Even Those Cleared Of Crimes Remain On Terror Watch List, Including US Citizens

September 28, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC — The Federal Bureau of Investigation is permitted to include people on the government’s terrorist watch list even if they have been acquitted of terrorism-related offenses or the charges are dropped, according to newly released documents.

The files, released by the F.B.I. under the Freedom of Information Act, disclose how the police are instructed to react if they encounter a person on the list. They lay out, for the first time in public view, the legal standard that national security officials must meet in order to add a name to the list. And they shed new light on how names are vetted for possible removal from the list.

Inclusion on the watch list can keep terrorism suspects off planes, block noncitizens from entering the country and subject people to delays and greater scrutiny at airports, border crossings and traffic stops.

The database now has about 420,000 names, including about 8,000 Americans, according to the statistics released in connection with the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. About 16,000 people, including about 500 Americans, are barred from flying.

Timothy J. Healy, the director of the F.B.I.’s Terrorist Screening Center, which vets requests to add or remove names from the list, said the documents showed that the government was balancing civil liberties with a careful, multilayered process for vetting who goes on it — and for making sure that names that no longer need to be on it came off.

“There has been a lot of criticism about the watch list,” claiming that it is “haphazard,” he said. “But what this illustrates is that there is a very detailed process that the F.B.I. follows in terms of nominations of watch-listed people.”

Still, some of the procedures drew fire from civil liberties advocates, including the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which made the original request and provided the documents to The New York Times.

The 91 pages of newly disclosed files include a December 2010 guidance memorandum to F.B.I. field offices showing that even a not-guilty verdict may not always be enough to get someone off the list, if agents maintain they still have “reasonable suspicion” that the person might have ties to terrorism.

“If an individual is acquitted or charges are dismissed for a crime related to terrorism, the individual must still meet the reasonable suspicion standard in order to remain on, or be subsequently nominated to, the terrorist watch list,” the once-classified memorandum says.

Ginger McCall, a counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said: “In the United States, you are supposed to be assumed innocent. But on the watch list, you may be assumed guilty, even after the court dismisses your case.”

But Stewart Baker, a former Homeland Security official in the Bush administration, argued that even if the intelligence about someone’s possible terrorism ties fell short of the courtroom standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt,” it could still be appropriate to keep the person on the watch list as having attracted suspicion.

Mr. Baker noted that being subjected to extra questioning — or even kept off flights — was different than going to prison.

The guidance memo to F.B.I. field offices says someone may be deemed a “known or suspected terrorist” if officials have “particularized derogatory information” to support their suspicions.

That standard may be met by an allegation that the suspect has terrorism ties if the claim is corroborated by at least one other source, it said, but “mere guesses or ‘hunches’ are not enough.”

Normally, it says, if agents close the investigation without charges, they should remove the subject’s name — as they should also normally do in the case of an acquittal. But for exceptions, the F.B.I. maintains a special file for people whose names it is keeping in the database because it has decided they pose a national security risk even they are not the subject any active investigation.

The F.B.I.’s Terrorist Screening Center shares the data with other federal agencies for screening aircraft passengers, people who are crossing the border and people who apply for visas. The data is also used by local police officers to check names during traffic stops.

The December memorandum lays out procedures for police officers to follow when they encounter people who are listed. For example, officers are never to tell the suspects that they might be on the watch list, and they must immediately call the federal government for instructions.

In addition, it says, police officers and border agents are to treat suspects differently based on which “handling codes” are in the system.

Some people, with outstanding warrants, are to be arrested; others are to be questioned while officers check with the Department of Homeland Security to see whether it has or will issue a “detainer” request; and others should be allowed to proceed without delay.

The documents show that the F.B.I. is developing a system to automatically notify regional “fusion centers,” where law enforcement agencies share information, if officers nearby have encountered someone on the list. The bureau also requires F.B.I. supervisors to sign off before an advisory would warn the police that a subject is “armed and dangerous” or has “violent tendencies.”

The F.B.I. procedures encourage agents to renominate suspects for the watch list even if they were already put on it by another agency — meaning multiple agencies would have to be involved in any attempt to later remove that person.

The procedures offer no way for people who are on the watch list to be notified of that fact or given an opportunity to see and challenge the specific allegations against them.

Chris Calabrese, a counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union, called the watch list system a “Star Chamber” — “a secret determination, that you have no input into, that you are a terrorist. Once that determination is made, it can ripple through your entire life and you have no way to challenge it.”

