra screenings, which can include prolonged and invasive interrogation and searches of laptops, phones, and other electronic devices. Around the border, there’s the State Department’s Consular Lookout and Support System, which it uses to flag people it thinks shouldn’t get a visa, and the TECS System, which Customs and Border Protection uses to determine whether someone can enter the country.

            Inside the United States, no watchlist may be as consequential as the one that goes by the moniker of the Known or Appropriately Suspected Terrorist File. The names on this blacklist are shared with more than 17,000 state, local, and tribal police departments nationwide through the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC). Unlike any other information disseminated through the NCIC, the KST File reflects mere suspicion of involvement with criminal activity, so law enforcement personnel across the country are given access to a database of people who have secretly been labeled terrorism suspects with little or no actual evidence, based on virtually meaningless criteria.

            This opens up the possibility of increased surveillance and tense encounters with the police, not to speak of outright harassment, for a large but undivulged number of people. When a police officer stops a person for a driving infraction, for instance, information about his or her KST status will pop up as soon a driver’s license is checked.  According to FBI documents, police officers who get a KST hit are warned to “approach with caution” and “ask probing questions.”

            When officers believe they’re about to go face to face with a terrorist, bad things can happen. It’s hardly a stretch of the imagination, particularly after a summer of police shootings of unarmed men, to suspect that an officer approaching a driver whom he believes to be a terrorist will be quicker to go for his gun. Meanwhile, the watchlisted person may never even know why his encounters with police have taken such a peculiar and menacing turn. According to the FBI’s instructions, under no circumstances is a cop to tell a suspect that he or she is on a watchlist.

            And once someone is on this watchlist, good luck getting off it. According to the government’s watchlist rulebook, even a jury can’t help you. “An individual who is acquitted or against whom charges are dismissed for a crime related to terrorism,” it reads, “may nevertheless meet the reasonable standard and appropriately remain on, or be nominated to, the Terrorist Watchlist.”

No matter the verdict, suspicion lasts forever.


Shadow ID

            The SARs program and the consolidated terrorism watchlist are just two domestic government databases of suspicion. Many more exist. Taken together, they should be seen as a new form of national ID for a growing group of people accused of no crime, who may have done nothing wrong, but are nevertheless secretly labeled by the government as suspicious or worse. Innocent until proven guilty has been replaced with suspicious until determined otherwise.

            Think of it as a new shadow system of national identification for a shadow government that is increasingly averse to operating in the light. It’s an ID its “owners” don’t carry around with them, yet it’s imposed on them whenever they interact with government agents or agencies. It can alter their lives in disastrous ways, often without their knowledge.

And they could be you.

            If this sounds dystopian, that’s because it is.


Hina Shamsi is director of the ACLU’s National Security Project. Matthew Harwood, a TomDispatch regular, is the ACLU’s senior writer/editor.


Highway seizure in Iowa fuels debate about asset-forfeiture laws

November 10, 2014

by Robert O’Harrow Jr.

Washington Post


The two men in the rented red Nissan Altima were poker players traveling through Iowa on their way to Las Vegas. The police were state troopers on the hunt for criminals, contraband and cash.

They intersected last year on a rural stretch of Interstate 80, in a seemingly routine traffic stop that would soon raise new questions about laws that allow police to take money and property from people not charged with crimes.

By the time the encounter was over, the gamblers had been detained for more than two hours. Their car was searched without a warrant. And their cellphones, a computer and $100,020 of their gambling “bankroll” were seized under state civil asset-forfeiture laws. The troopers allowed them to leave, without their money, after issuing a traffic warning and a citation for possession of marijuana paraphernalia that carried a $65 fine, court records show.

Months later, an attorney for the men obtained a video of the stop. It showed that the motorists were detained for a violation they did not commit — a failure to signal during a lane change — and authorities were compelled to return 90 percent of the money.

Now the men are questioning the police tactics in an unusual federal civil rights lawsuit. In the suit, filed Sept. 29, William Barton Davis, 51, and John Newmer­zhycky, 43, both from Humboldt County, Calif., claim their constitutional rights against unreasonable searches and seizures were violated. They also contend the stop was part of a pattern connected to the teachings of a private police-training firm that promotes aggressive tactics.

Learn more. Davis is a professional poker player, and Newmerzhycky worked as glass blower, according to court records. In an interview, Davis said the men felt as though they were being “stalked” by the police.

