Monthly Archives: July 2012

News Roundup 7/30/12

We start this week in Anaheim, CA, home to Disneyland and 330,000 people, a populations that has shifted over the last decade from being predominately white to being 50% Latino. Not coincidentally, five people have been shot to death by police over the past year, sparking protests. Through the week, Anaheim Police and Protesters Continue to Clash as Fires Burn.  A newscast of police unleashing an attack dog at one of the protests went viral.  The OCWeekly Blog took A Closer Look at Less-than-Lethal Weapons Fired at Anaheim Residents on Saturday Afternoon and the militarization of local police.

Plenty of paramilitary gear here as well, as the JTTF and FBI Raids Three Homes in North and Northeast Portland looking for anarchists.  After 9/11, every FBI office around the nation except one partnered with local police forces to set up Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs). The “except one” was Portland, which held out until a vote by the City Council last year put Portland Back In Joint Terrorism Task Force With Some Reservations.

The New York Times announced it will be Assessing the Trade-Offs Between Security and Civil Liberties during the weeks upcoming in The Caucus, the paper’s Politics and Government Blog.  Specifically, it will be inviting guest bloggers to weigh in on how three factors – “the desire to stay safe from terrorism, the drive for marketing data and the explosion of computer and communications technology…threaten to alter permanently the balance between security and liberty.”

Justice delayed is justice denied, but it can still be oh so satisfying. In Arizona Sheriff Arpaio Grilled On Racial Profiling…for 6 hours on the stand by plaintiffs’ attorney Stanley Young.   And in New Orleans, the notoriously violent and troubled New Orleans Police Agree to Plan for Sweeping Overhaul, finally, submitting to an extensive consent decree.  The Times-Picayune opined that the New Orleans’ Consent Decree is a Welcome Blueprint for Police Reform. The Consent Decree itself, 122 pages and 492 provisions, essentially replaces the department’s policy & procedures.

In droneworld, today’s New York Times has this excellent story about drone operators, performing  A Day Job Waiting for a Kill Shot a World Away.  Ahead of this week’s Washington – Islamabad intel summit, Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S. Sherry Rehman Urges US to End Drone Attacks, as does a group of British parlimentarians and German and Dutch politicos in a Cry Against Drones. Meanwhile, others in Europe Wants Drones to Spot Illegal Immigrants at Sea.

Steven Aftergood reports on two 2011 (but only recently released) reports to Congress, one that reveals the Security-Cleared Population Tops 4.8 Million, and another where the Justice Department Defends Use of State Secrets Privilege.

For those watching the Watch List and No Fly List, DHS’s Office of Inspector General has a new (redacted) report out on the Implementation and Coordination of TSA’s Secure Flight Program.  The report includes as Fig. 1 TSA’s “Multilayered Security Approach,” a graphic that manages to be both fascinating and nonsensical in an Alice in Wonderland way. OIG made four recommendations, with TSA concurring on two (regarding overrides of “inhibited boarding passes” and reporting aircraft operator compliance) and rejecting two (regarding prioritization of passenger data and coordination between the federal government and private industry).

And finally, top prize for underwhelming headline of the week: U.S. Admits Surveillance Violated Constitution At Least Once.


Private police + G4S = Hot Mess of Olympian Proportions

Opening Ceremonies for the London Olympics are still a day away, but if there were a medal ceremony for fleecing, G4S would be occupying all three spots on the podium.

Few took notice when G4S, the world’s largest private security company, won the contract to provide security for the London Olympics. The original contract had G4S training and deploying 2,000 guards for £86 million.  A few months later, the contract ballooned to 13,700 guards for £284 million. Hefty, yes, but seemingly not too heavy a lift in light of the firm’s astonishing raw numbers: 657,000 employees in 125 countries doing £7.5 billion in business a year.

Swimmers swam, weightlifters lifted, runners ran, and G4S got to work recruiting and training security personnel.  Then, three weeks ago before the start of the Olympics, G4S top boss Nick Buckles announced his firm would not be able to deliver.

