Your Rights Are Not What You Think

“Aden described the scene in a Facebook post Saturday, adding that the officer who told him that he wasn’t being detained has an “ignorance of the law and the Fourth Amendment” of the U.S. Constitution that should disqualify him as a customs officer.” (WTOP)

Regrettably for Mr. Aden, as well as everyone else that considers themselves a citizen of the United States, whether natural born or legally converted, the law is not that clear and the rights granted under the Constitution do not actually apply as you have been deluded into believing (and if you think a Founding Father or two just rolled over, join the crowd). The article What Customs and Border Officials Can and Can’t Do highlights this in chilling detail.

As more and more of us are learning, especially with the more tyrannical leadership under Number 45, the Constitutional provisions off you no protections within 100 miles of the United States Border. Let me say that again. According to the law, any member of the Customs and Border Protection Agency (CPB) has the legal right to stop you, perform an unsanctioned search and seizure, and detain you without a warrant. If your jaw just hit the floor, join the club. If you are confused, think about this. The Border of the United States is not just with Canada and Mexico. There is an invisible border twelve miles off the coast of the United States. Take a ruler. Draw a line from that 12-mile limit one hundred miles into the interior of the United States. Draw it one hundred miles from the US/Canadian border and 100 miles from the Mexican border. Tell me how many cities are inside that border? Tell me how much of the population fo the United States lives inside that line. Upset yet? You should be. Inside that zone, many of the provisions of the Constitution can be suspended without cause and there is nothing you can do about it. And it is only going to get worse, not better.

The person in the street shrugs, security comes first [B. Cockburn]. If that is your attitude, either you never plan to travel anywhere, or you do not understand how damaging this is to our foreign relationships. But as this sort of nonsense continues, it is likely that the United States will see a departure of its citizens. Those citizens that have the option to go somewhere else. The brain drain started when the IRS cracked down, in many cases irrationally, on funds overseas. This resulted in serious backlash in financial markets that is already causing issues with US funds abroad. This type of harassment of citizens and foreigners alike will have negative impacts. Travel, tourism, and good will are important in international relations. When the country’s citizens are treated as criminals, the only one left will be criminals.

Rand Paul and the Patriot Act

Passed in the wake of September 11, 2001, the Patriot Act was a rush to grant law enforcement sweeping powers that they had not had prior to its passage.  Most of the act is classified, and it it rumored that just talking about it is a felony.  Over the weekend, the Patriot Act was on the chopping block, with numerous politicians scrambling to save it, and the authorizations that it grants.  The most sweeping of those being the bulk collection of meta-data by the NSA. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) stood alone against its renewal. In fact, Senator John McCain (R-Az.) said:

He obviously has a higher priority for his fundraising and political ambitions than for the security of the nation.” (as heard on CBS World News Roundup – 1Jn2015).

Despite Senator McCain’s opinion, many people would disagree, both in the United States and abroad.

That being said, it is clear that Rand Paul is not naive, admitting that the bill will eventually pass and the wiretapping will go on.

What surprises me is that Senator McCain even thinks something like a filibuster could or would have any effect on the bulk collection of data. As if the expiration of a law could stop it? And before you get on your soapbox and rant that “It is a law, it is no longer in force, therefore it is illegal,” allow me to point out a few facts.

The federal bureaucracy moves with glacial inertia. It is very hard to get things moving but once you do, it is almost impossible to make them stop. This is even more so in the intelligence community with is not subject to any sort of real oversight. The bulk collection of data is a huge industry. There are building springing up like mushrooms to support the effort. Contracts worth billions of dollars have been let by the government and the companies that hold those contracts will do everything in their power to keep those contracts active.

Short of an international delegation overseeing the complete shutdown of the collection process (much like under the SALT agreements for nuclear disarmament) the bulk collection of data is here to stay.  Legally, or not.

The TSA Is Not Happy Unless You Are Not Happy

In case you missed it, the latest TSA/DHI scare has been released:

(CNN) — The U.S. government has warned airlines to pay particular attention to the possibility of terrorists attempting to hide explosives in shoes, a result of new intelligence, according to two people familiar with the situation. (CNN)

Of course, they are saying this is being done in an abundance of caution but honestly, I am not buying it. Call me cynical, but I believe it is more like this….

