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Twenty-three thousand executives and employees of various private firms work with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. The group, called InfraGard, receives secret warnings of terrorist threats well in advance of public notification, and sometimes before elected officials. In return, InfraGard provides information to the government. InfraGard is a quiet quasi-governmental entity which wields an unknown, but extensive, amount of power and influence. Michael Hershman, the chairman of the advisory board of the InfraGard National Members Alliance (INMA) and the CEO of an international consulting firm, calls InfraGard “a child of the FBI.” The organization started in Cleveland in 1996, when business members cooperated with the FBI to investigate cyber-threats. The FBI then “cloned it,” according to Phyllis Schneck, chairman of the board of directors of the INMA. Schneck is one of the biggest proponents of InfraGard. As of February 2008, 86 chapters of InfraGard exist in each of the 50 states, operating under the supervision of local FBI agents. “We are the owners, operators, and experts of our critical infrastructure, from the CEO of a large company in agriculture or high finance to the guy who turns the valve at the water utility,” says Schneck. According to the InfraGard website, “At its most basic level, InfraGard is a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the private sector. InfraGard chapters are geographically linked with FBI Field Office territories.” After the 9/11 attacks, InfraGard experiences explosive growth—from 1,700 members in November 2001 to 23,682 members in January 2008. 350 members of the Fortune 500 have members in InfraGard. Prospective members are sponsored by existing members, then vetted by the FBI. The organization accepts members from agriculture, banking and finance, and chemical industry, defense, energy, food, information and telecommunications, law enforcement, public health, and transportation industries.
Controlled Exposure - InfraGard’s inner workings are not available to the general public; its communications with the FBI and DHS are not accessible through the Freedom of Information Act under the “trade secrets” exemption. And InfraGard carefully controls its exposure and contact with the media. According to the InfraGard website: “The interests of InfraGard must be protected whenever presented to non-InfraGard members. During interviews with members of the press, controlling the image of InfraGard being presented can be difficult. Proper preparation for the interview will minimize the risk of embarrassment.… The InfraGard leadership and the local FBI representative should review the submitted questions, agree on the predilection of the answers, and identify the appropriate interviewee.… Tailor answers to the expected audience.… Questions concerning sensitive information should be avoided.”
Advance Warning from the FBI - InfraGard members receive quick alerts on any potential terrorist threat or a possible disruption of US infrastructure. Its website boasts that its members can “[g]ain access to an FBI secure communication network complete with VPN encrypted website, webmail, listservs, message boards, and much more.” Hershman says members receive “almost daily updates” on threats “emanating from both domestic sources and overseas.” Schneck adds, “We get very easy access to secure information that only goes to InfraGard members. People are happy to be in the know.” Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, an InfraGard member passed along an FBI warning about a potential threat to California’s bridges to then-Governor Gray Davis, who had not yet heard anything from the FBI (see November 1, 2001). In return, InfraGard members cooperate with FBI and DHS operations. Schneck says: “InfraGard members have contributed to about 100 FBI cases. What InfraGard brings you is reach into the regional and local communities. We are a 22,000-member vetted body of subject-matter experts that reaches across seventeen matrixes. All the different stovepipes can connect with InfraGard.” The relationships between the FBI and InfraGard members are key, she says. “If you had to call 1-800-FBI, you probably wouldn’t bother,” she says. “But if you knew Joe from a local meeting you had with him over a donut, you might call them. Either to give or to get. We want everyone to have a little black book.” InfraGard members have phone numbers for DHS, the FBI, and to report cyber-threats. InfraGard members who call in “will be listened to,” she says; “your call [will] go through when others will not.” The American Civil Liberties Union, who has warned about the potential dangers of Infragard to constitutional liberties (see August 2004), retorts, “The FBI should not be creating a privileged class of Americans who get special treatment. There’s no ‘business class’ in law enforcement. If there’s information the FBI can share with 22,000 corporate bigwigs, why don’t they just share it with the public? That’s who their real ‘special relationship’ is supposed to be with. Secrecy is not a party favor to be given out to friends.… This bears a disturbing resemblance to the FBI’s handing out ‘goodies’ to corporations in return for folding them into its domestic surveillance machinery.”
Preparing for Emergencies, Martial Law - InfraGard members are “very much looped into our readiness capability,” says a DHS spokeswoman. Not only does DHS “provide speakers” and do “joint presentations” with the FBI, but “[w]e also train alongside them, and they have participated in readiness exercises.” InfraGard members are involved with the Bush administration’s “National Continuity Policy,” which mandates that DHS coordinate with “private sector owners and operators of critical infrastructure, as appropriate, in order to provide for the delivery of essential services during an emergency.” InfraGard members participate in “national emergency preparation drills,” Schneck says, sometimes by the hundreds. InfraGard members are drilling in preparation for martial law, members say. One business owner recently attended a meeting conducted by FBI and DHS officials. He recalls, “The meeting started off innocuously enough, with the speakers talking about corporate espionage. From there, it just progressed. All of a sudden we were knee deep in what was expected of us when martial law is declared. We were expected to share all our resources, but in return we’d be given specific benefits.” In the event of martial law being declared, Infragard members will have the ability to travel in restricted areas and to evacuate citizens. But they will have other abilities and duties as well. InfraGard members, says the business owner, will be authorized to “shoot to kill” if necessary to maintain order and “protect our portion of the infrastructure. [I]f we had to use deadly force to protect it, we couldn’t be prosecuted.… We were assured that if we were forced to kill someone to protect our infrastructure, there would be no repercussions. It gave me goose bumps. It chilled me to the bone.” Other InfraGard members deny that they have ever been told such; Schneck says InfraGard members will have no civil patrol or law enforcement responsibilities. The FBI calls such assertions “ridiculous.” But the business owner’s story has been corroborated by other InfraGard members. “There have been discussions like that, that I’ve heard of and participated in,” says Christine Moerke, an InfraGard member from Wisconsin. (InfraGard 2008; Rothschild 2/7/2008)
Three Qatari men—Meshal Al Hajri, Fhad Abdulla, and Ali Al Fehaid—behave curiously in the weeks before 9/11, leading to later suspicions that they could have had some link to the 9/11 attacks.
Suspicious Behavior - The men fly from London to New York on August 15, 2001, and travel around the East Coast together. They visit the World Trade Center, the Statue of Liberty, the White House, and various parts of Virginia, but it is unclear if they are simply tourists or are conducting surveillance on potential targets. On August 24, they fly from Washington to Los Angeles and check into a single room at a hotel near the airport. They pay with cash and are booked to leave on September 10, which they do. They spend about a week traveling within California with a United Arab Emirates man named Mohamed Al Mansoori. The hotel staff grow suspicious of the men because they notice pilot uniforms, laptops, and cardboard boxes addressed to Syria, Afghanistan, and Jordan in their room. This may not be that unusual, since pilots frequently stay at the hotel due to its proximity to the airport. But, according to a later US government document, the men also “had a smashed cellular phone in the room and a cellular phone attached by wire to a computer. The room also contained pin feed computer paper print outs with headers listing pilot names, airlines, flight numbers, and flight times.” Suspicions are further aroused because on the last few days of their stay, the men request that their room should not be cleaned. The staff are not alarmed enough to alert police, however. The men are scheduled to board American Airlines Flight 144 on September 10, from Los Angeles to Washington. This flight will be reassigned Flight 77 the next day and will crash into the Pentagon in the 9/11 attacks. However, the men do not take the flight, but instead fly directly from Los Angeles to London on a British Airways flight the same day, and then back to Doha, Qatar. (Swinford, Winnett, and Allen 2/1/2011)
Link to 'Convicted Terrorist'? - In 2010, the names of the three men and Mansoori will appear in a State Department cable suggesting that they are still being investigated for a possible role in the 9/11 attacks (see February 11, 2010). The cable will state, “A subsequent FBI investigation revealed that the men’s plane tickets were paid for and their hotel reservations in Los Angeles, CA, were made by a convicted terrorist.” This is likely a reference to Fahed Alhajri, a Qatari who lived in Chesapeake, Virginia. News reports in 2002 will call Alhajri a suspected terrorist because of some items found in his possession when he is arrested as part of a visa fraud scheme that same year. For instance, he has photos of Osama bin Laden and the World Trade Center in his apartment, as well as a datebook with only one entry, written on 9/11 with the cryptic words, “Trackd the World Trade Center or the Pentagon Trackd for the Plane.” According to these news reports, he paid for the Los Angeles hotel room and plane fare of his brother Meshal Alhajri and two friends. Alhajri is one of the three Qatari men, and the friends presumably are the other two. But Fahed Alhajri cannot be called a “convicted terrorist,” because in 2003 he is convicted of visa fraud, not terrorism, and then he is deported. (Johnston 5/10/2002; Isikoff 2/2/2011)
Terrorists or Tourists? - The names of the three men will be included on an FBI list of over 300 people wanted for questioning in connection with the 9/11 attacks that is accidentally made public in late 2001 (see October 3, 2001). However, they never are questioned by the FBI, apparently because they left the US the day before 9/11 and never came back. Mansoori’s name is not on that list, but he will remain in the US, and he will be questioned by the FBI as part of a years-long investigation into his activities. The FBI will never come up with enough evidence to charge him, but he will be deported several years after 9/11. One US official will say, “I don’t think people were in love with him,” implying the FBI continued to have suspicions about him. In 2011, the 2010 cable mentioning the men will be made public, and The Telegraph will write: “It is not known whether the FBI believe that the men were simply assisting the hijackers or were a fifth cell who pulled out at the final moment. Alternatively, they may have been planning an attack on the West Coast of America or even London which was abandoned or went wrong.” But there is also the possibility they may simply have been tourists. (Swinford, Winnett, and Allen 2/1/2011; Isikoff 2/2/2011)
President Bush announces the new cabinet-level Office of Homeland Security, to be led by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge. (Kugler 8/19/2002) Accepting the post, Ridge says, “Liberty is the most precious gift we offer our citizens.” Responding to this comment, the Village Voice opines, “Could Tom Ridge have said anything scarier or more telling as he accepted the post of homeland security czar? Trying to strike the bell of liberty, he sounds its death knell, depicting government not as the agent of the people’s will, but as an imperious power with the authority to give us our democratic freedoms. Which means, of course, that it can also take them away.” (Solomon 9/11/2002) In November 2002, Ridge will become secretary of a new Homeland Security Department (see November 25, 2002).
John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, and OLC special counsel Robert Delahunty issue a joint memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. The memo claims that President Bush has sweeping extraconstitutional powers to order military strikes inside the US if he says the strikes are against suspected terrorist targets. In the days following the 9/11 attacks, Gonzales asked if Bush could legally order the military to combat potential terrorist activity within the US. The memo is first revealed to exist seven years later (see April 2, 2008) after future OLC head Steven Bradbury acknowledges its existence to the American Civil Liberties Union; it will be released two months after the Bush administration leaves the White House (see March 2, 2009). (US Department of Justice 10/23/2001 ; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 ; Lewis 3/2/2009)
Granting Extraordinary, Extraconstitutional Authority to Order Military Actions inside US - Yoo and Delahunty’s memo goes far past the stationing of troops to keep watch at airports and around sensitive locations. Instead, the memo says that Bush can order the military to conduct “raids on terrorist cells” inside the US, and even to seize property. “The law has recognized that force (including deadly force) may be legitimately used in self-defense,” they write. In 2009, Reuters will write, “The US military could have kicked in doors to raid a suspected terrorist cell in the United States without a warrant” under the findings of the OLC memo. “We do not think that a military commander carrying out a raid on a terrorist cell would be required to demonstrate probable cause or to obtain a warrant,” Yoo and Delahunty write. (US Department of Justice 10/23/2001 ; Lewis 3/2/2009; Mikkelson 3/2/2009) The memo reasons that since 9/11, US soil can be legally construed as being a battlefield, and Congress has no power to restrict the president’s authority to confront enemy tactics on a battlefield. (Savage 2007, pp. 131)
No Constitutional or Other Legal Protections - “[H]owever well suited the warrant and probable cause requirements may be as applied to criminal investigations or to other law enforcement activities, they are unsuited to the demands of wartime and the military necessity to successfully prosecute a war against an enemy. [Rather,] the Fourth Amendment does not apply to domestic military operations designed to deter and prevent foreign terrorist attacks.” Any objections based on the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable search and seizures would be invalid since whatever possible infringement on privacy would be trumped by the need to protect the nation from injury by deadly force. The president is “free from the constraints of the Fourth Amendment.” The Posse Comitatus Act, which bars the military from operating inside the US for law enforcement purposes, is also moot, the memo says, because the troops would be acting in a national security function, not as law enforcement. (US Department of Justice 10/23/2001 ; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 ; Lewis 3/2/2009; Mikkelson 3/2/2009; Sanchez 3/2/2009) There are virtually no restrictions on the president’s ability to use the military because, Yoo and Delahunty write, the nation is in a “state of armed conflict.” The scale of violence, they argue, is unprecedented and “legal and constitutional rules” governing law enforcement, even Constitutional restrictions, no longer apply. The US military can be used for “targeting and destroying” hijacked airplanes, they write, or “attacking civilian targets, such as apartment buildings, offices, or ships where suspected terrorists were thought to be.” The memo says, “Military action might encompass making arrests, seizing documents or other property, searching persons or places or keeping them under surveillance, intercepting electronic or wireless communications, setting up roadblocks, interviewing witnesses, or searching for suspects.” (Isikoff 3/2/2009) Yoo writes that the Justice Department’s criminal division “concurs in our conclusion” that federal criminal laws do not apply to the military during wartime. The criminal division is headed by Michael Chertoff, who will become head of the Department of Homeland Security. (Eggen and White 4/4/2008)
Sweeping Away Constitutional Rights - Civil litigator Glenn Greenwald will later note that the memo gives legal authorization for President Bush to deploy the US military within US borders, to turn it against foreign nationals and US citizens alike, and to render the Constitution’s limits on power irrelevant and non-functional. Greenwald will write, “It was nothing less than an explicit decree that, when it comes to presidential power, the Bill of Rights was suspended, even on US soil and as applied to US citizens.”
Justifying Military Surveillance - Greenwald will note that the memo also justifies the administration’s program of military surveillance against US citizens: “[I]t wasn’t only a decree that existed in theory; this secret proclamation that the Fourth Amendment was inapplicable to what the document calls ‘domestic military operations’ was, among other things, the basis on which Bush ordered the NSA, an arm of the US military, to turn inwards and begin spying—in secret and with no oversight—on the electronic communications (telephone calls and emails) of US citizens on US soil” (see December 15, 2005 and Spring 2004). “If this isn’t the unadorned face of warped authoritarian extremism,” Greenwald will ask, “what is?” (Greenwald 3/3/2009) If the president decides to use the military’s spy agency to collect “battlefield intelligence” on US soil, no law enacted by Congress can regulate how he goes about collecting that information, including requiring him to get judicial warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). In 2007, Yoo will say in an interview: “I think there’s a law greater than FISA, which is the Constitution, and part of the Constitution is the president’s commander in chief power. Congress can’t take away the president’s powers in running war.” (Savage 2007, pp. 131; PBS Frontline 5/15/2007) Cheney and Addington will push the NSA to monitor all calls and e-mails, including those beginning and ending on US soil, but the NSA will balk. Domestic eavesdropping without warrants “could be done and should be done,” Cheney and Addington argue, but the NSA’s lawyers are fearful of the legal repercussions that might follow once their illegal eavesdropping is exposed, with or without the Justice Department’s authorization. The NSA and the White House eventually reach a compromise where the agency will monitor communications going in and out of the US, but will continue to seek warrants for purely domestic communications (see Spring 2001, After September 11, 2001, and October 2001). (Savage 2007, pp. 131)
Military Use Considered - In 2009, a former Bush administration lawyer will tell a reporter that the memo “gave rise to the Justice Department discussing with the Defense Department whether the military could be used to arrest people and detain people inside the United States. That was considered but rejected on at least one occasion.” The lawyer will not give any indication of when this will happen, or to whom. Under the proposal, the suspects would be held by the military as “enemy combatants.” The proposal will be opposed by the Justice Department’s criminal division and other government lawyers and will ultimately be rejected; instead, the suspects will be arrested under criminal statutes. (Meyer and Barnes 3/3/2009)
Tom Ridge, Director of Homeland Security, warns that terrorist strikes “could happen within the next few weeks.” Ridge states that “the quantity and level of threats… have reached a threshold where we should once again place the public on general alert.” He describes the terrorists as “shadow soldiers… a shadow enemy.” (MotherJones 12/3/2001) Richard Reid does attempt to blow up an airplane with a shoe-bomb later in the month (see December 22, 2001).
