Civil Liberties

The Latest in Federal Anti-Terror Monitoring: It's Everywhere

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Some wonderfully infuriating news from the Washington Post's latest package on "Monitoring America". The big picture:

Nine years after the terrorist attacks of 2001, the United States is assembling a vast domestic intelligence apparatus to collect information about Americans, using the FBI, local police, state homeland security offices and military criminal investigators.

The system, by far the largest and most technologically sophisticated in the nation's history, collects, stores and analyzes information about thousands of U.S. citizens and residents, many of whom have not been accused of any wrongdoing.

More specifics:

the FBI is…building a vast repository controlled by people who work in a top-secret vault on the fourth floor of the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building in Washington. This one stores the profiles of tens of thousands of Americans and legal residents who are not accused of any crime. What they have done is appear to be acting suspiciously to a town sheriff, a traffic cop or even a neighbor.

If the new Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative, or SAR, works as intended, the Guardian database may someday hold files forwarded by all police departments across the country in America's continuing search for terrorists within its borders.

The effectiveness of this database depends, in fact, on collecting the identities of people who are not known criminals or terrorists—and on being able to quickly compile in-depth profiles of them….

As of December, there were 161,948 suspicious activity files in the classified Guardian database, mostly leads from FBI headquarters and state field offices. Two years ago, the bureau set up an unclassified section of the database so state and local agencies could send in suspicious incident reports and review those submitted by their counterparts in other states. Some 890 state and local agencies have sent in 7,197 reports so far.

That has led to five arrests, no convictions yet.

The story also details Memphis cops using military equipment to find license plates with warrants attached to the owners; a citizen taking pictures of a local police boat in California triggering an FBI datamining frenzy; local law enforcement officials instructed that "Most Muslims in the United States want to impose sharia law here"; and loads of vague useless scary reports tossed down to locals by federal DHS, and locals targeting lawful and harmless gatherings for intelligence fearmongering.

The Post story also explains what local "fusion centers" do with federal terror money in a land decidedly bereft of terror:

The vast majority of fusion centers across the country have transformed themselves into analytical hubs for all crimes and are using federal grants, handed out in the name of homeland security, to combat everyday offenses.

This is happening because, after 9/11, local law enforcement groups did what every agency and private company did in Top Secret America: They followed the money.

The DHS helped the Memphis Police Department, for example, purchase 90 surveillance cameras, including 13 that monitor bridges and a causeway. It helped buy the fancy screens on the walls of the Real Time Crime Center, as well as radios, robotic surveillance equipment, a mobile command center and three bomb-sniffing dogs. All came in the name of port security and protection to critical infrastructure.

Since there hasn't been a solid terrorism case in Memphis yet, the equipment's greatest value has been to help drive down city crime. Where the mobile surveillance cameras are set up, criminals scatter, said Lt. Mark Rewalt, who, on a recent Saturday night, scanned the city from an altitude of 1,000 feet.

Flying in a police helicopter, Rewalt pointed out some of the cameras the DHS has funded. They are all over the city, in mall parking lots, in housing projects, at popular street hang-outs. "Cameras are what's happening now," he marveled….

The fact that there has not been much terrorism to worry about is not evident on the Tennessee fusion center's Web site. Click on the incident map, and the state appears to be under attack.

Red icons of explosions dot Tennessee, along with blinking exclamation marks and flashing skulls. The map is labeled: "Terrorism Events and Other Suspicious Activity.

But if you roll over the icons, the explanations that pop up have nothing to do with major terrorist plots: "Johnson City police are investigating three 'bottle bombs' found at homes over the past three days," one description read recently. ". . . The explosives were made from plastic bottles with something inside that reacted chemically and caused the bottles to burst."

Another told a similar story: "The Scott County Courthouse is currently under evacuation after a bomb threat was called in Friday morning. Update: Authorities completed their sweep . . . and have called off the evacuation."

Your trash collector may also be watching you for the cops; as might your Wal-Mart employees. Section 880 of 2002's "Homeland Security Act" explicitly prohibited that kind of crap under its original proposed name "Operation TIPS." DHS Secretary Napolitano should be reminded of that. [Hat tip on that point to reader Andrew Logan]

NEXT: Still Rotten

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  1. The terrorists have won.

      1. Nope… I’ve been saying it for years!

    1. This meme annoys me. The terrorist don’t give a shit whether we live in a tyrannical shithole or not, they just care about our foreign policy and about killing Americans. The statists won, the terrorists were just a tool.

  2. “”” The explosives were made from plastic bottles with something inside that reacted chemically and caused the bottles to burst.”””

    Let me guess, diet coke, mixes with a particular candy.

    1. And now our water table is contaminated with toxic levels of Aspertine…

      1. Water and dry ice works great, too. That got the cops called on me about 5 years ago.

        1. Gunpowder works even better.

        2. “”Water and dry ice works great, too.””