Chief Buckles conceded under intense examination in the House of Commons last week that his company’s performance has been a “humiliating shambles,” but  steadfastly refused to give back G4S’s £57 million (that’s $90 million) management fee.  On the street, meanwhile, every type of police, Scotland Yard, and the military are being trucked in to mind the gap.

Suddenly under scrutiny now is not only G4S’s Olympics gig, but its private prisons, immigration detention centers, probation supervision services, and its recent, aggressive grab for contracts to take over policing.  Lincolnshire’s decision to pay G4S to build and run its police station, and then transferring 575 police officers to the company, suddenly seemed perhaps more knuckleheaded than forward thinking.

Private prisons have become part of the landscape (literally), and we are starting to take notice of the prevalence of private probation, but private police? Not just unarmed security guards in ill-fitting uniforms, but actual police, with arrest powers.  According to the Guardian, G4S’s top brass “boasts that private companies will be running large parts of the UK’s police service within five years.” 

How did we get here?

The story starts out well enough.  In 1842, a barrel-maker from Glasgow named Allan Pinkerton Continue reading

News Roundup

Drug War a “Failure,” Says N.J. GOP Gov. Chris Christie to his conservative brethren at the Brookings Institute this past week. Not to be outdone, writing straight into Reddit, fire rescue hero and Newark, N.J. Mayor Cory Booker Slams Drug War. Meme or New Jersey?

Lots of criticism of Secure Communities, and Across the Country, Opposition to Secure Communities Continues to Grow.  As with the drug war, this week seemed a moment for conservatives to come to their senses.  Former Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau reporting for the conservative Daily Beast that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel Is Latest to Reject ‘Secure Communities’ Immigration Law. Time Magazine takes note of Obama’s Next Immigration Battle: Local, Federal Authorities on Collision Course over DetentionAnd who will win that battle? Well, now that Obama Policy on Immigrants Is Challenged by Chicago, specifically the president’s former chief of staff turned mayor Rahm Emnuel, the National Journal opines that In Amnesty or Crackdown, Obama Can’t Win on Immigration.

The New American reports that U.S. Drone Manufacturers Contribute Millions to Congressional Campaigns, and notes that 21 of the 60 members of the Drone Caucus are from border states. Wait. What? Unmanned Systems Caucus. Yes indeed. More on The Drone Makers And Their Friends In Washington by Fronteras.  While the caucus caucuses, the good people at EFF encourage you to check for yourself where drones have been buzzing around where you live, after FAA Releases Thousands of Pages of Drone Records.

A FOIA filed by Truthout two years ago finally produced the DoD’s report Investigation of Allegations of the Use of Mind-Altering Drugs to Facilitate Interrogations of Detainees.  All those reports by detainees in Gitmo and U.S. prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan that they’d been forcibly fed or injected with mind altering drugs? True.

Did the Texas Department of Public Safety’s fast and loose use of private subcontractors exacerbate the mishandling of $1 billion in Homeland Security grants between 2006 and 2011? Maybe. The Travis County district attorney’s office is looking into it. And while we’re on the subject of scalawaggery on the part of high ranking government officials, the Former Acting Intelligence Director at ICE Sentenced to 20 Months for Defrauding Government. Concerning a former spokesperson for the Border Patrol accused of running a trafficking ring, Trial exposes corruption within U.S. Border Patrol.

Gang Pop Quiz

Pop quiz:  A group of men, all wearing clothing with insignia identifying their loyalty to one another, adhering to a strict hierarchy, observed to associate on a regular basis with one another, and engaged in criminal activity.

Gang or the Penn State football program?