The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS)‘s Automated Targeting System begins assigning terrorism risk scores to American and foreign citizens crossing US borders. The scores, generated by government computers, are supposed to approximate the risk that the travelers are terrorists or criminals. They are reportedly based on analysis of travelers’ “travel records and other data, including items such as where they are from, how they paid for tickets, their motor vehicle records, past one-way travel, seating preference and what kind of meal they ordered,” according to the Associated Press. The government plans to keep these scores on file for 40 years. Travelers are not permitted to challenge, or even see, their risk scores. DHS says the program is “one of the most advanced targeting systems in the world” and insists that without this data the nation’s ability to identify security threats “would be critically impaired.” (Associated Press 11/30/2006; Associated Press 12/1/2006) Critics of the initiative say the program violates the appropriations bill for the agency which prohibits “assigning risk to passengers whose names are not on government watch lists.” (Sniffen 12/7/2006)
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announces the implementation of the Homeland Security Advisory System. He describes it as a method “to measure and evaluate terrorist threats and communicate them to the public in a timely manner.” He states that it “empowers government and citizens to take actions to address the threat. It is a system that is equal to the threat.” (White House Office of the Press Secretary 3/12/2002)
White House chief of staff Andrew Card instructs government agencies to be watchful about safeguarding records that might contain any “information that could be misused to harm the security of our nation and the safety of our people.” Card’s order does not define terms, and agency heads are encouraged to define such cited information as broadly as possible. As a result, many government agencies begin refusing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests under a broadly, and often crudely, applied rubric of “national security.” Card’s order precipitates a cascade of new designations for non-classified information that agencies do not want to release, including “For Official Use Only,” “Sensitive but Unclassified,” “Not for Public Dissemination,” and others. The Congressional Research Service will later estimate that some 50 to 60 new designations are created by various executive agencies to keep information away from the public. In addition, some agencies allow any official or employee, from the agency head to the lowliest clerk, to designate a document as off-limits; all 180,000 employees of the Department of Homeland Security, for example, can designate a document “For Official Use Only” and thus keep it out of public hands. Reporter and author Charlie Savage will write in 2007: “There is no system for tracking who stamped it, for what reason, and how long it should stay secret. There is no process for appealing a secrecy decision.” Websites containing reams of government information are purged and sometimes shut down entirely. Periodic reports containing information that someone deems sensitive, or perhaps merely embarrassing, are terminated. FOIA requests are routinely stalled. Even such innocuous documents as the Defense Department’s personnel directory, formerly available for sale at the Government Printing Office, is now deemed unsafe for public consumption. The Environmental Protection Agency stops publishing chemical plants’ plans for dealing with disasters, perhaps protecting the public from inquisitive terrorists but certainly easing the pressure on the plants to keep their disaster preparation plans current and effective. The Defense Department stops selling topographic charts, used by, among others, airlines for creating flight charts and biologists for mapping species distribution, for “fear” that “those intending harm” might use the charts to plot attacks on US targets. Even old press releases written specifically for public distribution are retroactively classified. (Andrew Card 3/19/2002; Savage 2007, pp. 101-103)
In a memo to FEMA Director Joe M. Allbaugh, the agency’s inspector general relays concerns over the Bush administration’s proposal to merge FEMA, along with several other agencies, into the newly-constituted new Department of Homeland Security. “There are concerns of FEMA losing its identity as an agency that is quick to respond to all hazards and disasters,” the inspector general writes. (Elliston 9/22/2004)
In a successful attempt to “steal” some media coverage from FBI agent Coleen Rowley’s testimony and concurrent media blitz (see June 6, 2002), the Bush administration counters with a public relations event of its own. The same day that Rowley testifies, President Bush announces the proposed creation of the new, Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—an agency proposed by Democrats and, up till now, one that Bush has vehemently opposed, preferring instead to make any such agency a subsidiary office within the White House. It will be the largest reorganization of the government since the implementation of the 1947 National Security Act, when the Defense Department, National Security Council (NSC), and CIA were created. To ensure that Rowley’s testimony does not dominate the headlines, Bush also gives an evening speech on prime-time television, again announcing the new department. In that speech, Bush calls the DHS the latest effort in the US’s “titanic struggle against terror.” In 2006, author and media critic Frank Rich will write that the announcement and speech “assur[e] that Rowley’s whistle-blowing would be knocked out of the lead position on the next day’s morning shows and newspapers.” DHS will not be officially activated for almost six months (see November 25, 2002), but the announcement and subsequent speech succeeds in driving Rowley’s testimony off the front pages and the television broadcasts. Rich will write that the announcement of the capture of alleged “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla (see June 10, 2002) four days later, even though Padilla had been in custody since May 8 (see May 8, 2002), further drives any mention or analysis of Rowley’s testimony out of the news. (Bush 6/6/2002; CNN 6/7/2002; Rich 2006, pp. 49-50)
Dennis Pluchinsky, a senior intelligence analyst with the Diplomatic Security Service in the State Department, pens an op-ed for the Washington Post that begins, “I accuse the media in the United States of treason.” Pluchinsky describes himself as a veteran “threat analyst” with 25 years of government experience. He writes that the media has no business reporting on any supposed “intelligence failures” surrounding the 9/11 attacks, calling himself “appalled and confused by many of the post-9/11 articles published at home and abroad, in newspapers, news magazines and academic journals, as well as on the Internet.”
Doing Research for Terrorists - Those articles identify the nation’s weak spots, Pluchinsky argues: “our food supply, electrical grids, chemical plants, trucking industry, ports, borders, airports, special events, and cruise ships.” Terrorists would have no trouble gleaning useful tactical details from some of the articles, he says. Worse, “[n]o terrorist group that I am aware of has the time and manpower to conduct this type of extensive research on a multitude of potential targets. Our news media, and certain think tankers and academicians, have done and continue to do the target vulnerability research for them.” America is at war, Pluchinsky argues, and therefore the media must support the government in that war. He writes that some current media reporting is equivalent to giving actionable information to “Japanese and Nazi saboteurs and fifth columnists” during World War II. There is a wealth of open-source information out there already, Pluchinsky writes; the media should not add to it and thereby make terrorists’ jobs even easier.
Media Reporting on 9/11 Hijackers Aiding Terrorists - Pluchinsky writes that the media’s extensive reporting on the 9/11 hijackers—their entries into the US, their movements and actions once in the country—have done nothing but aid future terrorists. These future terrorists will learn from their predecessors’ mistakes, Pluchinsky believes. Indeed, he asserts, media reports on earlier terrorists such as Ramzi Yousef (see April 2, 1993) likely helped the 9/11 terrorists with their plans.
Only Quote Certain Government Officials - In many cases, he writes, reporters should only interview government sources who will exercise caution in giving possibly useful information to those reporters, and refuse to quote experts and specialists from oversight groups, unions, or even private technicians or consultants. “[I]f not for the media, terrorist groups would have no access to the insights and wisdom of these people,” he writes.
Instead of Reporting News, Inform Government - Instead of writing about it in public forums, Pluchinsky recommends that reporters who believe they have found evidence of vulnerability inform someone in “the proposed Department of Homeland Security” or other government agency.
'Patriotism,' Not 'Censorship' - He writes: “A skeptic would call this censorship; a patriot would call it cooperation. This type of cooperation existed during World War II and believe me, this current war is a ‘world war’ also.” The media would win the “Osama bin Laden award” if al-Qaeda gave one out, he states.
Government Must Enforce Censorship - “This type of reporting—carrying specifics about US vulnerabilities—must be stopped or censored,” he concludes. He recommends that “the Department of Homeland Security establish a program where academicians, reporters, think tankers, or any citizen could contact the department and inform them of security vulnerabilities. If the department determined that these vulnerabilities indeed existed, then it could award ‘Homeland Security Protective Security’ certificates to individuals or ‘Homeland Security Gold Stars’ to newspaper or Internet sites that put the country first during a time of war. If displayed on its banner, this star might increase circulation.” The government should “temporarily restrict… the media from publishing any security information that can be used by our enemies. This was necessary during World War II, it is necessary now. These restrictions were backed by the American public during World War II, and I believe the public would support them now.” In World War II, the slogan was, “Loose lips sink ships,” he reminds his readers. He suggests another slogan for today: “Prolific pens propagate terrorist plots.” (Pluchinsky 6/16/2002)
So Extreme It Seems Like Satire, Critic Notes - Liberal pundit Jim Hightower later responds that Pluchinsky’s article is so extreme that he first thought it was satire. After realizing that Pluchinsky is serious, Hightower will note: “Osama’s troops are fairly savvy zealots who figured out how to fly commercial airliners into big buildings, so they already seem to have a pretty clear grasp of our vulnerabilities. It’s not like they’re waiting for Wolf Blitzer to identify targets for them!” A true patriot would not call Pluchinsky’s recommendations “patriotism,” Hightower concludes, “a patriot would call it stupid.” (Hightower 7/12/2002)
Method for Hiding Incompetence - Time’s James Poniewozik attempts to take Pluchinsky’s recommendations more seriously than Hightower, and reminds readers that the same open-source information available to terrorists is also available to government officials, law-enforcement officials, and private citizens who can use that information to help counter future attacks. He also points out that Pluchinsky’s uncritical reliance on government officials to use the knowledge given to it by trusting reporters for the public good flies in the face of what we know of the government’s response to the 9/11 attacks. Indeed, Poniewozik writes, adopting Pluchinsky’s recommendations would do little more than give government officials a shield behind which to hide their errors, miscalculations, and outright incompetence. (Poniewozik 6/18/2002) And the Toronto Star’s Lynda Hurst will observe, “[W]arnings work both ways: If anybody had written about the possibility of terrorists taking flying lessons, that alone might have put a wrench into 9/11.” (Hurst 9/8/2002)
The Brookings Institution publishes a report warning that merging FEMA into the Department of Homeland Security will harm the agency’s capability to respond to natural disasters. “While a merged FEMA might become highly adept at preparing for and responding to terrorism, it would likely become less effective in performing its current mission in case of natural disasters as time, effort and attention are inevitably diverted to other tasks within the larger organization.” (Daalder et al. 7/2002 ; Elliston 9/22/2004)
Incumbent Senator Max Cleland (D-GA) angrily defends himself against a television ad that implies he lacks patriotism. Cleland is a triple amputee, having lost both legs and an arm in a grenade explosion in Vietnam. The television ad is sponsored by the campaign of Saxby Chambliss, a House Republican who did not himself serve in Vietnam. The Chambliss ad puts pictures of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein next to Cleland’s, and accuses Cleland of being soft on homeland security. Cleland favors the creation of a Department of Homeland Security (see November 25, 2002), but will not vote for a bill creating such an entity without an amendment guaranteeing labor rights for federal workers. Cleland has also advocated a more deliberate approach to dealing with Hussein instead of joining the push to invade Iraq, and favors the resumption of open UN inspections. “To put my picture up there with Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden and insinuate I’m not fighting hard enough for national security, I just find that this is an incredible low in Georgia politics,” Cleland says. Chambliss retorts, “Georgians deserve to know—all Americans deserve to know—why Max Cleland is more concerned with protecting federal bureaucracy, rules and regulations than creating a department that can respond effectively to future threats of terrorism.” (McMurray 10/11/2002; Unger 2007, pp. 256) Zell Miller (D-GA), Cleland’s fellow Georgian senator, defends Cleland, calling the ad “disgraceful.… [Chambliss] should be ashamed.” Cleland campaign consultant Karl Struble calls the Chambliss ad campaign “some of the ugliest stuff I’ve ever seen.” Nevertheless, the ad is apparently effective; Chambliss makes up a relatively large deficit to defeat Cleland in the November elections. (PBS 11/6/2002) In 2007, author Craig Unger will write that few voters in Georgia “realized [Cleland’s] views were similar to those held by the president’s father.” (Unger 2007, pp. 256)
The US Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) in Marseilles, France issues a report stating that there is reportedly a large quantity of uranium being held in a warehouse in Cotonou, Benin bound for Iraq. The source of the report is a phone call that was received by the NCIS from an individual describing himself as a “West African businessman.” The man claimed to be the person responsible for coordinating the transaction and said there were 20 barrels of Niger yellowcake at the warehouse that had been sold to Iraq by the president of Niger. The man leaves his name and telephone number with the NCIS. When the CIA catches wind of the report, it contacts French intelligence as well as the country’s internal security agency, the Directorate of Territorial Security (DST). French intelligence then sends a team to Africa to check the warehouse and other sites. (This investigation is possibly the same as the one that takes place after Bush’s 2002 State of the Union Address (see After (9:30 pm) January 28, 2003).) The French find nothing. “They both gave assurances from the French government that the material sitting in the port was under French control and wasn’t going anywhere else,” a former CIA officer later tells the Los Angeles Times. The CIA’s Directorate of Operations (DO) never attempts to contact the businessman. A CIA official later tells Senate investigators that the agency saw no reason to contact him. In fact, “no one even thought to do that,” the official says. The Department of Homeland Security also decides against contacting the businessman after a DHS team sent to the warehouse on December 17, 2002 (see December 17, 2002) finds nothing but bales of cotton. (Drogin and Hamburger 2/17/2004; US Congress 7/7/2004, pp. 59) As some observers later note, the information provided by this source corresponds exactly to the information contained within three of the forged Niger documents, suggesting that this individual must have been in some way linked to those documents. (ERiposte 3/3/2006)
President Bush signs legislation creating the Department of Homeland Security. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge is promoted to secretary of homeland security. The department will consolidate nearly 170,000 workers from 22 agencies, including the Coast Guard, the Secret Service, the federal security guards in airports, and the Customs Service. (Stevenson 11/26/2002; Kemper 11/26/2002) However, the FBI and CIA, the two most prominent anti-terrorism agencies, will not be part of it. (Gall 11/20/2002) The department wants to be active by March 1, 2003, but “it’s going to take years to integrate all these different entities into an efficient and effective organization.” (Gall 11/20/2002; Kemper 11/26/2002) Some 9/11 victims’ relatives are angry over sections inserted into the legislation at the last minute. Airport screening companies will be protected from lawsuits filed by family members of 9/11 victims. Kristen Breitweiser, whose husband died in the World Trade Center, says: “We were down there lobbying last week and trying to make the case that this will hurt us, but they did it anyway. It’s just a slap in the face to the victims.” (Firestone 11/26/2002) The legislation creating the new department contains sweeping new powers for the executive branch that go largely unremarked on by the media. The White House and the departments under its control can now withhold from the public vast amounts of information about “critical infrastructure,” such as emergency plans for major industrial sites, and makes the release of such information a criminal offense. The explanation is that keeping this information out of terrorist hands will prevent them from creating a “road map” for planning attacks; what is much less discussed is how little the public can now know about risky practices at industrial sites in their communities. (Savage 2007, pp. 110)
The Department of Homeland Security sends a team to investigate claims (see November 25, 2002) that there are several tons of uranium sitting in a Benin warehouse awaiting shipment to Iraq. According to a later Senate investigation, they see “only what appear[s] to be bales of cotton in the warehouse.” The agency publishes its finds in a report on February 10, 2003. (US Congress 7/7/2004, pp. 59)
Chief executive officers of telecommunications companies and financial institutions express reluctance to provide data about their customers to three government agencies, the CIA, FBI, and Department of Homeland Security. The CEOs have been providing telephone, Internet and financial records to the CIA and, through it, the NSA to support “black” intelligence operations for some time (see After July 11, 1997), but after 9/11 the FBI asks for the same information that the CIA is getting. Then, after it is established in late 2002, the Department of Homeland Security also wants the same information. The CEOs begin saying, “Look, we’ll do this once but not three times,” and prefer to give the information to the FBI, which has formal subpoenas. The dispute grows so serious that White House homeland security adviser Frances Townsend has to mediate and summons FBI Director Robert Mueller and acting CIA Director John McLauglin to the White House to hammer the issue out. After a series of meetings, they agree to each appoint a senior official to coordinate, ensuring companies are not bombarded with multiple requests. (Woodward 2006, pp. 324-5)
FEMA is merged into the Emergency and Response Directorate of the Department of Homeland Security. Michael D. Brown, the agency’s new head (see March 1, 2003), assures skeptics that the revamped agency will be “FEMA on steroids.” (Elliston 9/22/2004) FEMA’s Cabinet status disappears as it becomes one of 22 government agencies to be consolidated into DHS. According to the Washington Post,“For a time… even its name was slated to vanish and become simply the directorate of emergency preparedness and response until then-DHS Secretary Tom Ridge relented.” (Glasser and White 9/4/2005)