If allowed to proceed, the lawsuit could illuminate the widespread but little-known police practice known as “highway interdiction.” The suit names Desert Snow, the

Oklahoma-based training firm, and its founder, Joe David, court records show. It also names the two Iowa State Patrol troopers who participated in the traffic stop and were trained by Desert Snow.

Desert Snow’s lead instructor, David Frye, said the lawsuit has no merit and contains “outrageous” and “inaccurate” accusations.

“The evidence will show that the individuals who had their money seized were involved in drug trafficking and that the vacuum sealed packages of cash they had in their possession were tied to the sale of narcotics,” Frye said in a statement to The Washington Post. “Desert Snow is a top-notch training program which will continue to teach officers how to legally and professionally identify and apprehend persons involved in criminal activity.”

The case has created a stir in Iowa’s political and law enforcement worlds. The Des Moines Register wrote about the lawsuit and called for legislative reforms in an Oct. 19 editorial that cited the I-80 seizure and a recent investigation by The Post, which found that police nationwide have seized $2.5 billion in cash from almost 62,000 people without warrants or indictments under federal civil asset-forfeiture laws since 2001. The laws allow police departments to keep up to 80 percent of the cash they seize.

As long as police agencies know that all or some of the cash they seize will be funneled back into them, the roadside shakedowns are going to continue,” the Register’s Oct. 19 editorial said.

In September, The Post reported that police trained by Desert Snow, along with those who participate in Black Asphalt, an informal police intelligence network started by the firm, said they had seized more than $427 million in one five-year stretch. Among others things, Black Asphalt enables police to share tips across state lines about drivers who raise their suspicions.

The troopers in the Iowa case, Justin Simmons and Eric Vanderwiel, were both trained by Desert Snow, court documents show. They also were members of Black Asphalt, according to internal documents obtained by The Post. They were also part of a drug interdiction unit in eastern Iowa.

A spokesman for the Iowa Department of Public Safety said the troopers declined requests for interviews. In response to inquiries by The Post, spokesman Alex Murphy acknowledged that the troopers were still members of Black Asphalt. But he said they had not submitted any information to the network since 2012, when the department prohibited such reporting because of concerns about civil liberties and “an increased risk for civil and criminal liability for officers and the department.”

An earlier Register analysis last year found that 86 percent of warnings and citations issued by Iowa’s aggressive interdiction units between 2008 to 2012 were given to out-of-state drivers. The newspaper reported that the units seized more than $18 million in drugs and $7 million in cash from 2011 to 2013.

The stop of the gamblers in Iowa on April 15, 2013, illustrates some of the highway interdiction methods in use nationwide.

Earlier that morning, an officer in Illinois alerted an Iowa trooper to a suspicious red car with Nevada license plates driving west, court records show. When the Altima appeared in Iowa, Trooper Simmons followed it for several miles before pulling it over. He told the motorists that they had been stopped for failing to signal when they passed a black SUV.

Simmons said he was issuing a warning for the failure to signal. After handing over the paperwork, he said the stop was over. Then he asked the driver, Newmerzhycky, if he had “time for just a couple quick questions.”

Police who specialize in highway interdiction use casual conversations to avoid triggering legal questions about the length of stops. If the conversations are consensual, courts consider the added delay to be legal.

Highway police are trained to use the chats as an opportunity to take stock of alleged “indicators” of criminal activity, including nervous speech patterns, a pulsing carotid artery and inconsistencies in stories. They are also trained to seek permission for warrantless searches.

“Do you got any drugs?” Simmons asked on the video recording that was later obtained by his lawyer. “Any large amounts of U.S. currency?”

“Absolutely not,” Newmer­zhycky said.

“Nothing in there? Could I search your car?”

“I don’t see any reason to. I’m not going to consent to that.”

“Okay. I’m just asking you if I can,” Simmons said.

At this point, the stop is supposed to come to an end and the driver allowed to leave, unless during the consensual conservation the officer has developed a suspicion — one that can be articulated — that a crime has occurred.

Scholars of constitutional law said that a refusal to consent cannot count as suspicious behavior. Nervousness on its own also is not sufficient to justify continued detention, they said.

But rather than release the motorists, Simmons told them he wanted to bring in an officer with a drug-sniffing dog.

“Could I just call him? Do you want to wait? I’ll call him and just run a dog around it real quick.”

