DHS as "Keystone Stasi"

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Film critic extraordinaire Alan Vanneman sends along this amazing LA Times account of stoopid airport security in action. The writer, Ray LeMoine, details how DHS pulled him aside for special attention while returning to the US after spending time in Dubai, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and Pakistan. Which makes sense, say LeMoine: "If ever there were a DHS red-flag candidate, I was it, and I assumed this was just protocol."

Yet what did they question him about? A 2003 bust for selling unlicensed T-shirts in Boston and a missed 2004 court date relating to a fight he had with a parking lot attendant (LeMoine was found not guilty in the latter case).

Four DHS officers working two cases–a Senegalese guy who was caught with $100,000 in a suitcase and mine–couldn't even get the NYPD on the phone. A debate then broke out among Malik, his co-worker and their boss about how to call the NYPD. Six hours later, the DHS still hadn't gotten word from the NYPD. A shift change was coming up, and officers aren't allowed to leave until finishing all their cases.

So they set him free, leading him to conclude:

Homeland Security, the $40-billion-a-year agency set up to combat terrorism after 9/11, has been given universal jurisdiction and can hold anyone on Earth for crimes unrelated to national security–even me for a court date I missed while I was in Iraq helping America deter terror–without asking what I had been doing in Pakistan among Islamic extremists the agency is designated to stop. Instead, some of its actions are erasing the lines of jurisdiction between local police and the federal state, scarily bringing the words "police" and "state" closer together. As long as we allow Homeland Security to act like a Keystone Stasi, terrorism will continue to win in destroying our freedom.

Whole thing here.

Reason reported on "the sorry state" of DHS here. And on "the sorry record" of the TSA here. So much sorrow, such little time.

NEXT: Joltin' Joe?

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  1. 9/11 changed everything.

    We are fighting a new kind of enemy, one that doesn’t have respect for freedom and rights.

    If you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear.

    A lot of good your freedom will do you once you are killed by a terrorist attack.

    The Constitution is not a death pact.

    Please choose appropriate combination of responses from above list.

    (Is anything missing from the list??)

  2. This never would have happened if they’d banned Matricula Consular cards.

  3. Is anything missing from the list??

    One more to add:

    “You just don’t get it”

  4. A shift change was coming up, and officers aren’t allowed to leave until finishing all their cases.

    I’m surprised they didn’t relish the opportunity for overtime pay.

  5. (Is anything missing from the list??)

    “The government is more efficient than a company working for profit.”

  6. Another addition to the list, the ever popular

    Why does Mr. LeMoine hate America?

  7. This is the first time it’s dawned on me that my Alma Mater, DuPont High School, has the initials of the Dept of Homeland Security.
    Yuck! And I have my big reunion coming up this summer.

    Reminds me of the college being promoted by the local radio station: Frog University: FU.
    I shoulda gone there.

  8. One more addition to the list:

    It’s for your own good, but explaining why would compromise national security.

  9. He got detained because he had an outstanding warrant for failure to appear. They let him go because they didn’t get confirmation from NYPD that NYPD wanted to bother with him.

    I got a couple of speeding tickets in a state that I was only passing through. I chose not to pay them because I figured I could avoid that state in the future. I knew that there’d be a bench warrant for my arrest and that I could get sent to jail in the future in that state, but I figured I’d chance it.

    About a year later I wound up driving through that state and saw a brush fire burning. I stopped to help the sole person who was trying to put it out. A few others joined in and eventually we extinguished it. I immediately left, because I didn’t want to risk the possibility that even though I was doing a good deed, I might be asked to show my I.D., which could have sent me to the pokey.

    If I had gotten tagged, it would have sucked (although not as bad as if the fire had gotten out of hand and destroyed significant property or taken lives), but I was aware there was probably a bench warrant out for my arrest.

    I’m opposed to the I.D. requirements associated with flying. I’m also opposed to the war on drugs and I was opposed to the 55-mile-an-hour limit (both to the limit itself and the unconstitutional way it was forced on the states).