After FEMA is incorporated into the Department of Homeland Security (see March 1, 2003), veteran FEMA employees complain of a massive “brain drain.” FEMA “has gone downhill within the department, drained of resources and leadership,” I.M. “Mac” Destler, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy, will tell the Washington Post shortly after the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster. At least one veteran FEMA staff member, Pleasant Mann, complains on the record about the changes FEMA is undergoing (see Mid-September 2004). (Hsu 9/9/2005) Local officials complain that FEMA’s new focus on terrorism threatens other necessary prevention programs. “With the creation of Homeland Security, [natural disaster prevention programs] have taken a backseat,” says Walter Maestri, emergency management director in Jefferson Parish. “To us, it is pretty obvious which is the greater threat. One is maybe, the other is when.” (Nussbaum 10/8/2004)
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) raises the national threat level to orange, or “high.” DHS director Tom Ridge tells Americans, not for the first time (see February 7-13, 2003), to stock up on duct tape and plastic sheeting as protection against biological and/or radiological attacks. (Unger 2007, pp. 293) The duct tape and plastic sheeting recommendations have become something of a national joke by this point, with Saturday Night Live comedians riffing on the topic and a Tom Ridge impersonator performing while wrapped in plastic sheeting for Ridge and President Bush at a recent Gridiron dinner. Late-night talk show host Jay Leno recently said after having Ridge on his show: “When problems seem overwhelming, simplistic solutions always seem funny. Duct tape and plastic sheeting? When the threat level goes down, it’ll be downgraded to Scotch tape and two Ziploc bags.” On a more serious note, David Ropeik of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis says: “Ridge and the department need to come up with a better way of saying, ‘Be afraid.’ They say, ‘Be alert,’ and then out of the other side of their mouth they say, ‘Go about your normal lives.’ To most of us, those messages don’t mesh. They also need to be more specific. When the threat level goes from yellow to orange, tell us what we can do besides being more alert.” Gary Hart, the former Democratic senator who helped compile the report that eventually led to the creation of the department (see January 31, 2001), says: “The idea of using duct tape to protect yourself would resonate only if people could see the government taking action to protect you. But because the government has done so little against terrorism at home, it sounded as if they were saying, ‘You’re on your own.’” Ridge may have gotten the last laugh on Leno’s show, when Leno asked sardonically: “I’m sitting at home in my underpants watching the game and, boop, we’re in yellow. What do I do now?” Ridge replied, “Change shorts.” (Tierney 3/17/2003)
The Republican leadership of the Texas legislature sends agents from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Texas Rangers, state troopers, and members of the Special Crimes unit to locate and apprehend over 50 Democratic state legislators who have left the state to prevent a quorum from being reached. The state Democrats left Austin, and the state, in order to prevent the Republican leadership from passing a controversial electoral redistricting plan that they say discriminates against minority voters (see 2002-2004). One Democratic lawmaker, Representative Helen Giddings, is apprehended. Many of the Democrats are staying for the time being in Ardmore, Oklahoma. One Democrat, Representative Craig Eiland, says that police officers questioned his wife in Galveston, where their newborn twins are in intensive care. He calls the law enforcement efforts to “find” him and his colleagues “bordering on harassment,” and advises, “Let the good guys go back to catching the bad guys and let the politicians deal with each other.” Under Texas law, even though the Democrats are committing no crime in refusing to participate in the legislative session, state law enforcement officers have the authority to arrest members of the legislature and forcibly return them to Austin to allow the legislature to achieve a quorum. (Root 5/14/2003)
Use of Federal Resources; DHS 'Furious' at Involvement - US Representative Tom DeLay (R-TX) says that the Speaker of the Texas House, Tom Craddick (R-Midland), has asked for the intervention of the FBI and/or US Marshals to “go up and get those members.” Craddick denies making any such request. The US attorney’s office in San Antonio says that an “unidentified person” called it with an inquiry about federalizing the “arrest warrant.” A Justice Department spokesperson says the issue is entirely a state matter, and “would not warrant investigation by federal authorities.” The Air and Marine Interdiction and Coordination Center, a federal agency under the purview of the DHS, is involved for a time in a search for a private plane belonging to former House Speaker Pete Laney (D-Hale Center). The agency’s purpose is to engage in counterterrorism activities. Craddick says that the agency was successful in locating the airplane in Ardmore, alerting him that many of the Democrats are in that town. Craddick says: “We called someone, and they said they were going to track it. I have no idea how they tracked it down. That’s how we found them.” Bush administration officials promised that DHS agencies and officials would not operate within American borders when the agency was created. (Root 5/14/2003; Smith 5/14/2003) According to DHS officials, someone in the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) calls the Air and Marine Interdiction Coordination Center on May 12 and says: “We got a problem and I hope you can help me out. We had a plane that was supposed to be going from Ardmore, Oklahoma, to Georgetown, Texas. It has state representatives in it and we cannot find this plane.” The center agrees to help, DHS says, because “from all indications, this request from the Texas DPS was an urgent plea for assistance from a law enforcement agency trying to locate a missing, lost, or possibly crashed aircraft.” DHS officials contradict Craddick by denying that the center found Laney’s plane in Ardmore. Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) says: “I am outraged that Homeland Security resources are being used to help settle partisan scores. It’s inconceivable that anyone would waste scarce department resources for such an indefensible purpose.” Lieberman is demanding an investigation into the matter. Representative Jim Turner (D-TX), the ranking Democrat on the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, says he is reminded “of the days of Watergate, when federal resources were used for purely partisan political purposes.” According to the New York Times, DeLay is working closely with Craddick on the matter, though a DeLay spokesman denies that anyone from DeLay’s office has had any contact with DHS, and adds, “This is a smoke screen from the Democrats, who will say or do anything to change the subject from shirking their constitutional responsibilities.” DPS spokesperson Tom Vinger refuses to say specifically what his department has done to find the legislators, saying only: “We were ordered to begin an investigation into the missing legislators by the Texas House and to take them into custody if we found them and bring them back to the House chambers. Those were our orders. And we used very basic, routine investigative procedures in an attempt to do this.” DHS officials tell a Times reporter on the condition of anonymity that they are furious about being involved in the search. (Ferdinand 5/2003; Shenon 5/15/2003) Craddick soon orders all records of the Republicans’ search for the Democrats to be destroyed, sparking outrage among the Democrats, who demand accountability and say Craddick is trying to hide something. (McNamara 5/21/2003)
Questioning Family Members - Law enforcement officers have questioned the children of Representative Joe Pickett, angering Pickett’s wife Denise. And Carol Roark, the wife of Representative Lon Burnam, says police officers appeared at her home in Fort Worth and announced they were there to “arrest” her husband; one officer told her, “I’m here on the order of Tom Craddick to arrest Rep. Lon Burnam.” Roark says she laughed at the officer, and says, “I think it was a pretty silly use of tax dollars.” Dallas Mayor Laura Miller, whose husband, Representative Steve Wolens, is in Ardmore, says that police officers have camped out overnight in front of her home. Miller says, “I felt very safe last night because there were two DPS officers who slept in front of my home.” (Root 5/14/2003)
Mixed Reactions - Reaction to the Democrats’ exodus is mixed. Supporters have dubbed them the “Heroes of the House” and the “Killer D’s,” the latter a reference to a similar action taken by Texas Senate Democrats in the late 1970s. Republicans in Texas and Washington have labeled the Democratic lawmakers “cowards” and “terrorists.” Many Texas news outlets have shown sympathy to the Democrats and have criticized what some call the excessive reaction by the Republican leadership. (Smith 5/14/2003) DeLay says the Democrats who have left Texas “may not be patriots,” and adds, “Representatives are elected and paid for by the people with the expectation that they show up for work and do the people’s business and have the courage to cast tough votes.” In response, Representative Martin Frost (D-Arlington) says in regards to the redistricting plan: “Tom DeLay would be perfectly happy in the old Soviet Union. He wants one-party government. He doesn’t believe in a two-party system.” DeLay’s House colleague, Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), says, “It is easier, I think, for Tom to manipulate these lines… than it is to win elections.” (Jackson 5/14/2003; Hulse 5/15/2003)
Order Expires - The order from the Republican leadership is essentially vacated on May 15, when the Texas House, formerly “standing at ease,” officially adjourns. At that point, the “call on the House,” under which law enforcement officials are authorized to apprehend and forcibly return recalcitrant lawmakers, is abated. They return to Austin on May 16. Representative Jim Dunnam (D-Waco), who helped organize the retreat, says, “Government is by the people and for the people, and we had to go to Oklahoma to say government is not for Tom DeLay.” The delay causes the redistricting bill to lapse, but it will be brought up again in the next session, according to Texas Republicans. Representative Beverly Woolley (R-Houston) says: “Texas is a Republican state by all voting population, and they [Republicans] deserve to have greater representation in Congress. Sooner or later, we will redistrict. This is not over.” (Hulse 5/15/2003; Robison, Henderson, and Elliott 5/16/2003)
For a second Memorial Day in a row (see May 20-24, 2002), the National Alert Level is raised to orange following warnings that “al-Qaeda has entered an operational period worldwide.” Authorities say that recent attacks abroad have raised concerns about an impending attack on the US. The Department of Homeland Security issued this fourth orange alert due to what it calls “the heightened vulnerability associated with the Memorial Day holiday.” However, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge says there is no “credible, specific information” about targets or method of attack.” He does state that “weapons of mass destruction, including those containing chemical, biological or radiological agents or materials, cannot be discounted.” (CNN 5/20/2003) But federal law enforcement sources say the credibility of the threat is doubtful. They also say those transmissions are not the reason why the government has raised the threat level to orange. (News 8 Austin 5/20/2003) Meanwhile, two weeks after President Bush declared “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq (see May 1, 2003), the administration’s plan to implement Iraqi self-rule is postponed “indefinitely” due to looting and lawlessness (see May 20, 2003). (Dreyfuss 9/21/2006 )
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issues an advisory warning that al-Qaeda is working on plans to hijack airliners flying between international points that pass near or over the continental US. The DHS spokesman states that most of the flights fitting this description would originate in Canada. Reasons for this advisory include concerns regarding the second anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, a recent increase in intelligence information, and threats to aviation that continued through the summer. However, the advisory states that the information is not specific enough to raise the National Alert Level from yellow to orange. The advisory contains non-specific warnings about multiple attacks against “soft” targets in both the US and abroad. (Meserve and Arena 9/5/2003) No such attacks occur.
Five undercover agents posing as passengers and would-be terrorists manage to get weapons through security checkpoints at Logan Airport in Boston. The agents, sent by Department of Homeland Security inspector general Clark Kent Ervin, take knives, a bomb, and a gun through checkpoints in different terminals. The Transportation Security Administration says that such exercises are useful for spotting holes in airport security, but the Boston Globe writes, “The fact that such weapons made it past checkpoints two years after an overhaul of airport security is likely to be seen as a serious indictment of the government’s efforts to protect air travel from terrorists.” Ervin then orders similar tests at 15 airports, but the problems are also apparent at some of these other airports. For example, at Newark, from which Flight 93 departed on 9/11, screeners miss one in four test bombs or weapons. (Trento and Trento 2006, pp. 171-2)
Two reports of alleged terrorist activity trigger fear in the US. White powder is discovered on Pennsylvania Avenue, just outside the White House. A section of central Washington DC is subsequently cordoned off by police and an all-points terror alert is issued. After this large-scale reaction, the powder is found to be harmless and a Homeland Security spokesman declares the powder to be “benign.” Later, ABC News cites an anonymous intelligence source who warned of an “imminent credible threat” in Manhattan from a “woman suicide bomber.” This news causes the stock exchange to dip, despite a rapid denial by police. (London Times 12/18/2003)
Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge raises the nationwide terror alert level to orange. He states that “These strategic indicators, including al-Qaeda’s continued desire to carry out attacks against our homeland, are perhaps greater now than at any point since Sept. 11.” In his announcement, Ridge cites further reports that al-Qaeda is planning further operations, and that “extremists abroad” are anticipating attacks on the scale of those on September 11, 2001. He states that “credible sources suggest the possibility of attacks against the homeland around the holiday season and beyond.” Officials repeatedly warn about threats to the aviation sector. (CBC News 12/21/2003) The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) says it has reliable and corroborated information from several sources indicating that a plot, similar to 9/11, is in an advanced stage. US officials focus their investigation on the “informed belief” that six men on Air France Flight 68, which arrives in Los Angeles daily at 4:05 p.m., are planning to hijack the jet and crash it near Los Angeles or Las Vegas. Officials say some names on the passenger manifest match those of known Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists, with one of them being a trained pilot with a commercial license. Six Air France flights between Paris and Los Angeles are canceled by French Prime Minister Jean Pierre Raffarin. (Times 12/24/2003) The terror alert turns out to be baseless. The names identified as terrorists turn out to be a five-year-old boy, whose name had been mistaken for an alleged Tunisian terrorist, an elderly Chinese lady who used to run a restaurant in Paris, a Welsh insurance salesman, and three French nationals. (Dreyfuss 9/21/2006 ) Further investigation of the Tunisian man reveals that he has no plans to leave the country, no criminal record, and no links to extremism. (Red Orbit 12/25/2003) Despite criticism of the investigation, French authorities praise the level of cooperation between intelligence agencies. A spokesman for the prime minister says “What is important is that the evaluation of threats continues, and they are undertaken between the Americans and the French in a framework of intense cooperation. Franco-American cooperation in this domain is exemplary.” (Red Orbit 12/25/2003) This alert comes in the wake of the comments of the chair of the 9/11 Commission, Tom Kean, suggesting that the 9/11 attacks could have been prevented. President Bush is criticized in the press for the continuing failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. (Dreyfuss 9/21/2006 )
Roger Ailes, a powerful Republican campaign consultant (see 1968, January 25, 1988, and September 21 - October 4, 1988) and the founder and chairman of Fox News (see October 7, 1996), becomes embroiled in a legal conflict involving former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and his mistress, Judith Regan, a book editor for another arm of Fox News’s parent company News Corporation (NewsCorp). Ailes learns that Kerik has commandeered an apartment overlooking the site of the devastated World Trade Center, intended for the use of rescue and recovery workers, as a “love nest” for his trysts with Regan. Ailes is a close friend and political ally of former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who recommended Kerik to head the Department of Homeland Security. Kerik is already being pilloried in the press for a number of other ethical and perhaps even criminal activities, and is being vetted for the DHS slot. Ailes and Giuliani do not want the Kerik-Regan affair, and the commandeered apartment, to come to the public’s notice. Court documents later say that Ailes “told Regan that he believed she had information about Kerik that, if disclosed, would harm Giuliani’s presidential campaign.” Ailes “advised Regan to lie to, and to withhold information from, [federal] investigators concerning Kerik.” The attempted cover-up will later be brought to light when NewsCorp fires Regan in 2006, and she brings a wrongful-termination suit that secures a $10.75 million settlement. Regan will not identify Ailes by name, only as a “senior executive” for NewsCorp, but other documents accidentally made public will reveal Ailes’s identity. Reportedly, Regan has her telephone conversations with Ailes on tape. NewsCorp will later claim that Regan has sent it a letter stating that “Mr. Ailes did not intend to influence her with respect to a government investigation.” Regan’s lawyer will say that NewsCorp’s claim does not reflect the entirety of Regan’s letter. Kerik himself will withdraw his name from consideration, and will later be sentenced to four years in prison for tax fraud. (Chait 2/24/2011; Martinez 2/24/2011; Buettner 2/25/2011; Sherman 5/22/2011)
The Bush administration directs the Department of Homeland Security to seize any vessel, sailing anywhere in US waters, that DHS believes might be headed to Cuba. The justification for the directive is “the Cuban government’s support of terrorism,” according to the DHS, even though there is little evidence to back up that claim. According to Business Week’s Paul Magnusson, the directive may well violate the Bill of Rights, and requires the US Coast Guard to “draw up regulations and enlist cash-strapped local police departments and harbor patrols in the effort.” The editor of a boating magazine observes: “That’s right, Popeye. If you’re unlucky enough to be reading this magazine in the cockpit of your most cherished possession—be it in San Diego, Seattle, Saginaw, or South Florida—and you wonder aloud how you’d always wanted to chase Hemingway’s wake, by the letter of this new edict you have now forfeited the right to keep your boat.” (Carter 2004, pp. 17)
A survey of 84 FEMA personnel conducted by the American Federation of Government Employees finds that 80 percent of surveyed employees believe that since FEMA’s merger into the Department of Homeland Security, the agency has become “poorer.” Sixty percent say that given the opportunity, they would transfer to another agency if the salary were the same. (Elliston 9/22/2004; Hsu 9/9/2005)