“I’d prefer to be on my way. I mean, I’m telling you the truth, there’s nothing in my car,” Newmerzhycky said.

“I’m just asking you if you want to wait for me to run a dog around,” Simmons said. “I’d like to.”

“Do I have the right to say ‘no’ to that?”

“You do.”

“I’d prefer to be on my way.”

At that point, the stop had gone on for almost half an hour. Simmons told Newmerzhycky that you “seem like you were really nervous” and that “I’ve seen your pulse running here.”

Minutes later, Trooper Vanderwiel arrived with the dog, which alerted on the back area of the car. That gave Simmons and Vanderwiel probable cause to search the vehicle without a warrant or the driver’s consent. They found more than $100,000 in cash, most of it shrink-wrapped in plastic. They also found an herb grinder that contained some flakes of marijuana.

“I’ll be honest with you, we didn’t find anything illegal, so you are not arrested, right?” Simmons said on the video. “But you are being detained.”

In a recent interview with The Post, Davis, the passenger in the car, said the men lied because they were concerned the police might take the money.

The troopers took the men to a state highway maintenance facility, where they were joined by two state investigators and continued to question the men about the money and examine the car. Two hours later, they let the men go — without their cash. Newmerzhycky was given a drug-paraphernalia citation for having the grinder, a misdemeanor.

Davis and Newmerzhycky hired a lawyer and challenged the seizure in Iowa, citing the video of the stop. In September 2013, authorities reversed course and cut a deal to give back 90 percent of the money.

That wasn’t the end of it, though. The day of the traffic stop, one of the state investigators had called authorities in Humboldt County, Calif., who raided the men’s homes the next day. They found that each was growing marijuana.

California authorities brought criminal charges against them for unlawful cultivation of marijuana, possession of marijuana with intent to sell, and providing a place for the use, storage, manufacturing of a controlled substance.

But the California prosecutor dropped the charges in April after learning more about the circumstances of the traffic stop.

“We’re moving to dismiss in the interest of justice because the officers that conducted the search warrants here in California were given information from an officer who was out of state,” the prosecutor told a judge in Humboldt County. “The officer who was out of state got it from a traffic stop, but the traffic stop was done without probable cause.”

The prosecutor added: “The People realize that everything else would be fruit of the poisonous tree.”

Their attorney would later note in legal filings that Davis and Newmerzhycky both had permits allowing them to grow marijuana for personal medicinal purposes, court records show.

After the California case was dropped, Davis and Newmerzhycky hired another lawyer, Glen Downey, to pursue the civil rights claims.

Downey said he believes the evidence will demonstrate that the Desert Snow training encourages police to go too far.

“They’re telling these officers how to do it step by step,” Downey said. “They’re giving them a manual on how to violate motorists’ constitutional rights.”

A spokesman for Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller said the office will represent the police in the lawsuit. In a statement, Miller said that “civil forfeiture law is an important tool needed by law enforcement to deny criminals (especially drug dealers) the fruits of their crimes” and that abuses of the law by police are “isolated.”


Blood-sucking ‘kissing bug’ sees 300k Americans infected with deadly disease

November 11, 2014



The United States is being infected by Chagas, a deadly disease spread by the feces of a parasite nicknamed the ‘kissing bug’. It bites sleeping victims, ingests the blood and defecates on them; patients then unknowingly rub the feces into open membranes.

            Chagas disease is seen as a “silent killer” by those who study and treat it, as it can often lurk in people’s bloodstreams for up to two decades before causing their organs to fail. The initial stage of the tropical illness ‒ the acute phase ‒ is mostly symptom-free and lasts for the first few weeks or months, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If a patient does exhibit symptoms, they can easily be mistaken for another disease.

The symptoms noted by the patient can include fever, fatigue, body aches, headache, rash, loss of appetite, diarrhea, and vomiting. The signs on physical examination can include mild enlargement of the liver or spleen, swollen glands, and local swelling (a chagoma) where the parasite entered the body, the CDC explained.

“People don’t normally feel sick,” Melissa Nolan Garcia, a research associate at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and the lead author of two of three recently published studies, explained in a statement, “so they don’t seek medical care, but it ultimately ends up causing heart disease in about 30 percent of those who are infected.”

