Spies Among Us: How Community Outreach Programs to Muslims Blur Lines between Outreach and Intelligence
Last May, after getting a ride to school with his dad, 18-year-old Abdullahi Yusuf absconded to the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport to board a flight to Turkey. There, FBI agents stopped Yusuf and later charged him with conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization—he was allegedly associated with another Minnesota man believed to have gone to fight for the Islamic State in Syria.
To keep other youth from following Yusuf’s path, U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger recently said that the federal government would be launching a new initiative to work with Islamic community groups and promote after-school programs and job training–to address the “root causes” of extremist groups’ appeal. “This is not about gathering intelligence, it’s not about expanding surveillance or any of the things that some people want to claim it is,” Luger said.
Luger’s comments spoke to the concerns of civil liberties advocates, who believe that blurring the line between engagement and intelligence gathering could end up with the monitoring of innocent individuals. If past programs in this area are any guide, those concerns are well founded.
Documents obtained by attorneys at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, and shared with the Intercept, show that previous community outreach efforts in Minnesota–launched in 2009 in response to the threat of young Americans joining the al-Qaeda-linked militia al-Shabab, in Somalia—were, in fact, conceived to gather intelligence.
A grant proposal from the St. Paul Police Department to the Justice Department, which the Brennan Center obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request to the FBI, lays out a plan in which Somali-speaking advocates would hold outreach meetings with community groups and direct people toward the Police Athletic League and programs at the YWCA. The proposal says that “the team will also identify radicalized individuals, gang members, and violent offenders who refuse to cooperate with our efforts.”
“It’s startling how explicit it was – ‘You don’t want to join the Police Athletic League? You sound like you might join al-Shabab!’” said Michael Price, an attorney with the Brennan Center.
The Islamic State may be the new face of religious extremism, but for a number of years, law enforcement in St. Paul and Minneapolis have had to contend with the appeal of al-Shabab to members of the country’s largest Somali population—more than 20 young men have reportedly left Minnesota to fight with the group since 2007.
Dennis Jensen, St. Paul’s former assistant police chief, had spent years studying relations between police and the city’s Somali community, which is largely composed of recent immigrants from a war zone who have little reason to trust the authorities. But the al-Shabab threat galvanized the Department to see their work as a frontline for counterterrorism. Jensen told the Center for Homeland Defense and Security in 2009 that extremist recruitment added “a greater sense of urgency about what we are doing,” he said. “We’re up front about what our intentions are. It’s not a secret we’re interested in radicalized individuals.” (Jensen did not respond to emailed questions from the Intercept.)
Jensen helped design a new program for St. Paul–a two-year initiative called the African Immigrant Muslim Coordinated Outreach Program, which was funded in 2009 with a $670,000 grant from the Justice Department.
The outreach push would help police identify gang members or extremists, using “criteria that will stand up to public and legal scrutiny,” according to the proposal submitted to the Justice Department. “The effort of identifying the targets will increase law enforcement’s ability to maintain up-to-date intelligence on these offenders, alert team members to persons who are deserving of additional investigative efforts and will serve as an enhanced intelligence system,” the proposal reads. The Center for Homeland Defense and Security, in the 2009 interview with Jensen, characterized it as “developing databases to track at-risk youth who may warrant follow-up contact and investigation by law enforcement.”
Asad Zaman, executive director of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, said that his organization got funding through the program to hire a police liaison. They held meetings once or twice a month for two years, usually involving 20 or so community members and a few local cops. “The officers talked about drug enforcement and gangs and recruitment and domestic violence. Everyone loved it when they brought their bomb-sniffing robot once,” he recalled.
He said he was not told about an intelligence component, though he had been asked to keep track of attendees at outreach meetings. “Several times [the police department] asked me whether that was possible to turn over the list of people at the programs, and I said, ‘It ain’t gonna happen,’” Zaman said.
Steve Linders, a St. Paul Police spokesman, said that “the intelligence aspect never came to fruition. The program evolved away from that.” He said that they would sometimes pass information that community members brought to their attention to the FBI, but that was the extent of the bureau’s involvement.
Linders said that people were not required to sign in to outreach meetings and there was no list of people who refused to participate, as originally proposed. “It was a conscious decision,” not to follow the plan laid out in the grant application, Linders said. “We frankly got more out of the program when we viewed it more as a way to get [community groups] resources and get their trust and partnership,” he said.