Following tests of the standard of security at US airports (see October 9, 2003), the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and a private company provide a series of classified briefings to the House Aviation Subcommittee, saying the security is currently lax, bureaucratic, and no better than it was 17 years ago. After the briefings, committee chairman John Mica (R-FL) says, “We have a system that doesn’t work.” Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR), who supported the federal takeover of airport security, says, “The inadequacies and loopholes in the system are phenomenal.” A 2006 book by investigative reporters Joe and Susan Trento will say that the new federal screeners are “much worse” than the old private ones. A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) official will say that the “private sector was held to a standard of somewhere between 80 to 90 percent” for weapons detection, but now at one airport “they ran eight [tests] and we missed four of them.” He will add, “But what is really alarming to me is that they said we’re above the national average so they recognize you for a job well done.” Another official will complain about the lack of testing in the federal system, saying that the new screeners even have difficultly recognizing explosives when they appear on a screen, “And when you run an actual [improvised explosive device], they don’t know what it is.” The Trentos will attribute some of the blame to the way the security staff are trained, noting, “the TSA certifies and tests itself and classifies the results as secret.” (Trento and Trento 2006, pp. 172-4)
It is discovered that the Department of Homeland Security’s intelligence division policy director has disturbing associations with known radical militants. Faisal Gill, a White House political appointee with close ties to powerful Republican lobbyist Grover Norquist and no background in intelligence, failed to disclose on security clearance documents that he had worked with Abdurahman Alamoudi, a lobbyist with suspected terrorist ties. This is a potential felony. Jailed at the time, Alamoudi will be sentenced to 23 years in prison later in the year for plotting with Libyan agents to kill the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia (see October 15, 2004). Gill is briefly removed from his job when his incorrect disclosures are discovered, but it is ultimately decided that he can keep his job. Salon notes that “Gill has access to top-secret information on the vulnerability of America’s seaports, aviation facilities, and nuclear power plants to terrorist attacks.” Gill previously worked in an organization tied to both Alamoudi and Norquist. One anonymous official says, “There’s an overall denial in the administration that the agenda being pushed by Norquist might be a problem. It’s so absurd that a Grover Norquist person could even be close to something like this. That’s really what’s so insidious.” Another official complains, “Who is Abdurahman Alamoudi? We really don’t know. So how can we say there is not a problem with his former aide?” (Jacoby 6/22/2004)
The FBI issues a bulletin to state and local law enforcement agencies which states that terrorists may use cultural, artistic or athletic visas to slip into the United States undetected. This is followed by another bulletin one day later from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security warning of pending terrorist attacks on buses and trains in major cities during the summer. The uncorroborated intelligence cited by the warning indicates the possible use of a bomb made out of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and diesel fuel, similar to the one used in the Oklahoma City federal building attack. This intelligence, as well as the March 11, 2004, train bombings in Madrid (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), reportedly increases the level of concern that terrorists are planning an attack in the US. It is reported that the intelligence community believes that al-Qaeda has the full intent and capability to execute coordinated and deadly attacks on public transportation systems. (PBS 4/2/2004) No such attacks occur. The warning apparently is given because a number of suspects are arrested in Britain who had been working on a fertilizer bomb, but they have been under surveillance and their fertilizer had been replaced with a harmless substance. In the thousands of hours of monitored conversations, none of them mentioned anything about bombing the US (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). One day prior to the first alert, Charles Duelfer, the chief weapons inspector in Iraq, informed Congress that no WMD have been found to date. (MSNBC 6/4/2007)
On May 17, 2004, security officials say that recent intelligence has led to increased concern about the possibility of a major terrorist attack in the US. It is believed that the attack could take place as early as the summer and before November, perhaps in an attempt to affect the outcome of the Presidential election. Potential targets include the dedication of the National World War II Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, the G8 economic summit on Sea Island, Georgia, Fourth of July celebrations, the Democratic convention in Boston, the Republican convention in New York, and the Olympics in Greece. However, no specific target, time or date is identified for the possible attack. Sources do state that the assessment is new and is the result of intelligence gathered over time. However, an official with the Department of Homeland Security, speaking on condition of anonymity, states that “We are not aware of any new highly credible intelligence indicating a planned attack in the US this summer. Nothing in the current intelligence is exceptionally specific.” (Arena 5/25/2004) The next day, Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller hold a news conference to warn of a “plane attack inside the United States.” They warn that terrorists are “poised for an immediate attack.” Ashcroft says “credible intelligence from multiple sources indicates that al-Qaeda plans to attempt an attack on the United States in the next few months. This disturbing intelligence indicates al-Qaeda’s specific intention to hit the United States hard.” (CNN 5/26/2004) The Justice Department asks for assistance in locating seven alleged terrorist operatives and states an increased concern about attacks over the summer. (CBS News 6/14/2004) It is later revealed the threat actually came from a group that falsely claimed responsibility for the terror attacks in Madrid. One expert says that the group is “not really taken seriously by Western intelligence.” These warnings come as the administration is under heavy criticism for failures in Iraq. The Abu Ghraib torture scandal dominates headlines. (Dreyfuss 9/21/2006 ) This warning also comes on the heels of other bad news for the Bush administration. During a May 16 interview on Meet the Press, Secretary of State Colin Powell is cut off by an aide while discussing misleading CIA information regarding WMD in Iraq. He admits that “it turned out that the sourcing was inaccurate and wrong and in some cases, deliberately misleading. And for that, I am disappointed and I regret it.” (MSNBC 6/15/2004) Three days later, Newsweek reports that White House counsel Alberto Gonzalez warned in a January 25, 2002 internal White House memo that US officials could be prosecuted for war crimes due to the unprecedented and unusual methods used by the Bush administration in the war on terrorism. (Isikoff 5/19/2004)
Innovative Emergency Management (IEM), an emergency management and homeland security consulting firm, announces that the Department of Homeland Security has awarded it a $500,000 contract to lead the development of a catastrophic hurricane disaster plan (see September 23, 2004) for Louisiana and the city of New Orleans. Announcing the award, IEM Director of Homeland Security Wayne Thomas notes that “the greater New Orleans area is one of the nation’s most vulnerable locations for hurricane landfall. Given this area’s vulnerability, unique geographic location and elevation, and troubled escape routes, a plan that facilitates a rapid and effective hurricane response and recovery is critical.” (Innovative Emergency Management 6/3/2004; Insurance Journal 6/9/2004; US Congress 9/9/2005)
Author and former CIA agent Larry Kolb is discussing the government’s “war on terror” with a friend who works for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The DHS official says: “Look at it this way. The war on terror is being brought to you by the same people who brought you the war on drugs. Think about it—maybe one time in a thousand they actually catch somebody transporting or selling drugs. Then what do they do? They put that person in a federal facility, which is locked down and guarded 24 hours a day. And they still can’t even keep drugs out of that facility, let alone off our streets, or outside our borders. Now, really, how do you think we’re doing in the war on terror?” (Kolb 2007, pp. 63)
Former White House counsel John Dean examines the idea that the government may postpone the presidential elections in the light of an alleged terror threat (see July 8, 2004), and finds it wanting. Dean notes that the idea of postponing the elections is bogus: “There is no such proposal. In fact, it is not legally possible because there are no laws giving the president, or anyone else, such authority.” A Homeland Security spokesperson has said, “DHS is not looking into a contingency plan,” and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice has said, “I don’t know where the idea that there might be some postponement of elections comes from.” As others have noted, Rice pointed out that even during the Civil War, then-President Abraham Lincoln refused to consider the idea of postponing the 1864 elections. Christopher Cox (R-CA), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said flatly: “Were we to postpone the elections, it would represent a victory for the terrorists.… The election is going to go forward.” Dean writes “that the Bush administration has completely disregarded the need to protect the workings of our electoral process, which is highly susceptible to terror attacks,” noting that large-scale, well-timed terror strikes could catastrophically disrupt the election process. (Dean 7/26/2004) Author and media critic Frank Rich is more prosaic, writing in 2006 that both the terror alerts and the vague threats to consider suspending the elections are merely attempts to frighten and cow the American citizenry. (Rich 2006, pp. 146)
ABC News tests US airport security by successfully shipping fifteen pounds of depleted uranium in a lead-lined steel pipe from the Jakarta, Indonesia, airport to Los Angeles. Indonesia is a hotbed of al-Qaeda and Islamist terrorist activity. It goes through successfully. The Department of Homeland Security, instead of re-examining its airport security protocols, will investigate ABC News and threaten criminal charges. (Carter 2004, pp. 16)
Pleasant Mann, a 16-year FEMA veteran, says in an interview with the Independent Weekly that changes made to the agency by the Bush administration have so severely harmed FEMA staff morale that people are leaving “in droves.” Part of the problem, he says, has to do with the people Bush selected to run the agency. “The biggest frustration here is that we at FEMA have responded to disasters like Oklahoma City and 9/11, and here are people who haven’t responded to a kitchen fire telling us how to deal with terrorism. You know, there were a lot of people who fell down on the job on 9/11, but it wasn’t us… . Since last year, so many people have left who had developed most of our basic programs. A lot of the institutional knowledge is gone. Everyone who was able to retire has left, and then a lot of people have moved to other agencies.” Mann also complains that FEMA’s “priority is no longer on prevention.” FEMA’s merger into the Department of Homeland Security has made mitigation “the orphaned stepchild,” he says. (Elliston 9/22/2004)
The Department of Homeland Security issues a task order for Innovative Emergency Management, Inc. (IEM) to “complete the development of the SE Louisiana Catastrophic Hurricane plan.” IEM is to receive $199,969 for the work. (US Congress 9/9/2005)
The White House decides that the Department of Homeland Security should raise the threat level to orange in the days before the presidential election. The ostensible reason for this is an Osama bin Laden videotaped speech (see October 29, 2004). However, many in the administration, including Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge, believe the proposal to raise the threat level may be politically motivated (see October 29, 2004). In his 2009 book The Test of Our Times, Ridge will write: “The timing of the tape may have been a surprise; the content was not. Within the department no one felt it necessary to consider additional security measures or to call the Homeland Security Council into session.” The situation is different among White House officials. “A vigorous, some might say dramatic, discussion ensued” over the need for the alert, Ridge will write. “Then-Attorney General John Ashcroft strongly urged an increase in the threat level and was supported by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.… There was absolutely no support for that position within our department. None. I wondered, ‘Is this about security or politics?’ Post-election analysis demonstrated a significant increase in the president’s approval rating in the days after the raising of the threat level.” Ridge will continue: “As the minutes passed at our video conference, we concluded that others in the administration were operating with the same threat information that we had at DHS, and they didn’t know any more than we did. And we concluded that the idea was still a bad one. It also seemed possible to me and to others around the table that something could be afoot other than simple concern about the country’s safety.” The administration chooses not to raise the threat level. Ridge will write: “I believe our strong interventions had pulled the ‘go-up’ advocates back from the brink. But I consider the episode to be not only a dramatic moment in Washington’s recent history, but another illustration of the intersection of politics, fear, credibility, and security.” He will write that the episode is a strong influence on his upcoming decision to resign his post and leave Washington. (O'Toole 8/9/2009; Sharma 8/20/2009; MSNBC 9/2/2009)
Retired Maj. Gen. Bruce Lawlor, formerly part of the Homeland Security Advisory Council, a panel made up of business representatives, academic leaders, and security experts appointed by President Bush, says that the Homeland Security warning system had outlived its usefulness. “I’m not suggesting that we do away with communications with the public. What I’m suggesting is that maybe you do away with the color-coded system.” (Sifuentes 12/15/2004) The Department of Homeland Security has also been accused on a number of occasions for manipulating the alert level for political reasons. (Dreyfuss 9/21/2006 ) Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge acknowledges criticisms of the system, saying that the color-coded system has invited “questions and even occasional derision.” However, he also states that “the system is here to stay.” (Associated Press 12/15/2004) He agrees with a report released by the Heritage Foundation and the Center for Strategic and International Studies that recommends reform of the system. The report specifically suggests the removal of the color-coded system in favor of a system of regional alerts. The Homeland Security Advisory Council votes to collect information from the public and the media about the threat system. Other recommendations they adopt include plans to identify potential private-sector terror targets, suggestions on how to improve terrorism-related fields of study and how to bolster terror-related training. (Sifuentes 12/15/2004)
President Bush nominates former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik to head the Department of Homeland Security, replacing outgoing DHS head Tom Ridge. Kerik is a close friend and political ally of former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who pushed Kerik for the position. Kerik also actively campaigned for Bush in the recent presidential campaign. “Bernie Kerik is one of the most accomplished and effective leaders of law enforcement in America,” Bush says. “In every position, he has demonstrated a deep commitment to justice, a heart for the innocent, and a record of great success. I’m grateful he’s agreed to bring his lifetime of security experience and skill to one of the most important positions in the American government.” Kerik recently returned from a stint in Iraq, where he trained Iraqi police officials (see May 2003 - July 2003). Kerik was also in charge of New York City police activities during the 9/11 attacks (see (After 10:28 a.m.-12:00 pm.) September 11, 2001). Kerik says: “I know what is at stake. On September 11, 2001, I witnessed firsthand the very worst of humanity and the very best.… I saw hatred claim the lives of 2,400 innocent people, and I saw the bravest men and women I will ever know rescue more than 20,000 others.” Bush says of Kerik: “He was there when the Twin Towers collapsed—he knew the faces of the rescuers who rushed toward danger, he attended the funerals for the officers who didn’t come back. Bernie Kerik understands the duties that came to America on September 11. The resolve he felt that morning will guide him every day on his job and every first responder defending our homeland will have a faithful ally in Bernie Kerik.” Congressional Republicans laud Kerik’s nomination. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), the chair of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, which oversees DHS, calls Kerik a “strong candidate” for the post. “He knows first hand the challenges this country faces in guarding against terrorist attacks,” Collins says. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Christopher Cox (R-CA) calls Kerik “the perfect choice for the job,” and goes on to say: “There is no doubt that Bernie is a strong, no-nonsense manager who is intimately familiar with the homeland security mission. The new standing Committee on Homeland Security will work closely with him to build on the strong foundations laid by Tom Ridge to secure America against terrorism.” Some Democrats, including Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), also praise Kerik’s nomination. “Coming from New York, Bernie Kerik knows the great needs and challenges this country faces in homeland security,” Schumer says. “He has a strong law enforcement background and I believe will do an excellent job in fighting for the resources and focus that homeland security needs and deserves in our post-9/11 world.” Kerik’s biggest drawback as the choice to head DHS may be his lack of experience in managing a federal bureaucracy, some observers say. Former New York Police Commissioner Howard Safire says of Kerik: “Bernie is a very good operational person, he knows how to run the operation. What he needs to learn and what he’s going to need help with is the Washington bureaucracy.” DHS is an umbrella department overseeing and managing 22 separate federal agencies and some 200,000 employees and contract workers. (Stevenson and Drew 12/2/2004; Porteus 12/3/2004; McClellan 2008, pp. 245-246) “People here are waiting to find out who this guy is and what changes he’ll bring,” says an anonymous Homeland Security senior official. “He’s really an unknown factor here in Washington.” (Lichtblau and Stevenson 12/4/2004) In 2008, Scott McClellan, the current White House press secretary, will describe DHS as “still in its infancy and still struggling to define its identity,” and will call it a “vast, unwieldy agglomeration of dozens of formerly independent agencies, now bundled together under one name, and with a new focus (physical threats to the American ‘homeland’) that sometimes contradicted the old mandates. Homeland Security was hampered by bureaucratic infighting, incredibly complex coordination challenges, and slumping employee morale.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 245-246) Less than two weeks later, Kerik will withdraw his name from consideration, ostensibly over a problem with an illegal immigrant he hired to babysit his children (see December 13, 2004), though some believe his withdrawal is spurred by the media’s interest in his business dealings (see December 9-10, 2004).
