The lawmaker behind a bill Texas that would levy felony charges against overly-touchy security personnel may be staunchly Republican, but he truly believes his cause isn’t one tied to the political left or right.
“We’re talking about what would be a criminal act in any other place,” Rep. David Simpson (R) told Raw Story on Monday. “If you viewed someone naked without their permission or consent, or as a condition of travel, it would be sexual harassment or vouyerism. If you touched people’s privates, that would be sexual assault.
“This is not a left or right issue,” he added. “They are treating American citizens with great indignity, and we’ve got to make this right.”
Though unlikely to pass — even with a GOP supermajority in the Texas legislature — Simpson’s proposal has become a cause célèbre for civil libertarians, many of whom adamantly oppose the TSA’s screening procedures.
The bill would amend a Texas statute pertaining to “the offensive touching of persons,” extending it to security personnel who conduct a search “without probable cause.”
That’s actually the exact wording used in the Constitution in the section outlining prohibitions on unreasonable search and seizure. The legal standard for a lawful search is probable cause: a requirement that law enforcement must meet before most judges will issue search warrants.
The bill specifies that “offensive” touching which takes place as “part of a search performed to grant access to a publicly accessible building or form of transportation” would be treated as a state jail felony.
“I have broad bipartisan support for the bill — at least seven Democrats, and one’s a joint author,” Simpson said. “There’s about 22 other people already signed on too.”
‘Traveling is not a criminal act’
“What we’re saying here is, these bureaucrats have gone too far,” he continued. “We’re not against national defense; we’re not against security. We just don’t want to do it at the expense of our liberties. The terrorists want to take away our liberties and here we have our very own government terrorizing innocent travelers. Traveling is not a criminal act. You need probable cause [to conduct a search].
“Unless there’s reason to believe someone has an explosive or intends to commit a criminal act, you shouldn’t be treating them as a criminal and that’s what we’re doing. It’s un-American and it needs to stop. C.S. Lewis once wrote … that tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive, and I agree with him. They’re trying to make us think we’re safer, but we’re not.”
Simpson added that children and amputees are especially vulnerable, and frequently singled out by TSA agents.
“Having a child unzip their pants in public, or even in private, should never happen,” he said. “It should not happen, period.”
“Sexual assault should always be a criminal act. How are we protecting our businesses outside the industry? They have cameras, they have locks and in some cases they have guns. I’m for letting the airlines determine the best method. I think you’ll have some that want to compete.”
“It needs to stop somewhere,” he insisted. “If we don’t nip this thing in the bud it’s gonna come to our sidewalks, to our football games. The DHS was considering as recent as five years ago doing covert scanning of the public, but they’ve denied pursuing that any further. That they would consider it shows they have no regard for the Fourth Amendment.”
A spokesperson with the Department of Homeland security refused to comment on the pending legislation, but noted that in many cases still, state laws do not trump the federal government.
3.2 million dollars is a drop in the bucket compared to the trillions used to subsidize Lloyd Blankfein’s house in the Hamptons, but Homeland Security spent at least that much in developing naked body scanners that can track moving targets such as unsuspecting pedestrians. Michael Chertoff’s buddies at Rapiscan were paid $1.9 M and Northeastern University was given a contract worth $1.3 M to develop the technology — and those are just the contracts we know about.
The kicker in all this is that scanning innocent people (i.e. giving them a virtual strip search) is obviously against the law (4th amendment anyone?), and yet it wasn’t until after DHS had spent millions on this failed technology that, according to USA Today, they were going to put it through their “privacy assessment phase.” In 2006, DHS was casually discussing how they would just randomly “collect” naked images of “individual commuters” — without their knowledge or consent. See here.
It should also come as no surprise that DHS’s own Inspector General recently found that their private contracts do not “contain sufficient evidence of justification and approval, market research, and acquisition planning.” That’s how they spent $1.3B in non-competetive contracts like the one with Rapiscan. See here.
Equally unsurprising, the scanner manufacturers, including Rapiscan and L-3 Technologies, have doubled the money they spend on government bribes lobbying. See here.