It is the second , or chronic, phase that is deadly. Patients can develop cardiac complications, including an enlarged heart (cardiomyopathy), heart failure, altered heart rate or rhythm, and cardiac arrest (sudden death), as well as intestinal complications, such as an enlarged esophagus (megaesophagus) or colon (megacolon) and can lead to difficulties with eating or with passing stool.

In July, the Centers for Disease Control estimated that 300,000 people in the US had been infected, and but now it could be closer to 400,000. Medical research suggests that 40,000 pregnant North American women may be infected with the disease at any given time, resulting in 2,000 congenital cases through mother-to-child transmission, according to Fox News Latino. Garcia believes that the numbers may actually be higher than that, the Examiner reported.

The Baylor team presented the results of its work on Tuesday at the 63rd Annual Meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) in New Orleans. In one of their pilot studies, her team looked at 17 blood donors in Texas who tested positive for the parasite that causes Chagas disease.

“The concerning thing is that majority of the patients [I spoke to] are going to physicians, and the physicians are telling them, ‘No you don’t have the disease’,” Garcia said, according to Al Jazeera America.

Chagas disease (American trypanosomiasis) is caused by Trypanosoma cruzi, a protozoan parasite related to an African version that causes sleeping sickness. It is endemic to Mexico, Central America, and South America, where an estimated 8 million people have the illness, most of whom do not know they are infected. If untreated, infection is lifelong and can be life threatening, the CDC noted.

Garcia spoke to several groups of physicians and cardiologists as part of an educational campaign to increase physician awareness.

“A lot of the cardiologists were aware of Chagas disease, but they don’t make the connection when the patient is sitting in front of them,” she said.

Dr. Julie-Ann Crewalk, a pediatrician in Northern Virginia who has dealt with Chagas, also thinks that the disease is being underdiagnosed.

“It’s not something that we think of asking right away,” she told the Atlantic. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the numbers were higher and we’re just not seeing it.”

The CDC says that most of the Chagas cases in the US are from people who have traveled to Latin America, and were infected there. But Garcia told HealthDay News her research showed that the parasite has arrived in the US, and the government agency has admitted that triatomine bugs can be found across the lower half of the country.

“We are finding new evidence that locally acquired human transmission is occurring in Texas,” she said. “We were surprised to find that 36 percent had evidence of being a locally acquired case.”

“Additionally, 41 percent of this presumably healthy blood donor population had heart abnormalities consistent with Chagas cardiac disease,” Garcia noted. The illness can also be spread through blood and organ donation, as well as from mother to infant during childbirth.

The disease is also growing just outside Washington, DC. While the number of people with Chagas disease in Northern Virginia is small ‒ about two dozen cases, according to interviews by the Atlantic with local physicians ‒ doctors and experts there say they wouldn’t be surprised if the numbers were higher because, along with the lack of routine screening for it, many patients tend to be undocumented immigrants without health insurance.

Dr. Rachel Marcus, a cardiologist, believes Northern Virginia could be “ground zero” for Chagas disease, because of the volume of immigrants from Bolivia, where the disease is endemic. She told the Atlantic that it’s easy to diagnose the disease with an electrocardiogram (EKG), but that American doctors don’t know what they are looking for. “If you were to find that EKG from an area where Chagas is common, it’s diagnostic,” she said.

Garcia also agreed with the need to focus on EKGs as a diagnostic tool for the disease. “Physicians should consider Chagas when patients have swelling and enlargement of the heart not caused by high blood pressure, diabetes or other causes, even if they do not have a history of travel,” she said.

But even if the deadly disease is diagnosed, there are no viable government-authorized treatments. The Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved two medicines ,nifurtimox and benznidazole , that are currently used to treat the disease but carry a risk of nerve damage, nausea and weight loss, according to the ASTMH statement.

The CDC makes the drugs available “when no satisfactory alternative treatment exists,” according to the FDA, adding that “subjects are generally willing to accept greater risks from test articles that may treat life-threatening and debilitating illnesses.”



Welcome to Sweden – the most cash-free society on the planet

Electronic payment fans such as Abba’s Björn Ulvaeus say Sweden’s largely cash-free economy has cut costs and cut crime

November 11, 2014

by Helen Russell

The Guardian

            Stockholm’s street magazine vendors no longer need to ask if passers-by can spare some change anymore – they take cards instead.

In the most cashless society on the planet, sellers of Sweden’s answer to the Big Issue have been equipped with portable card readers to accept virtual payments.

