Homeland Security tries to go fishing in journalist’s cellphones — she calls their bluff!

Maria Abi-Habib

Borders are arbitrary, human-made constructs. Sure, the lines on a map seem almost pre-ordained, but they change within lifetimes, and get redefined by governments in all sorts of weird little ways. Maria Abi-Habib, a journalist who reports on the Middle East for the Wall Street Journal, found out just how arbitrary borders can be. Flying from Beirut to a wedding in Los Angeles, she writes that she was pulled aside by agents of the Department of Homeland Security, who screened her for an extra hour and then demanded access to her cellphones.

❝ “[The agent] handed me a DHS document, a photo of which I’ve attached. It basically says the U.S. government has the right to seize my phones and my rights as a U.S. citizen (or citizen of the world) go out the window. This law applies at any point of entry into the U.S., whether naval, air or land and extends for 100 miles into the US from the border or formal points of entry. So, all of NY city for instance. If they forgot to ask you at JFK airport for your phones, but you’re having a drink in Manhattan the next day, you technically fall under this authority. And because they are acting under the pretense to protect the US from terrorism, you have to give it up.

“So I called their bluff.

“You’ll have to call The Wall Street Journal’s lawyers, as those phones are the property of WSJ,” I told her, calmly.

Abi-Habib’s full post is worth reading, especially for the section on technology at the end. In Abi-Habib’s case, she was able to get through without divulging her contacts or any information on her phone thanks to the threat of legal action from a major newspaper. Her advice for securing phones is to use encryption as a baseline, but that anything truly sensitive should be transferred to paper and secured physically, then deleted from the phone.

I hope there aren’t many folks out there who remain gullible enough to think “Homeland Security” has an interest in protecting the rights of ordinary citizens. Remember, these creeps – whichever alphabet flavor, DHS, FBI, CIA, NSA, etc. – all think they’re above the law and you.

Attention tourists entering USA — Your social media accounts are subject to inspection


Meet your tour guides

The federal government is taking another step it says would make the US homeland safer from terrorism. US border authorities are proposing that millions of tourists entering the country each year reveal their social media identities…

Here’s what will be asked: “Please enter information associated with your online presence — Provider/Platform—Social media identifier.” This field doesn’t call for additional information such as passwords, but it’s likely to yield many if applicants aren’t paying attention and overshare…

The agency said the form travelers fill out enables “the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to perform its mission related to the screening of alien visitors for potential risks to national security and the determination of admissibility to the United States.”

The proposal comes six months after President Barack Obama signed the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 that added other questions to US-bound travelers. The form now asks applicants about which countries they’ve been to after March 1, 2011. It also asks which countries they are nationals or citizens of and for which nations they have passports and Global Entry codes.

Some of Donald Trump’s police state scenario doesn’t sound especially out of line with what our government has decided is already acceptable protocol for entering the Land of the Free. Anyone giving odds on whether the answers go automagically to the NSA and FBI? Or not.

Uncle Sugar is ready to eavesdrop on your smart home


James Clapper deciding which lie to tell Congress, this month

If you want evidence that US intelligence agencies aren’t losing surveillance abilities because of the rising use of encryption by tech companies, look no further than…testimony…by the director of national intelligence, James Clapper.

As the Guardian reported, Clapper made clear that the internet of things – the many devices like thermostats, cameras and other appliances that are increasingly connected to the internet – are providing ample opportunity for intelligence agencies to spy on targets, and possibly the masses. And it’s a danger that many consumers who buy these products may be wholly unaware of.

“In the future, intelligence services might use the [internet of things] for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials,” Clapper told a Senate panel as part of his annual “assessment of threats” against the US.

Clapper is actually saying something very similar to a major study done at Harvard’s Berkman Center released last week. It concluded that the FBI’s recent claim that they are “going dark” – losing the ability to spy on suspects because of encryption – is largely overblown, mainly because federal agencies have so many more avenues for spying. This echoes comments by many surveillance experts, who have made clear that, rather than “going dark”, we are actually in the “golden age of surveillance”.