Some are quietly expressing criticism or a lack of surety about the recent nomination of former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik to head the Department of Homeland Security (DHS—see December 3, 2004). The New York Times questions Kerik’s qualifications for the post and what it calls “some troubling parts of his record.” The Times says, “A homeland security secretary should be above politics and respectful of civil liberties,” and that Kerik is neither, as he campaigned for the reelection of President George W. Bush, and suggested that criticism of the Iraq War was tantamount to aiding the enemy, and that the election of Kerry would result in a terrorist attack. It is also unclear why Kerik abruptly left Iraq in the summer of 2003, just when he should have been settling into his new job of training security forces (see May 2003 - July 2003). The Times says the public should know more about Kerik’s duties at Giuliani-Kerik LLC, a consulting firm Kerik operates with former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, and raises questions about potential conflicts of interest: “Mr. Kerik should offer assurances that former clients and colleagues will not get preferential treatment. He has had difficulty with ethical lines in the past. In 2002, he paid a fine for using a police sergeant and two detectives to research his autobiography.” The Times also notes Kerik’s “enormously profitable” stint as a board member of Taser International, the stun-gun manufacturer, saying this deserves scrutiny. (New York Times 12/9/2004) Kerik will be doing business with some of the firms that made him wealthy, Times reporter Eric Lipton observes, particularly Taser International, even though he has promised to resign from that firm’s board of directors and sell his remaining stock if he is confirmed as DHS secretary. The price of Taser stock has risen sharply in recent months, largely because Kerik has done an excellent job of pitching the company’s product to police departments around the country. Kerik has also led the push to bring federal business to Taser, including contracts offered by DHS. Taser president Thomas Smith says: “Anyone in a federal law enforcement position is a potential customer. And we are going to continue to go after that business.” Kerik refuses to discuss his position with Taser with the press. Bush administration spokesman Brian Besanceney promises Kerik will adhere to “the highest ethical standards” and ensure there are no conflicts of interest. “In order to avoid even an appearance of a conflict, he will comply with all ethics laws and rules to avoid acts that might affect former clients or organizations where he served as a director,” Besanceney says. Under Kerik, the New York Police Department became one of the first departments in the country to purchase large amounts of Taser stun guns. (Lipton 12/10/2004)
Bernard Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner, withdraws his name from consideration to become the nation’s next head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS—see December 3, 2004). Kerik says he found information showing that a woman he had hired as a housekeeper and nanny was an illegal immigrant; DHS oversees the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. Kerik says that the discovery prompted him to withdraw his name from consideration. In a letter to President Bush, Kerik writes that although it is “the honor of a lifetime” to be nominated to head the department, “I am convinced that, for personal reasons, moving forward would not be in the best interests of your administration, the Department of Homeland Security, or the American people.… I uncovered information that now leads me to question the immigration status of a person who had been in my employ as a housekeeper and nanny. It has also been brought to my attention that for a period of time during such employment required tax payments and related filings had not been made.” He says that he cannot allow personal matters to “distract from the focus and progress of the Department of Homeland Security and its crucial endeavors.”
Questionable Stock Transactions May Be behind Kerik's Withdrawal - Some Democrats believe that the real reason for Kerik’s withdrawal may be questions about his involvement with Taser International, a stun gun company that does business with DHS; Kerik recently made $6.2 million by exercising stock options in that firm (see December 9-10, 2004). Kerik’s close friend and business colleague, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, says of Kerik’s choice: “I’m disappointed that this had to happen, but I think it’s the right decision, the only decision given the kind of issue that’s involved here. I don’t think this would be as major an issue if it were a different department of government.… When an issue like this emerges, it makes it impossible to go forward.” Kerik’s lawyer, Joseph Tacopina, says Kerik is the one who decided to withdraw his name. “It was Bernie Kerik who uncovered this [the information about the nanny] on his own. He brought it to the White House,” says Tacopina. “He wanted to put the country first. He didn’t want to distract the president and distract the important mission that Homeland Security has.” As he withdraws his name from consideration, Kerik has still not completed his ethics filings, which will disclose his sources of income and financial liabilities, and the FBI has not yet completed its background investigation of him. (Associated Press 12/13/2004; Lipton and Rashbaum 12/13/2004) A Democratic Senate staff member says he is unsure whether the nanny issue is the only reason why Kerik withdrew his name from consideration. “Multiple media organizations were pursuing multiple stories” that would be potentially damaging to Kerik, the staffer says. Because many of these questions had not yet been answered by the administration, “fundamentally, he was a bad pick.… The process worked here.” (Bumiller and Lipton 12/12/2004) The press has begun looking into other aspects of Kerik’s financial life, including the possibility that Kerik, while serving as police commissioner, helped a close friend, Frank DiTommaso, with suspected ties to the Gambino crime family get a construction license from the city in return for over $7,000 in cash and gifts. DiTommaso denies having any ties to organized crime, but city regulators later denied the license, citing their suspicions of just such ties. The White House denies knowing about any such connections between Kerik and DiTommaso. (Rashbaum and Flynn 12/13/2004) Other ethical, financial, and perhaps criminal questions surround Kerik’s withdrawal, though they will not surface until months or years later. (McClellan 2008, pp. 245-246)
Kerik Unqualified for Position? - The New York Press’s editorial staff writes that Kerik was never qualified for the job, and that his candidacy is built upon what the editorial staff calls “the myth of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11.… The Rudy-9/11 myth is crucial to Kerik’s nomination, because without this myth there is no Rudy the National Player, and without Rudy the National Player there is no nomination of brusque outsider Bernie Kerik to a major cabinet post in Washington.” Kerik himself, the Press notes, is a senior vice president at Giuliani Partners LLC, where his reputation and manner help sell security-related products: “Because Kerik was acting chief of police when the planes slammed into the towers, and because Kerik embodies the Rudy myth by association, he is a golden moustache on the terror-business circuit, where he tells corporations and government agencies that another attack is on the way—especially if Democrats are in power—and that Nextel (or whoever) is the company to help them prepare for it.” Nothing in Kerik’s career, the Press observes, has prepared him to lead a sprawling federal bureaucracy, nor does he have any grounding in the world of international intelligence, “a critical field of knowledge for the incoming secretary.” The Press writes: “Homeland Security is meant to act as the ‘fusion center’ for all US intelligence operations. Whatever Kerik knows about this stuff, he likely gleaned from [action novelist] Tom Clancy.” (New York Press 12/14/2004)
Media Did Its Job in Exposing Kerik's Flaws - In 2008, Scott McClellan, the current White House press secretary, will write: “After Bush nominated Kerik for secretary of Homeland Security… revelations about his behavior began flying. This was one episode in which the media illustrated the vital role the press can play in uncovering genuine malfeasance by public officials. Frankly, the media did a better job of vetting Bernard Kerik than the Bush administration did. Kerik was left with no choice but to resign.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 245-246)
Two months after leaving office, former Attorney General John Ashcroft opens a lobbying firm on Washington’s prestigious K Street, where he markets his contacts in the Justice and Homeland Security departments to, among others, ChoicePoint, a company that brokers credit data and other personal information on American citizens to government and private entities. The Ashcroft Group quickly earns over $269,000 from four clients, and, the Chicago Tribune will write, “appears to be developing a practice centered on firms that want to capitalize on a government demand for homeland security technology that boomed under sometimes controversial policies he promoted while in office.” Another Ashcroft client is the Oracle Corporation, one of the world’s largest software developers, who, according to the Tribune, will use Ashcroft’s clout with the Justice Department to win approval of a multibillion-dollar acquisition. A third client, LTU Technologies, makes software that analyzes large collections of video and other visual images. Ashcroft’s firm will soon sign a contract with Israel Aircraft Industries to help secure Bush administration approval for the firm to sell weapons to South Korea. The Tribune will write, “While Ashcroft’s lobbying is within government rules for former officials, it is nonetheless a departure from the practice of attorneys general for at least the last 30 years.” Ashcroft is the first former attorney general to open his own lobbying firm. Charles Tiefer, a former deputy general counsel to the House of Representatives, will note, “The attorney general is very much supposed to embody the pure rule of law like the Department of Justice’s statue of ‘Blind Justice’ and he’s not expected afterwards to cloak with the mantle of his former office a bunch of greedy interests.” Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write: “Thus did the government official who recklessly expanded the market for domestic surveillance while in office find a nominally legal way to make a profit on his nominally legal policies as soon as he was out the door. It was the perfect Enron-esque coda to his wartime career.” (Rich 2006, pp. 208; Berkowitz 2/14/2006)
The media learns that the Department of Homeland Security has hired former actress Bobbie Faye Ferguson to serve as its liaison to Hollywood’s movie and television industries. Ferguson, who has performed similar duties for NASA for seven years, is reviewing some 14 movie, television, and documentary projects. If she approves a script or idea, DHS will offer advice and technical help to the directors, producers, and actors in portraying what USA Today calls “the nation’s homeland defenders.” Ferguson, interviewed while touring the California-Mexico border, says: “I’ve had dozens and dozens of inquiries. It’s always been a topic they’ve been interested in, but more so now.” Last year DHS provided guidance for the production of The Terminal, a thriller starring Tom Hanks as an immigrant stranded at a New York airport; it has also provided assistance to the television shows CSI: Miami and NCIS. At least six other governmental agencies, most notably the Defense Department, have long employed liaisons between themselves and the film and television industries. But some have long held that agencies such as the Pentagon have used Hollywood as a vehicle for showing the federal government in positive fashions. Each branch of the military has offices in Hollywood; the military has provided assistance in film and television projects since the creation of the Defense Department in 1947. Homeland Security spokesman Brian Roehrkasse says Ferguson will help “give the public a better understanding of how the department… protects the country.” Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense says the money is not a wise use of taxpayer dollars: “Agencies pay for public relations and spin to make the public like them more, but it doesn’t mean it’s a good expenditure.” (Hall 3/8/2005) Two months later, the House of Representatives will cut Ferguson’s $136,000 salary from DHS’s 2006 budget (see May 18, 2005).
Former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge admits to further problems with the terror alert system. In defense of his administration of the Department of Homeland Security, he says that Administration decisions to raise the threat level were sometimes unjustified by evidence and unsupported by his department. “More often than not we were the least inclined to raise it,” says Ridge. “Sometimes we disagreed with the intelligence assessment. Sometimes we thought even if the intelligence was good, you don’t necessarily put the country on [alert].… There were times when some people were really aggressive about raising it, and we said, for that?” Ridge had previously disagreed with Attorney General John Ashcroft on the communication of threat information to the public. These comments mark the first time that dissension among the Homeland Security Advisory Council, a panel made up of business representatives, academic leaders, and security experts appointed by President Bush, is discussed with the press. Reform of the terror alert system is under review by current Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff. Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse says “improvements and adjustments” may be announced within the next few months. (Hall 5/10/2005) As of 2007, no such announcement have been made.
The House of Representatives, as part of its trimming of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)‘s proposed $31.8 billion appropriations for 2006, cuts the $136,000 allocated for a liaison to Hollywood. The DHS had planned to pay former actress Bobbie Faye Ferguson, a veteran of such television shows as The Dukes of Hazzard and Designing Women, to work with Hollywood producers and scriptwriters to generate films and television shows that would portray the department in a positive light (see March 8, 2005). DHS spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said of Ferguson’s position, “This is a similar function that numerous other federal agencies possess, and is necessary in helping those in multimedia make their projects as accurate as possible.” One example Roehrkasse gave was the propensity for some movies to inaccurately refer to the Immigration and Nationalization Service (INS), which is now part of DHS. But Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO) is unconvinced by Roerhkasse’s arguments, noting that the DHS should not be spending its money on Hollywood projects. “We should direct this money to actually help the people who respond and save lives,” she says. “The people of this country have high expectations about their security after being violated on 9/11.” Musgrave successfully proposes that the salary for Ferguson be redirected to funding state and local disaster teams. (Rockwell 5/18/2005)
The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development begins distributing one million evacuation maps to the residents of New Orleans. “We learned the lessons from the Hurricane Ivan evacuation (see September 14, 2004), and we put those lessons to use in developing a new plan,” DOTD Secretary Johnny B. Bradberry says. “This document is proof that government can and does listen to the concerns of citizens.” The initial printing of the maps was paid for by the American Red Cross and the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. (Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development 6/17/2005)
Michael Chertoff, head of the Department of Homeland Security, unveils a massive restructuring plan for the agency. One of the changes envisioned by the plan, dubbed the “second-stage review,” would be to transfer the function of preparedness planning from FEMA to “a strengthened department preparedness directorate.” (Hsu and Goo 7/13/2005) Chertoff further explains that he plans “to take out of FEMA a couple of elements that were really not related to its core missions, that were generally focused on the issue of preparedness in a way that I think was frankly more of a distraction to FEMA than an enhancement to FEMA.” The Wall Street Journal notes this“would cement FEMA’s reduced role” and “[strip] away longstanding functions such as helping communities build houses outside flood zones.” (Block et al. 9/6/2005)
The National Security Agency has built a far larger database of information collected from warrantless surveillance of telephone and Internet communications to and from US citizens than the NSA or the Bush administration has acknowledged (see October 2001). On December 15, the New York Times exposed the NSA’s program (see December 15, 2005), which was authorized by President Bush in early 2002 (see Early 2002), but which actually began far earlier (see Spring 2001). The NSA built its database with the cooperation of several major American telecommunications firms (see June 26, 2006), and much of the information was mined directly into the US telecommunications system’s major connections. Many law enforcement and judicial officials question the legality of the program (see May 12, 2006 and December 18, 2005), and many say the program goes beyond the bounds of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see 1978). One question is whether the FISA Court, or FISC, can authorize monitoring of international communications that pass through US-based telephonic “switches,” which handle much of the US’s electronic communications traffic. “There was a lot of discussion about the switches” in conversations with FISC, says a Justice Department official. “You’re talking about access to such a vast amount of communications, and the question was, How do you minimize something that’s on a switch that’s carrying such large volumes of traffic? The court was very, very concerned about that.” While Bush and his officials have insisted that the warrantless wiretaps only target people with known links to al-Qaeda, they have not acknowledged that NSA technicials have not only eavesdropped on specific conversations between people with no known links to terrorism, but have combed through huge numbers of electronic communications in search of “patterns” that might point to terrorism suspects. Such “pattern analysis” usually requires court warrants before surveillance can begin, but in many cases, no such warrants have been obtained or even requested. Other, similar data-mining operations, such as the Total Information Awareness program, developed by the Defense Department to track terror suspects (see March 2002), and the Department of Homeland Security’s CAPPS program, which screened airline passengers (see (6:20 a.m.-7:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001), were subjected to intense public scrutiny and outrage, and were publicly scrapped. The Bush administration has insisted that it has no intention of scrapping the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program, because, as its officials have said, it is necessary to identify and track terrorism suspects and foil terrorist plots before they can be hatched. Administration officials say that FISC is not quick enough to respond to its need to respond to potential terrorist acts. A former technology manager at a major telecommunications company says that after 9/11, the leading telecom firms have been storing information on calling patterns and giving it to the federal government to aid in tracking possible terrorists. “All that data is mined with the cooperation of the government and shared with them, and since 9/11, there’s been much more active involvement in that area,” says the former manager. “If they get content, that’s useful to them too, but the real plum is going to be the transaction data and the traffic analysis. Massive amounts of traffic analysis information—who is calling whom, who is in Osama Bin Laden’s circle of family and friends—is used to identify lines of communication that are then given closer scrutiny.” And, according to a government expert on communications privacy who used to work at the NSA, says that in the last few years, the government has quietly encouraged the telecom firms to rout more international traffic through its US-based switches so it can be monitored. Such traffic is not fully addressed by 1970s-era laws that were written before the onset of modern communications technology; neither does FISA adequately address the issues surrounding that technology. Computer engineer Phil Karn, who works for a major West Coast telecom firm, says access to those switches is critical: “If the government is gaining access to the switches like this, what you’re really talking about is the capability of an enormous vacuum operation to sweep up data.” (Lichtblau and Risen 12/24/2005)
The Department of Homeland Security awards a contract to Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root to establish what the $385 million contract describes as “temporary detention and processing capabilities.” Journalist Christopher Ketcham will comment: “The contract is short on details, stating only that the facilities would be used for ‘an emergency influx of immigrants, or to support the rapid development of new programs.’ Just what those ‘new programs’ might be is not specified.” (Ketcham 5/2008)