            “More and more sellers were telling us that people wanted a copy of the magazine but weren’t carrying cash,” says Pia Stolt of Situation Stockholm, the street paper sold by homeless vendors in Sweden’s capital. “It got to the point where we had to do something, so we worked with Stockholm-based mobile payments company iZettle and came up with a way to sell the magazine electronically.

“We didn’t know how it would turn out, or whether people would be reluctant to give their credit card information to a homeless person,” says Stolt, “but the results have been great – vendors’ sales are up 59%.”

“Swedes are pretty trusting and we’re used to embracing new technology so this was the perfect solution,” says Stolt. “The cashless society campaign we’re seeing in Sweden is definitely a good move as far as we are concerned – it’s unstoppable.”

The country’s highest-profile cash-free campaigner is Abba’s Björn Ulvaeus. After his son was robbed several years ago, Ulvaeus became an evangelist for the electronic payment movement, claiming that cash was the primary cause of crime and that “all activity in the black economy requires cash”.

The man who composed Money, Money, Money has been living cash-free for more than a year and says the only thing he misses is “a coin to borrow a trolley at the supermarket”. Abba the Museum has operated cash-free since opening in May 2013 and Ulvaeus says Sweden “could and should be the first cashless society in the world”.

Four out of five purchases are now made electronically in Sweden, according to associate professor of industrial dynamics at Sweden’s Royal Institute of Technology, Niklas Arvidsson – and going totally cash-free is the next step. “Banks and merchants invested heavily in card payment systems in the 1990s and these days consumers are used to it,” says Arvidsson.

While London’s buses went cash-free earlier this year, bus fares disappeared several years ago in Stockholm after public transport unions declared that handling cash had become a “work environment problem”.

“Bus drivers were getting attacked for their fares and so Stockholm banned cash on public transport,” says Arvidsson. “There was also a spate of bank robberies, so four years ago, the banks began to move away from cash. Now, five of Sweden’s six big banks – all except Handelsbanken – operate cash free wherever possible.” The Swedish financial sector has become more cost efficient and the number of armed robberies has hit a 30-year low, according to the Swedish Bankers’ Association. “People trust each other, the government and the banks more in Sweden,” says Arvidsson, “plus we have very little corruption – so we don’t need to have physical cash in our hands to feel safe.”

The drive to a cashless society is supported by the UN Capital Development Fund’s Better Than Cash Alliance which aims to accelerate the shift to electronic payments, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, MasterCard and Visa among others. But it’s Sweden that is blazing the trail.

“We’re leading the world in cashless trading,” says Bengt Nilervall from the Swedish Federation of Trade. “It’s safer this way and it saves us money, as handling money and transporting cash is costly. The Payment Card Industry [PCI] has taken many security measures to ensure that people are safe and we have good protection in place, so Swedes feel confident paying electronically.”

There is, however, concern about how well Sweden’s 1.8 million pensioners – out of a total population of 10m – will adapt. “A lot of elderly people feel excluded when you need to use cash cards or your mobile phone to take a bus or use public toilets,” says Johanna Hållén of the Swedish National Pensioners’ Organisation. “Only 50% of our members use cash-cards everywhere and 7% never use cash-cards. So we want the government to take things slowly.”

The digital payment revolution is also a challenge for tourists, who need pre-paid tickets or a mobile registered in Sweden to catch a bus in the capital. Many have also endured mild chaos at the one of the country’s first cashless festivals this summer when the payment system broke down and people ended up resorting to old-fashioned IOUs.

“There’s a worry about fraud as well,” says Stockholm based private security expert Björn Ericsson. “With figures from the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention showing that fraud has more than doubled in the last decade.”

In light of the NSA revelations, some are uncomfortable about the idea that big businesses can trace their every electronic footprint. “But most Swedes do rely on ‘the system’,” says Ericsson, “I seldom hear anybody talk about Snowden and the circumstances around the [NSA] matter anymore.”

The one thing that may put the brakes on a brave new cash-free world is Swedes’ sentimentality when it comes to their coins and notes. “A recent survey I worked on showed that two-thirds of Swedes think carrying cash is a human right,” says Arvidsson. “We like having our own currency and it fits in with the identity of being a Swede; we’re even releasing new banknotes in 2015. So people like to know their cash is there, even if they don’t necessarily use it.”






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