But Mr. Healy said the government could not reveal who was on the list, or why, because that would risk revealing intelligence sources. He also defended the idea of the watch list, saying the government would be blamed if, after a terrorist attack, it turned out the perpetrator had attracted the suspicions of one agency but it had not warned other agencies to scrutinize the person.

Mr. Healy also suggested that fears of the watch list were exaggerated, in part because there are many other reasons that people are subjected to extra screening at airports. He said more than 200,000 people have complained to the Department of Homeland Security about their belief that they were wrongly on the list, but fewer than 1 percent of them were actually on it.

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New York City Police Chief Ray Kelly Claims His Department Could “Take Down A Plane”

September 26, 2011

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – The chief of the New York Police Department says city police could take down a plane if necessary.

Commissioner Ray Kelly tells CBS’ “60 Minutes” that after the Sept. 11 attacks, he decided the city couldn’t rely on the federal government alone. He set about creating the NYPD’s own counter-terrorism unit. He says the department is prepared for multiple scenarios and could even take down a plane.

Kelly didn’t divulge details but said “obviously this would be in a very extreme situation.”

Other measures include sending NYPD officers abroad, using radiation detectors and creating a network of surveillance cameras in Manhattan.

The interview airs Sunday evening. It comes two weeks after the tenth anniversary of 9/11, when hijackers flew planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

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9/11 Hysteria – New York City Police Want Nightclubs To Look For “Bulging Veins”

September 20, 2011

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – The NYPD’s updated guide to bolstering the safety of city nightclubs offers tips on how to spot patrons who are bombed – as well as those carrying bombs.

The 27-page booklet, titled “Best Practices for Nightlife Establishments,” advises owners to be cautious about nervous customers who are sweating profusely and with “bulging veins in the neck.”

“Counter-terrorism security plans should include training for all staff in the detection of possible suicide bombers,” the guide, released Monday, says.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly insisted the guide, produced in conjunction with the New York Nightlife Association, is not meant to “alarm, but to help owners and operators craft effective strategies for terrorism prevention and preparedness.”

On how to spot would-be terrorists, the guide recommends being alert to people with “visible wires and tape” protruding from their clothing and “individuals who are obviously disguised.”

Nightclub workers should also be aware of people casing establishments by photographing or videotaping.

“Be on the lookout for people with suspicious bags and identical bags being carried by several individuals,” the guide suggests.

The booklet also has plenty of tips on how to spot plastered patrons, advising they’re usually the ones with slurred speech and bloodshot eyes who appear “sick, confused, abusive, profane, antagonistic or incoherent.”

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FBI Chased Down 300 Innocent People To Talk About Terror Dispite Having Zero Evidence Of Actual Threat

September 13, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC – The FBI has interviewed more than 300 people while investigating threat information that terrorist operatives might attack New York City or Washington around the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, a federal law enforcement official said Monday.

But all those people were cleared and there is no evidence al Qaeda operatives entered the United States to attempt to strike with a vehicle bomb or some other form of violence.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Monday that the intelligence received last week “was not useless chatter” and that officials would continue “pulling all the threads on that threat and chasing it down.”

Carney said U.S. officials are relieved the September 11 anniversary “went off without an incident,” but he added, “We don’t suddenly stop our vigilance the day after.”

The New York Police Department ramped up security in response to the threat information. Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne said the force would continue such tactics as vehicle check points and additional subway bag-screening at least through the Monday-night rush hour. Browne said after that “a decision will be made whether or not to keep security at the current elevated levels.”

Local authorities in Washington, D.C., also increased security but not as visibly as the effort in New York. A spokeswoman for the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department told CNN Monday afternoon that all stepped-up security remained in effect.

According to the federal law enforcement official, investigators and analysts had an initial list of about a thousand people to look at in connection with the threat information, but were able to winnow that down to 300 people to interview as possible operatives, people who might provide help to any plotters, or people who just might have some knowledge of a terror scheme. But none of those leads panned out.

The official stressed, “We’ll stay at this a while, on alert for any suspicious activity” connected to the threat intelligence.

A different U.S. official said analysts need more time “to try to find information that confirms or debunks” the threat. This official said all of the public attention and the additional security measures could have prompted terrorists to change their timing or give up on this particular attempt.

Both officials, who were not authorized to discuss the investigation on the record, said it may be difficult to determine whether there was an actual plot.

CNN’s Susan Candiotti and Pam Benson contributed to this report.

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New York City Police And Homeland Security Target Trucks, Investigate 342 “Suspicious Packages” In One Weekend

September 12, 2011

NEW YORK – While the 10th anniversary of the 9/11/01 attack on America passed without an attack here at home, security in New York City remains ramped up.