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases Defense Department documents showing that senior Pentagon officials approved harsh interrogation techniques that FBI agents termed abusive, ineffective, and unlawful. “We now possess overwhelming evidence that political and military leaders endorsed interrogation methods that violate both domestic and international law,” according to ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer. “It is entirely unacceptable that no senior official has been held accountable.” One document shows that FBI personnel at Guantanamo questioned harsh methods being used by military interrogators (see May 30, 2003). Another shows that senior Pentagon officials approved interrogation methods considered abusive by FBI agents (see May 5, 2004). The ACLU says that, combined with a memo from Navy general counsel Alberto Mora (see January 15-22, 2003), evidence “show[s] conclusively that Pentagon officials at the highest levels authorized the abuse of prisoners and persisted in their endorsement of unlawful interrogation methods even after FBI and Navy personnel objected to those methods orally and in writing.” The documents released by the ACLU also show that interrogators from the Department of Homeland Security identified themselves as FBI agents while using harsh methods against detainees. One FBI memo observed, “The next time a real agent tries to talk to that guy, you can imagine the result.” The documents also show that while FBI agents expressed concern about the harsh interrogation methods being employed by military and other interrogators, the FBI itself did little to counter such tactics (see January 24, 2004). (American Civil Liberties Union 2/23/2006)
The Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress’s non-partisan research arm, issues a report criticizing the government’s sharing of counterterrorism information. Despite more than four years of legislation and executive orders, there has been little progress since 9/11 in sharing information among federal agencies and thousands of nonfederal partners. Deadlines set by both President Bush and Congress have repeatedly not been met. The responsibility for the task has also repeatedly shifted since 9/11—from the White House to the Office of Management and Budget, to the Department of Homeland Security, and to the Director of National Intelligence. In January 2006, the program manager in charge of improving information sharing between agencies resigned after complaining of inadequate budget and staffing. The GAO report notes that there is a lack of “government-wide policies and processes to help agencies integrate the myriad of ongoing efforts to improve the sharing of terrorism-related information…” For instance, there are at least 56 different secrecy classifications in use, with different agencies using different terms or sometimes the same terms with widely different meanings. State and local first responders claim they are often left in the dark or overwhelmed with identical information from multiple federal sources. (DeYoung 4/19/2006)
The Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general releases a report criticizing terrorist targets listed in the federal antiterrorism database. This National Asset Database is used to determine how hundreds of millions of dollars in antiterrorism grants will be divvied up each year. The report says, “The presence of large numbers of out-of-place assets taints the credibility of the data.” For instance, Indiana, with nearly 9,000 potential terrorist targets, has 50 percent more listed targets than New York and more than twice as many as California, making it the most target-rich state in the US. Obscure targets on the list include Old MacDonald’s Petting Zoo, the Amish Country Popcorn factory, the Mule Day Parade, “Ice Cream Parlor,” “Tackle Shop,” “Donut Shop,” and an unspecified “Beach at End of a Street.” The list also apparently does not include many major business and finance operations or critical national telecommunications hubs. As a result, in May 2006 funding to New York City and Washington, DC, was cut by 40 percent while spending significantly increased to cities such as Louisville, Kentucky, and Omaha, Nebraska. The inspector general recommends that the Homeland Security department review the list and cut many “extremely insignificant” targets while providing better guidelines to prevent such future inclusions. (Lipton 7/11/2006)
British police arrest 24 people in connection with a plot to blow up aircraft flying from Britain to the United States. Metropolitan Police Deputy Commissioner Paul Stephenson says the plot was “intended to be mass murder on an unimaginable scale.” (CNN 8/10/2006) Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff describes the plot as “well-advanced and well-thought-out and… really resourced to succeed.” (MSNBC 8/10/2006) He also likens it to the foiled 1995 Bojinka plot, one portion of which involved blowing up up to a dozen airplanes over the ocean using liquid explosives smuggled onto the planes. (CNN 8/11/2006) The British threat warning level is raised to critical and London’s Heathrow Airport is closed to most European flights. US officials say the plot involved hiding liquid explosives in carry-on luggage, and up to 12 flights would have been targeted. A senior US congressional source says the plotters planned to carry sports drinks onto the flights, which would then be mixed with a gel-like substance. The explosives would be triggered by the electrical charge from an iPod or mobile phone. Administration officials say the plot involved British Airways, Continental, United, and American Airlines. The plotters intended to detonate the devices over New York, Washington, San Francisco, Boston, and Los Angeles. Officials say the plot demonstrates “very strong links to al-Qaeda” and was nearly operational. In the US, the Department of Homeland Security raises the terror threat to the highest level, red, meaning “severe,” for commercial flights originating in Britain and bound for the US. In addition, the threat level is raised to orange, or “high,” for all commercial flights operating in or coming to the US. (CNN 8/10/2006) British officials say the death toll could have exceeded the 2,700 of the September 11 attacks, with one source calling the plot “our 9/11.” The arrests were spurred by the detention in Pakistan of one of the plotters, Rashid Rauf. The Pakistanis arrested him at the behest of US Vice President Dick Cheney (see Before August 10, 2006 and Between July 28 and August 9, 2006). (Laville, Norton-Taylor, and Dodd 8/11/2006) Officials say some plotters already had tickets for flights and planned to stage test runs over the weekend. Despite the 24 arrests, five suspects in Britain are still being urgently hunted. One official says, “They didn’t get them all.” But British officials claim the arrests in London and Birmingham snare all the alleged “main players.” (MSNBC 8/10/2006) British Home Secretary John Reid says the operation is ongoing and more arrests may be made. US officials say the suspects are all British citizens between the ages of 17 and 35, with some being of Pakistani ethnicity. They add that some of the suspects had been monitored by British intelligence for several months. Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, head of the Metropolitan Police Service Anti-Terrorist Branch, says the arrests follow an “unprecedented level of surveillance” over several months involving meetings, movements, travel, spending, and the aspirations of a large group of people. (CNN 8/10/2006)
Liquids, Gels, Electronics Banned from Flights - Homeland Security bans all liquids and gels except baby formula and prescription medications in the name of the ticket holder in carry-on luggage on all flights. Passengers traveling from and through British airports are temporarily permitted to only carry-on items on a restricted list. These items have to be carried in transparent plastic bags. No liquids can be carried on board, including liquid medications “unless verified as authentic.” All electronic items are also banned. (Detroit Free Press 8/10/2006)
Arrests, Alert Questioned - In the days following the security operation, the arrests will meet with some skepticism. Stephen Glover of the Daily Mail points to previous baseless terror scares in the US and Britain, as well as questioning the political motivations of the home secretary. (Glover 8/16/2006) Douglas Fraser of the Herald in Edinburgh suggests the “political component” of the operation has caused skepticism. He says the intelligence services are taking credit for foiling a major plot by “ramping up the level of public concern about the threat.” He notes that the timing coincides with an attempt by the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair to return to an issue it was defeated on before: increasing to 90 days the amount of time that people can be detained without charge in the case of alleged terrorist offenses. (Latham 8/18/2006) Sean O’Neill and Stewart Tendler of the London Times urge the public and the media to wait for solid evidence before accepting the version of events presented by the government. They say previous bungled anti-terror operations have put pressure on the authorities to build a solid case in public. (O?Neill and Tendler 8/12/2006) In response to these criticisms, intelligence services will be hesitant to release much information publicly, but confirm to The Guardian that surveillance and tips from informants pointed to a plot in the making. Police identify the explosives to be used in the plot as TATP (triacetone triperoxide) and HMTD (hexamethylene triperoxide diamine), both peroxide-based liquid explosives. (Laville 8/19/2006) Police will also reveal that the raids uncovered jihadist materials, receipts of Western Union money transfers, seven martyrdom videos, and the last will and testament of one plotter. (New York Times 8/28/2006)
Some Suspects to Be Released; Security Measures Probably Unnecessary - However, The Guardian does indicate that some of the arrested suspects are likely to be released and that the security measures instituted following the arrests are almost certainly unnecessary. (Laville 8/19/2006) Contradicting earlier reports, a senior British official will suggest an attack was not imminent, saying the suspects had not yet purchased any airline tickets. In fact, some do not even have passports. (Roston and Myers 8/14/2006) Over two and a half weeks after the arrests, a target date for the attacks and number of planes involved will still be undetermined by investigators. The estimate of 10 to 12 planes is characterized by officials as speculative and exaggerated. Clarke acknowledges the police are still investigating “the number, destination, and timing of the flights.” (New York Times 8/28/2006)
12 Suspects to Be Tried - Twelve suspects will be charged with terrorism offences near the end of August 2006. Trials are expected to start in January 2008 at the earliest. Prosecutor Colin Gibbs says he expects “a very long trial of [between] five and eight months.” (IOL 9/4/2006)
The Electronic Frontier Foundation files a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security in an effort to obtain more information about a secret program called the Automated Targeting System (ATS) (see 2002 and After). This program allows the government to assign terror risk numbers to American citizens who enter or leave the US. The suit demands an expedited response to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request it filed earlier in the month. Frontier Foundation Senior Counsel David Sobel says, “DHS needs to provide answers, and provide them quickly, to the millions of law-abiding citizens who are worried about this ‘risk assessment’ score that will follow them throughout their lives.” (Electronic Frontier Foundation 12/19/2006)
In his new book America at Night, author and former CIA agent Larry Kolb writes: “[O]ur government has spent trillions turning Iraq into the world’s largest terrorist training camp, while pursuing policies guaranteed to keep at least a billion people around the workd intensely pissed at us. Our military forces are so overstretched that, if any real threat emerges, we will risk being seen as a paper tiger. And in spite of all the blue ribbon panels and commissions, and the new layer of bureaucracy called the Department of Homeland Security, the hundreds of billions of dollars spent to make us safe at home, America is less safe now from terrorism and cataclysm than it ever was.” (Kolb 2007, pp. 225-226)
An FBI advisory is distributed in May 2007 to the Defense Intelligence Agency, the CIA, Customs and Border Protection, and the Justice Department, as well as numerous law enforcement agencies throughout the nation warning that up to 60 Afghan and Iraqi terrorists are to be smuggled into the US through underground tunnels with high-powered weapons to attack an Arizona Army base. The alleged target, Fort Huachuca, is the nation’s largest intelligence-training center. It lies about 20 miles from the Mexican border and has members of all four service branches training in intelligence and secret operations. Security measures are swiftly changed at the base in response to the threat, according to multiple confidential law enforcement documents obtained by The Washington Times. The advisory warns that “a portion of the operatives were in the United States, with the remainder not yet in the United States [and]…the Afghanis and Iraqis shaved their beards so as not to appear to be Middle Easterners.” The FBI report on which the advisory is based points to the involvement of Mexican drug cartels, stating that each operative paid drug lords $20,000 “or the equivalent in weapons” for assistance in smuggling them and their weapons , including anti-tank missiles and surface-to-air missiles, through tunnels along the border into the US. The advisory further warns that a number of the operatives are already in a safe house in Texas and some weapons have already been successfully smuggled into the US. The FBI report is based on Drug Enforcement Administration sources, including Mexican nationals with access to a “sub-source” in the drug cartels. This “sub-source” is allegedly “a member of the Zetas,” the military arm of one of Mexico’s most dangerous drug-trafficking organizations, the Gulf Cartel, who identified the Sinaloa cartel as the organization involved in the plot. However, the advisory states that “this information is of unknown reliability,” while the DEA warns that the Gulf Cartel may be attempting to manipulate the US into acting against their rivals. FBI spokesman Paul Bresson says that the report is based on “raw, uncorroborated information that has not been completely vetted.” A Department of Homeland Security document on the possible attack states “based upon the information provided by the DEA handling agent, the DEA has classified the source as credible [and]…the identity of the sub-source has been established; however, none of the information provided by the sub-source in the past has been corroborated.” (Carter 11/26/2007) The threat later proves to be unfounded. The attack never occurs and FBI spokesman Manuel Johnson, based in Phoenix, admits in November that the warning was the result of bad information. He says “a thorough investigation was conducted and there is no evidence showing that the threat was credible.” (Mackey 11/26/2007)
The Transactional Records Action Clearinghouse (TRAC), a data research organization affiliated with Syracuse University, has discovered that terrorism claims formed less that 0.01 percent of immigration court charges filed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The immigration court records were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Of 814,073 cases brought to the immigration courts by the DHS, 12, or 0.0015 percent, were for charges of terrorism. In addition, 114 cases, or 0.014 percent, concerned individuals charged with national security violations. TRAC spokesman David Burnham says, “The DHS claims it is focused on terrorism. Well that’s just not true. Either there’s no terrorism, or they’re terrible at catching them. Either way it’s bad for all of us.” TRAC further claims that there exists an “apparent gap between DHS rhetoric about its role in fighting terrorism and what it actually has been doing.” DHS spokesman Russ Knocke calls the TRAC report “ill-conceived” and said the group “lack[s] a grasp of the DHS mission.” The DHS claims that any clampdown on immigration decreases the likelihood of terrorists entering the US. (Bronstein 5/27/2007)
The FBI warns that al-Qaeda operatives are planning several holiday attacks on US shopping malls in Los Angeles and Chicago over the holiday period. (Esposito and Walter 11/8/2007) In an intelligence report distributed to law enforcement authorities, the FBI says that the attacks have been planned for two years with the goal of disrupting the US economy. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 11/7/2007 ) The FBI received the information in late September and declassified it for the intelligence information reports. These reports routinely contain raw, unvetted or uncorroborated chatter about possible threats. It is estimated that the FBI released 8,000 such reports over the last year. The FBI and Department of Homeland Security Department have released about 200 threat bulletins possible plot trends that are based on actual events worldwide. (Watkins 11/8/2007) Questions are immediately raised about the alert. (Esposito and Walter 11/8/2007) As with previous threats, some in the media question the timing and necessity of such a warning. The FBI anticipates this and clarifies its intentions in releasing the memo. The report states that “this information was obtained through a lengthy chain of acquisition, and was provided to the source by a sub-source who spoke in confidence. The veracity of the information is uncertain but the threat is being reported due to the nature of the information.” (Esposito and Walter 11/8/2007) Other intelligence officers raise the possibility that it could be “disinformation.” It is believed that the source only has “indirect access” to al-Qaeda. It is common for jihadist web sites and chat rooms to have comments discussing attacks on “soft targets,” such as shopping malls. Special Agent Richard Kolko says “out of abundance of caution, and for any number of other reasons, raw intelligence is regularly shared within the intelligence and law enforcement communities - even when the value of the information is unknown… Al-Qaeda messaging has clearly stated they intend to attack the US or its interests; however, there is no information to state this is a credible threat. As always, we remind people to remain vigilant and report suspicious activity to authorities.” A Homeland Security official says “we have no credible, specific information suggesting an imminent attack.” (Esposito and Walter 11/8/2007) LA mayor Antonio Villaraigosa urges residents to go about their daily routines, but says that they should be “mindful of anything out of the ordinary.” (Watkins 11/8/2007)
Senator John McCain (R-AZ), considered a leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, says former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik did an irresponsible job training police officers in Iraq (see May 2003 - July 2003). McCain’s criticism of Kerik is an indirect means of attacking former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, another Republican presidential contender. Kerik withdrew his name from consideration for head of the Department of Homeland Security—a position Giuliani recommended him for—amid questions about his corrupt business practices (see December 13, 2004). McCain, whose comments are made the same day Kerik surrenders to face federal corruption charges in New York, says Giuliani’s longtime friendship and business relationships with Kerik are reason to doubt Giuliani’s judgment. McCain says of Kerik’s job performance in Iraq: “I don’t know Mr. Kerik. I do know that I went to Baghdad shortly after the initial victory and met in Baghdad with [then-ambassador Paul] Bremer and [Lieutenant General Ricardo] Sanchez. And Kerik was there. Kerik was supposed to be there to help train the police force. He stayed two months and one day left, just up and left.… That’s why I never would’ve supported him to be the head of homeland security because of his irresponsible act when he was over in Baghdad to try and help train the police. One of the reasons why we had so much trouble with the initial training of the police was because he came, didn’t do anything, and then went out to the airport and left.” McCain is joined on the campaign trail by former DHS Secretary Tom Ridge, who says of Giuliani: “It was clear the mayor and I had a different view what the department does and the kind of leadership it needed. His judgment would’ve been different than mine.… We’re not talking about some urban city patronage job. That’s not what a Cabinet secretary’s about.” (Associated Press 11/9/2007)
Two civil liberties organizations, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Asian Law Caucus (ALC), file a joint lawsuit against the US Department of Homeland Security. The two organizations file under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and demand that DHS make available its records on the questioning and searches of lawful travelers through US borders. The suit follows a large number of complaints by US citizens, immigrants, and visitors who have spoken out about what they term excessive and repeated screenings by US Customs and Border Protection agents (see 2007). ALC’s Shirin Sinnar says, “When the government searches your books, peers into your computer, and demands to know your political views, it sends the message that free expression and privacy disappear at our nation’s doorstep. The fact that so many people face these searches and questioning every time they return to the United States, not knowing why and unable to clear their names, violates basic notions of fairness and due process.” EFF’s Marcia Hofmann agrees, saying, “The public has the right to know what the government’s standards are for border searches. Laptops, phones, and other gadgets include vast amounts of personal information. When will agents read your email? When do they copy data, where is it stored, and for how long? How will this information follow you throughout your life? The secrecy surrounding border search policies means that DHS has no accountability to America’s travelers.” (Electronic Frontier Foundation 2/7/2008; Electronic Frontier Foundation 2/7/2008) The lawsuit demands the public release of DHS’s policies on border searches and interrogations. It also demands an explanation as to how far government agents can go in questioning and searching citizens who are not suspected of any crime. The question of whether federal agents have the right to search electronic devices at all without suspicion of a crime is already under review in the federal courts.