    It’s a shame that Alan got detained the way he did, but I don’t think the security folks themselves are to blame, they’re probably told to hold everyone with an outstanding warrant. If I were able to make it so that people could fly anonymously, I would, and Alan would have had that option to use to avoid trouble. While I was waving my wand, I’d also make it so that people could put out brush fires without showing ID (which, admittedly may have been the case).

    However, the bottom line is that the reason they detained him was for the outstanding warrant. If Homeland Security is going to require people identify themselves, then it actually makes sense for them to do something with that identity, like check for people with outstanding warrants. In theory, an outstanding arrest warrant is a sign that the person has already been deemed sufficiently harmful to society that he should be placed in jail as soon as he’s found.

  10. erasing the lines of jurisdiction between local police and the federal state, scarily bringing the words “police” and “state” closer together.

    The State Police have already brought them much closer. Also, what’s a “federal state”?

  11. Lucky:

    Perhaps I just misunderstood your post, but he was coming through customs. Are you saying you don’t think people should show I.D. when entering the country? I’m all for less-restrictive borders and anonymous domestic flying, but it seems reasonable to check I.D. when entering the country.

  12. jasno,

    I erred. I read Nick’s post, then read the article, then read some of the comments. As I was doing this, I thought that overall the depiction seemed unfair. The guy got detained because there was a warrant for his arrest. I started writing and got carried away (which also shows when I mentioned the war on drugs) and forgot about the particulars, conflating John Gilmore’s issue with Alan Vanneman’s.

    Thanks.

  13. For me, the real money quote here was that he was not questioned about his time in places associated with Islamacist terror groups.

    If we’re going to have all of this apparatus in place, it should at least pretend to do its goddamn job.

  14. Clean Hands,

    Perhaps they were remiss. Are you arguing that DHS should have asked questions of everyone who had the same profile Alan had, regardless of what other information they may have? I don’t know what information they have.

    At a minimum, they’d have the passport and the information it contained. I believe full flight information is kept somewhere, but I don’t know under what circumstances it’s revealed to whom.

    Presumably if they knew about his visits to the various madrasas, then they’re keeping sufficiently close tabs on him that there wouldn’t be too much point to asking questions. Same thing if they tapped his phones.

    I certainly have no problem imagining government (or even non-government) employees not doing their job. However, in security matters, in theory the job is supposed to be done in such a way that not all aspects of how it’s done is revealed. Yeah, that can conceal all sorts of stupidities, inefficiencies and even fraud, but Alan was held for six hours. We only have Alan’s report on what he perceived to be happening at this time.

    I’m not trying to claim that perhaps they asked him about Pakistan and he forgot or is not telling us about it. I am claiming that there might be reasons why asking him about Pakistan wouldn’t have been believed to be fruitful.

    However, it could indeed be that there’s an interesting way to escape scrutiny; have an (or was it two; not sure what is pending in Massachusetts) outstanding warrant for your arrest for a relatively unimportant matter.

    If he had been a terrorist, I wonder what questions would have helped. “Are you a terrorist?” seems right out.

  15. Good points, Lucky.

    I guess that the standard I would apply here is, upon seeing that his passport stamps look like he’s been taking a tour of a variety of al Qaeda-infested localities, maybe they could have questioned him pretty closely as to what he was doing in those places.

    Someone with legit business (such as this writer) could clear up the minor level of suspiscion quickly; a person who was in those places for less pure reasons might slip up or otherwise say something that might direct further questioning.

  16. Add to the LIST:

    “Welcome back to the Glorious UNITED STATES of AMERICA

    Sir?! May I please see your travel permit?

    {short wait}

    Oh, Comrade? There has been a problem with your papers, would you step over here.

    {moderate wait}

    Spazba comrade, your destination has been changed. You will be traveling from here to the Guantanamo Bay resort and re-education camp. You WILL FOLLOW this officer for processing!

    {infinte wait}

  17. Yet more evidence that this is all about security theater rather than actual security. If this was about actual security they’d still care about outstanding warrants, but they’d care so much that they wouldn’t release a guy just so they could go home. And they’d ask the guy with the outstanding warrants about his unusual travel itinerary.

    Sounds to me like they went through the motions because they had to and then dropped it because they wanted to go home. That’s security theater, not security.

