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The Facts: There Is No Crisis and No Emergency, Just Trump’s Campaign

[NB: Check the byline. /~Rayne]

After mixing it up with a old conservative over spring break — someone who doesn’t watch Fox News but spends too much time with people who do — it’s clear Trump’s and Fox’s lies have deeply infected right-wing minds.

They believe Trump’s falsehoods about a crisis at the border, that there was reason for Trump to declare an emergency.

They’re also incapable of fact checking. They’re authoritarians and believe whatever current authority figure tells them; the motivation to validate authority doesn’t exist.

They appear unable to analyze what they do see to make an independent assessment of their own. It doesn’t occur to them to ask, What would be so bad a family with toddlers and infants would flee their home, walking over a thousand miles for more than a month and through a desert to escape?

They’re sheep — our country is regressing under the leadership of fascist sheep.

I wanted to cram a bunch of facts in this conservative’s head but I honestly don’t know if they’d bother to read anything I gave them because I’m not a Fox talking head.

~ ~ ~
Fact: Trend data from DHS’ Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) about so-called illegal immigrants border crossings indicates it has trended lower over the last 15 years:

(source: U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Nationwide Illegal Alien Apprehensions Fiscal Years 1925-2018 pdf)

From another perspective there is no migrant crisis, shows Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) in this graph using CBP’s own data:

Fact: Trend data graphed by Pew Research drawn from DHS’ Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) about the so-called wave of asylum seekers Trump has called animals in his eliminationist rants reveals a wave of family units migrating from Central America, not Mexico:

Fact: Instead of performing a root cause analysis to determine why families and unaccompanied minors are so desperate to enter the U.S. to seek asylum, Trump wants to cut funding to Central American countries, which will exacerbate the underlying problems internal to the affected countries.

Fact: The largest number of families and children reaching the border came from Guatemala, fleeing crime and drought.

Fact: Guatemala’s volatility may have been exacerbated by multiple volcanic eruptions in 2018, affecting at least two million Guatemalans. The plume from a June eruption was visible from space:

Fact: Many Hondurans fleeing to the U.S. are also fleeing crime and violence; women in particular are fleeing because femicide has been a growing epidemic during the last six years, 95% of which has gone unpunished.

Fact: The U.S. ratified the U.N. protocol to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees in 1968. This expressed the country’s intent to acknowledge and recognize the rights of asylum seekers. The U.S. has not retracted its ratification.

Fact: Asylum seekers can request asylum under Title 8 U.S. Code § 1158, on either side of the border:

(a) Authority to apply for asylum
(1) In general
Any alien who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States (whether or not at a designated port of arrival and including an alien who is brought to the United States after having been interdicted in international or United States waters), irrespective of such alien’s status, may apply for asylum in accordance with this section or, where applicable, section 1225(b) of this title.

Fact: Trump said “the system is full, can’t take you any more,” which is in opposition to U.S. law on asylum.

Fact: Until it became legal problem for the Trump organization, Trump’s golf courses hired undocumented workers from Central America, some of them for years. This illegal hiring practice, out of compliance with decades-long rules about screening hirees, didn’t become an issue until Trump wanted to use DACA and Temporary Protected Status as a bargaining chit to obtain funding for his “fucken wall” during the government shutdown.

Fact: El Paso, Texas, isn’t in a state of crisis; its mayor attests to this, and asked Trump to stop lying about it. But Trump wanted to shut down the border at El Paso altogether because of his lie that the border is in crisis.

Fact: When told that closing the border as he requested would cause serious damage to the U.S. economy by throttling free trade, Trump said, “I don’t care.

Fact: Trump has insisted that families be separated at the border because he believes it will discourage them from seeking asylum in the U.S.

Fact: Trump, “ranting and raving” at White House and DHS staff, stressed the “border is my issue” while issuing unlawful orders to separate families at the border. He isn’t following through on carefully considered policy but on a campaign issue — one from 2016, and now one for the 2020 race.

~ ~ ~
The bottom line: Trump both as president and as a business owner has violated federal law.

