On Sunday, August 18, The Guardian reported that David Miranda, the long-term partner of its journalist Glenn Greenwald who lives with him in Brazil, was detained for almost nine hours during a stopover at London’s Heathrow airport on his way home to Rio de Janeiro.
[He] was returning from a trip to Berlin when he was stopped by officers at 8.05am and informed that he was to be questioned under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. The controversial law, which applies only at airports, ports and border areas, allows officers to stop, search, question and detain individuals.
The 28-year-old was held for nine hours, the maximum the law allows before officers must release or formally arrest the individual. According to official figures, most examinations under schedule 7 – over 97% – last less than an hour, and only one in 2,000 people detained are kept for more than six hours.
Miranda was released, but officials confiscated electronics equipment including his mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and games consoles.
Greenwald, of course, has recently written a series of stories revealing the NSA‘s massive surveillance, based on information passed to him by whistleblower Edward Snowden. As British Labour MP Tom Watson said in response to the news, “It’s almost impossible, even without full knowledge of the case, to conclude that Glenn Greenwald’s partner was a terrorist suspect.”
Of course he’s a terrorist! Everyone’s a terrorist. Aside from America’s Owners, certain heads of state and a handful of top officials, it’s hard to imagine anyone who does not potentially fall within the scope of anti-terror laws as they now operate in practice. Once a citizenry is made sufficiently fearful to give up fundamental rights and freedoms in the name of fighting terror—or communism, or drugs, or the next Sooper Skareey bogeyman—governments are always eager to expand their new powers beyond their original targets. it’s what they always do. Why wouldn’t they? Authoritarian sickos really seem to enjoy it for some reason, and doing so is extremely lucrative. Win-win!
And what possible coherent justification can there be anyway, for laws and powers supposedly targeting only suspected terrorists not to be used against ordinary citizens suspected of minor crimes? That is the very reason to object to unconstitutional surveillance in the first place: because we already know how this movie ends from, you know, all of history—including the recent history of the United States. That is what governments invariably do whenever they can get away with it: entrench their own power and suppress dissent.
And so David Miranda, who—let’s be clear here—was, at worst, suspected of participating in acts of investigative journalism, detained under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act. This nifty law gives the police at UK ports of entry power to stop, search and detain anyone, without reasonable suspicion, for up to nine hours, and to confiscate their property. It provides no automatic right to legal counsel, and it is a criminal offense to refuse to cooperate with questioning.
This tactic is nothing new. Laura Poitras, David House, Lisa M. Wayne, Pascal Abidor, and Jacob Applebaum have all been detained without warrants at U.S. borders, questioned, and had their possessions searched or confiscated. (Poitras alone has been stopped more than forty times.) None of them have been accused of a crime, much less anything terrorism-related.
For a two month period, the Justice Department captured the records of more than 20 phone lines of reporters and editors at The Associated Press, including their personal phones. There must be suspected terrorists working at the AP. Obviously.
Earlier in August, Reuters revealed that a division of the Drug Enforcement Administration has access to NSA’s data that it uses to tip off local police to launch criminal investigations of ordinary Americans suspected of drug activity. The cops can never reveal the source of the tips, because these vast surveillance programs are only ever going to be used to Keep Us Safe™ from The Terrorists, remember? So they engineer a ruse, for example a supposedly routine traffic stop, to make the investigation seem otherwise legitimate. These cases almost never have anything to do with terrorism or national security whatsoever. But at least we are all Safe™ from weed dealers.
Non-violent Occupy protesters are also terrorists, according to the NYPD, which has also used counterterrorism tactics to infiltrate and monitor liberal political groups including anti-war organizations, environmental activists, groups opposed to U.S. immigration policy, labor laws and racial profiling, supporters of Palestinians and the Israeli divestment campaign, and anti-NAFTA activists. Other law enforcement agencies around the country have spied on anti-death penalty groups, Ron Paul supporters and pro-Muslim lobbyists. The NYPD also monitored unspecified “church groups.” (Terrorists for Jeezus?)