That means vehicle checkpoints set up after what authorities described as a specific, credible but unconfirmed threat will remain in place.

“We were in a taxi and we got pulled over,” said Marv Williams, a tourist from Los Angeles. “They checked the trunk. Who cares? I think it’s good.”

Truck driver Eddie Belfiore was among those pulled over, but he told WCBS 880′s Paul Murnane the delay was alright.

“Whatever it takes, you know what I mean? You can’t let these people, you know, take advantage of this city, of this country,” Belfiore said. “If this is what we gotta do, this is what we gotta do. I don’t mind.”

People will continue to see bomb-sniffing dogs, heavily armed officers and be subject to bag checks.

“We will be holding our tours, holding our personnel, for an additional four hours” through today, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said over the weekend. “Effectively increasing by a third the size of our patrol, transit and counterterrorism, highway and traffic bureau.”

All this comes as authorities continue to look into the possibility three individuals may have been tasked to create mayhem using car bombs or by targeting area bridges and tunnels.

At least two of the three purported operatives may be U.S. citizens, officials said. So far, there’s been no evidence those operatives have managed to get other operatives into the United States, officials said over the weekend.

Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Brown said reports of suspicious packages over the weekend were about three times higher than normal.

“Last year, we had about 92 of those reports and so far, we’ve had 342,” he said.

The jitters on the ground also extended into the skies. Two flights were escorted by F-16 fighter jets, including American Airlines Flight 34 from Los Angeles to John F. Kennedy International Airport. On that flight, three disruptive passengers continually moved in and out of lavatories, locking themselves inside at one point. They eventually returned to their seats. Once on the ground, they were questioned by federal authorities and ultimately cleared. A federal air marshal was on board the flight, and the cockpit was never in danger.

“We had all these officials come on board,” said passenger Kathy Rankin. “After a few minutes, they told us we could get off the plane.”

The second scare concluded in Michigan. That’s where a SWAT team boarded a Frontier Airlines Jet on the tarmac. Suspicious activity was reported on the flight, which originated in Denver. Three passengers were handcuffed and taken off the plane, but they were later released and no charges were filed.

Police are still looking for a white Econoline van with Oklahoma plates was stolen from a self-storage facility in Jersey City. Phone lines and alarms were cut at the site of the Econoline van theft.

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9/11 Hysteria: Mall Of America Security Guards Gone Wild – FBI Assists In Returning Lost Cell Phones To Owners – War On Cameras

September 12, 2011

US – On May 1, 2008, at 4:59 p.m., Brad Kleinerman entered the spooky world of homeland security.

As he shopped for a children’s watch inside the sprawling Mall of America, two security guards approached and began questioning him. Although he was not accused of wrongdoing, the guards wrote a confidential report about Kleinerman that was sent to police.

The reason: Guards thought the Avon, Conn., man might pose a threat because he looked at them in a suspicious way.

The episode is one of many cases in which seemingly innocent people have been ensnared by the mall’s counterterrorism initiative, an investigation by the Center for Investigative Reporting and National Public Radio has found.

In many cases, information about people stopped at the mall has found its way into the hands of law enforcement without their knowledge. The information in reports obtained by reporters includes birth dates, employer names, Social Security numbers, and names of family members and friends. Some reports contain shoppers’ travel plans and surveillance images.

Nearly two-thirds of the people mentioned in more than 100 reports were minorities.

Mall of America officials say its security unit conducts up to 1,200 “security interviews” each year for a variety of reasons. Officials say the program focuses only on behavior.

“The government is not going to protect us free of charge, so we have to do that ourselves,” said Maureen Bausch, the mall’s executive vice president of business development. “We’re lucky enough to be in the city of Bloomington where they actually have a police substation here [in the mall]. … They’re great. But we are responsible for this building.”

Najam Qureshi, who once owned a mall kiosk that sold items from his native Pakistan, recalls when his father left a cellphone on a table in the food court. An FBI agent came to their home, asking if they knew anyone who might want to hurt the United States.

An Iranian man, now 62, began passing out during questioning. An Army veteran sobbed in his car after being questioned for nearly two hours. Much of the questioning has been done in public while shoppers mill around.

The Center for Investigative Reporting and NPR obtained 125 suspicious activity reports totaling more than 1,000 pages referring to the mall and dating back to 2005. Bloomington police and a state intelligence center released the reports under the state public records law. It’s unclear how many other reports may have been shared with law enforcement.