He has done so, deliberately employing cruelty and at cost of human lives, in order to fulfill a campaign promise in 2016, as a campaign theme in 2018 to assist the GOP in mid-terms, and as a campaign stunt for re-election in 2020. As he said, the “border is my issue.”

He has issued unlawful orders as part of his ongoing campaigning under influence of former adviser anarchist Steve Bannon and white nationalist Stephen Miller, a current White House adviser.

The Republican Party aids and abets this — endorses this — as political practice as long as it fails to check the de facto leader of their party. Cruelty and indifference to non-white, non-English-speaking people including infants and families is now their brand along with disregard for treaties and laws.

In doing so, the Republican Party destroys any pretensions to legitimacy if it supports systematic unlawful behavior.

We need to ask if it is now fact that there is no Republican Party.

Trump’s Gone Full Jessep

[NB: The byline is mine. /~Rayne]

If you haven’t haven’t recently watched the 1992 film, A Few Good Men, it’s a good time to do so. Especially for this particular monologue delivered from the stand by Colonel Nathan Jessep, played by Jack Nicholson (spoiler alert: this scene is the climax of the movie):

The colonel gave an illegal order — a Code Red — to his men to dispense extrajudicial punishment to PFC William “Willie” Santiago after which Santiago died.

Up to this point Jessep has been a hard ass, bordering on rude. But this particular monologue depicts Colonel Jessep at his worst, when the mask slips off and the monster who can justify his worst impulses does so because his ego won’t permit any serious questioning of his authority.

This is Trump — from reports based on feedback from those in his presence, he’s gone full Jessep and whatever mask he’s worn has slipped off. He’s given illegal orders, in direct opposition to his oath of office and the Constitution, the law and a court order, when he demanded the separation of asylum-seeking families at the border while “ranting and raving” that “border security security was his issue.”

He believes he is the law, as if he’s king.

No one in the White House seems able to disabuse him of this concept — if they are trying at all.

A number of senior staff have been fired throughout Trump’s 26 months in office, the latest such termination resulting in the departure of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

It’s not clear whether the departure of Secret Service director Randolph Alles was for the same reason; he denies it but the timing is suspicious given the appearance of a purge across DHS leadership.

One employee whose continued employment suggests they aren’t explaining the limits of executive authority is White House counsel Pat Cipollone. His presence was noted in reports about a meeting in which Trump had a narcississtic meltdown about DHS’ inability to stop asylum seekers at the border. Why was Nielsen the sole target two weeks later instead of Cipollone?

~ ~ ~

In A Few Good Men, the story arc centers on the two Marines charged with Santiago’s death as a result of the Code Red. They argued they were following orders from their superior officer, and as we see in the climax, Col. Jessep finally admits he gave the order. The court renders its verdict:

The Nuremberg defense will not hold; an illegal order is illegal no matter the rank of the person issuing it, and obeying it is illegal as well. Government employees who commit illegal acts even at the order of the president violate the law as well as their oaths of office:

I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.” (5 USC 3331)

Support and defend the Constitution. Well and faithfully discharge the duties of office. Obeying an illegal order fulfills neither of these.

Founding father John Adams said, “We are a nation of laws, not of men.” Walls are useless if they defend not the law and our country’s values, but one man’s sick, skewed ego.

Angry Mom: Hiding the Trumpian Genocide’s Records

When I think can’t get any angrier at this miserable excuse for governance, the Trump administration proves there isn’t a limit to how low they will go.

Sleazy, unlawful executive action without adequate oversight followed by a fog of obfuscation and prevarication is bad enough. The administration will now double down now to hide what it’s done and hope like hell nobody notices.

It doesn’t help that members of Congress, journalists, and the public still haven’t grasped the true nature of the crimes before them.

The Trump administration hasn’t merely ignored or broken existing U.S. laws on handling of asylum seekers. See 8 U.S. Code § 1158:

(a) Authority to apply for asylum
(1) In general
Any alien who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States (whether or not at a designated port of arrival and including an alien who is brought to the United States after having been interdicted in international or United States waters), irrespective of such alien’s status, may apply for asylum in accordance with this section or, where applicable, section 1225(b) of this title.