Roxi Copeland Song – I flew to San Francisco a week ago and found myself having a disconcertingly intimate experience with the good folks at TSA. Since I’m anticipating the same overly exuberant greeting at Christmas, I thought I’d write this little ditty about it.
“Groped? Or irradiated and naked? Tough decision.”
“I’ll be groped for Christmas and stripped by prying eyes…”
A slideshow of TSA cartoons…
I hand-picked the best 25 from a few hundred. They are in no particular order.
Poll: Majority oppose body scans, nearly half seek alternative to flying
The use of backscatter x-ray machines to scan travelers’ bodies and new pat down procedures at airports will cause 48% of Americans to seek an alternative means of transportation, according to a Zogby International poll.
Of the 2,032 likely voters polled between November 19 and November 22, 61 percent said they oppose the use of body scanners and pat downs.
In response to growing complaints from residents in areas drawing excessive visitors and parked cars, the city of Berkeley will implement a pilot Residential Parking program to increase the rate of turnover parking in the North Willard and Bateman neighborhoods within the next few months.
The program will outfit parking enforcement vehicles with license plate recognition software in lieu of the current system of chalking cars to monitor parking in two-hour zones. The program targets the two neighborhoods as they house two of the city’s largest employers – UC Berkeley and Alta Bates Summit Medical Center.
Using chalk as the only two-hour parking enforcement has been ineffective, as some people tend to wipe it off or just move their cars forward a few feet instead of permanently leaving the area, according to Councilmember Kriss Worthington. He added that the new program would prevent such action.
“Instead of the meter people having to chalk the tire, they would take a picture of the license plate,” he said. “When they come back around and scan it in again they can see you’re in the same place.”
According to the city’s Transportation Manager Farid Javandel, funding for the license plate scanning technology will come from a $2 million grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commisson – a program that oversees many transportation projects in the Bay Area. He said the program will only use a portion of those funds.
Javandel also said the program will allow the city to analyze parking trends in the areas.
“The RPP program up till now has been traditionally low-tech,” Javandel said. “We want to know how many people are just moving their cars around. We know people are doing this, but we don’t know the magnitude.”
The city’s Department of Public Works will conduct studies of the parking situations in the affected areas as well as surveys both before and after the program’s implementation to gauge its success, Worthington said, adding that public opinion will be a huge factor in deciding whether or not to expand the program to other areas of the city.
According to Julia Shearer, a member of the Bateman Neighborhood Association, residents have been dealing with high density parking issues near the hospital for years, making it difficult for residents to find parking near their homes.
“There’s been a tremendous amount of impact from parking from visitors who would rather not pay for the garage and employees who have the same goal of free parking,” she said. “We’re hopeful that this program will solve the parking situation that Alta Bates exceeds.”
In addition to the new license plate recognition strategy, the City Council hopes to make affordable parking options for employees in the impacted areas.
“At the same time we’re making it harder for people to cheat, we’re also making it easier for employees to park in other places,” Worthington said. “If you go to a city parking garage, you can get an early bird price and pay a far lower price. Some people think we’re trying to get money from giving tickets. We’re not. It’s about getting parking turnover.”
Tags: BERKELEY CITY COUNCIL, BATEMAN NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION, KRISS WORTHINGTON, UC BERKELEY, NORTH WILLARD , ALTA BATES MEDICAL CENTER
America’s most in-demand police vehicle is a ten-officer 16,000-pound armored tank that takes bullets like Superman and drives 80 mph. The federal government buys dozens each year for local police departments. Do America’s local police need tanks?
“If somebody looks out and sees a Ford Crown Victoria sitting out there, they may not take you very seriously,” Warren County, Va., Sheriff Daniel T. McEathron told a local newspaper in October, “but if they look out the window and see this thing sitting there, they’re going to know you’re serious.”
The BearCat G3 claims the vast majority of armored personnel carrier sales to SWAT teams in the United States. Fashioned from a Ford F-550 commercial truck chassis, Massachusetts-based Lenco builds about 200 such vehicles in year, in grades from “VIP SUV” to combat-ready with gun turrets. The massive roller is actually a smaller version of the BEAR, or Ballistic Engineered Armored Response vehicle, which Lenco builds for armies and law enforcement agencies around the world.