The documents give a glimpse inside one of the legacies of the terrorist attacks 10 years ago. In 2008, the mall’s security director, Douglas Reynolds, told Congress that the mall was the “number-one source of actionable intelligence” provided to the state’s fusion center, an intelligence hub created after 9/11 to pull together reports from an array of law enforcement sources.

Heightened awareness

The push to encourage Americans to report suspicious activity began in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, when government officials and citizens found out that hints about the attackers had been missed by intelligence analysts.

The Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security launched programs urging citizens and the private sector to report suspicious activity. Among those formally enlisted were parking attendants, Jewish groups, stadium operators, landlords, security guards, fans of professional golf and auto racing and retailers such as the Mall of America. Visitors “may be subject to a security interview,” the mall’s website says.

Commander Jim Ryan of the Bloomington police said shoppers are not under arrest when stopped for questioning by private guards. He said even he would walk away if the questioning seemed excessive.

“I don’t think that I would subject myself to that, personally,” he said. Ryan, however, defends security procedures at the mall.

In nearly two-thirds of the cases reviewed, subjects are described as African-American, people of Asian and Arabic descent, and other minorities,.

Mall spokesman Dan Jasper said the private security guards do not conduct interviews based on racial or ethnic characteristics because “we may miss someone who truly does have harmful intent.” He said subjects are chosen “solely on suspicious behavior” and research indicates that “profiling based on ethnic or racial characteristics is ineffective and a waste of valuable time and resources.”

Ryan said the reports are crucial to the nation’s safety and could be held by his agency for two decades or longer. He acknowledged that the mall’s methods, and its reports to law enforcement, may “infringe on some freedoms, unfortunately.”

“We’re charged with trying to keep people safe. We’re trying to do it the best way we can,” he said. “You may be questioned at the Mall of America about suspicious activity. It’s something that may happen. It’s part of today’s society.”

Anyone can be questioned

Dale Watson, a former top counterterrorism official with the FBI, said the mall’s reports suggest that anyone could be targeted for intrusive questioning and surveillance.

“If that had been one of my brothers that was stopped in a mall, I’d be furious about it — if I thought the police department had a file on him, an information file about his activities in the mall without any reasonable suspicion to investigate,” said Watson, who helped investigate the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in East Africa.

Shoppers, who for the most part had no idea that a visit to the mall led to their personal information being shared with law enforcement, reacted with anger and dismay when shown their reports.

“For all the 30 years that I have lived in the United States, I’ve never been a suspect,” said Emil Khalil. The California man was confronted at the mall in June 2009 for taking pictures, and he said an FBI agent later questioned him at the airport. “And I’ve never done anything wrong.”

In 2005, the Mall of America hired Mike Rozin to lead a new special security unit. Its officers look for unexplained nervousness, people photographing such things as air-conditioning ducts or signs that a shopper might have something to hide, according to records.

Last January, guards spotted a suspicious man who tried to run, but was arrested. The man had a loaded handgun, Rozin said. “Potentially that day, my … officer prevented a disaster, a case of indiscriminate shooting,” he said.

Rozin acknowledged that the vast majority of people who come into contact with his unit “have done nothing wrong, have no malicious intent.” He said interviews average five minutes.

Shaken by encounter

Francis Van Asten’s experience with mall security lasted much longer. On Nov. 9, 2008, the Bloomington resident videotaped a short road trip from his home to the mall. Van Asten, now 66, planned to send it to his fiancée’s family in Vietnam so they could see life in the United States.

As he headed down an escalator, camera in hand, mall guards saw him. “Right away, I noticed he had a video camera and was recording the rotunda area,” a security guard wrote in a suspicious activity report.

Van Asten, a former U.S. Army missile system repairman, was questioned for about two hours, records show. He was asked about traveling to Vietnam and how he came to know people there. Van Asten was even asked through which mall door he entered.

Suspecting he was conducting surveillance, guards asked what was on the camera. “The footage of all the vehicles and structures of the east ramp really worried me,” the security guard wrote.

Authorities were concerned about footage of a plane landing at nearby Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

Van Asten said it was not clear to him at the time why he was stopped. He was told nothing prohibited him from taking photographs or footage of the mall. But the guards alerted Bloomington police, who notified the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force. Van Asten was given a pat-down search, and the FBI demanded that his camera’s memory card be confiscated “for further analysis.”

Exhausted and rattled, Van Asten had trouble finding his car after the ordeal. “I sat down in my car and I cried, and I was shaking like a leaf,” Van Asten said.