(2) Exceptions
(A) Safe third country
Paragraph (1) shall not apply to an alien if the Attorney General determines that the alien may be removed, pursuant to a bilateral or multilateral agreement, to a country (other than the country of the alien’s nationality or, in the case of an alien having no nationality, the country of the alien’s last habitual residence) in which the alien’s life or freedom would not be threatened on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, and where the alien would have access to a full and fair procedure for determining a claim to asylum or equivalent temporary protection, unless the Attorney General finds that it is in the public interest for the alien to receive asylum in the United States.

(B) Time limit
Subject to subparagraph (D), paragraph (1) shall not apply to an alien unless the alien demonstrates by clear and convincing evidence that the application has been filed within 1 year after the date of the alien’s arrival in the United States.

There’s more but the key part in boldface above. The “zero tolerance” approach to border protection violated this code. Asylum seekers do not have to apply from outside the country; they can apply once inside the country. I’m not a lawyer but I don’t see anything here that indicates asylum seekers are suddenly not eligible to apply for asylum because they crossed the border.

And nothing in the entirety of 8 U.S. Code § 1158 indicates the government may take custody of asylum seekers’ minor children with or without force.

Note also where the asylum seekers may apply — they are NOT limited to designated ports.

DHS Secretary Nielsen’s claim that border crossers had not applied through ports of entry is a lie because it wasn’t required of them.

What happens to the children appears to fit the description of kidnapping (18 U.S. Code § 1201), including section (a)(3), an “act against the person is done within the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States as defined in section 46501 of title 49” for those children who are flown by aircraft to other destinations in the U.S. out of their parents’ physical custody. It’s no wonder carriers like United Airlines and American Airlines wrote and published letters yesterday telling DHS to stop using their services for moving the children across the country.

The conditions in which many of the children have been placed also appear to be abusive; based on the children seen so far there are reports of not enough food, sedation, restraints, disruption to sleep habits, etc.

But that’s not the end of it. The entire separation of children from their families appears to be genocide under The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide which the U.S. has signed (1948) and ratified (1988):

Article 2
In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed
with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious
group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about
its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

We have not yet seen evidence of child deaths, but section (b) is likely and (e) of Article 2 is definite — the children are now in custody of the United States government and disbursed to others’ care.

Wednesday’s executive order does nothing to remedy the situation. It doesn’t even stop the separation of children from families due to its murky wording. It exacerbates the problem by foisting some of the responsibility on the military, placing the Defense Department at odds with the Posse Comitatus Act (18 U.S. Code § 1385) as the EO expects the military to perform a domestic function — DHS’ border patrol and immigration services — which is not in response to a natural disaster.

(Oh, this is definitely a disaster, but it is human made.)

Ordering the military to provide assistance also draws defense resources away from where they may be needed, potentially creating security risks.

And yet this is not enough insult. DHS’ Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) asked the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) last year if it could change its record retention practices, according to The Memory Hole:

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has asked for permission to destroy all its documents about the deaths of detained immigrants in custody 20 years after a case is “closed.” (Deaths in ICE custody are almost always investigated by ICE itself. A minority are investigated by the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General. [report])

Similarly, ICE wants to destroy all its documents about sexual assaults of detained immigrants in custody. The time frame is 20 years after a case is “closed.” (Again, ICE almost always investigates itself in these cases. The Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General investigates around 1% of complaints/reports. [article]) NARA argues that this information is “sensitive,” implying that documents containing the identities of victims and the accused should not be kept indefinitely. ICE itself did not offer this (or any) justification.

Thankfully The Memory Hole followed up and asked for status on ICE’s request, to which NARA replied:

No final action has been taken on this schedule. NARA appraisal staff have reviewed the comments received, and held several meetings with ICE records management and program staff regarding the records being scheduled.

Proposed changes to the schedule are being reviewed internally by NARA stakeholders for internal concurrence, after which NARA will inform ICE of the required changes. NARA will then publish a follow-up Federal Register notice responding to the public comments we received. This notice will be open for public comment for 15 days from the date of publication.