Anytime there’s a public shooting or standoff in an urban area, chances are a BearCat will be on the scene. It has option controls for battering rams, winches and even surviving a chemical weapons attack. With military-grade armor and the ability to take repeated hits from bullets up to .50 caliber, it’s most frequently used as a rolling shield.
Last October, a gunman outside of Tyler, Texas, shot and killed his neighbor. When police arrived at his home, he unloaded at least 35 rounds from an AK-47 into a newly bought Lenco BearCat from close range. A police sniper killed the gunman; no one else was injured, and no bullets penetrated the BearCat.
The family-owned company had its start building armored bank trucks, but switched into security in the early ’90s, offering an alternative to the surplus military vehicles larger police departments had used. Early purchases by the Los Angeles Police Department, along with the swelling number of the nation’s 3,000 local police forces forming their own SWAT teams, gave Lenco a booming opportunity.
The other reason for its popularity? Thanks to the U.S. government, most police departments now get their BearCats free.
In the wake of Sept. 11, Congress and presidents Bush and Obama dramatically boosted Homeland Security spending; the Department of Homeland Security now hands out more than $3 billion a year in grants to boost anti-terrorism tools around the country. The Lenco BearCat — which start around $190,000, and can top $300,000 with options — can easily qualify as a necessary tool under several different grant programs, from disaster response to crime fighting. In just the past year, federal grants bought BearCats for police and sheriff’s departments from York County, Penn., to Pasadena, Texas, to Sparks, Nev. Police departments also often use money seized in drug cases for BearCats; under federal law, such cash can’t be spent on their everyday costs, such as replacing worn-out cruisers.
But does every police force with a SWAT team need a BearCat? Law enforcement officials have no shortage of cases such as the Tyler shootings to show how a BearCat protected officers where other vehicles might not, although some have suggested the BearCats have become status symbols among smaller agencies.
Other criminal justice experts have questioned whether police need mini-tanks, saying they’re often used for mundane tasks like serving warrants, and create a sense of police as military soldiers rather than neighbors. They also contend that BearCats and other SWAT machinery do little to prevent violent crimes, which have fallen steadily for a decade.
“It’s all an illusion,” said Jim Fisher, a former professor of criminal justice at Edinboro University and author of a book on SWAT teams. “The fact your police dept just bought an armored vehicle does not make you safer. It’s going to make you poorer, becuase your taxes will go up to pay for training and maintenance.” In light of today’s budget-strapped environments, we too wonder whether the federal government should be paying for small counties and towns to have tanks to use against their citizens.
Law enforcers don’t see much to those criticisms. Lou Vallejo, the sheriff of Garfield County, Colo., felt compelled to explain the arrival of a BearCat for his department last July, which serves a population of about 75,000, citing two cases where officers were shot on duty.
“In the world of law enforcement, we must also be prepared for the highly unlikely, BUT possible tragic event,” Vallejo wrote in an open letter, “and there is NO price tag you can put on the life of a police officer who is out there protecting you.”
During a brief radio interview on Monday, conservative political commentator and frequent Fox News guest Dick Morris said he strongly opposed Texas Republican Rep. Ron Paul due to the congressman’s stance against the drug war and war on terrorism.
“I think he’s horrific,” Morris told Peter Schiff, who was an economic adviser to Ron Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign. “He wants us to end the war on drugs. He wants us to end the war on terror.”
Rep Paul, who describes himself as a libertarian, drew thunderous applause for bashing the Patriot Act, US aid to foreign nations, and US military bases overseas during his speech at the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference in February.
Unlike the vast majority of his Republican colleagues, Rep. Paul has been a vocal opponent of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well a supporter of drug legalization.
“We should drug test every high school student,” Morris continued. “We should drug test everybody that gets a student loan. Anybody that’s using drugs should not get a government student loan.”
After Schiff questioned drug testing students and began talking about eliminating student loans, Morris told him to “talk to yourself for the next 15 minutes” and hung up.
“What kind of police state does Dick Morris want to turn this country into?” Schiff pondered after Morris hung up on him. “It’s really not a war on drugs, it’s war on civil liberties.”
The comments by Morris were not the first time conservatives have lashed out at Rep. Paul for his anti-war views.