Racial or Religious Profiling? - Almost all of the complaints come from travelers of Muslim, Middle Eastern, or South Asian descent. Many of the complainants believe they were targeted because of racial or religious profiling. US Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman Lynn Hollinger denies the charge. It is not her agency’s “intent to subject travelers to unwarranted scrutiny,” she says, and adds that a laptop may be seized if it contains information possibly tied to terrorism, narcotics smuggling, child pornography or other criminal activity. However, a Customs officers training guide says that “it is permissible and indeed advisable to consider an individual’s connections to countries that are associated with significant terrorist activity.” Law professor David Cole asks, “What’s the difference between that and targeting people because they are Arab or Muslim?” (Nakashima 2/7/2008)
A 14-day old child dies after he and his mother are locked in a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) secure room at Honolulu International Airport. Luaipou Futi flew her son, Michael Tony Futi, from their home in American Samoa for heart surgery. Michael becomes increasingly distressed in the hot room; his mother and a nurse who accompanied them to Hawaii, Arizona Veavea, bang on the door and shout for help. While the baby struggles to breathe and the two women beg for someone to call 911, people on the other side order them to stay calm and refuse to let them out. After 30 minutes of pleading, the door is opened. Fifteen minutes later, city paramedics take Michael to the Moana-lua Medical Center. Michael dies later in the morning. A translator, Simamao Nofoa, says of Mrs. Futi: “She was so happy—the minute she got on that plane—because she knew her baby was coming here…. They were the first ones out of the plane. If they would let them come immediately, her baby would have still been here. Her son would have still been alive. She’s heartbroken. She can’t eat. She can’t sleep…. She’s traumatized.” The Futis were scheduled to go directly from the hospital to Kapi’olani Medical Center for Women and Children, where Michael was scheduled to be hospitalized. But immigration officials detained the Futis for some apparent problem with Mrs. Futi’s visa waiver form. A lawyer retained by Mrs. Futi, Rick Fried, says all of their travel documents were in order, and shows the documents as proof. Veavea says that she tried to explain to the DHS officials that the baby was ill and needed immediate medical treatment, and asked if she and the baby can be released while officials dealt with Mrs. Futi’s documents. The officials refused, and detained everyone. Fried says: “Even if they had a valid cause for holding the mother of the baby… there is absolutely no basis for holding the baby or the baby’s nurse, who traveled with no luggage.… [T]he baby and the nurse are naturalized American citizens and have a US passport.” Fried also notes that airport personnel should have taken notice that Michael flew from Samoa to Hawaii while hooked up to an oxygen tank. (Nakaso 2/13/2008)
A group of science fiction writers calling themselves SIGMA is engaged in advising the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on how to protect the nation. Undersecretary of Science and Technology Jay Cohen says he likes their unconventional thinking. Two of the approximately 24 members are right-wing libertarian authors Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven, who have collaborated on a number of books as well as writing numerous novels and short stories on their own. One of Niven’s more controversial ideas is to help hospitals stem financial losses by spreading rumors in Spanish within the Latino community that emergency rooms are killing patients in order to harvest their organs for transplants. Niven believes the rumors would discourage Latinos from using the nation’s emergency rooms and thus ease the burden on hospitals. “The problem [of hospitals going broke] is hugely exaggerated by illegal aliens who aren’t going to pay for anything anyway,” Niven says. Pournelle asks, somewhat jokingly, “Do you know how politically incorrect you are?” Niven replies, “I know it may not be possible to use this solution, but it does work.” (Magnuson 2/28/2008) One blogger, apparently angered by Niven’s proposal, later writes that Niven’s idea comes from his “magical, mystical fictional universe where hospitals don’t have to treat rednecks who OD on meth, insurance companies aren’t inflating the cost of hospital care, under-regulated drug companies aren’t making massive profits, and uninsured children of hardworking parents don’t fall off skateboards.” (Mark Frauenfelder 3/28/2008)
Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi is interviewed by journalist Christopher Ketcham about the Main Core database, which apparently contains a list of potential enemies of the US state. Giraldi does not know any definite information about the database, but he speculates that it must be contained within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS): “If a master list is being compiled, it would have to be in a place where there are no legal issues”—the CIA and FBI would be restricted by oversight and accountability laws—“so I suspect it is at DHS, which as far as I know operates with no such restraints.” Giraldi notes that the DHS already maintains a central list of suspected terrorists and says it has been freely adding people who pose no reasonable threat to domestic security. “It’s clear that DHS has the mandate for controlling and owning master lists. The process is not transparent, and the criteria for getting on the list are not clear.” Giraldi continues, “I am certain that the content of such a master list [as Main Core] would not be carefully vetted, and there would be many names on it for many reasons—quite likely including the two of us.” (Ketcham 5/2008)
A newly released government threat analysis shows that slain trust-fund millionaire James G. Cummings, an American Nazi sympathizer from Maine who was killed by his wife Amber in December 2008, possessed the radioactive components necessary to build a so-called “dirty bomb.” Cummings, infuriated by the election of Barack Obama to the presidency, purchased depleted uranium over the Internet from an American company.
FBI Confiscates Radioactive Materials - The Bangor Daily News reports, “According to an FBI field intelligence report from the Washington Regional Threat and Analysis Center posted online by WikiLeaks, an organization that posts leaked documents, an investigation into the case revealed that radioactive materials were removed from Cummings’s home after his shooting death on December 9.” According to the Washington Regional Threat and Analysis Center: “Amber [Cummings] indicated James was very upset with Barack Obama being elected president. She indicated James had been in contact with ‘white supremacist group(s).’ Amber also indicated James mixed chemicals in the kitchen sink at their residence and had mentioned ‘dirty bombs.’” An FBI search of the Cummings home found four jars of depleted uranium-238 labeled “uranium metal” and the name of an unidentified US corporation, another jar labeled “thorium” and containing that material, and a second, unlabeled jar which also contained thorium-232. Other materials found in Cummings’s home were consistent with the manufacture of an explosive device, which if detonated could have spread radioactive debris throughout a relatively large local area. The FBI also found information on how to build “dirty bombs,” and information about cesium-137, strontium-90, cobalt-60, and other radioactive materials. FBI evidence shows Cummings had numerous ties to a variety of right-wing white supremacist groups. Cummings also owned a collection of Nazi memorabilia which, according to local tradesmen, he proudly displayed throughout his home. Police reports show that Cummings has a long history of violence. Amber Cummings contends she is innocent of her husband’s murder by reason of insanity, and claims she suffered years of mental, physical, and sexual abuse at his hands. The Department of Homeland Security has refused to comment on the incident. (Bangor Daily News 2/10/2009; Webster 3/9/2009) Local law enforcement officials downplay the threat Cummings posed, and the national media virtually ignores the story. (Gellman 9/30/2010)
Later Information Shows Depth of Threat Posed by Cummings - Additional information gleaned by Time reporter Barton Gellman from Cummings’s notes and records later shows that the threat posed by Cummings was even more serious than initially reported. Cummings had applied to join the National Socialist Party (the American Nazi organization), and had detailed plans on how to assassinate President-elect Obama. Gellman will call Cummings “a viciously angry and resourceful man who had procured most of the supplies for a crude radiological dispersal device and made some progress in sketching a workable design.” Gellman says that in his attempt to construct a nuclear weapon, Cummings “was far ahead of Jose Padilla, the accused al-Qaeda dirty-bomb plotter (see June 10, 2002), and more advanced in his efforts than any previously known domestic threat involving a dirty bomb.” The materials were later confirmed to be the radioactive materials they were labeled as being; Amber Cummings will say that her husband bought them under the pretense of conducting legal research for a university. Although the materials Cummings had would not, themselves, succeed in unleashing large amounts of radiation over a large area, he was actively searching for three ingredients that would serve such a purpose: cobalt-60, cesium-137, and strontium-90. He had succeeded in manufacturing large amounts of TATP, an explosive favored by Islamist suicide bombers and brought on board an aircraft by “shoe bomber” Richard Reid (see December 22, 2001). “His intentions were to construct a dirty bomb and take it to Washington to kill President Obama,” Amber Cummings says. “He was planning to hide it in the undercarriage of our motor home.” She says her husband had practiced crossing checkpoints with dangerous materials aboard, taking her and their daughter along for an image of innocence. Maine state police detective Michael McFadden, who participated in the investigation throughout, says he came to believe that James Cummings posed “a legitimate threat” of a major terrorist attack. “When you’re cooking thorium and uranium under your kitchen sink, when you have a couple million dollars sitting in the bank and you’re hell-bent on doing something, I think at that point you become someone we want to sit up and pay attention to,” he says. “If she didn’t do what she did, maybe we would know Mr. Cummings a lot better than we do right now.” (Gellman 9/30/2010)
Congressional Quarterly reporter Jeff Stein publishes an article alleging that House Democrat Jane Harman (D-CA) was captured on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage charges against two officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC—see October 2005). The offer was allegedly made in return for AIPAC’s help in Harman’s attempt to gain the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee (see Summer 2005). Stein’s sources say the wiretap was approved by a federal court as part of an FBI investigation into illegal Israeli covert actions in Washington. Stein also reports on accusations that the FBI investigation into Harman’s activities was halted by then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in return for Harman’s support for the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Late 2005). In a statement, Harman says the allegations are false. “These claims are an outrageous and recycled canard, and have no basis in fact,” she says through a spokesman. “I never engaged in any such activity. Those who are peddling these false accusations should be ashamed of themselves.” (Stein 4/19/2009) Harman’s chief of staff, John Hess, later tells reporters that Stein’s story “recycles three-year-old discredited reporting of largely unsourced material to manufacture a ‘scoop’ out of widely known and unremarkable facts—that Congresswoman Jane Harman is and has long been a supporter of AIPAC, and that some members of AIPAC regarded her as well qualified to chair the House Intelligence Committee following the 2006 elections.” Hess adds, “If there is anything about this story that should arouse concern, it is that the Bush administration may have been engaged in electronic surveillance of members of the Congressional intelligence committees.” (Newmyer 4/21/2009)
Explanation of Harman's Failure to Ascend - According to Stein, “[s]uch accounts go a long way toward explaining not only why Harman was denied the gavel of the House Intelligence Committee (see December 2, 2006), but failed to land a top job at the CIA or Homeland Security Department in the Obama administration.” (Stein 4/19/2009)
Bipartisan Corruption - Both Congressional Democrats and their Republican colleagues are remarkably silent on the charges, which, if true, would taint both a high-ranking Congressional Democrat and a former Republican attorney general. “The whole thing smells, and nobody’s hands are clean,” says an aide to a senior Democratic lawmaker. Conservative scholar Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute says, “I don’t think anybody wants to touch it.” Ornstein, who says he knows Harman “very well,” calls the charges a “big embarrassment,” but notes that he would be “very surprised” if the charges proved to be true. The political watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is calling for an investigation. CREW executive director Melanie Sloan says, “If Rep. Harman agreed to try to influence an ongoing criminal investigation in return for help securing a committee chairmanship, her conduct not only violates federal law and House rules, but also her oath to uphold the Constitution.” (Newmyer 4/21/2009)
Former Homeland Security head Tom Ridge is interviewed by progressive television host Rachel Maddow. Ridge has authored a book, The Test of Our Times, a memoir of his tenure in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from October 2001 through the end of President Bush’s first term. Maddow notes that 22 federal agencies were incorporated under the leadership of DHS, from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Border Patrol to the Coast Guard and the Secret Service, “the biggest change in what we pay federal tax dollars for since we got a unified Defense Department in 1947.” She goes on to note that one of the new agency’s biggest failures was its lackadaisical and incompetent response to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, though the Coast Guard, one of DHS’s daughter agencies, did eventually deliver what she calls “belated but frankly relatively competent aid,” and Ridge was not DHS secretary when Katrina struck.
Raising the Threat Level - Maddow’s primary focus during much of the interview is the Bush administration’s raising of the so-called “threat level” during 2004, as the presidential elections heated up (see July 8, 2004, for example). In his book, Ridge noted that he wasn’t sure events justified the raising of the threat level.
October 2004 Threat Level Escalation 'Not Political,' Ridge Says - In his book, Ridge wrote that the administration tried to raise the threat level to “orange” just days before the presidential election, on October 29, 2004 (see October 29, 2004). However, when pressed on the subject, Ridge backs away from the implications he raised in his book that politics, not national security, prompted the escalation. “Well, that’s not quite the argument that I put in here,” he tells Maddow. “That passage has generated a lot of heat, so I would like to generate a little light on it.… Further in the book, I remind everybody that the system we designed to raise the threat level could not be manipulated, could not be orchestrated, directed, or pressured by any single individual. Regardless of what anybody says, the system was designed by the president to include the homeland security cabinet group sitting around from time to time when the intelligence warranted that group discussion. If you had a YouTube video of it, you would see the secretary of defense, the attorney general, the secretary of state, and others, having a conversation as to whether the intelligence generates enough concern that we want to raise the threat level. That happened many, many times. This is a particularly dramatic moment, because it is the weekend before the election.… We don’t see anything in the department that generates it, and certainly other people agreed with us. But Secretary Rumsfeld and Attorney General Ashcroft, very strong in their opinions, as everybody had expressed opinions on any other occasions that you never heard about because we never—we never raised the threat level. At the end of the day, I am using in the book, is there more intelligence, is there something—that is new.… [A]t no time—at no time—at no time did politics enter in my judgment, anybody’s equation. These are tough judgment calls. We made them on a series of occasions throughout two years. Rarely did we make those decisions to go up. Politics was not involved.” Ridge says flatly, “I was not pressured” to raise the threat level. Maddow reads from the fly leaf of Ridge’s book, “He recounts episodes such as the pressure that the DHS received to raise the security alert on the eve of the ‘04 presidential election,” to which Ridge retorts: “Those aren’t my words.… It’s the dust jacket.”