But it is not yet impossible that records related to the current human-made disaster affecting thousands of children may be destroyed prematurely, depriving them of justice.

There’s simply no way that ICE should be allowed to change its records retention given the scale of the separated families disaster. And yet I have a horrible, angry feeling the Trump administration will do whatever it can to hide its role in this genocidal activity along the U.S. southwest border.

EDIT — 5:45 P.M. EDT —

I meant to add one more thing to this post. It’s imperative I add this now that the White House has tried to change the subject by using FLOTUS as a human shield with a target literally painted on her back. Do not be derailed by their bullshit. Keep asking:

Where are the girls?

Where are the babies?

Where are ALL the bodies???

Angry Mom: I See Dead Children

I see dead children.

There is no way to reconcile what the Trump administration has done — seizing children from their parents, some so young they are still breastfeeding — and the facilities they’ve established to house them without coming to the conclusion there are dead children.

@Asher_Wolf explains the situation in this Twitter thread, beginning with this tweet:

Only people who’ve never had or cared for infants and children would not know this already. If you are a parent you know this; you’ve already had to keep a child cool, calm, hydrated which can be challenging while traveling even under the best conditions.

The circumstances which drove these refugees to the border for asylum placed these children under enormous stress, unrelieved by travel across Central America and Mexico, worsened by heat across the southwest. Add the stress of interception and detention by Border Patrol on top of separation from parents — these children and babies are extremely vulnerable.

Stuff them in cages inside buildings not built to specifications for human occupation, or warehouse them in goddamned tents in unrelenting summer heat, with who knows how many qualified personnel to care for them.

There are reports some children have not received adequate food. Have they received enough water and other fluids? If they can’t feed themselves, have personnel offered the infants and toddlers enough bottles?

Looking at the best infant and child mortality rates in other countries, there would be several deaths. This is the U.S., though, which is the worst among the top 20 wealthiest countries. Looking at the recent history of refugees fleeing Syria and other parts of the middle east for EU states, there are likely more deaths than normal. We must face this truth and begin to account for all the children, alive or dead.

But so far no facilities with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers have been opened to members of Congress or journalists. Only boys have been seen on camera. Where are the girls? Where are the children under five years of age?

Journalists have asked where they are.

REPORTER: A couple of questions. One, why is the government only releasing images of the boys being held? Where are the girls? Where are the young toddlers?

NIELSEN: I don’t know. I’m not familiar with those particular images so I would have —

REPORTER: Do you know where they are? Do you know where the girls are? Do you know where the young toddlers are?

NIELSEN: We have children in D.H.S. care both, but as you know, most of the children after 72 hours are transferred to H.H.S. So I don’t know what pictures you’re referencing but I would have to refer you to H.H.S.

REPORTER: We’ve seen images of boys but we just haven’t seen any of the girls, any of the young toddlers and you’re saying they are being well cared for. So how could you make that claim if you don’t know where they are?

NIELSEN: It is not that I don’t know where they are. I’m saying that the vast majority of children are held by Health and Human Services. We transfer them after 72 hours.

 I don’t know what pictures you’re speaking about. But perhaps they’re —

REPORTER: Pictures have been released to the public, they’ve been aired all over national television.

NIELSEN: O.K., by D.H.S. or H.H.S.?

REPORTER: By [inaudible] .H.S.

NIELSEN: So let’s find out from H.H.S. I don’t think there is anything other than [cross talk] the pictures —

REPORTER: [cross talk] released by your department. I mean, they’ve have been aired all over national television throughout the day, the kids being held in the cages. We’ve only seen the boys.

NIELSEN: I will, I will look into that. I’m not aware that there’s another picture. Yes.

That DHS Secretary Nielsen can’t offer a coherent answer when asked is ridiculous and absolutely unacceptable.

That the entire administration cannot offer a consistent response to any questions is doubly so.

None of this assures me they aren’t hiding something behind all this prevarication. At this point the lack of a unified response to questions is deliberate; they’ve had ample time to get their shit together. The inconsistency itself might be a means to create a smoke screen, forcing journalists, Congress, and the public to track and compare their answers rather than storm the facilities and get the truth.