The group Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) announced in February that Rep. Paul would be expelled from the group’s National Advisory Board because of his “delusional and disturbing alliance with the fringe Anti-War movement.”
“It is a sad day in American history when a one-time conservative-libertarian stalwart has fallen more out of touch with America’s needs for national security than the current feeble and appeasing administration,” YAF’s Senior National Director Jordan Marks said.
Giving Transportation Security Administration agents a peek under your clothes may soon be a practice that goes well beyond airport checkpoints. Newly uncovered documents show that as early as 2006, the Department of Homeland Security has been planning pilot programs to deploy mobile scanning units that can be set up at public events and in train stations, along with mobile x-ray vans capable of scanning pedestrians on city streets.
The non-profit Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) on Wednesday published documents it obtained from the Department of Homeland Security showing that from 2006 to 2008 the agency planned a study of of new anti-terrorism technologies that EPIC believes raise serious privacy concerns. The projects range from what the DHS describes as “a walk through x-ray screening system that could be deployed at entrances to special events or other points of interest” to “covert inspection of moving subjects” employing the same backscatter imaging technology currently used in American airports.
The 173-page collection of contracts and reports, acquired through a Freedom of Information Act request, includes contracts with Siemens Corporations, Northeastern University, and Rapiscan Systems. The study was expected to cost more than $3.5 million.
One project allocated to Northeastern University and Siemens would mount backscatter x-ray scanners and video cameras on roving vans, along with other cameras on buildings and utility poles, to monitor groups of pedestrians and assess what they carried. In another program, the researchers were asked to develop a system of long range x-ray scanning to determine what metal objects an individual might have on his or her body at distances up to thirty feet.
“This would allow them to take these technologies out of the airport and into other contexts like public streets, special events and ground transit,” says Ginger McCall, an attorney with EPIC. “It’s a clear violation of the fourth amendment that’s very invasive, not necessarily effective, and poses all the same radiation risks as the airport scans.”
LANSING (WXYZ) – An Action News investigation is breaking new ground after two state police officers have been criminally charged.
Lt. Luke Davis, Lt.. Emmanuel Riopelle and Monroe County resident Lawrence Dusseau face dozens of charges. Davis headed the undercover narcotics unit that operated out of a non-descript house in Monroe County. The indictment alleges he and the others sold off drugs and confiscated goods for their own profit.
The Action News Investigators have exclusive audio reportedly of the rogue cops caught on tape during a drug raid. The audio comes from a local man, Rudy Simpson, alleging heavy handed and unprofessional police tactics. Simpson says he was a victim of these tactics in a drug raid on his home.
It all centers around State Police Lt. Davis, now facing corruption charges. In June of 2008, the OMNI Drug Task Force, headed by Davis, executed a search warrant on Simpson’s Monroe County home. They based the search on an anonymous tip and a marijuana stem they said they found in his garbage. When the cops came in, Rudy’s band was practicing in his basement recording studio.
What the police didn’t know is that the microphones were hot and everything was being recorded.
“They have a recording studio? What the (expletive),” said one cop.
“I hope they’re not mixing,” said another.
But they were mixing, and two cops take turns singing on the microphone, not knowing their performance was being recorded.
While those cops were in the basement, Rudy, his friend Jeremy and members of the band were taken upstairs where Lt. Davis and other task force members were searching the house. They say they were shocked by the behavior of the police.
“Very unprofessional, almost thuggish. I felt violated, and almost like it was a game to them,” said Simpson.
“Going in the kitchen cabinets, eating cookies,” said Simpon’s friend.
“Going in the refrigerator, eating stuff out of the refrigerator. It was very unprofessional,” he said.
And it wasn’t exactly a big drug haul for the cops either, only a quarter ounce of marijuana, 12 small seedlings in a pot they claimed were marijuana and a half of a pain pill that Rudy later produced a prescription for. The men say the police seemed more interested in Rudy’s costly equipment than the amount of drugs they found.
“Basically what I heard them talking about is what equipment, what materialistic stuff could they take out of my house,” said Simpson. “It seems like…that they were just trying to figure out what they could come out of here with.”