For the Brennan Center’s Price, the shifting description just underlines how such programs can mislead the public. “I’m glad to hear they appear to have had a change of heart,” he said, “but it would be in everybody’s interest to clarify at the outset that they are collecting information for intelligence purposes, or that they are not.”
The program “still raises questions for me,” Price added. “What led them to at first propose intelligence gathering, and then do an about face?”
Around the same time that St. Paul developed its program, the FBI was leading a parallel push to leverage community outreach for intelligence. In 2009, it launched “Specialized Community Outreach Teams,” which would “strategically expand outreach to the Somali community to address counterterrorism-related issues” in Minneapolis and several other cities around the country. Then-FBI director Robert Mueller described the teams as part of an effort “to develop trust, address concerns, and dispel myths” about the FBI.
In an internal memo obtained by the Brennan Center, however, the teams were called a “paradigm shift,” allowing “FBI outreach to support operational programs.”
The co-mingling of intelligence and outreach missions would appear to run afoul of the FBI’s own guidelines for community engagement, the 2013 version of which state that officers must maintain “appropriate separation of operational and outreach efforts.”
The FBI would not say if the “Specialized Community Outreach Teams” (which have ended) would be allowed under the new guidance, though in a statement, the FBI said the guidance “does not restrict coordination with operational divisions to obtain a better understanding of the various violations (i.e. terrorism, drugs, human trafficking, white collar crime, etc.) which may be impacting communities.”
“If the guidance would allow this program to continue, then it just confirms that it’s full of loopholes,” said Price, of the Brennan Center.
This isn’t the first FBI outreach program to raise these concerns. The American Civil Liberties Union has documented cases in recent years in San Francisco and San Jose where federal agents visited mosques and attended Ramadan dinners in the name of outreach, all the while keeping records on the participants.
Some of the programs were well-meaning attempts at educating Islamic leaders about the threat of hate crimes, but nonetheless ended up collecting private information, according to Mike German, a former FBI agent who worked on this issue for the ACLU (he is now also with the Brennan Center). In other cases, “FBI agents were going out with outreach officers or mimicking community outreach to exploit it for intelligence purposes,” he said.
Lori Saroya, until recently executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Minnesota, said that people weren’t always aware of their rights when faced with outreach visits. “We had cases of people inviting FBI agents in for tea or to have dinner, not knowing they didn’t have to let them in,” she said.
It’s this precedent that gives pause to critics of a new White House initiative to “counter violent extremism.” Though it is ostensibly aimed at extremists of all stripes, the outreach push has largely framed the involvement of Islamic community groups as key to helping authorities “disrupt homegrown terrorists, and to apprehend would-be violent extremists,” in Attorney General Eric Holder’s words.
Luger’s plan for the Minneapolis area is part of this initiative, run jointly between the Justice Department, National Counterterrorism Center, and the Department of Homeland Security. Los Angeles and Boston are the other pilot cities. Details about the undertaking are still vague, though the attacks in Paris this month refocused attention on the issue, and the White House abruptly scheduled a summit on the topic for February (it was postponed last fall, without explanation.)
German is doubtful about the prospects. “Countering violent extremism” is a relatively young science, and he points to studies that have failed to identify predictable indicators of what makes someone decide to commit ideologically motivated violence.
Pumping resources into underserved communities is great, says German, but some of these programs may end up just alienating the communities they are intended to work with. “It suggests that the entire community is a threat, or a potential threat, and something to be managed,” he said.
Photo: Eric Miller/Reuters/Landov
The post Spies Among Us: How Community Outreach Programs to Muslims Blur Lines between Outreach and Intelligence appeared first on The Intercept.
In an atmosphere of fear after the deadly attack on the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, officials in the European Union are proposing an array of anti-terror initiatives, including new surveillance laws that would give security agencies greater access to personal data.
A key measure under consideration is a data-retention law which would replace one that the EU’s highest court struck down last year for infringing on fundamental rights. The push for extra surveillance comes as police authorities in Europe warn of imminent attacks by extremists. An anti-Islam march in Germany and a counter-rally for tolerance have been called off after alleged threats of violence, heavily armed police and special forces are guarding Jewish schools as well as news organizations across northern Europe, and the EU has raised its terror alert status to “yellow” – the third-highest level.
The violence in Paris—a kosher market was attacked a day after the assault on Charlie Hebdo—was followed a week later by a police raid in Belgium that killed two suspected militants. Concerns of more attacks have triggered debates across the continent about the right balance between security and civil liberties. Left-leaning parties and civil rights advocates are warning, however, of an over-reaction. They contend that current laws are mostly sufficient and that law enforcement agencies do not need substantial new powers, just adequate funding and better ways to share information. France, for instance, already has many of the anti-terror laws in place that German Chancellor Angela Merkel and others are now calling for across Europe – but the French laws obviously did not prevent the attacks in Paris.