Right now, on the face of it, this administration is hiding children’s bodies, alive and possibly dead.

I don’t care about Trump’s bullshit kabuki gesture that he’ll sign something about the families separation policy. I don’t care who they point to within the administration to blame for this willful humanitarian disaster, this ethnic cleansing, this genocide waiting full disclosure, though the buck ultimately stops at the desk in the Oval Office. Until they show us otherwise and account for every single tiny human being which they have taken and for whom they are acting in parents’ or guardians’ stead, I see dead children.

Angry White Male Terror in US More Deadly Than Jihad Since 9/11

Remember back in 2009 when the Department of Homeland Security warned (pdf) against the growth of homegrown terror arising from right-wing extremism? Remember how the howls of protest from the same right-wing politicians who dog-whistle the right-wing extremists into action were so loud that DHS took the report off its website and even disbanded the research unit that produced the report? Here’s Daryl Johnson, who headed the group at DHS that produced the report, talking in 2011:

When the right-wing report was leaked and people politicized it, my management got scared and thought DHS would be scaled back. It created an environment where my analysts and I couldn’t get our work done. DHS stopped all of our work and instituted restrictive policies. Eventually, they ended up gutting my unit. All of this happened within six to nine months after the furor over the report. Analysts then began leaving DHS. One analyst went to ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement], another to the FBI, a third went to the U.S. Marshals, and so on. There is just one person there today who is still a “domestic terrorism” analyst.

Since our report was leaked, DHS has not released a single report of its own on this topic. Not anything dealing with non-Islamic domestic extremism—whether it’s anti-abortion extremists, white supremacists, “sovereign citizens,” eco-terrorists, the whole gamut.

Finally, in February of this year, DHS finally got around to mentioning the right-wing terror threat again:

A new intelligence assessment, circulated by the Department of Homeland Security this month and reviewed by CNN, focuses on the domestic terror threat from right-wing sovereign citizen extremists and comes as the Obama administration holds a White House conference to focus efforts to fight violent extremism.

Some federal and local law enforcement groups view the domestic terror threat from sovereign citizen groups as equal to — and in some cases greater than — the threat from foreign Islamic terror groups, such as ISIS, that garner more public attention.​

The Homeland Security report, produced in coordination with the FBI, counts 24 violent sovereign citizen-related attacks across the U.S. since 2010.

In a jaw-dropping revelation, the CNN article on the report goes on to note that there may be as many as 300,000 adherents to the sovereign citizen extremist movement.

But it’s the white supremacists who now are in the spotlight thanks to the racist terrorism in Charleston last week. And the New York Times is driving that point home by citing a New America analysis of terror attacks in the US since 9/11:

In the 14 years since Al Qaeda carried out attacks on New York and the Pentagon, extremists have regularly executed smaller lethal assaults in the United States, explaining their motives in online manifestoes or social media rants.

But the breakdown of extremist ideologies behind those attacks may come as a surprise. Since Sept. 11, 2001, nearly twice as many people have been killed by white supremacists, antigovernment fanatics and other non-Muslim extremists than by radical Muslims: 48 have been killed by extremists who are not Muslim, compared with 26 by self-proclaimed jihadists, according to a count by New America, a Washington research center.

The slaying of nine African-Americans in a Charleston, S.C., church last week, with an avowed white supremacist charged with their murders, was a particularly savage case. But it is only the latest in a string of lethal attacks by people espousing racial hatred, hostility to government and theories such as those of the “sovereign citizen” movement, which denies the legitimacy of most statutory law. The assaults have taken the lives of police officers, members of racial or religious minorities and random civilians.

When we go to the New America analysis, we see that half of the deaths from attacks termed jihadist came in a single attack, the one at Fort Hood. There are only seven entries on the list of jihadist attacks since 9/11. On the other hand, there are 19 entries on the right-wing attack list (and the biggest of those, the Oklahoma City bombing, was pre-9/11 and so is excluded from the list).

