Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

  Michael Jackson (DHS): "Some good has come of 9/11"

The Deputy secretary of the US department of Homeland Security, Michael Jackson, has declared at an airline industry convention that some good has come from the terrorist attacks on September 11. I kid you not.

And his brutal and stupid statement is far from the most troubling aspect of the DHS positions and policies highlighted at the meeting. Jackson repeatedly played the Bush administration's fear card, and how! He firmly predicted future 9/11s. In other words: Be very afraid.

In addition, DHS appears to be intent on driving home the thin edge of a wedge into the very heart of America's civil liberties. For DHS is determined to expand the fingerprinting of travelers.

Jackson says 9/11 was a galvanising moment which has changed behaviour in industries and governments around the globe.

"I think there has been some good to come of it."

What good has come of the terrorist attacks, Mr. Jackson? Surely not the deaths of nearly 3000 Americans on 9/11, or the 3500 US troops killed in Iraq, or the quagmire?

No, Jackson appears to mean that industries and governments are more willing to sacrifice civil liberties in the name of wild-eyed Panic.

Jackson denies claims that terrorists have already won through disruptions and costs to economies and airlines. He says they have exacted a monumentally large price from the world in terms of global economies but he says there has been a resolve to fight terrorism and protect industries, values, way of life and culture in a way that makes terrorism a sustained focus for the world to deal with.

And for his part, Jackson is very willing to help sow Terror:

Terrorists will cause "many more 9/11s" in the future, and the aviation industry remains a favourite target, Michael Jackson, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said Tuesday in Vancouver. "It is vividly clear to me that terrorists will provoke another 9/11," Jackson told the International Air Transport Association's world summit.

Jackson stressed the allegations (all but totally discredited by now) that ne'er-do-wells 'planned' to blow up JFK airport (by some cockamamie scheme), and that assorted odd-balls in Britain 'planned' last summer to blow up transatlantic flights with (chemically unfeasible) liquid bombs. According to Jackson, these 'plans' show that the threat to airlines remains high; these (half-baked) schemes nearly caused "untold death and destruction".

"So it's not BS, guys," Jackson said. "If you don't get it, that you're one of the most popular targets for al-Qaida and al-Qaida sympathizers, then you're sleeping somewhere you shouldn't be sleeping."...

"The definition of success is when a bunch of guys are out there trying to blow up airplanes and you don't have any airplanes getting blown up," he said. "That's the baseline starting point."...

When asked if it made sense for security officials to treat a young child or an 80-year-old traveller the same as anyone else, Jackson said they simply have no choice.

"Evil people will put a bomb on a baby or an 80-year-old grandmother," he said. "Until you can make sure the baby or the grandmother is not a threat, you are stuck in a situation where you have to think evil of everyone."


Regrettably, this fruitcake is in charge of expanding an odious system, "US-Visit", which fingerprints most foreign visitors as they enter the US. Initially, legislation rushed through shortly after 9/11 had required fingerprinting of visitors entering the US with work visas. Then in 2004, the much more expansive "US-Visit" system was introduced. Ostensibly, or at least initially, its purpose was to verify the identity of foreign visitors, track whether they'd entered the US before, and check whether they were on terrorist watch-lists.

To many civil liberties advocates, however, it appeared to be a wedge aimed ultimately at the liberties of Americans. I certainly have found it disturbing; even before "US-Visit" was introduced in 2004, the government had started talking about incorporating facial scanning and iris scanning alongside fingerprinting. You will notice that the US-VISIT Privacy Protections and Protocols page, for all its high flown promises, says nothing whatever on the subject of how random fingerprinting can be reconciled to the constitutional prohibition against "unreasonable searches". From the start, then, this has seemed a very dubious program that was destined to grow more dangerous over time.

And sure enough, in 2006 DHS announced it would expand the system further to require the fingerprinting of permanent resident non-citizens whenever they enter the country. You see, all foreigners are inherently suspicious.

Since January 2004, 61 million people [now nearly 80 million – smintheus] have been fingerprinted and digitally photographed to confirm that the visas they hold are valid and to check whether visitors have criminal records or are terrorism suspects.

The proposal to expand the program comes at a time when the Homeland Security Department has integrated computer systems operated by its Citizenship and Immigration Services unit, which maintains records including fingerprints on all legal permanent residents.

Don't you feel safer knowing that the government now has a fat dossier on your Belgian-born neighbor? If there's a downside, it's that not a single terrorist has been arrested as a result of fingerprinting tens of millions of people.

The people who dreamed this up are fruitcakes, but not flakes; there's a method to their madness. Incrementally, they're preparing the ground to introduce the obligatory fingerprinting of American citizens when we travel abroad.

The next stage of expansion, soon to take effect, will be to require the fingerprinting of all non-citizens as they leave the US through airports. DHS still hasn't figured out what the purpose of this new round of fingerprinting is...particularly given that travelers will NOT be fingerprinted as they leave the US by land.

DHS seems to have settled on two rather different grounds.

One justification for expanding the program yet again is to confirm when visitors leave the US.

Well, sure...and that system would serve equally well to keep track of the comings and goings of American citizens. In fact, the point is highlighted by the second justification offered by DHS.