  18. Fellas, fellas, please! I’m clean, goddamn it! It’s fucking Ray LeMoine who’s hustling the hot tee-shirts and decked the parking lot attendant, not me! I’m just the fucking messenger!

  19. Someone Claiming to be Alan Vanneman wrote: “I’m clean, goddamn it! It’s fucking Ray LeMoine who’s hustling the hot tee-shirts and decked the parking lot attendant, not me!”

    That sounds *exactly* like something a deep cover al-Qa’ida operative would say….

  20. I’m not sure what his real complaint is here. Is it that the DHS are overbearing secret police, or that they didn’t do ENOUGH questioning and detaining? Are they Stasi because they stopped a man who had an arrest warrant? Does not questioning him about his activities while in Pakistan make them more like the Stasi, or less? Letting someone go due to a shift change seems silly at best and dangerously, criminally negligent at worst; but if they had detained LeMoine, would we be saying that was better or worse? Had LeMoine been kept overnight for an interrogation about his travels in Pakistan, would have satisfied him?
    There certainly seems to be a lot of incompetence on the part of the DHS in this situation, but this is a textbook case of damned if you do/damned if you don’t.

  21. Lest anyone misunderstand where I’m coming from in the above post, I’m shocked and apalled that adding yet another agency to the alphabet soup hasn’t resulted in more efficient and effective government. I’m not trying to be pro-DHS here, I’m just frustrated by LeMoine’s apparent anger at being stopped at all/anger at not being held for questioning on more topics. It’s very rare these days that I see opposition to govt. actions that are anything but opposition for opposition’s sake, with no particular stab at real answers. If anyone can see the part where you learn what LeMoine thinks should have happened, let me know.

  22. Dave-

    I think the complaint is that they should have either done something meaningful or left him the hell alone. They’ve got a guy with an outstanding warrant, and he’s been to some suspicious places. Either they should have decided that selling unlicensed t-shirts is no big deal, or they should have pursued the matter. Instead, they hassled him only up to the point where it would interfere with their dinner plans.

    That makes a mockery of the whole system. There are good reasons to detain him and good reasons to leave him alone. Detaining him until supper time doesn’t fit into either category.

    Hence the system is a joke.

  23. It’s not supposed to work. It’s a roust.

    A roust is the general hassle by police forces when they can’t in fact do anything but just need to prove that they’re on the job. It’s theater saying that the citizens are fit subjects for their attentions. It heads off a question about the authorities.

  24. Dave said =

    I’m not sure what his real complaint is here. Is it that the DHS are overbearing secret police, or that they didn’t do ENOUGH questioning and detaining? Are they Stasi because they stopped a man who had an arrest warrant?

    (sigh) This is a lot like people who argue that critics of the Iraq war have no point, because they either are saying “the admin is doing a bad job” or “we should get out” –

    It’s a false choice http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_choice

    *Which is it! Do you want a better war, or no war? Make up your minds, hypocrites!”

    This sort of unidimensional thinking scares the hell out of me.

    Here’s a simpler way of putting it – assuming we all agree that there is a potential problem of terrorist threats? ok – does that mean that one is obligated to support ANY program claiming to be addressing that issue should be supported, regardless of whether it’s cost effective, or even effective *at all* at any cost? Or even ones that do nothing, and create separate problems? And do we suddenly assume that having an ‘arrest warrant’ for copyright violation (as though all warrants were created equal) is what our ‘anti-terror’ teams are supposed to be wasting their time with??

    The answer is, the DHS are certainly overbearing secret police…but apparently ones that dont do anything to solve the problem they have a mandate for. Instead they’re are running around with a mandate to fuck with john q citizen, and making us pay for their massive inefficiency in the process of criminalizing bumper stickers, stopping people for low-level nonsense unrelated to homeland security. Is that really so complicated? If we’re going to fund them, you’d at least hope they didnt spend most of their $$$$$ screwing around with petty issues that arent even remotely related to their mandate?

    I’m just frustrated by LeMoine’s apparent anger at being stopped at all/anger at not being held for questioning on more topics.