In recent months The Atlantic’s James Fallows has reported on a rash of elaborate, warrantless detentions of small aircraft pilots. Fallows, a Cirrus SP-22 pilot himself, notes about private aviation that “demographically it skews toward older white males who are politically conservative, have money, and often have military experience.” After perfectly ordinary flights to and from points within the continental United States, pilots have been suddenly surrounded by caravans of police vehicles, detained for hours (without warrants, naturally) and repeatedly interrogated by multiple law enforcement agencies: FBI, DEA, DHS, Border Patrol, local police and the occasional county sheriff. Their planes and possessions are searched — again, without warrants — by federal agents and sometimes by dog teams. These pilots include: Clay Phillips, a retired US Navy officer and engineer for a defense contractor with security clearances; Robin Fleming, a 70-year-old glider pilot in South Carolina who was almost shot down; and a real estate investor who has been detained in this manner twice. This practically screams the question: if “older white males who are politically conservative, have money, and often have military experience” can be targeted with anti-terrorism tactics, who can’t be?
The most tragically ironic part of this is that all of this ridiculous, invasive surveillance doesn’t even work to Keep Us Safe™. Sure, NSA Director Keith Alexander says “dozens of terror plots” were thwarted by secret surveillance. I call shenanigans. If the feds had captured a single aspiring terrorist, the story would have been purposefully leaked and splashed all over the news. Yet somehow there were dozens of thwarted plots that no one has ever heard of before—and that could not possibly have been prevented using traditional, constitutional law enforcement methods? Yeah…no I don’t think so. And I doubt we can ever know for sure, given that the highest officials defending these programs are lying liars.
What we do know is that terrorist attacks have indeed been thwarted—by ordinary citizens. Despite NSA’s massive surveillance operations, Richard Reid, the would-be “Shoe Bomber” managed to get a bomb on board an American Airlines flight to Miami. When he tried to set it off, passengers smelled smoke, subdued him and bound him up. Hello? NSA? Hello?
Then, with their amazing and vast surveillance powers and a heads up from CIA, US intelligence officials actually let suspected al-Qaeda collaborator Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab board a flight to the US. They were planning to let him into the states, too: they knew he was coming, but refused to let his visa be revoked. Unfortunately, he had a bomb in his underwear on the flight. Fortunately, passengers subdued him, too. Thanks, NSA.
Then there was Faisal Shahzad, the would-be “Times Square Bomber.” A t-shirt vendor noticed smoke coming out of an awkwardly parked SUV and alerted a mounted police officer, who called for assistance. The area was safely cleared and the bomb was defused. Law enforcement investigated over the next few days and narrowed in on Shahzad as the prime suspect. They put his name on the No Fly List (which even a known al-Qaeda collaborator wasn’t put on). Still, Shahzad was nonetheless able to buy a ticket to Dubai with cash at JFK airport, and board the plane. The flight was a few minutes from takeoff before the authorities caught up with him. The plane returned to the gate and he was arrested without incident.
T-shirt vendor: 1. NSA surveillance: 0.
For a more recent and far more devastating example, consider the Boston Marathon Bombers. The U.S. government was tipped off twice about Tamerlan Tsarnaev by the Russian Federal Security Bureau. He had been on a terrorist watch list watch for eighteen months before he and his brother set off bombs that killed three people and injured 264 others at the scene. Way to go, NSA. Really.
All of which is to say that in at least these four instances, the NSA’s invasive surveillance did not, in fact, Keep Us Safe™. But at least we can all take solace in the fact that these super awesome programs are Keeping Us Safe™ from documentary filmmakers like Laura Poitras. Oh, and rich old white conservative d00ds with little airplanes, weed dealers and the AP. These terrorist menaces are the real threats to Americans, people.
So I guess I’ll see all you fellow terrorists in Gitmo! That is, if we don’t get assassinated by drone strikes first!
I’m just joking about the drone strikes. Hahaha. That could never happen here.