The police wound up taking three pages worth of stuff from the house, including some of Rudy’s personal property: a 52” flat screen TV, a DVD player, two computers, a camera and a bunch of DVDs. Under the law, police are only supposed to confiscate property that was purchased with money earned from drug sales.
“Where was there evidence that you were distributing or selling drugs,” asked Action News Investigator Scott Lewis.
“There was none,” said Simpson. “There was no sales there was no undercover cops. There was nothing on paper…it was basically an anonymous tip they said.”
The Luke Davis corruption charges raise serious questions, not only about the conduct of police officers but also about Michigan’s drug forfeiture laws.
A report from a group called “The Justice Institute” grades each states forfeiture laws. Michigan gets a “D-.”
In Michigan, police can seize your property with only probable cause. They don’t need proof beyond a reasonable doubt as they do in some other states. They can even take your property without charging you with a crime. And Action News has learned that’s what investigators are alleging happened in the Luke Davis case.
Rudy Simpson was charged for the marijuana and half of a pain pill, even though he had a prescription for the pill. Simpson had another marijuana charge from ten years earlier, and he says the prosecutor was playing hard ball.
“You either take the charge for the half of Loraset from the prescription I had or we’re gonna hit you as a habitual and you’re looking at prison time for a quarter ounce of weed,” he said.
Rudy Simpson said he had no choice. He pled guilty and did some time in a half way house. He says he decided to come forward and tell his story to Action News after seeing our investigation on Davis back in December.
Rudy Simpson claims the OMNI Narcotics crew also took $400 cash and a gold ring that was never even listed on the search warrant return. That allegation was denied by the prosecutor in court records.
Tip helped head off potentially devastating series of plane explosions
WASHINGTON — A Saudi tip about a possible al-Qaida effort to bring down airplanes was relayed to U.S. authorities in early October, nearly three weeks before the group’s Yemen affiliate tried to ship mail bombs to the U.S. in cargo planes, U.S. intelligence officials said Friday.
The Saudi intelligence tip helped to head off what could have been a devastating series of plane explosions. Western officials credit the Saudis with playing a crucial role in finding two mail bombs recovered last week in Dubai and Britain before they reached the U.S.
On Friday, the Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for sending the two bombs and threatened more attacks on civilian and cargo planes. The group also said it had a role in the crash of a UPS cargo plane in Dubai in September, but investigators so far have insisted an accident was at fault.
The Saudi tip in October contained no mention of cargo planes, or any details of the plot carried out last week, said U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss classified matters. But they said it gave the U.S. and other Western officials enough of a warning to know what to look for when another Saudi tip arrived last week.
A CIA spokesman Friday night cited several allies that have provided key intelligence about terrorist activities.
“Over the past several months, we received intelligence — which was shared across our government — from our foreign partners about threats from AQAP and other terrorist groups,” said CIA spokesman George Little. “The United States receives this kind of information from other governments on a regular basis, as you would expect. Last week, we received specific intelligence that allowed the United States and our allies to disrupt the cargo plot. Our actions were swift and aggressive.”
Another U.S. official said the Yemeni terror group’s interest in plane attacks has been apparent since its failed Christmas Day attempt last year to bring down a Detroit-bound plane with explosives hidden in the underwear of a suicide bomber. Both the Christmas Day attack and the mail bombs sent last week used a powerful industrial explosive PETN, and the AQAP’s top bomb maker is considered a top suspect in both attempts.
But although the tip relayed in October did raise alarms about a plane attack, it did not mention cargo planes or where the plot might originate or even who the attackers might be, the official said.
U.S. intelligence had been monitoring steady intelligence on a possible attack such as this since early September, one U.S. official has said. And in late September, authorities also intercepted a group of packages shipped to Chicago which in retrospect is now seen as a likely test run by the terror group to gauge the logistics of shipping bombs by air to the U.S.
The report on the Saudi tip in October was first reported Friday by The New York Times and the German news magazine Der Spiegel.
On Friday, AQAP said it would continue to strike American and Western interests and specifically said it would target civilian and cargo aircraft.
“We have struck three blows at your airplanes in a single year,” the group said in a message posted on a militant website. “And God willing, we will continue to strike our blows against American interests and the interests of America’s allies.”