          A staple at every concert in the 70s.

        3. Water and dry ice works great, too.

          Were they envirocops? I mean, releasing all that CO2 into the atmosphere…

        4. You don’t need the water. Dry ice alone in a sealed 2 litre bottle is more than enough to have local law enforcement called in.

          1. Crystal draino and aluminum foil. Best to use a glass bottle.

    2. My 13 year old has been making ‘works bombs’…you put some balled up aluminum foil in a plastic soda bottle with “The Works’ bathroom cleaner. Shake. Wait 2 minutes and…boom! Sounds like a shotgun blast. He learned all about it on YouTube. Can;t wait for the cops to show up at my door…

      1. Wow. I knew powdered aluminum was a serious fire / explosion hazard. I didn’t know the foil could contribute to explosions.

        1. Powdered aluminum is a great way to juice up explosives – it was a major component of Torpex, for example, which became the Allied standard for blowing shit up underwater during WWII.

        2. Not quite the same. I believe what they’re doing with ‘the works’ is mixing aluminum, water and sodium hydroxide(lye). Aluminum likes to oxidize rapidly, and when it does that oxide layer protects the metal and prevents further oxidation. Lye prevents the barrier from forming, so the aluminum oxidizes by stealing oxygen from the water molecules. This creates heat and releases hydrogen gas which builds up until the bottle ruptures.

          Very similar to a dry-ice bomb, but instead of CO2, the bottle is full of hydrogen.

          1. Way to go a-hole you just told the terrorists how to bring down an airplane without a bomb. Spread lye over it.

            1. Ha! Mercury works too, and has been banned on airplanes for quite a while. Mercury dissolves the protective aluminum oxide layer which makes aluminum stable in our atmosphere. Put a little mercury on aluminum and watch it melt: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…..re=related

      2. A friend of mine used to do that in college with muratic acid and aluminum foil. The reaction releases hydrogen gas that expands until the plastic bottle bursts, which frightens people. Someone could explode one of these things outside a friends’ or girlfriends’ window in the middle of the night. Or you could target young married couples who won’t go out and party anymore.

        It’s otherwise harmless and the cops know that. It just provides them with probable cause to hassle you and shake you down further for information, search your home or car, etc.

  3. Nine years after the terrorist attacks of 2001, the United States is assembling a vast domestic intelligence apparatus to collect information about Americans, using the FBI, local police, state homeland security offices and military criminal investigators.

    “Our objectives have finally been achieved, Mahdi!”

  4. Starting with the P.A.T.R.I.O.T Act, it was never about terrorism. It was what LEOs wanted but was considered too over the line pre-9/11.

    1. Precisely. PATRIOT was mostly the LE wishlist that had accumulated over the years, but hadn’t passed.

      1. It is a continuation of FISA, no?

        No slippery slope here. Move along.

  5. On a totally unrelated topic, another one of those “why do we need government” moments:

    “Deer’s Rescuers Face Fines”

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/…..ailarticle

    “Two men who rescued a deer trapped in Patapsco River ice were each fined $90 by a state Natural Resources Police officer because they did not have life vests aboard the inflatable boat they used to reach the animal.”

    1. Ouch, that hurts.

  6. Well that’s what you people voted for. Bush was just too fucking slack when it came to spying on Americans.

  7. “Bottle bombs”… are you kidding me!!!

    1. It what an infant calls a bottle that makes him crap his diaper. Latter in life he will graduate to the belly bombs served at White Castle.

  8. First, SAR is totally ineffective. There has never been a case where a SAR analyst actually “connected the dots” and made an arrest.

    Second, SAR is collecting information on American citizens who are not the subject of a criminal investigation and who by the very nature of SAR are committing lawful acts. If the act in question were unlawful, it wouldn’t be a SAR, it would be a criminal investigation. So, the FBI and various components of DHS are collecting and storing this information and will store it for decades even though it has no apparent value.

    SARs is an outrage.

    1. From the same folks who brought you the beloved TSA.

  9. In a case of the tail wagging the dog, Human Event’s Deroy Murdok explains how we need secrets in order to assure our freedoms (no, really!):

    http://www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=40686

    You see, if there had been WikiLeaks when Washington decided to raid Trenton, he would have been defeated and the US would still be part of the British Commonwealth!

    Some excerpts:

    “WikiLeaks posted diplomatic cables detailing critical infrastructure overseas, such as pipelines and vaccine factories. What a perfect target list for those who want to see ‘infidels’ sick or dead.”

    God forbid the ‘terrorists’ bomb a vaccine factory and then allege it was a weapons factory… like Bill Clinton did.