Raising the Threat Level for Political Reasons - Maddow reminds Ridge that both in interviews and his book, he has frequently asked the question of whether the decision to raise the threat level during his tenure was made for political reasons, and notes: “I think that I am persuaded by the argument that I think you make in the book, and you may not have intended it from what you said earlier, that it is a pernicious thing for the American people to perceive that the parts of our government responsible for ensuring our security are actually making decisions that aren’t about our security at all. They’re telling us it’s about security and it’s not.” In 2005, she notes, “you said at a forum about the terror alert level, you said there were times when some people were really aggressive about raising it, and we said, ‘for that?’ (see May 10, 2005) Were there times—were there times when you felt like people were wanting to raise it for reasons that weren’t about the country’s safety?” Ridge denies ever raising the question, and explains: “I do admit, there were some times when we took a look at the intelligence. Some of my colleagues said, ‘Yes, I think we better go up.’ But none of those colleagues had the responsibility of dealing with the consequences of taking the country to a higher level. And so we were always very modest.… I don’t doubt for a moment that any of my colleagues who were involved in those discussions felt the reason we should either go up or not go up, add more security or reduce the security, was based on what they thought was in the best interest of the security of the country, period.… When I said, ‘for what?’ I must tell you, a couple of times I would come back to the office and say, ‘I don’t get it.‘… I don’t think that’s enough to go up. And part of that is yours truly saying to his leadership team who has responsibilities to oversee what’s going to go on, there’s not enough here to tell the governors and the mayors and the security professionals, you have got to raise another level, you have got to increase expenses, you have got to call in personnel. In my judgment, it wasn’t enough. And by the way, at the time we made the right decision, I believe.” Maddow reminds Ridge that in his book he wrote: “[I]t seemed possible to me that something could be afoot. I wondered, is this about security or politics?” She asks, “You’re saying now that you wondered that and you shouldn’t have?” Ridge replies: “No. I mused at the time, ‘Is there something else here?’ I said, ‘Is it politics? Is it security?‘… But there wasn’t anything there.”
Praising the President in 2004 - After a brief discussion of DHS’s response to Hurricane Katrina, Maddow asks about an incident in August 2004, when Ridge praised President Bush’s leadership in the Middle East. As Maddow describes it, Ridge was asked to praise Bush’s leadership. During a subsequent press conference, Ridge said that Bush’s leadership “was causing us to better target our defensive measures here and away from home. And the implication was that going to war in Iraq was a defensive measure like homeland security stuff that we do here at home.” She asks if he regrets making that statement. Ridge says he agrees with his 2004 assessment, and says he merely “threw the sentence into the press conference.” He says his comment became a “sideshow” that “marginalized the process” and caused people to question his objectivity. Ridge tries to deny that he was specifically talking about the war effort in Iraq, though, as Maddow notes, “[W]hen you said ‘targeting our defensive measures away from home,’ this is August ‘04, so we are more than a year into the war in Iraq with the implication there was that you were talking about Iraq.” Ridge now says that he meant the general war against terrorism. “I should have never mentioned the president’s name,” he says, “because it, again, created a perception—we talked about this earlier—that somehow politics were involved, but and politics was not involved in that decision. It was driven by intelligence.”
Making the Case for War with Iraq - Maddow segues into a statement Ridge made in February 2003, when he said on ABC: “I agree that as the president has said, the world community has said this is a rogue regime that has chemical biological weapons, trying to develop nuclear weapons, has means of delivery. That’s the reason this individual needs to be disarmed. The point in fact is that the world community has known for 12 years he’s got chemical biological weapons, means of delivery, and that’s precisely the reason of the United States and its partners are trying to disarm Saddam Hussein. He’s a threat to his region, he’s a threat to our allies. He’s a threat to us.” Maddow notes: “You were a crucial authoritative part of making what turned out to be a false case to the American people about Iraq being a threat, and us needing to attack them.… You made that case on national television a month before we started invading. Do you regret that?” Ridge replies: “No.… At the time, I think [sic] it’s true, and subsequent to that, the president’s leadership and the things we have done have kept America safe.” Ridge goes on to note that “everyone” believed the intelligence showed Iraq was an imminent threat to the US at the time the invasion was being considered. “You believed it at the time,” Maddow confirms, and then asks, “You don’t still believe it, do you?” Ridge replies: “Well, it’s pretty clear that the intelligence communities of several countries who had assessed his—who claimed that he had weapons of mass destruction, we haven’t found them.… But there were other reasons to go in. That was the one that was—that everybody focused on, and everyone who has been critical of the president for going into Iraq said we never found them. But I think the president made the decisions based on the facts and the intelligence as he knew it at the time, and I think it was the right decision at the time.” He denies that anyone in the administration did anything to “skew” or politicize the intelligence on Iraq’s WMD programs. “There’s no way that anybody in that group—I just—they would commit our blood and our treasure to a cause if they didn’t think it was necessary to commit our blood and treasure to a cause to keep America safe. The intelligence may have proven to be false, but there was no doubt in my mind that they were motivated to keep America safe. In retrospect, we can say that the intelligence was faulty.”
Maddow: No Credibility on National Security until GOP Admits Fault - Maddow tells Ridge: “I think you making that argument right now is why Republicans after the Bush and Cheney administration are not going to get back the country’s trust on national security. To look back at that decision and say, we got it wrong but it was in good faith and not acknowledge the foregone conclusion that we are going to invade Iraq that pervaded every decision that was made about intelligence—looking back at that decision-making process, it sounds like you’re making the argument you would have made the same decision again. Americans need to believe that our government would not make that wrong a decision, that would not make such a foregone conclusion—take such a foregone conclusion to such an important issue, that the intelligence that proved the opposite point was all discounted, that the intelligence was combed through for any bit that would support the foregone conclusion of the policy makers. The system was broken. And if you don’t see that the system was broken and you think it was just that the intel was wrong, I think that you’re one of the most trusted voices on national security for the Republican Party, and I think that’s the elephant in the room. I don’t think you guys get back your credibility on national security until you realize that was a wrong decision made by policy makers. It wasn’t the spies’ fault.” Ridge says any suggestion that anyone would have deliberately skewed or misinterpreted the intelligence on Iraq is “radical.… Later on, it may have proven that some of the information was inaccurate, but there were plenty of reasons to go into Iraq at the time; the foremost was weapons of mass destruction. That obviously proven [sic] to be faulty. But the fact of the matter is, at that time, given what they knew—and they knew more than you and I did—it seemed to be the right thing to do, and the decision was made in what they considered to be the best interests of our country.” When democracy in Iraq is finally established, Ridge says, “the notion that we went in improperly will be obviously reversed, and the history has yet to be written.” Maddow replies: “If you can go back in time and sell the American people on the idea that 4,000 Americans ought to lose their lives and we ought to lose those trillions of dollars for democracy in Iraq, you have a wilder imagination than I do. We were sold that war because of 9/11. We were sold that war because of the threat of weapons of mass destruction from this guy who didn’t have them, and our government should have known it. And, frankly, a lot of people believe that our government did know it, and that it was a cynical decision. And maybe everybody wasn’t in on it, maybe that is a radical thing to conclude, but I think that…” Ridge interjects: “I don’t share that point of view. You do.” (MSNBC 9/2/2009)
Reactions - Reactions to the interview are predictably split, with progressives noting how much Ridge backpedals on questions he himself raised, and conservatives declaring victory for Ridge. Talking Points Memo notes the irony in Ridge’s claim that while his words should be trusted, the words on the dust jacket of his book should not be. (Frumin 9/2/2009) Posters on the conservative blog Free Republic write that Ridge “pwned” Maddow, video game slang for dominating or “owning” someone. (Free Republic 9/1/2009)
A man on board Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit is subdued by passengers after attempting to detonate a makeshift bomb hidden in his undergarments. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old man from Nigeria, tries to ignite a mixture of plastic and liquid explosives sewn into his underwear as the Airbus 330 makes its final descent into Detroit. Abdulmutallab is set afire and suffers serious burns along with two other passengers, is detained by passengers and crew, and is arrested after landing. The suspect previously flew on a KLM flight from Lagos to Amsterdam. MI5 and US intelligence officials begin an investigation into his social ties and background. Abdulmutallab is the son of a wealthy Nigerian banker and studied engineering at University College London for three years until June 2008. His father claims to have informed Nigerian and American officials of his son’s increasingly unusual behavior and activities. US officials allegedly placed the 23-year-old on a list of suspected extremists, yet he possesses a US visa valid from June 2008 to June 2010, and appears on no lists prohibiting air travel to the US. Following the event, the US government will request that all passengers traveling from Britain to the US be subjected to additional personal and baggage searches. Security measures at US airports will also be heightened. (Leonard 12/26/2009; O?CONNOR 12/26/2009)
A State Department official sends a secret cable from the US Embassy in Doha, Qatar, to the FBI, CIA, and Department for Homeland Security in Washington, DC. The contents of the cable will be made public by the Daily Telegraph and WikiLeaks in early 2011. The cable recommends that a United Arab Emirates man named Mohamed al Mansoori be watchlisted because he is “currently under investigation by the FBI for his possible involvement in the [9/11 attacks]. He is suspected of aiding people who entered the US before the attacks to conduct surveillance of possible targets and providing other support to the hijackers.” The cable mentions that Mansoori’s US visa had been revoked at some earlier point. Mansoori spent about a week with three Qatari men—Meshal Al Hajri, Fhad Abdulla, and Ali Al Fehaid—several weeks before 9/11. The three men traveled in the US for several weeks and left the day before 9/11. Their behavior raised suspicions amongst the staff at one Los Angeles hotel, and their trip was funded by Al Hajri’s brother, who was living in Virginia but later would be suspected as a terrorist and deported (see August 15-September 10, 2001). (Swinford, Winnett, and Allen 2/1/2011) In 2011, law enforcement officials will tell NBC News that the cable was prompted because the three Qataris were planning to return to the US. The Qataris ended up not coming to the US, but Mansoori presumably was added to the watchlist. These officials will also claim that there is no active investigation of Mansoori or the Qataris. No hard evidence has linked any of them to the 9/11 plot. However, an official claims that Mansoori was deported from the US several years after 9/11, and the FBI apparently continued to have suspicions about him. (Isikoff 2/2/2011)
Two right-wing Christian leaders, David Barton and Rick Green of WallBuilders, join William Gheen of the Americans for Legal Immigration PAC (ALIPAC) in accusing the Obama administration of attempting to replace “real” Americans with huge numbers of illegal immigrants who will presumably do President Obama’s bidding. (Mantyla 7/26/2010; WallBuilders 2012) Barton, a prominent member of the Texas Republican Party, founded WallBuilders in 1989 to, in his words, “educat[e] the nation concerning the Godly foundation of our country.” Barton and his organization assert that the US was founded by Christians on explicitly Christian principles, and in recent years the Christian “foundation” of America “has been seriously attacked and undermined.” Barton has appeared at numerous events sponsored by the Republican National Committee (RNC) to “educate” Republican lawmakers and candidates as to the “real history” of the United States. (Right Wing Watch 9/2006; WallBuilders 2012) Gheen has recently accused the Obama administration of blackmailing an allegedly homosexual Republican Senator, Lindsey Graham (R-SC), into doing the administration’s bidding on immigration reform (see July 1, 2010). Barton and Green, on their regular WallBuilders Live! radio broadcast, say that God set America’s national borders, and thusly violating the nation’s borders is an act against God. “National boundaries are set by God,” Barton says. “If God didn’t want boundaries, he would have put everyone in the same world and there would have been no nations; we would have all been living together as one group and one people. That didn’t happen.… And so, from a Christian standpoint, you cannot do that. God’s the one who establishes the boundaries of nations.” The hosts and Gheen then discuss how the Obama administration intends to use illegal immigrants to “replac[e] us in our own country, [which is a] much smarter thing to do than fighting us in a war.” Gheen says of the Obama administration and the Department of Homeland Security: “[W]hen you look closer at who is up there and who’s around them, you find power groups that actually advocate for this kind of stuff—they are protecting illegal aliens, they facilitated their importation into the United States, and they seem to have some broader political/economic agenda of replacing many core Americans and American values and our jobs and our schools and everything else. That’s what they’re doing. They don’t like Americans so they’re replacing us in our own country. It’s a much smarter thing to do if you’re our enemies than fighting us in a war.” (Mantyla 7/26/2010; WallBuilders 2012)
US District Judge Robert Hinkle rejects an attempt by the US Department of Justice to block Florida’s attempted purge of what it calls non-citizens, in part because Florida has temporarily suspended the purge. Hinkle says that federal law prohibiting the systematic removal of voters in the months before an election does not apply to non-citizens. Hinkle also accepts Florida’s assurance that it has ended its purge efforts. The Justice Department argued that the purge violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA—see May 20, 1993), which makes it illegal to perform what the law calls a systematic removal of voters before a federal election. Florida’s primary will be held on August 14. In 2011, Florida’s state motor vehicle agency created a database of some 2,600 people whose citizenship was determined to be “questionable,” but county election supervisors stopped using the database to remove voters from their rolls after concluding the list was unreliable and contained the names of many eligible voters. Justice Department lawyer John Bert Ross called Florida’s effort to purge “non-citizens” a “dragnet” that illegally forces US citizens to prove their legitimacy, though Ross was unable to cite an instance of a legitimate voter being removed from the voting rolls. Ross asked Hinkle to restore the voting rights of everyone purged from the voting rolls, a request that Hinkle rejected, saying: “Leaving ineligible voters on the list is not a solution. Non-citizens should not be voting. People need to know we are running an honest election.” The Florida Secretary of State, Ken Detzner, is suing for access to a US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) database to “better ascertain the citizenship status of voters,” according to Detzner’s attorney Michael Carvin. DHS has so far refused the request. Carvin says that if Detzner receives the data, “I do expect the state to proceed [with the purge] and protect the integrity of the voter rolls.” Hinkle accepts the state’s arguments that it is carrying out its duty to make sure non-citizens do not “dilute” the votes of actual citizens. Hinkle showed some concern that over half of the people on Florida’s “purge list” are Hispanic, saying: “That’s discriminatory, at least in effect. I don’t suggest that that was the purpose of this.” Hinkle also chided Collier County for sending letters to “potential non-citizens” challenging whether people born in Puerto Rico are legitimate US citizens. People born in Puerto Rico are US citizens by law. Collier County elections staffer Tim Durham says the county never sent such a letter. Hinkle says that with the elections approaching, “[t]he federal government and the state government ought to be working together to try to minimize the mistakes” instead of trying to settle the problem in court. Florida Governor Rick Scott (R-FL) praises the ruling, saying, “The court made a commonsense decision consistent with what I’ve been saying all along: that irreparable harm will result if non-citizens are allowed to vote.” Democrats say Scott is trying to suppress legitimate votes in Florida; liberal advocacy group MoveOn.org calls the purge “racist” because of its focus on Hispanics. (Bousquet 6/27/2012)
WorldNetDaily editor Joseph Farah claims that a “spy drone” buzzed his home, and says he fears the Obama administration intends to have him and other conservative journalists murdered. The “spy drone” “surveillance” is, Farah claims, part of a larger “war” being waged by the Obama administration against its political enemies. Farah makes the claim in an interview published on the Web site InfoWars (.com). Farah tells InfoWars reporter Paul Joseph Watson, “I’m taking my dog for a walk and guess what I see right over the tree line right above my head is a drone.” He says the drone was low in the sky and sounded like a lawnmower. Farah says that the object he saw could only have been a drone, and could only have been spying on him. “I don’t live in the city, I don’t live in a populated area, I live in one of the most rural places you could possibly live in Northern Virginia and there could only be one thing that this drone was spying on and that would be me, that would be my property because there’s just nothing else around except woods and deer.” Farah jokes to Watson that the drone was stalking him because he is a terrorist, referring to recent findings by the Department of Homeland Security that some far-right political figures are aligned with right-wing domestic terrorists. “The liberty lovers out there really have to stick together,” he says, “or we’re going to hang together as our founders said.” As reported by Watson, Farah adds that “patriots” who “resist the increasing levels of control being asserted over their lives by big government would be ‘hunted down’ by a re-elected Obama administration.” Farah says, “Look—this is the first term—if he’s re-elected it’s going to be war—they will be at war—we will be hunted down like dogs, keep that in mind, that’s what the stakes are.” Farah says he was also persecuted by Clinton administration officials. Watson notes that drones are being used by police departments and federal authorities in the US, and claims that drones are being used to spy on farmers. (Watson 7/6/2012) Farah’s comments are ignored by the mainstream media, but get a significant amount of attention online after the right-wing news aggregator Drudge Report links to it. Some progressive sites and conservative watchdogs call attention to Farah’s claims, portraying them as ridiculous and/or paranoid. (Gharib 7/6/2012; RT.com 7/6/2012; Nelson 7/9/2012; Goldberg 7/10/2012)
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