Yes, both.   Difference is, despite Jerry Sandusky’s use of the football program to sexually assault ten boys and then top program officials’ active cover-up, the other members of the Penn State football program have not be deemed members of a criminal street gang based on their association with Sandusky. You will not find the Penn State football program alongside the Asian Boyz, Barrios Aztecas, Paisa, and Raza Unida in Appendix A of the 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment’s listing of Pennsylvania gangs. The names of every person associated with the Penn State football program have not been entered into a secret gang database.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) has long complained that gang databases are over-inclusive, inaccurate, and nearly impossible to challenge. In a 2011 report Gang Databases: Labeled for Life, a defense attorney gave this perspective:

judges never require the prosecutor or the police to support these allegations (of gang membership).  The judges seem to accept the allegations as accurate.  However, I have looked into the bases of many such allegations and I often find the defendants are considered to have gang affiliations for such innocuous activities as being stopped on a corner in the presence of another person that has alleged gang affiliations even though neither was alleged to be engaged in any unlawful conduct, having a brother with alleged gang affiliations, wearing a color associated with a particular gang, or living in an area with alleged gang activity.

I was in court today when just such an allegation came up in the course of an everyday plea colloquy.  The 18 year old black man in shackles on the stand did as he was told by his attorney and answered ‘yes’ to the long list of questions from the judge (“Do you understand you are giving up your right to a trial? Are you freely and voluntarily pleading guilty? Are you in fact guilty of robbery?”…) but then balked when asked “Are you in fact guilty of criminal street gang activity?”

The young man insisted – much to the irritation of the Court – that he was not a member of a criminal street gang.  He admitted to being a part of “a group of guys who grew up together and love each other” who call themselves a certain name and hang out together.  He very much wanted to contradict the officer in the Atlanta police department’s gang unit who had testified to the Court earlier about the new threat of “hybrid gangs”: a type of gang without the hierarchies, rituals, loyalty, membership requirements, protection of turf, or any other elements of a traditional gang…but that was, according to the police gang expert, a gang nevertheless.

Given that this young man and two of his friends did indeed beat up and grab the cellphone of someone in their neighborhood, while yelling anti-gay slurs, why does it matter whether they are considered members of a gang?

It certainly mattered today to this young man – gang membership will translate to significantly more time in prison.

More generally, though, gang databases are criticized for using vague (and constitutionally suspect) criteria and having no interest in purging past gang members or otherwise checking for accuracy. The databases have been used to create vague (and constitutionally suspect) gang injunctions, which use the civil legal process to essentially banish people in the databases from their home neighborhoods.

Some additional questions:

  • The NGIC warns that there has been an “expansion of ethnic-based and non-traditional gangs,” naming “Asian gangs,” “Somali gangs,” “Sudanese gangs,” “Dominican gangs,” “Haitian gangs,” “Jamaican gangs,” and “Mexican gangs” in their latest report.   Are gang databases becoming a backdoor for racial profiling?
  • The federal agency counts 1.4 million active gang members, a 40% increase from  the 1 million gang members in 2009.  Were these 400,000 new gang members the result of expanding gang membership, or an expanding definition of gangs?
  • Operation Community Shield, an initiative by ICE, sees deportation as a tool for “to combat the growth and proliferation of transnational criminal street gangs…” Is there no statistic available about who is actually deported through Operation Community Shield because those statistics don’t match the rhetoric?
  • There are ongoing challenges to the NYPD gang databases that have been built out of its illegal stop & frisk policies.  Community organizers in Oakland and Los Angeles  are challenging gang injunctions.  Pro-immigrant advocates are starting to question Operation Community Shield.  Are there other ways to challenge the growing use of “gang” to mean “youth of color”?

News Roundup

Meanwhile, made in response to the Supreme Court’s Arizona decision, Congressman Luis Gutierrez’s ‘Pick the Immigrant’ speech-turned-online-game scores big with the Hollywood tabloids – a confused and confusing spot, but look, a spot on TMZ.  Seth Wessler on breaks down how the Feds Reveal Their Janus Face on Arizona’s Racial Profiling, and Rights Working Group lets Janet Napolitano know how to un-Janus herself: end not only 287(g) but also Secure Communities in not only Arizona, but any state with Arizona copycat legislation. Sign on to the letter here.  Filed back in 2009, a federal court racial Profiling Lawsuit Against Arpaio Set for July 19.

Rutgers School of Law–Newark Immigrant Rights Clinic and the American Friends Service Committee released Free But Not Freed, a report critical of ICE’s non-detention supervision mechanisms.  The ICE problems are similar to problems popping up around California’s massive prison realignment, where tens of thousands of people being moved from overcrowded prisons into supervised release are being subjected to compliance checks and GPS monitoring.