Merkel has called for the EU to accelerate passage of a new law that would authorize the collection and storage of vast amounts of personal data, though she hasn’t released details of her plan. Last spring, the European Court of Justice ruled that the Data Retention Directive, approved in 2006, was invalid because it constituted “suspicionless mass surveillance” which the court considered disproportionate and in violation of fundamental rights. The directive had required all EU states to adopt national legislation mandating that communication companies store the private data of EU citizens for at least six months but no more than 24 months. Police and security agencies could request access to Internet Protocol addresses as well as the time every email, phone call or text message was sent or received; court approval was required for law enforcement authorities to access the data. Many observers thought the court ruling spelled the end for any kind of data-retention law in the EU—until the Charlie Hebdo attack.
The rejected directive, which had been adopted in many EU countries, remains valid in France today, raising the question of how—or whether—such laws help prevent terrorist acts. France has some of the stiffest anti-terrorism decrees in Europe but this did not thwart the Paris assaults. The German version of the EU directive was struck down as unconstitutional by a German court in 2010, well before the EU ruling last spring. Austria’s data law has also been scratched from the books, and the Dutch version faces a legal challenge initiated by civil rights organizations.
Merkel is encountering opposition from inside her own cabinet, which is composed of a coalition of political parties. Justice Minister Heiko Maas, a member of the Social Democratic Party, flatly rejected the reintroduction of a new data law. “This kind of data retention violates basic rights,” he said. “The European Court of Justice clearly established this.”
Meanwhile, Maas and most German politicians are pushing to toughen other counter-terrorism laws. Maas says his ministry will look at new measures to ban the financing of terrorist groups and to prevent people from traveling abroad to train and fight in radical Islamist forces. Most European countries are considering travel bans. Last year the United Nations passed resolution 2178–restricting the international flow of fighters to and from conflict zones, which Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon urged all UN signatories to adopt. France already has such a ban in place.
The European Commission backs moves by its member states to seize the passports of people suspected of traveling abroad to fight with Islamic militants, or intending to do that. France passed such a law in November and it entered into force last week. The Commission, which is the executive body of the EU, is discussing further moves this week, including stiffer border controls, better intelligence sharing, access to flight passenger registers, and even the establishment of an EU security agency. The sharing of air travel records, known as passenger name records, is hotly contested among EU lawmakers who have blocked it since 2013; if enacted, it would result in millions of EU travelers having their personal data on file for years.
Estimates of the threat of Islamic extremists in Europe vary widely. Europol, the law enforcement agency of the EU, estimates that between 3,000 and 5,000 European nationals pose a threat to security, most of these young men who fought alongside Islamic militants in Syria and Iraq. In Germany, intelligence services estimate there are about 260 citizens with “Islamic terrorist” potential. According to the Brookings Institution, there are at least 920 returned foreign fighters living in France, most with battlefield experience in Syria and Iraq. Belgium and Britain are believed to each have at least several hundred former fighters, with smatterings elsewhere in the EU, from Kosovo to Finland.
Currently, Europe’s only trans-national intelligence agency is the EU Intelligence Analysis Center, which has few powers and almost no real intelligence-gathering network; national governments, especially in Europe’s biggest states, are extremely reluctant to give up or pool their activities. But countries like Italy have backed a common intelligence agency for years, with sound reasons. A trans-national agency might be better placed to address cross-border threats like Islamic extremist groups, while enhancing cooperation throughout the EU, which just about everybody agrees is lacking.
Better cooperation and coordination might, for example, obviate the need for the kind of new border controls that Madrid, Paris and Berlin apparently have in mind. They’ve called for the reinstatement of some internal border controls within the EU, a demand that would most likely impact the EU’s poorer countries that are close to volatile, unstable regions like eastern Europe, the Balkans, and the Middle East. Passport-free travel across the EU is one of the union’s proudest and most popular achievements.
Europe’s security agencies are also pleading for new powers to monitor the Internet and social media. The director of Interpol, Ron Wainwright, told the BBC there was a “security gap” facing police forces in Europe involved in tracking extremists on the Internet. Potential terrorists, he said, were “effectively out of reach” of law enforcement agencies. “The reality is the security authorities today don’t have the necessary capability to fully protect society from these kind of threats,” he said.