Privacy advocates have known about the potential for government to exploit the internet of things for years. Law enforcement agencies have taken notice too, increasingly serving court orders on companies for data they keep that citizens might not even know they are transmitting. Police have already been asking Google-owned company Dropcam for footage from cameras inside people’s homes meant to keep an eye on their kids. Fitbit data has already been used in court against defendants multiple times…

While Samsung took a bunch of heat, a wide array of devices now act as all-seeing or all-listening devices, including other television models, Xbox Kinect, Amazon Echo and GM’s OnStar program that tracks car owners’ driving patterns. Even a new Barbie has the ability to spy on you – it listens to Barbie owners to respond but also sends what it hears back to the mothership at Mattel.

…Just a few weeks ago, a security researcher found that Google’s Nest thermostats were leaking users’ zipcodes over the internet. There’s even an entire search engine for the internet of things called Shodan that allows users to easily search for unsecured webcams that are broadcasting from inside people’s houses without their knowledge.

While Clapper’s comments are generating new publicity for this privacy worry, the government has known about the potential to exploit these devices for a long time. The then CIA director David Petraeus made clear that intelligence agencies would use theinternet of things to spy on people back in 2012, saying…Items of interest will be located, identified, monitored and remotely controlled through technologies such as radio-frequency identification, sensor networks, tiny embedded servers, and energy harvesters – all connected to the next-generation internet using abundant, low-cost, and high-power computing.

As Wired put it, Petraeus was expressing excitement the CIA would soon be able to spy on you through your dishwasher.

Same as it ever was. What people need is an affordable DIY device for sweeping your home every now and then — to check on which devices are reporting directly to The Man, which devices are keeping a server somewhere warm with copies of the quiet murmurings between you and your significant other.

Homeland Security chose to ignore anti-government movement, militias


Daryl Johnson + whistle blowing = office shutdown by Homeland Security

Daryl Johnson once worked in the branch of the Department of Homeland Security that studied the threats posed by antigovernment groups. His former office was shut down more than five years ago.

But when members of an armed group took over a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon last week, Mr. Johnson was not surprised.

In 2009, the former analyst wrote a report that warned of a growing antigovernment movement and the possible recruitment of returning military veterans that could “lead to the potential emergence of terrorist groups or lone-wolf extremists.

His words drew fierce criticism from Republican lawmakers and conservative news media, labeling the report an unfair assessment of legitimate criticisms of the government. The document was retracted after Janet Napolitano, who was then the Homeland Security secretary, apologized to veterans, and the Extremism and Radicalization Branch was quietly dismantled.

Now, as the takeover of the remote federal wildlife preserve enters its second week, a renewed focus is being placed on the so-called militia movement and on the efforts of the federal government, particularly the Department of Homeland Security, to identify and combat potential threats.

First, RTFA. It describes the abandonment of any consideration of right-wing domestic terrorism once the furor over Timothy McVeigh’s mass murder in Oklahoma City had died down. This was followed by Bush’s bright, shiny new Department of Homeland Security – cowed by the Republican Party, cringing in the corner they painted themselves into through fear of right-wing mobs like the Tea Party created by creeps like the two Dicks, Armey and Cheney.

The rebirth of proto-fascist militias was inevitable. Between a racist base, redemption-seeking religious fundamentalists and the lineage of conservative anarchists who reject republican government, American history is always ready to reap what was sown by the Confederacy.

The cowardice of Establishment Liberals from the time of Bill Clinton through Barack Obama parallels their distant kin before the Civil War. Importing slaves was made illegal in 1808. The law was never enforced. The market for slave-produced profits was too great for Union liberals to confront. Peace at any price is always acceptable to both liberals and conservatives if the profits are dispersed sufficiently.

So, we can expect studies, panels, reports, press conferences and more tiptoeing around the fact that American-born right-wing extremists kill a helluva lot more Americans than any Islamist nutballs.