The New York Times reports that Wireless Firms Are Flooded by Requests to Aid Surveillance, to the tune of “1.3 million demands for subscriber data from law enforcement.”  Twitter challenged one of those 1.3 million requests, made by the New York County District Attorney looking for location data of Occupy Wall Streeters. Alas, in People of New York vs. Malcolm Harris, Twitter lost and was ordered by the federal court to turn over the requested data.

Danger Room describe how Feds Look to Fight Leaks With ‘Fog of Disinformation’.

In drone-world the industry’s trade association published its Code of Conduct, giving guidelines for drone operators and putting the drone in drones.
An excellent round-up of Snitching Here, There and Yon by the excellent Grit for Breakfast, which in turn tips its hat to the Snitching Blog, kept up by aw prof and former Baltimore public defender Alexandra Natapoff.The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts released its Wiretap Report 2011 last week. Reporting on wiretapping data is required under law, but mind the Law Enforcement Surveillance Gap, as described by researcher Chris Soghoian.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s wiretapping lawsuit against the National Security Agency got a boost with three former NSA agents weighing in on the existence of intercept centers that fall squarely, albeit secretly, inside that surveillance gap.

Finally, two items that seemed a wee bit defensive that popped up on the ICE webpage ticker this week: a story about Shadow Wolves, a partnership between ICE and Tohono O’dham trackers formed in 1974, and a defense of SCOMM, just in time for Makowski vs. Holder, the first lawsuit by a US citizens (presumably) unlawfully detained under an SCOMM triggered detainer.

Quota Quandry

The New York Times Magazine’s cover story this past week A Snitch’s Dilemma considers the world through the eyes of Alex White, a small time drug dealer and paid informant who first worked for, and then turned on, the Atlanta Police.  In 2006, Kathryn Johnston heard a group of men prying open the metal security gate at her front door. The 92-year old grandmother got her pistol and fired a shot as the men burst in. The men storming her house – members of the Atlanta Police narcotics unit serving a no-knock warrant they had put together earlier in the day in order to meet their monthly quota – returned fire with a hail of bullets.

Mrs. Johnston bled to death on her living room floor while one officer handcuffed her, another retrieved a package of drugs from the back of his police car to plant on her, and a third called Mr. White.  They needed Mr. White, a trusted, long-time informant, to justify the bogus warrant by saying he had made a buy at the house.

Mr. White’s life as a paid informant for the police before Mrs. Johnston’s killing, and what happened after he turned in those same police, is described in telling detail by Ted Conover, a journalist who spent a year crossing and re-crossing the U.S. –Mexico border to write Coyotes, then worked for a year as a prison guard at Sing-Sing to write Newjack.

Conover is a great storyteller, and I hope his next immersion journalism gig is as a local police officer, a profession that has become increasingly driven by numbers.  Whether they’re called quotas, performance standards, productivity measure, targets, or weekly/monthly goals, policing by the numbers is a problem needing the kind of deep undercover coverage that is Conover’s specialty.

Three years after Mrs. Johnston’s killing, I talked with Atlanta’s Police Chief Richard Pennington about the APD’s quota system. During the trial of the police officers responsibly for killing Mrs. Johnston, the push to meet a quota had been a prominent feature of the officers’ legal defense.  Quotas had also played some part in a string of police missteps, including a recent raid on a gay bar that produced zero drugs and a multi-million dollar lawsuit.

Chief Pennington is a large, powerfully built man who moves with the air of someone used to getting his way.  He had very aggressively gone after corruption in New Orleans’ police department in the 1990’s.  In Atlanta, he had managed to convince the cash-strapped city to build an enormous, new police headquarters.

Yet, when I asked why he still used quotas – he preferred to call them “productivity measures” – he spread his arms out, hands up, and shrugged in a pantomime of utter helplessness.

“How else do I know they’re working?”