Despite the trillions spent and lives lost in fighting jihadists “over there” so that we won’t have to fight them here, the homegrown threat from angry white males is still stronger than the threat from jihadists inside the country. Just imagine the howls, though, should an extra 300,000 names of sovereign citizen adherents get added to the the Terrorist Screening Database. Meanwhile, panic buying of Confederate flags and guns continues. Angry white males are getting even angrier as they squirm under the spotlight.

Every Laptop and Cell Phone in Detroit (and Dearborn) Can Be Searched at Will

I’m not really sure how Detroit is supposed to pursue an arts-based resurgence if the Department of Homeland Security maintains that it can seize any electronics along the nation’s borders — which extend 100 miles and therefore include the bulk of the population of Michigan

The Department of Homeland Security’s civil rights watchdog has concluded that travelers along the nation’s borders may have their electronics seized and the contents of those devices examined for any reason whatsoever — all in the name of national security.

The DHS, which secures the nation’s border, in 2009 announced that it would conduct a “Civil Liberties Impact Assessment” of its suspicionless search-and-seizure policy pertaining to electronic devices “within 120 days.” More than three years later, the DHS office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties published a two-page executive summary of its findings.

“We also conclude that imposing a requirement that officers have reasonable suspicion in order to conduct a border search of an electronic device would be operationally harmful without concomitant civil rights/civil liberties benefits,” the executive summary said.

[snip]

According to legal precedent, the Fourth Amendment — the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures — does not apply along the border. By the way, the government contends the Fourth-Amendment-Free Zone stretches 100 miles inland from the nation’s actual border.

I mean, if I were a business of any kind I’d move outside of this 100-mile border zone to protect my company secrets. Though that would up-end a good deal of the US auto industry, which they can’t really afford.

This is absurd. The notion that the border exception would expose entire cities (San Diego and, I think, Miami, would be similarly exposed) to this kind of privacy invasion shows how absurd the contention is.

Ford Motor Company Has a TIDE Report

I’ll have plenty to say about the Pemanent Subcommittee on Investigation’s report on how terrible DHS’s fusion centers are. The short version: they’re nearly worthless and a big waste of money.

But since DHS is so crappy, it says something that they find the National Counterterrorism Center’s Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment database to be equally crappy.

While reporting information on an individual who is listed in the TIDE database sounds significant, the Subcommittee found that DHS officials tended to be skeptical about the value of such reporting, because of concerns about the quality of data contained in TIDE.156

156 Although NCTC describes its TIDE database as holding information on the identities of known and suspected terrorists, DHS officials – who interacted with TIDE data on a daily basis, as they reviewed reporting not only from state and local law enforcement encounters but from encounters by DHS components – said they found otherwise. “Not everything in TIDE is KST,” DHS privacy official Ken Hunt told the Subcommittee, using a shorthand term for “known or suspected terrorist.”

Would you buy a Ford?” one DHS Senior Reports Officer asked the Subcommittee staff during an interview, when he was asked how serious it was for someone to be a match to a TIDE record. “Ford Motor Company has a TIDE record.”

The report’s footnote goes on to describe how DHS’s crappy reporting and NCTC’s crappy reporting reinforced each other.

Ole Broughton headed Intelligence Oversight at I&A from September 2007 to January 2012. In an interview with the Subcommittee, Mr. Broughton expressed the concern DHS intelligence officials felt working with TIDE data. In one instance, Mr. Broughton recalled he “saw an individual’s two-year-old son [identified] in an HIR. He had a TIDE record.” Mr. Broughton believed part of the problem was that intelligence officials had routinely put information on “associates” of known or suspected terrorists into TIDE, without determining that that person would qualify as a known or suspected terrorist. “We had a lot of discussion regarding ‘associates’ in TIDE,” Mr. Broughton said.

Mark Collier, who served as a Senior Reports Officer and briefly as chief of the Reporting Branch, recalled another case. An HIR was drafted concerning an incident with a TIDE match, but the TIDE record was based on an FBI inquiry. Later on the FBI ended its inquiry and cleared the individual of any connection to terrorism – but because DHS had filed an HIR on the person, the individual’s record was kept active in TIDE.