If you’re a Muslim, think twice about booking a family holiday to the United States


Come to Visit the Enchanted Land of Disney — if you’re not a Muslim

A British Muslim family heading for Disneyland was barred from boarding a flight to Los Angeles by US authorities at London’s Gatwick airport amid concerns of an American overreaction to the perceived terrorist threat.

US Department of Homeland Security officials provided no explanation for why the country refused to allow the family of 11 to board the plane even though they had been granted travel authorization online ahead of their planned 15 December flight.

Senior politicians have been drawn into the case, warning that a growing number of British Muslims are being barred from the US without being told the reason for their exclusion.

Aides to the prime minister, David Cameron, have promised that he will examine the case, which comes as a leading community group in the US has warned that Muslims are being subject to “an unprecedented and dramatic increase” in violent and hostile incidents…

The family planned to visit cousins in southern California and go to Disneyland and Universal Studios, but they were turned away by US officials while at the departure lounge…

Mohammad Tariq Mahmood was one of the family members turned away from the flight. He was travelling with his brother and nine of their children. Mahmood told the Guardian that no officials had told them why their entry was barred, but he thinks the reason is “obvious”.

“It’s because of the attacks on America – they think every Muslim poses a threat,” Mahmood said.

He said the children had been counting down the days to the trip for months, and were devastated not to be able to visit their cousins as planned.

He said that the airline told them that they would not be refunded the $13,340 cost of their flights. They were also forced to return everything they bought at the airport’s duty-free shops before being escorted from the airport.

“I have never been more embarrassed in my life. I work here, I have a business here. But we were alienated,” Mahmood said.

Kind of warms the cockles of your heart to be reminded of the liberty shown the world by the United States government.

Welcome to America. If you manage to be admitted. All the way to Disneyland.

Supreme Court asked to rule on secret plan to cut cell service?

The Supreme Court was asked in a petition to force the government to disclose the US clandestine plan to disable cell service during emergencies.

The case concerns Standard Operating Procedure 303. A federal appeals court in May said the government did not have to release its full contents because the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) allows the authorities to withhold records if they would “endanger” public safety.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center told the high court’s justices Tuesday that the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit’s decision created a new “catchall provision that can be used in any case involving records related to domestic and national security programs.”

The privacy group had demanded the documents from the Department of Homeland Security in 2011 following the shuttering of cell service in the San Francisco Bay Area subway system to quell a protest. The Department of Homeland Security refused to divulge the documents associated with SOP 303, which the appeals court described as a “unified voluntary process for the orderly shut-down and restoration of wireless services during critical emergencies such as the threat of radio-activated improvised explosive devices.”

Under the direction of the so-called National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee, SOP 303 allows for the shuttering of wireless networks “within a localized area, such as a tunnel or bridge, and within an entire metropolitan area.”

So, what are the specifics of this regulation? Demonstrations for peace and justice or riots and anarchy in the streets? And who ultimately gets to make the determination to invoke SOP 303? Some New York City precinct commander or a bureaucrat in DHS, faceless or otherwise?

#BlackLivesMatter? — unless you’re Homeland Security


Click to enlargePeter Marshall

The Department of Homeland Security has been monitoring the Black Lives Matter movement since anti-police protests erupted in Ferguson, Missouri last summer, according to hundreds of documents obtained by The Intercept through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The documents, released by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Operations Coordination, indicate that the department frequently collects information, including location data, on Black Lives Matter activities from public social media accounts, including on Facebook, Twitter, and Vine, even for events expected to be peaceful. The reports confirm social media surveillance of the protest movement and ostensibly related events in the cities of Ferguson, Baltimore, Washington, DC, and New York.

They also show the department watching over gatherings that seem benign and even mundane. For example, DHS circulated information on a nationwide series of silent vigils and a DHS-funded agency planned to monitor a funk music parade and a walk to end breast cancer in the nation’s capital.