    Why is this so hard to grasp? He makes the point 100% clear in his opening graf – he EXPECTED to get stopped, considering his travel itinerary was the kind of thing he’d expect to get flagged. But instead, he’s being questioned about a misdemeanor from years earlier, 1000s of miles away?…. Being confronted with that kind of institutional stupidity isnt the slightest bit worrying to you? And you think it’s REASONABLE for a low-level local state matter to be pursued and enforced by glorified federalized crossing guards in Airports? Do you also expect the CIA to hand our parking tickets? Why not have our entire ‘criminal’ records be scruntized by EVERY agency in the country, so when I go and pick up my tickets for the basketball game, the MSG security ‘questions’ me on my drunken fistfight in college? And as we pile more laws on, and make more “criminals”, well, then we’ll need more police to keep track of them, right? Utter insanity.

    There is no ‘either/or’ here… It’s a question of institutional incompetence, and the way granting poorly defined powers to low-level miscreants turns what was ostensibly a good idea into a gigantic bureaucratic money-toilet that spends 90% of it’s energy focused on things that dont even matter.

    Hope that clarifies things

    JG

  25. It’s all in the wording.

    Someone from DHS (perhaps a customs agent that would have been employed in the exact same job pre 9/11) found at least one, and possibly two, outstanding arrest warrants, and held Ray. It appears that initially there was trouble contacting NYPD. Six hours later he was released. Does that mean that in the entire six hours, nobody ever contacted the NYPD? No, it doesn’t mean that. Perhaps that is what happened, but it seems unlikely.

    It could also be that the NYPD was indeed alerted and they responded with something like “it’s kind of busy right now, but if it slows down, we’ll pick him up.” I wasn’t there, nor do I have any knowledge of NYPD, but it seems reasonable to believe that even if there was an initial problem contacting NYPD that it was resolved in six hours. It’s certainly reasonable to believe that if NYPD was contacted that they would review the situation and determine that the guy being held was low-priority.

    The article asks this question: “how and why does Homeland Security share the NYPD’s jurisdiction in cases unrelated to counter-terrorism?” I suspect the answer is simply that they inherited it. DHS includes several pre-existing departments, including Customs. Does anyone know whether pre-DHS, Customs would pick people up and hand them over to NYPD if there was an outstanding NY arrest warrant?

    If so, does anyone know whether NYPD’s response would vary depending on the nature of the warrant?

    A lot of people seem to be latching onto the DHS aspect of this case, but DHS subsumes Customs. It’s not like Customs can suddenly stop doing everything they did pre-DHS and only look at terrorists. There is no sign whatsoever that Ray’s situation had anything to do with terrorism, even though he manages to spin his being detained for failure to appear into a sympathetic event by mentioning DHS and counting on people’s ignorance of what failure to appear is and why it’s a crime (even though the T-shirt infractions aren’t).

    Alan Vanneman,

    You’re right. I copied the first name from Nick’s synopsis. It was Ray. I apologize.

    thoreau,

    They did do something meaningful. They questioned him about one set of violations for which he could be sent to one jurisdiction, determined it wasn’t high enough of a priority to pursue, then held him for NYPD and eventually released him. It’s quite possible that if he had an arrest warrant for murder, NYPD or DHS’s response would have been different. Ray got off lightly; he didn’t have to go to jail and post bail. It’s not like they held him for twenty minutes, then there was a shift change and so they decided to let him go. Six hours is a long time. I’ll bet Ray clears up his arrest warrant(s).

    JG,

    Most likely he had an arrest warrant for failure to appear, not for copyright violations. If a police officer had asked to see my ID after putting out a brush fire in the state where I had deliberately avoided paying some speeding tickets, that’s what I would have been sent to jail for, not the speeding tickets themselves. Most likely the infractions Ray was cited for had the same conditions.

    I got lucky. Years later when I had someone call up the state in question to see how to clear up the matter, the bits had fallen out of the computer and there was nothing for me to do. However, I thought I knew what I was doing and knew that if I had got caught I’d have to pay the consequences. When I decided to skip out on the tickets, it never occurred to me that I might wind up doing a good deed that could have caused me to reveal my ID to a police officer.

    Even though I broke the law, I fully understand why failure to appear is a crime and moving violations aren’t.

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