The authenticity of Friday’s claim could not be immediately verified. A U.S. intelligence official said authorities are not surprised to see this claim now.
Authorities in the U.S. and the UAE have said the Sept. 3 crash of the UPS plane in Dubai shortly after takeoff was caused by an onboard fire, but investigators are taking another lo
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has adopted new procedures for using the Defense Department’s vast array of cyberwarfare capabilities in case of an attack on vital computer networks inside the United States, delicately navigating historic rules that restrict military action on American soil.
The system would mirror that used when the military is called on in natural disasters like hurricanes or wildfires. A presidential order dispatches the military forces, working under the control of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Under the new rules, the president would approve the use of the military’s expertise in computer-network warfare, and the Department of Homeland Security would direct the work.
Officials involved in drafting the rules said the goal was to ensure a rapid response to a cyberthreat while balancing concerns that civil liberties might be at risk should the military take over such domestic operations.
Creative law enforcement isn’t new to St. Clair County Sheriff Mearl Justus.
Last year, the dean of the region’s chief cops sponsored a “haunted crack house” that used an old grange hall to depict the life of a young drug addict.
Before that, Justus publicized a “drug house of the week,” aimed at shaming dealers into leaving town.
On Tuesday, his deputies lifted a plastic tarp to unveil his newest idea: an armored truck to park in problem neighborhoods as a vandal-proof platform to transmit live pictures.
“I thought about a lot of names … I thought ‘The Cockroach’ would’ve probably been appropriate, but we settled on ‘The Exterminator,’” Justus told reporters.
The donated and rebuilt armored truck, once used to carry cash, is fitted with cameras, digital recorders and gear to stream live video. Deputies will park it in front of the “dwellings of troublemakers” — for days at a time, if necessary — to reduce nuisance crimes.
“It sends a message,” Justus said. “We will not tolerate drug trafficking, littered lawns, loud noise and other neighborhood nuisances.” He said the cameras should keep criminals on the run and give residents peace of mind.
Critics say such policing efforts are ineffectual, and just move crime down the road. Justus said the truck will address local problems one at a time. “It’s that house down the street. That is their concern in their neighborhood,” the longtime sheriff suggested.
Residents can request the truck by contacting the Sheriff’s Department online at www.theexterminator.us, or by phoning 618-277-3505 end_of_the_skype_highlighting end_of_the_skype_highlighting.
“I lay in bed at night dreaming this stuff up,” Justus joked.
In fact, he said he got the idea from the police in Peoria, Ill., who have used a similar truck, named “The Armadillo,” for several years.
“There’s an old saying about vaudeville … if it plays in Peoria, it will play anywhere,” Justus said. “I’m here to tell you, it plays well in Peoria.”
Peoria Police Chief Steve Settingsgaard, who attended the ceremony, said “The Armadillo” has ‘shut down” crime wherever it’s been used. “Once we parked it in place, everything shut down and was quiet,” he said. “We put it in front of drug houses and in high-crime areas and the ne’er-do-wells disappear from the area for a few days. It is almost too effective in that the video doesn’t catch anything because it is such a deterrent.”
Settingsgaard emphasized that the truck’s cameras can’t zoom or peer into windows, and that it is only parked on public property.
Peoria has since added a second vehicle.
Ed Yohnka, director of communications for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said the truck probably does not pose a civil rights problem, but he questioned whether it serves a useful purpose.
“Various empirical studies show this type of thing doesn’t decrease crime, it disperses it,” Yohnka said. He said it more than likely just moves criminal behavior to the next block.
The truck was donated by Garda Cash Logistics, one of the nation’s largest armored car firms. Several other companies — including Interface Security Systems, Signs ‘N’ Such and Kelso Auto Body — donated labor and materials to equip it.
The Exterminator, sporting a rebuilt engine and flashy graphics, is built to withstand assault.
Its tires are filled with hard foam and won’t go flat. It has a locked hood and fuel cap and will get protective screens over its lights.
Video from the four cameras is streamed live to computers at the Sheriff’s Department and can be monitored by investigators on their smart phones.
The Exterminator is expected to begin service within the next few weeks, Justus said. “No criminal wants this thing parked in front of his house.”