The tracking of domestic protest groups and peaceful gatherings raises questions over whether DHS is chilling the exercise of First Amendment rights, and over whether the department, created in large part to combat terrorism, has allowed its mission to creep beyond the bounds of useful security activities as its annual budget has grown beyond $60 billion.

Our government thinks anyone who stands up for equal rights is a potential terrorist.

The surveillance cataloged in the DHS documents goes back to August of last year, when protests and riots broke out in Ferguson the day after the shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. According to two August 11th, 2014 reports, a DHS FEMA “WatchOps officer” used information from Twitter and Vine to monitor the riots and reproduced a map, originally created by a Reddit user, of conflict zones…

An April 2015 FEMA memo also shows that the DHS appears to have gathered information on anti-police-brutality protests in Philadelphia “organized by members of the Philly Coalition for Real Justice” and in New York on May Day at “Foley Square, start time 1700… Independent factions are being solicited to join in on a full day of demonstration through various open source social media sites, fliers, posters.”…

Baher Azmy, a legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights, however, argues that this “providing situational awareness” is just another word for surveillance and that creating this body of knowledge about perfectly legal events is a problem in and of itself. “What they call situational awareness is Orwellian speak for watching and intimidation,” said Azmy. “Over time there’s a serious harm to the associational rights of the protesters and it’s an effective way to chill protest movements. The average person would be less likely to go to a Black Lives Matter protest if the government is monitoring social media, Facebook, and their movements.”

Although DHS spokesman S.Y.Lee says…that the department “does not provide resources to monitor any specific planned or spontaneous protest, rally or public gathering,” some of the documents show that the DHS has produced minute-by-minute reports on protesters’ movements in demonstrations…

The documents also elaborate on DHS’s response to riots and militant protests in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African American man who in April died from injuries sustained while in police custody…the DHS’ Federal Protective Service placed more than 400 officers on duty in Baltimore after Gray’s death…

Raven Rakia, a journalist who investigates state surveillance and policing, said that the DHS’ decision to monitor Black Lives Matter is hardly surprising, given the federal government’s well documented history of spying on and suppressing black social movements and groups like the Black Panthers. “There’s a long history of the federal agencies, especially the FBI, seeing black resistance organizations as a threat to national security,” says Rakia…

Same as it ever was. A government that isn’t serious about equal rights for all Americans, a Congress afraid of attempts to guarantee voting rights, civil rights, expected in a democratic nation – sets the stage for activists to be an automatic target for suppression.

Canada prepares to replace democracy with NSA-approved world view

Widespread protest and souring public opinion has failed to prevent Canada’s ruling Conservative Party from pushing forward with sweeping anti-terror legislation which a battery of legal scholars, civil liberties groups, opposition politicians and pundits of every persuasion say will replace the country’s healthy democracy with a creeping police state.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is looking forward to an easy victory…when the House of Commons votes in its final debate on the bill, known as C-51. But lingering public anger over the legislation suggests that his success in dividing his parliamentary opposition may well work against him when Canadians go to the polls for a national election this fall.

No legislation in memory has united such a diverse array of prominent opponents as the proposed legislation, which the Globe and Mail newspaper denounced as a a plan to create a “secret police force”.

The campaign to stop Bill C-51 grew to include virtually every civil-rights group, law professor, retired judge, author, editorialist and public intellectual in Canada…

Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney and Justice Minister Peter MacKay have described the bill as a “reasonable and proportionate” response to the threat of “jihadi terrorism.” – blah, blah, blah.

Hundreds of thousands of ordinary Canadians signed petitions urging the bill be scrapped and took to the streets in a national day of protest last month.

Critics of the legislation say the imminent law gives Canadian spies sweeping new powers to investigate and disrupt broadly defined threats to public safety, with language that makes no distinction between terrorist plots and legitimate political protests and demonstrations. At the same time, it neglects to provide any increased oversight of the country’s vastly empowered chief spy agency, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service.