The Chief had a point. The man who keeps my truck running likes to tell stories about his days as an Atlanta motorcycle cop.  During football season, especially when temperatures dropped below freezing, there was a downtown hotel that was always welcoming. The officers rode their motorcycles down to the parking garage’s bottom floor, took the elevator up to their free room, and spent their shift watching the game.

Requiring officers to show “productivity” through a certain number of tickets written or warrants served was Chief Pennington’s way of cutting down on the screwing around.

But quotas are to blame for more than the spectacular, occasional tragedies like Kathryn Johnston’s killing.  They are also at the root of the mundane, daily indignities created by NYPD’s stop and frisk policies.  Here is retired NYPD Captain John Eterno, in a recent op-ed for the New York Times:

“An officer assigned to an “impact zone” — a high-crime area — told me that ‘the Constitution has been thrown out the window when it comes to stops.’ He is given strict daily quotas and asked at the end of his tour about his numbers. An officer who fails to meet the required number for the day is berated (sometimes in front of peers), not allowed time off and given unpalatable work assignments. Nothing is asked about maintaining order, interacting with the community or other kinds of police work.

The result of this “performance culture”: needless summonses for minor violations (putting one’s feet on subway seats, playing chess in a park, failing to wear seat belts) and other quota-driven activity. This does not make for efficient policing.”

In New York City as in Atlanta, an emphasis on quotas for police assigned to communities of color has made racial profiling that much worse.

And just as Chief Pennington acknowledged the use of performance measures but not of quotas, U.S. Immigration and Enforcement officials have found themselves twisted up around deportation quotas. In early 2010, director of ICE’s Office of Detention and Removal Operations James Chaparro sent around a memo titled “Removal Goals” that complained of low numbers, “well under the Agency’s goal of 400,000.”  Higher ups at ICE did a lot of fast dancing to insist that there was no quota in place.

Yet, it’s hard to read the targets inside the agency’s 2012 budget request as something other than a set of deportation quotas.  Or, if ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton prefers, a productivity measure.

Some questions –

  • Now that immigration enforcement has come to rely on the criminal justice system as its primary intake valve, what are the implications of relying on quota driven policing? How do quotas for frontline police officers affect the deportation quotas?
  • What’s the relationship between quotas and the use of informants?
  • What would change if quotas were eliminated?  What, if anything, would replace them?

News Roundup

In the world of keeping secrets secret, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Seeks to Tighten Protection of Intelligence with a new directive that “all personnel with access to national intelligence… shall be continually evaluated and monitored.”  All one million of them?  Not surprisingly, Financial Costs of Classification Soar, to roundabouts $12.5 billion, give or take, to secure classified info.  If the price tag on secrecy offends you, Homeland Security is looking for applicants to its DHS Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee.  You have until July 23 to apply.

Drone-wise, there was a protest in Syracuse, NY, with 15 People Arrested in Drone Protest at NY Air National Guard Base.  Steven Aftergood notes there are Second Thoughts in Congress About Domestic Drones; a local affiliate in San Diego raises Concerns Raised Over Drones In US Airspace; and the former commander of the Afghanistan war, dubbed by Rolling Stone ‘The Runaway General’ for being directly critical of Commander in Chief Obama, is Stan McChrystal, Drone Skeptic.   While Darpa’s Drone Contest Ends Unconquered, a $1000 challenge by DHS resulted in researchers at UT Austin successfully overriding a drone’s flight instructions, showing Drones Vulnerable to Terrorist Hijacking.

Here are the Comments of EPIC urging the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to dump their Automated Targeting System, which creates risk-assessment profiles on individuals based on race, ethnicity, gender, and other factors.

On the domestic surveillance front, specifically the controversial 2008 FISA Amendments, the House Panel Votes to Renew Surveillance Law Without New Safeguards.  The Cato Institute takes former DOJ attorney Ken Wainstein to task for Misleading Congress on Surveillance History (and Why It Matters).