In this vein, British Prime Minister David Cameron has called for new laws that stop technology companies from protecting their users’ data with encryption technology. Cameron’s comments were roundly criticized by security experts as well as the UK’s data watchdog, Christopher Graham, who warned against “knee-jerk reactions” that would undermine consumer security. In Germany, the opposition Green Party argues that more funding, rather than new laws, would enable police forces to better do their jobs, such as monitoring extremists. Tip-offs and intelligence about possible terrorist acts have to be followed up on, notes the Green parliamentarian Anton Hofreiter.
“You manage that best by a well-equipped police who have enough money and personnel,” he said, adding that it is entirely legitimate to place surveillance on people like those who carried out the Paris attacks. “It doesn’t help anything to monitor the entire population,” he said.
But this, say the Greens and other critics, is just the tip of the iceberg. The much larger problem is to get at the root causes of the growth and militancy of Islamic extremism across northern Europe. The discourse in Europe around Islam has grown harsher in recent years, with openly Islamophobic parties taking more votes and seats in national and EU legislatures. Moreover, the kind of alienation and disenfranchisement that drives young people into the hands of Islamic militants can only be rectified by devoting more resources to help their communities.
For instance, commentator Heribert Prantl, writing in Süddeutsche Zeitung, called for a new dialogue with Europe’s Muslim communities. “Tougher penalties, expulsion, the revocation of citizenship: None of this will help in hindering the radicalization of young German jihadists,” he wrote. “In order to fight effectively against Islamist disorders, Germany needs the Muslims as a partner. Islam is not the problem, but part of the solution.”
Photo: Virginia Mayo/AP
The post Europe Considers Surveillance Expansion After Deadly Attacks appeared first on The Intercept.
The State of the Union address President Obama delivers tonight will include a slate of cyber proposals crafted to sound like timely government protections in an era beset by villainous hackers.
They would in theory help the government and private sector share hack data more effectively; increase penalties for the most troubling forms of hacking; and require better notification of people when their personal data has been stolen.
But if you cut through the spin, it turns out that the steps Obama is proposing would likely erode, rather than strengthen, information security for citizens and computer experts trying to protect them. Consider:
- There’s plenty of sharing of data on cyber threats already and no reason to think that the Sony Pictures hack or any of the other major recent cyber attacks could have been averted with more. What Obama is proposing would, by contrast, give companies that have terrible security practices a pass in the form of liability protection from regulatory or civil action based on the information they disclose, while potentially allowing widespread distribution of personal data that should be private.
- The increased penalties for hacking Obama is proposing could punish people who have only briefly rubbed shoulders with hackers as full-fledged members of a criminal enterprise, and criminalize “white-hat” hacking.
- And Obama’s federal standards for when companies have to report that customers’ data has been stolen would actually overturn tougher standards in many states.
“There’s nothing that he would propose that would do anything to actually improve cybersecurity,” says Chris Soghoian, the principal technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union. “That’s a problem.”
Cybersecurity researcher Robert Graham wrote in his blog:
Obama’s proposals come from a feeling in Washington D.C. that more needs to be done about hacking in response to massive data breaches of the last couple years. But they are blunt political solutions which reflect no technical understanding of the problem….
This War on Hackers is likely to be no more effective than the War on Drugs.
The explanation for the mismatch between Obama administration goals and policy is, unfortunately, a familiar one: The pull of moneyed corporate interests.
“The reason why we don’t have any serious proposals on the table that would improve cybersecurity,” says Soghoian, “is because big companies don’t actually want to be held accountable.” And Obama “doesn’t want to take on big business.”
By offering liability protection in return for something companies are doing already, Obama is not only protecting them from consequences, he’s even encouraging companies to spy on users more than they do already, knowing they couldn’t get in trouble anymore.
Any proposal to, by contrast, set basic, minimal cybersecurity standards for consumer-facing businesses — with non-compliance opening the door to regulatory action or lawsuits — would be fought by an army of lobbyists. So it isn’t even on the table.
If Obama wants to address the problem behind the most notorious recent cyberhacks, he could call attention to what appears to have been their common problem, says Robyn Greene, policy counsel at New America’s Open Technology Institute.
The recent Sony Pictures breach and others were “the results of poor cyber hygiene; they weren’t the result of poor information sharing,” she says. “It would be really good if part of the debate about cybersecurity focused more on what are the easy and practical things that people and companies can do to enhance their cybersecurity.”