Man files discrimination suit

Bobbie Allen, now 47, headed to the Mall of America on June 25, 2007, for lunch with a woman. As he waited for her, Allen sat alone writing in a notebook, which caught the attention of guards, who wrote in Allen’s suspicious activity report: “Before the male would write in his notebook, it appeared as though he would look at his watch. Periodically, the male would briefly look up from his notebook, look around, and then continue writing.”

Guards asked for his name and for whom he was waiting. Allen, a musician who lives in downtown Minneapolis, became frustrated, saying the questioning was intrusive. Allen, who is black, felt singled out for his race, according to the report. The guard responded that he was “randomly selected” for an interview.

The guards called Bloomington police after deciding that Allen was uncooperative and his note-taking “suspicious.” He was cleared, but a suspicious activity report was compiled, complete with surveillance photo, age, height, address and more. Much of that information ended up in a Bloomington police report.

Allen complained to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and sued. Department investigators found probable cause to support Allen’s claim of racial discrimination. Allen declined an interview, citing a settlement with the mall.

Not everyone reacted negatively to being written up. After information naming him was sent to the FBI, Sameer Khalil of Orange County, Calif., said he believed police and private security have important jobs to do.

“I think [the mall’s program] makes America safer,” he said.

Lost cellphone brings FBI

Businessman Najam Qureshi once had a small kiosk at the mall so his aging father, a former aeronautical engineer named Saleem, could keep busy. One day in early 2007, Saleem Qureshi left his cellphone in a mall food court. When he returned for it, security personnel had established a “perimeter” around the phone and a nearby stroller and two coolers that did not belong to him.

The “suspicious” objects eventually were cleared by security, documents show. But mall guards pursued Saleem Qureshi with questions. “At one point, he moved to his kiosk and proceeded to take items off of two shelves just to switch them around,” security guard Ashly Foster wrote in a report. “… He seemed to get agitated at points when I would ask more detailed questions.”

On a trip to the Twin Cities in May 2008, Kleinerman, a human resources director for the Cigna health services firm, stopped at the mall to return shoes and buy a SpongeBob SquarePants watch for one of his kids.

Two security officers reported that Kleinerman was “closely observing” them deal with an unrelated call. They considered his behavior “very odd,” and followed him to “watch for behavioral indicators,” Officer Sean McArdle wrote in a suspicious activity report.

Later, they attempted an interview, but Kleinerman refused, the report said. Kleinerman was told he had two options: Answer questions, or police would be called. Kleinerman said in an interview he repeatedly asked why he was stopped, but got no answer until a supervisor arrived and said shoppers sometimes “exhibit cues” the mall looks for.

“I explained to them why I was there,” Kleinerman said. “That really should have ended it, even if there was something odd about what I was doing. Yet for 45 minutes, they kept trying to get my name and information and seemed to get more upset with me the more I wouldn’t comply.”

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9/11 Hysteria: Boston And Massachussets State Police Target Penske Trucks After Men Seen Using One To Transport Cargo

September 12, 2011

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – Boston and State Police are on alert this morning, as commemorations of the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 are underway around the state, after receiving a report of three men loading large buckets of unknown material into the back of a Penske truck Saturday night in Roxbury.

State Police spokesman David Procopio said authorities received a call at about 10:15 p.m. from someone who witnessed the men loading what appeared to be 55-gallon plastic containers into the truck along the 600 block of Columbus Avenue.

“If we do see Penske trucks, I think at this point we probably will be stopping them just as a precaution,” Procopio said.

He said troopers will stop all yellow, 18-foot Penske trucks and speak with the occupants to determine what they are doing with the vehicles.

A Penske spokesman said in an email that no company trucks have been reported stolen or missing today in the Boston area.

“Penske advises all its rental truck customers to use great care when parking and driving this weekend due to the increased public sensitivities and security issues around the 9/11 anniversary,” said spokesman Randolph P. Ryerson.

Police radio broadcasts indicated that at least one Penske truck making a delivery to a downtown building was stopped this morning without incident, though Procopio could not confirm that report.

Boston Police Officer Eddy Chrispin, a department spokesman, said he also had no information on specific stops, but confirmed that Boston officers have been directed to take the same measures as State Police.

The New York Times has reported that investigators are looking for a Budget rental van with Oklahoma plates that was stolen in Jersey City, N.J., on Aug. 21 by thieves who disabled the vehicle’s phone and alarm systems and tampered with security cameras.

Authorities were also seeking two dark-colored vans recently stolen from a company with a contract to do road work near Ground Zero, the Times reported.

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