Doing their part in facial recognition, the leading commercial developer of that technology thinks it’s Awesome News – Facebook Acquires  How to apply this technology?  How about here, in the National Institute of Justice’s Research Report Digest, Issue 5 (yawn), which includes an entry about the Automated Detection and Prevention of Disorderly and Criminal Activity.  Given enough “identity records of people based on their facial images in various environments” – in this instance a prison environment – the paper claims a 70% chance of “detecting disorderly or aggressive events” and “a 20-percent chance of predicting the event before it occurs.”

Two tragedies that illuminated fundamental, operational flaws in criminal justice bureaucracies were the drug sting scandal in Tulia, TX, and the 2006 killing of 92-year old Kathryn Johnston in Atlanta, GA.  Notorious for their role in the Tulia scandal, the Last Multi-County Narcotics Task Force in Texas Closing its Doors.  Meanwhile, Author Ted Conover uses the Kathryn Johnston cover-up to explain policing as done through paid informants in A Snitch’s Dilemma, the New York Times Magazine’s cover story this week.

Two stories about the drug war in Mexico. Robert Beckhusen on why Mexico’s Next President Won’t Slow The Drug War, posted on Danger Room, and William Finnegan’s The Kingpins: The Fight for Guadalajara, in this week’s New Yorker.

The good people at Public Intelligence got a hold of this U.S. Army Presentation: Muslim Morality and Jihadi Ethics, which includes this one-liner: “When interacting with non-Muslims, Muslims are obligated to lie when they feel doing so will further the ends of Islam.”

Jennifer Lynch of EFF answers for all the good readers of Alternet the question, Why Is the Government Collecting Your Biometric Data?  Her colleague Trevor Timm asks, rhetorically, Why won’t the Obama administration reveal how many Americans’ emails the NSA has collected and reviewed without a warrant?

The Wall Street Journal confirms that yes, Your E-Book is Reading You.  The WSJ also scooped all other outlets in reporting on The FBI’s Secret Surveillance Letters to Tech Companies.  These national security letters bypass judges and instruct companies to turn over financial and internet data, while also telling companies they cannot talk about the existence of the national security letter.  That latter bit of Alice in Wonderland-ery has, according to the WSJ post, been changed, and the gag orders are no longer automatic. The FBI has not, however, told that to companies, which continue to refuse to talk about the letters because they have no reason to believe they’re no longer under gag order.

Following Obama’s non-executive order regarding DREAMer youth, the attorneys at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center put together this Practice Advisory for Criminal Defenders, highlighting the fact that young people with certain (as of yet not clearly delineated) criminal convictions are not eligible for deferred action and work authorization.

From the horses’ mouths, here is Chief of Staff of Office of the Program Manager, Information Sharing Environment (PM-ISE) Nick Harris’s take on The History of Information Sharing for National Security and Seven Years of the ISE.   If you have an hour and a half to burn, here is Panel One of Intelligence and Information Sharing to Protect the Homeland at a conference co-hosted by the CSIS Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Program and the Intelligence and National Security Alliance.  What, you have another hour and half? Here is Panel Two.  If pressed for time, here is the transcript. Skip ahead to page 7 for question from Mike Downing, who runs the LAPD’s counterterrorism department.

This report on Counterterrorism Intelligence: Fusion Center Perspectives asks how fusion centers bureaucrats “view the terror threat, the efficacy of their centers, and the role fusion centers play in the intelligence enterprise.” Of note: 63% list law enforcement as their center’s most important function, compared to 28% that identify counterterrorism as their center’s most important function.

A good article in the New York Times about how Probation Fees Multiply for Poor as Companies Profit.  Private probation companies in Alabama and Georgia are not an anomaly – to the contrary, their business model perfected in criminal justice has and will migrate to immigration enforcement and low level surveillance in the name of national security.

New Format

Quick heads up – we’re trying out a new format for the Catfish, posting twice a week starting tomorrow.  On Monday, we’ll put up a roundup of the past week’s best articles, posts, and reports. These are the gleanings from a week’s worth of trolling news outlets great and small, posts from our favorite blogs, government websites, and legal filings. Then on Thursday, a bit of analysis on whatever got most stuck in the Catfish’s craw and needs some working out. All feedback greatly appreciated.