    “WikiLeaks blabbed that China seems sanguine about Seoul controlling the entire Korean Peninsula. […] This raises, not lowers, the odds that Kim will lob more explosives (conventional or atomic) at South Korea, possibly hitting American GIs and perhaps dragging America into another Korean War.”

    Uh… You mean the act of knowing that your backer is displeased with you is going to encourage you to get into a fray from which nobody will extricate you?

    Are neo-cons stupid, or do they believe the rest of humanity is?

    1. I would say the NORKS realizing that China won’t back them might make them more paranoid and more likely to miscalculate. Sometimes bluff is good for the peace.

      Suppose the Wikileaks had revealed that the US has no intention of ever defending Taiwan? Do you think that would be a good thing? I don’t. And I am certain the people of Taiwan who would be more likely to be under a Chinese missile barrage would agree with me.

      1. “”Suppose the Wikileaks had revealed that the US has no intention of ever defending Taiwan?””

        Well if you properly secure your communications, they probably won’t.

      2. Re: John,

        I would say the NORKS realizing that China won’t back them might make them more paranoid and more likely to miscalculate. Sometimes bluff is good for the peace.

        Uh-huh. And sometimes they call your bluff and you lose. The best play is actually NOT to play (i.e. sticking your nose in your own affairs.)

        Suppose the Wikileaks had revealed that the US has no intention of ever defending Taiwan? Do you think that would be a good thing? I don’t.

        But the US never had the intention of defending Taiwan. So what difference would had made if such information had leaked?

        Besides, I am pretty sure the Chinese knew that already: Many US intelligence agents were either commies or on the dole, even after McCarthyism.

        1. Exactly. Our enemies know most of our “secrets” already; they are only kept secret so the general domestic population won’t find out.

  10. The terrorists have won.

    I give them more credit than that. They’re “thick” theocrats.

    So making a TV network black out Mohammed, getting school-lunch contracts awarded to halal catering companies, or just generally making non-Muslims treat Islam as if it isn’t hilarious bullshit is winning.

    Having the dicks-with-guns part of the government say “Muslims” once in a while as it goes about its usual dickish business doesn’t really matter.

    U RACIS

  11. I’m glad I’ve been tipping the trashman every Christmas. Thanks for the reminder, DHS.

  12. His world is under observation
    We monitor his station
    Under faces and the places
    Where he traces points of view

    He picks up scraps of conversation
    Radio and radiation
    From the dancers and romancers
    With the answers but no clue

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2j6HmEVTR3s

  13. “Money shot”:

    However, just as at the federal level, the effectiveness of these programs, as well as their cost, is difficult to determine. The Department of Homeland Security, for example, does not know how much money it spends each year on what are known as state fusion centers, which bring together and analyze information from various agencies within a state.

    So, the people creating massive databases on innocent people intended to cross-reference every detail of their lives, public and private, can’t actually keep track of *themselves*?…Nooo.

    “But don’t worry! Really! We’re totally competent at Anti-Terrorism. Really! Just not, like, any other stuff… like oversight, or spending, or measuring whether anything we do really *works* or not, or if its even legal…. I mean, that stuff is *complicated*! but we’re awesome at counter-terrorism! Really, we swear… Check it out, we can monitor every #(@$*# angle of this *parking lot* 24hours a day! We hired 3 people to do rotating shifts to watch the screens… Try fucking up the Murphreesboro Mall NOW, Al Qaeda! If you do… we’ll totally have it all on film!””

    1. The Department of Homeland Security, for example, does not know how much money it spends each year on what are known as state fusion centers, which bring together and analyze information from various agencies within a state.

      Who cares, if it’s part of that “great deal” that Tony was talking about:

      “Taxes aren’t charity. They’re payment for services–and the best deal you’ll ever find.”

      https://reason.com/blog/2010/12…..a#comments

      1. We want jobs in the monitoring center.

        1. Can I report Old Mexican for suspicious activities?

        2. Nothing up our sleeves, no magic little Alex! A job for two who are now of job age! The police!

    2. This is why I don’t worry about this stuff. After working for twenty years as a Systems Analyst I know that this too much data for them to sort through in an intelligent manner. Systems Engineers dream these bullshit programs up by pulling a list of Requirements out of their ass without regard to practicality or common sense.

      They can ruin your life if you pop up on their Radar somehow and they need someone to Scapegoat though, so be careful.

      By the way, I’m offering this advice to people who have commited no crime but may have done something socially unacceptable, like you didn’t recycle.

      1. “”This is why I don’t worry about this stuff.””

        Is that why you don’t post an email address? 😉

  14. Brian Aitken’s sentence commuted to time served, should be home for Christmas:

    http://www.nj.com/news/index.s…..es_se.html

    Sorry for the threadjack, just felt it had to be shared.