“When you’ve got an epidemic, the answer is you should be washing your hands every time you use the bathroom. It’s just not a sexy thing to say,” says Lee Tien, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
“Is he going to tell everyone to update their web browser?” asks Soghoian. “It’s tough to make that a sexy political proposal.”
One source of particular concern among tech-savvy privacy advocates is that Obama’s proposal rewards companies for sharing user information with the Department of Homeland Security — and then allows DHS to share that information with other agencies, even for purposes unrelated to cybersecurity. That includes the NSA and other military agencies.
“We don’t want military and intelligence agencies to have information about American citizens that they just don’t need,” says Greene.
The concern extends to law enforcement agencies as well. “We’re concerned about widespread sharing that can be done as a backdoor to evade search warrants,” says Chris Calabrese, senior policy director at the Center for Democracy and Technology.
“If you limit the sharing to ‘it was this type of attack,’ ‘this is the new security loophole discovered’ and ‘here’s what they did to patch it’ — that sort of stuff — nobody’s really arguing about that,” Calabrese says. The concern is about “personally identifiable information of innocent people” such as those whose computers might have been hijacked.
But the privacy rules regarding Obama’s information-sharing proposal have been left for a future group of government officials to determine – a big deal, given that the liability provision would effectively trump existing privacy laws.
Meanwhile, Obama’s computer crime propsals are “the opposite” of what groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation are advocating.
“The theme of the language is to increase penalties in a number of places without really clarifying the vagueness or uncertainty that has been problematic in prosecutions,” says Tien.
For instance, he says, when it comes to “hacking” material on public servers: “You’re at risk of being criminally prosecuted because someone can make an argument that you should have known that’s not what they wanted you to do even if they put it online in a way that anybody could get to it.”
Penalties under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act are already draconian and redundant, Tien and colleague Mark Jaycox wrote in a recent blog post. And Obama’s more expansive definition of “exceeds authorized access” could lead to absurd situations, like major felony prosecutions “for sharing your HBO GO password.”
Obama’s proposal would also extend notoriously heavy-handed racketeering penalties to cybercrime, meaning people who are in some way associated with cybercriminals could be treated like members of a criminal enterprise.
“If I’m on a mailing list, is that an association?” asks Tien. “We are concerned that it’s very, very easy to associate with people anonymously or privately on the Internet. And if that association is treated as part of an enterprise, that’s potentially quite dangerous.”
That said, Obama’s cyber agenda has its good points, too.
“We’re happy he’s elevating the issues,” says Calabrese. “The attention on student privacy is a good thing. And we’re excited they are finally planning to release legislative language for the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. Hopefully it’s strong.”
But, he adds: “What’s not in here? There’s no discussion of the government. And you really can’t have any true fix for digital privacy without addressing the government’s collection of information.”
Photo: Kris Tripplaar/Sipa USA/AP
The post Obama’s Cyber Proposals Sound Good, But Erode Information Security appeared first on The Intercept.
Israel hat mit gezielten Luftschlägen direkt in den syrischen Bürgerkrieg eingegriffen. Die israelische Luftwaffe tötete mehrere hochrangige Kommandeure der libanesischen Hisbollah-Miliz, darunter den Chef der Hisbollah-Einheiten in Syrien sowie einen iranischen General.
Die Namen der Opfer dieses Aktes von grenzüberschreitendem Staatsterrorismus sind:
1- Martyr Leader Mohammad Ahmad Issa, “Abu Issa”
Born in Arabsalim in 1972 / Married / Has four children
2- Martyr Jihad Imad Mughniyeh “Jawad”, son of Martyr Leader Hajj Imad Mughniyeh who was assassinated in Syria in 2008
Born in Teirdiba in 1989 / Single
3- Martyr Abbas Ibrahim Hijazi, “Sayyed Abbas”
Born in Al-Ghaziyeh in 1979 / Married / has 4 children
4- Martyr Mohammad Ali Hasan Abu Hasan “Kazim”
Born in Ain Qana in 1985 / single
5- Martyr Ghazi Ali Daoui “Daniel”
Born in Al-Khiam in 1988 / Married / one child
6-Martyr Ali Hassan Ibrahim “Ihab”
Born in Yohmor in 1993 / single
Brigadier General Mohammad Ali Allahdadi von Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC).
Möge Gott die Märtyrer segnen und ihren Angehörigen über den Verlust ihrer liebsten hinweghelfen. RIP. .............. https://nocheinparteibuch.wordpress.com/2015/01/20/al-kaidas-luftwaffe-h... ..................