Harper like so many other supposedly independent – but always obedient – leaders of the world’s industrial nations can be counted on to toe the party line established by the White House. Whether that rarely honorable structure houses a Republican or Democrat.

When the topic is homeland security – as defined by Wall Street savants and corporate lobbyists – there is only one source for standards or the lack thereof. That is Uncle Sugar. And if you want to keep your place in the gallery of loyalist ideologues, you had better fall in line.

Oil trains are virtual pipelines – with secret routes and fewer safety regulations


Click to enlargeTom Stromme/Associated Press

The Wall Street Journal has a story on issues surrounding the “virtual pipeline,” and it’s hard to know where to begin sorting out what’s what. The easy part is defining our terms: a virtual pipeline is the mile-long, or longer, hookup of railroad tanker cars that carry oil from places like North Dakota to refineries throughout the country. The issue in the Journal piece is that the oil trains aren’t bound by the same safety regimen as traditional pipelines, and that their routes are often state-mandated secrets due to the fear of a terrorist attack. With the virtual pipelines moving through dense urban areas, the report appears to contend that such constraints on safety and knowledge put the public at higher risk if something goes wrong, if not outright danger.

The controversy isn’t new, nor unusual…As the energy boom has, well, boomed, and railroad companies have looked for freight business to supplement and remedy the decline of coal shipping, rail transport of crude oil products has increased magnificently. With that, cities here in the US and in Canada have asked a lot more questions about how to keep that liquid black economy running and keep everyone safe, worried about first responder preparedness and the quality of train manifests meant to detail the cargo. The Lac-Mégantic train derailment and fire in Quebec in 2013 that killed 47 people only pressed the urgency.

Questions about the secrecy make sense, all the more so because the attempt at secrecy seems absurd; how much of a secret is a train that’s a mile long, that has DOT hazardous materials placards identifying the kind of substance in each car, has passed amateur trainspotting bloggers all along its route, and that can sit still in the middle of a city for hours at a time waiting for space to open up at the destination?

Yet we wonder why the transport of crude is what’s banging the alarm bells – trains carry all kinds of hazardous materials through cities every day, including radioactive substances. When the Department of Homeland Security put together a document called “National Planning Scenarios” in 2004, examining terrorist targets, it was rail cars full of chlorine that ranked alongside dirty bombs and the nerve gas sarin; a story in the Washington Post referenced the suggestion that a single 90-ton tanker car of chlorine could put three million lives at risk in an urban area, while the EPA said an attack at a chlorine plant near New York City could endanger 12 million people. And guess what: almost all chlorine is transported by rail, every car carrying it slapped with a DOT 1017 placard on its side. On the other hand, there’s a lot more crude in transit than chlorine.

From where I sit the question of rail transport of dangerous materials is amplified by the increase in flammable crap carried by these invisible pipelines. They’re only invisible in that the public rarely notices their passage. If no one is hollering our elected officials feel secure in ignoring dangers. They can always blame the railroads themselves, anyway.

Perish the thought that the portion of American bureaucracy charged with legislation and regulation actually get off their rusty-dustys long enough to earn their keep.

Connecticut seaside town sends out terror attack alert – Oops!

Candidate for head of Homeland Security

Residents of Old Saybrook received quite a shock after hearing the area was under a terrorist attack over the Connecticut town’s public address system on Sunday afternoon.

The Office of Emergency Management said a dispatcher accidentally made a series of errors, which caused the message to play over speakers placed around town. The message also warned residents to seek shelter…

Reverse 911 calls were made through the Everbridge Emergency Notification System apologizing for the error and saying in part, “There is no emergency, and there is no homeland security crisis in or near the Town of Old Saybrook.”

The Office of Emergency Management said it takes the matter very seriously and an internal investigation has begun into that dispatcher’s actions.

The possibility for disruptive errors like this one don’t exist – of course – where the public and politicians alike have decided not to rule their lives by fear and trepidation.