  15. NEVER EVER EVER GIVE THE COPS YOUR NAME!

    Here’s a story about a guy who got on the SAR list for taking photos.

    http://www.scottfrederickphotoblog.com/2010/10/27/exit/

  16. the FBI is…building a vast repository controlled by people who work in a top-secret vault on the fourth floor of the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building in Washington. This one stores the profiles of tens of thousands of Americans and legal residents who are not accused of any crime. What they have done is appear to be acting suspiciously to a town sheriff, a traffic cop or even a neighbor.

    Must be part of that “great deal” that Tony was talking about:

    “Taxes aren’t charity. They’re payment for services–and the best deal you’ll ever find.”

    https://reason.com/blog/2010/12…..a#comments

    1. I ask again, will I be able to report Old Mexican for suspicious activities?

      1. We accept reports about anybody from anybody. The really cool part is that you can remain anonymous. Kind of like reports to Child Protective Services.

  17. Jeebus.

    The lede paragraph in their earlier story (‘A Hidden World…’) is even more stark:

    The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.

    Key take away: Nothing Will Be Done to Fix This. No one wants to know how fucked it all is. Admitting you have a problem implies someone might be made responsible for fixing it. And no one wants that job. Additionally, I think there are probably a percentage of people out there who think it’s all a *good thing* were have multiple overlapping Agencies of Stupid Shit that Will Never Stop Anything To Do With Terrorism.

    Seriously, these articles are horribly painful.

    I love the case of the Yemen operation… where they had “”… a joint operations center packed with hard drives, forensic kits and communications gear. They exchanged thousands of intercepts, agent reports, photographic evidence and real-time video surveillance with dozens of top-secret organizations in the United States.””

    But… they somehow missed the part where the Father of the terrorist they were trying to track *called the US Embassy up a month earlier and told them his son was a terrorist*….and the kid was already in ‘the database’ when he flew to the US…

    Calling it “trying to swat flies with a B52 bomber” would be too charitable:

    its like trying to swat flies by arming the Department of Education, the FDA, The IRS, and the DMV with remotely operated, night-vision-capable, laser-beam shooting robots that cost $100m apiece…but someone forgot to tell people they will only run on D batteries and shit there was no office of battery-procurement at the time, and so now the price of batteries is going through the roof and each department is hoarding them to ensure their continued relevance to the Fly Swatting Mission, and hey, the instruction manual for the freaking robots is in *japanese*?….

    No, even that would probably be charitable.

    1. Additionally, I think there are probably a percentage of people out there who think it’s all a *good thing* were have multiple overlapping Agencies of Stupid Shit that Will Never Stop Anything To Do With Terrorism.

      Indeed, I read (in one of the WaPo articles I think) someone arguing that very point.

  18. The more people in the database, the more potential criminals. “Find me the person, I’ll find the crime.”

    1. Wasn’t that Beria who said that?

      Ah, yes.

      http://www.lewrockwell.com/grigg/grigg-w142.html

      I hate linking to Lew Rockwell, but rarely was any citation more apropos

  19. And your bank has been reporting you to the database for years. I know I had to fill out those SARs and Large Cash Transaction reports anytime someone came in with a threshold amount of cash. Or less than the threshold, but too many times. Or sent money to a different apartment in the same building. Or… really, you all are on the list.

    1. And did I mention that it was illegal for me to let the customer know that what they were doing was considered “suspicious.” Lest they stop acting “suspicious” and I not have any juicy tips to fill the database.

    2. Insurance companies report claim payments. Those were added since they are not subject to taxes, and I guess they need another way of seeing who gets the money.

  20. “Nine years after the terrorist attacks of 2001, the United States is assembling a vast domestic intelligence apparatus to collect information about Americans, using the FBI, local police, state homeland security offices and military criminal investigators.

    The system, by far the largest and most technologically sophisticated in the nation’s history, collects, stores and analyzes information about thousands of U.S. citizens and residents, many of whom have not been accused of any wrongdoing.”

    I thought that this was all supposed to end when Bush left office. Fucking democrats. Never again. I will never trust a word from either side as long as I live. They are all fucking liars and criminals.

  21. As of December, there were 161,948 suspicious activity files in the classified Guardian database

    The act of populating the database with that many entries is a suspicious activity, and so it should be a file in the database. If it’s not a file in the database, that fact is a suspicious thing that should be filed.

  22. OK, so anybody here have any good ideas for stopping terror?

  23. I predict Rep Peter King will make a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives calling for an expansion of this program, and doubling its budget.

  24. Never mind not stopping terrorists; since the “terrorists” aren’t cooperating by committing genuine acts of “terror”, the government is just cooking up “terror plots” on its own. I suspect this process will accelerate and if the people don’t react “appropriately” (i.e. calling for yet more government power) they’ll quit giving their patsies fake bombs and start giving them real ones.

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