This reinforcement process carried over into DHS reports that were quashed on First Amendment grounds. Repeatedly, fusion center staffers submitted reports on speech and religion related activities solely because there was some tie between them and TIDE.

One draft reported on a list of reading suggestions by a Muslim community group, “Ten Book Recommendations for Every Muslim.” The report noted that four of the titles were authored by individuals with records in a U.S. intelligence counterterrorism database, the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE).

[snip]

Another cancelled draft HIR reported on a U.S. citizen visiting and giving a lecture at a mosque. The draft contained no derogatory information on the speaker, or the mosque, although it noted that the speaker was once the head of a U.S. Islamic school that had a record in the TIDE database. “There is concern,” the drafting officer wrote in his initial submission, “that [the subject’s] visit . . . could be to strengthen ties with the . . . mosque as well as to conduct fundraising and recruiting for the sake of foreign terrorist organizations.”

Now, as I said, a civil liberties and privacy review (which I’ll discuss at more length in a later post) quashed these particular reports because they recorded protected speech. But imagine how many similar reports remain in NCTC or FBI’s files, given that they have more leeway to record First Amendment protected activity?

Soon, we’ll have the entire marketing plan of Ford Motor Company in our terrorist databases.

The Real Terrorists

I’ve started reading through J. Edgar Hoover’s files the reports a contractor developed for PA’s Department of Homeland Security that describe political activism as a terrorist threat; Governor Rendell has made them publicly available here. I’ll have more to say about them later (though feel free to add comments on them below).

But for the moment, I’d like to unpack the underlying premise.

The whole idea behind collecting this information and sharing it with private sector entities like oil drilling lobbyists arose as part of efforts to protect our critical infrastructure from terrorist attack after 9/11. US DHS describes the imperative to protect critical infrastructure and key resources (CIKR) this way:

Why is CIKR Protection Important?

  • Attacks on CIKR could significantly disrupt the functioning of government and business alike and produce cascading effects far beyond the targeted sector and physical location of the incident.
  • Direct terrorist attacks and natural, manmade, or technological hazards could produce catastrophic losses in terms of human casualties, property destruction, and economic effects, as well as profound damage to public morale and confidence.
  • Attacks using components of the nation’s CIKR as weapons of mass destruction could have even more devastating physical and psychological consequences.

The Homeland Security Act of 2002 provides the primary authority for the overall homeland security mission. This act charged the Department of Homeland Security with primary responsibility for developing a comprehensive national plan to secure CIKR and recommend “the measures necessary to protect the key resources and critical infrastructure of the United States.” This comprehensive plan is the National Infrastructure Protection Plan (NIPP), published by the Department in June 2006. The NIPP provides the unifying structure for integrating a wide range of efforts for the protection of CIKR into a single national program.

And here’s what the federal government’s Department of Homeland Security considers critical infrastructure, which is how the ITRR organized the reports it gave to PA’s DHS:

So you see, because “attacks on CIKR could significantly disrupt the functioning of government and business alike and produce cascading effects far beyond the targeted sector and physical location of the incident,” PA (and surely other states) are collecting information about the lawful political organizing of anti-drilling and animal welfare activists, among others.

What I want to know is why we regard terrorist attacks to be the greatest threat to our transportation system? To our water? To our food system?

And most of all, to our banking and finance system?

Just to take one example, who do you think is a greater risk to our oil and gas infrastructure? A bunch of hippie protesters trying to limit drilling in the Marcellus Shale and thereby protect the quality of their drinking water (which is, itself, considered critical infrastructure)? Or PG&E, which sat on knowledge of an extremely high risk pipeline for three years even after setting aside the money to fix it?

Three years ago, PG&E asked state regulators for permission to spend $4.87 million to replace a section of the pipeline associated with the pipe that exploded in San Bruno last Thursday. The 1.42-mile section that ran under South San Francisco, which is more heavily populated than San Bruno, was considered extremely high risk and in need to replacement. Last year, the utility company made a similar request to replace a larger section of the same pipeline, at a cost of $13 million. Rate increases were approved and the plan should have gone forward. Sadly, nothing was done and lives were lost.