We also recognize that keeping “bad people” out is not enough; we must ensure that those few people who remain in the country as a threat to our nation's security do not go undetected.

This brings me to perhaps our greatest challenge — the development of biometric exit procedures that address our goals of security and facilitation of travel and trade...

There are of course many home-grown suspected terrorists in the US, and surely at some stage it will occur to DHS that it would like to know when they too leave the country.

Three aspects of the latest expansion of "US-Visit" are especially troubling for those who worry that we are well on our way to becoming a surveillance society. The first can be stated simply: Congress is so enthralled with increased border security measures that it has little apparent concern for the privacy of travelers. For example, when the Democratic-led Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security held hearings in January to discuss the latest expansion of "US-Visit", it invited not a single witness from outside the gung-ho DHS crowd to address civil liberties or privacy concerns.


And secondly, DHS also plans now to expand "US-Visit" fingerprinting sideways—from 2 to 10 fingers. That makes no sense under the original goals of the program, to use 'biometrics' to ensure that visitors are not traveling under fake or stolen IDs, and check them against watch-lists.

On occasion, DHS has pretended that full fingerprinting is needed "to enable greater accuracy when identifying travelers". A ridiculous argument on the face of it...if, as we've always been told, all fingerprints are unique. And sure enough, in 2003 DHS found through experiments that the accuracy of identification using 2 fingerprints and 10 fingerprints was virtually identical (96% vs. 96.65%).

No, the sideways expansion (or "enhancement", to use the DHS euphemism) is intended to permit traveler's fingerprints to be entered into the FBI's fingerprint database (IAFUS). Thus the "US-Visit" database (IDENT) has now become a tool for US Immigration, local, state, and national law enforcement.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced today technology enhancements to DHS and Department of Justice’s fingerprint databases that will further improve access and information sharing among immigration and law enforcement officials...

These technology enhancements represent the first in a series of three phases to achieve full interoperability of US-VISIT’s fingerprint database, IDENT, and the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS). US VISIT is transitioning from collecting two to 10 fingerprints to enable greater accuracy when identifying travelers and to complement IAFIS’ 10 fingerprint system. The technology enhancement announced today is an important next step in this move.

The first phase of enhancements will provide state and local law enforcement officials with access to immigration history which is based on biometric and biographic information through a single biometric submission to these databases.

This represents more than simple "mission creep". Routine law enforcement is a fundamentally different matter from keeping foreign terrorists out of the country. And "US-Visit" has definitely gotten into the business of routine law enforcement, as its Acting Director boasted in recent Senate testimony. Notice that all his measures of success involve routine law enforcement:

In terms of enhancing security, since January 2004, we have processed more than 76 million visitors, and in that time have intercepted approximately 1,800 immigration violators and people with criminal histories — based on biometrics alone...

US-VISIT also tracks and records changes in immigration status and matches entry and exit records to determine overstays. ICE officials have made more than 290 arrests based on US-VISIT overstay information.

So under the auspices of DHS, random/universal fingerprinting has become a tool of routine law enforcement throughout the US. Without any apparent sense of irony, the Acting Director could declare "Privacy is part of everything we do".


Thirdly, one of the most peculiar things about the next expansion of "US-Visit" is that it will require the airlines to take charge of fingerprinting non-citizen passengers when they check in.

Passengers travelling from the US will have to present their fingers as well as their passports at check-in from the end of next year, according to a senior security official. Virgin Atlantic, whose customers may be forced to endure longer waits in terminals, has vowed to oppose the move...

Mr Jackson said fingerprinting every passenger would not lead to long queues, even though airlines would have to do the job, and the procedure would be easy to integrate, over time, "into the business model of the industry".

He said his department was willing to supply the electronic fingerprinting kit to airlines in the initial phase. Speaking at the International Air Transport Association conference in Vancouver, he said some larger airlines would be able to adapt existing check-in kiosks to scan passengers' index fingers. "We don't think phase one will be burdensome."

On the face of it, this appears to be idiotic. US airlines are fighting the new regulation strenuously as well.

U.S. airlines expressed disapproval with a Department of Homeland Security directive to fingerprint foreign nationals departing the United States. "The plan is as ill-conceived as it is surprising," James May, president of the Air Transport Association, wrote in a May 8 letter addressed to White House homeland security advisor Frances Townsend... ATA said they shouldn't be saddled with such a responsibility, which would be better served by government agencies. May said requiring airlines to conduct the fingerprinting would slow checking procedures. "Inexplicably, DHS intends to saddle airlines with that responsibility," May wrote in the letter. "That would wrongly delegate an inherently government, immigration and security-related function to the private sector."

Indeed, what kind of madness is it to turn check-in clerks into de facto immigration officials?

While you're pondering the deeper question of whether the Bush administration does anything idiotic by accident, consider this:

Henceforth those fingerprinting devices will be sitting on the counters in front of you when you walk up to the check-in desk. By the time DHS gets around to expanding these regulations even further, to require US citizens to submit to fingerprinting, you'll probably have grown used to seeing fellow (foreign-born) passengers having their fingers scanned.

"Thank you, Mr. Orwell. Will you be checking any bags?"

crossposted from Unbossed

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