The South San Francisco pipeline replacement project was dropped down on the priority list and the money allocated for the work was spent elsewhere. Many experts and laypersons alike are now asking, why didn’t PG&E replace pipes they knew to be extremely dangerous?

And while multiple layers of government make sure the PG&Es of the world know about those hippie protesters, they can’t be bothered to require the utilities or pipeline operators to actually return the favor by revealing where the pipelines at risk of explosion are.

In a letter sent Friday, the executive director of the California Public Utilities Commission, Paul Clanon, sought the location of each pipeline segment on the list as well as a “detailed description of the criteria PG&E uses in deciding which pipeline segments to characterize as high-priority projects.”

Clanon defended the delay in seeking the list, whose existence PG&E disclosed as early as 2007, saying the agency didn’t see the need for the information before. Just because a site is on the list doesn’t necessarily mean it is dangerous, he said, adding that it’s not his agency’s role “to run the day-by-day activities of the utility.”

Leave aside our wholesale neglect of these elements of critical infrastructure themselves–the crumbling of our pipelines and roads and financial system because neither the public nor the private sector want to spend the money and time to keep them together–and focus on the information gathering part of it.

Because terrorism is somehow a greater threat to our country than PG&E’s neglect or Wright County Egg’s negligence or Lehman’s greed, we collect and share information on hippies. But not on the pipelines that will explode of their own accord, with action from neither hippies nor terrorists.

Updated to fix typo, “Communities” instead of “Communications.”

Under Michael Chertoff, DHS Used David Horowitz Propaganda in Intell Report

Mark Hosenball reports that Dianne Feinstein and other Senate Dems have accused the Department of Homeland Security’s spooks of using right wing propaganda to develop finished intelligence reports on Muslims. By looking at this paragraph from last year’s intelligence authorization

The Committee has raised a number of concerns with reports issued by the Department of Homeland Security OIA that inappropriately analyze the legitimate activities of U.S. persons. These reports raised fundamental questions about the mission of the OIA and often used certain questionable open source information as a basis of their conclusions. The Committee recommends that the next Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis conduct a comprehensive review of the quality and relevance of the intelligence products produced by the OIA, and provide this review to the congressional intelligence committees within 180 days of enactment.

And analyzing the language from this letter from Russ Feingold and Jay Rockefeller, Hosenball credibly argues that DHS used David Horowitz’ DiscoverTheNetworks.org as a source for a least one intelligence report on a US Islamic leader. (The letter cites the tagline, “identif[y] the individuals and organizations that make up the left,” a term Horowitz has used.)

Among others targeted by Horowitz’ site–though not all Islamic leaders–are Keith Ellison, Arianna Huffington, and Kos. And, ironically enough, Janet Napolitano.

Hosenball also notes that the report on the Islamic leader using Horowitz’ site was developed for DHS’s Civil Rights Office, and from there, was circulated to other intelligence agencies.

Congressional officials say the Homeland intelligence report that particularly angered Feinstein and other committee members is still classified. Nevertheless, three current and former intelligence officials, requesting anonymity when discussing sensitive information, say the report in question is a profile of an unnamed but prominent American Islamic leader and was produced by Homeland Security’s intelligence office during the latter years of the Bush administration. The report was requested by the Department’s civil rights office, whose officials were preparing to meet with the Islamic leader. But instead of sending the civil rights office a quick bio of the individual in question, Homeland’s intelligence office issued a “finished” intel report that was circulated to other intelligence agencies and, eventually, to Congressional oversight committees.

In other words, Michael Chertoff was using the Civil Rights Office at DHS as the impetus to develop finished intelligence reports based on the First Amendment activities of Americans.

Remember the firestorm last year when wingnut groups learned DHS did a report–initiated by the Bush Administration–on right wing extremist groups?

The report, “Right-wing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment,” said right-wing extremist groups may be using the recession and the election of the nation’s first African-American president to recruit members.

The report, which was prepared in coordination with the FBI, was published last week. It was distributed to federal, state and local law enforcement officials. Mainstream media picked up the story after it was reported by conservative bloggers.

I wonder if they’ll show the same alarm with this report?