Because this affects only aircraft coming into the United States from overseas, not Canada or Mexico, I believe that the aviation administrations or the TSA equivalent in these countries were pressuring the United States to get with the program. There was no valid need to have people take off their shoes and subject themselves to what is essentially a strip search, so why was the United States still requiring it?  We have already heard the hue and cry from the so called flight attendants when the TSA tried to reduce the restrictions on knives being brought onto aircraft, so you can imagine the yelling that might occur if they dropped the constant screening of footwear.

But I am much more cynical than that. Despite protestations to the contrary, I fully expect that those of you who have shelled out money to the TSA to probe your background under the so called TSA Pre program and have been promised that you can keep your shoes on will find that you will treated no differently than us poor slaves who refuse to let the government have more access to our personal data than they already have.  So get ready America, you will have to keep taking your shoes off.  And to those of you flying the not so friendly skies, you will as well.

 

The TSA is behind the curve

This will come as no surprise:

The Homeland Security Department is banning all liquids from carry-on luggage for nonstop flights from the U.S. to Russia. The ban comes after the department warned airlines that terrorists might try to smuggle explosives on board hidden in toothpaste tubes. The warning said terrorist might try to assemble explosive device in flight or upon arrival at the Olympics. (www.wtop.com)

There is very little that I hear coming out of the Department of Homeland (In)security anymore that leaves me dumbstruck, but this was one of them.  The first thing that went through my mind was who is running the Game Theory office at the TSA/DHI, and have they ever seen a James Bond movie? Plastic explosives in a toothpaste tube is de rigueur in spy craft. Open any kids book on espionage and there it is.  So for the TSA to now, thirteen odd years after the September 11, 2001 attacks, ban liquids again is pretty stunning.

And then I am taken back to the Confessions of a TSA agent that appeared only a couple of weeks ago in Politico. The United States Government (in other words, you and me) are spending $150,000 per machine for full-body scanners, that do not work, and even if they did, there is a high likelihood that no one is watching the monitor anyway. And as been discussed numerous times, the x-ray machines, both above and below the security screening area cannot tell the difference between peanut butter and C-4, or chocolate powder and explosives.

So why, exactly is the TSA banning liquids on flights to Russia?  Because if no one complains about them banning liquids in this test scenario, they will be able to ban them in general, except for those of you silly enough to shell out $80 (or more) for their Pre-Check program, where the agency will, with your permission to boot, know more about you than anyone else.  All because they cannot procure, use, or understand the equipment that we are already paying too much for.

 

 

If you wondered, is the US a Police State? The answer is – yes.

Over the last few months, the citizens, residents, and visitors to the United States have been regaled with stories of how the Government of the United States has been invading their privacy, opening their mail, listening to their phone calls, and generally monitoring their daily lives.  Of course, this is all in the name of security and to protect the public from the bad guys.

Up to this point in time, the revelations have been about how the National Security Administration are capturing your metadata, but not actually listening to your calls or reading your mail in real-time – they claim. But we have always suspected that other aspects of our life were under scrutiny.

Today, we got our answer:

The Transportation Security Administration is expanding its screening of passengers before they arrive at the airport by searching a wide array of government and private databases that can include records like car registrations and employment information. (New York Times)

What starches my socks is not that the TSA is doing this.  We pretty much knew they were doing this, even if we did not know they were doing this. No, what really galls me is that the TSA has a new program, called TSA Pre, which:

…allows select frequent flyers of participating airlines and members of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Trusted Traveler programs who are flying on participating airlines, to receive expedited screening benefits. Eligible participants use dedicated screening lanes for screening benefits which include leaving on shoes, light outerwear and belts, as well as leaving laptops and 3-1-1 compliant liquids in carry-on bags.

And to get this benefit, you have to fill out an on-line application, have an in-person interview and, most importantly, pay the TSA for the privilege every five years!  Currently the fee is $85.  Now some frequent flyer programs include this in the ticket price, but for the average Joe Flyer, you are on the hook.  Yet the TSA is already doing a complete scan before you board for free!  OK, so it is not really free.  I have already paid for it with my taxes, fees, and other departure costs rolled into the ticket.

So what is the point?  Already, the United States has more secure screening processes in place, compared to the rest of the world.  I can leave my shoes and belt on in Europe and Canada.  The x-ray machines can already pick out my laptop.  And frankly the screening outside the US is much better than what the TSA is doing.  So why should I be paying the TSA?  They already know more about me than I do.  I have already paid the fee, several times over, and they already have done the in-person interview, every single time I fly.

I am opposed to the police state the United States has become.  There are a number of reasons for this. But to charge the flying public to go through security is really taking the cake. As the saying goes: There’s a sucker born every minute. Clearly the American public is the sucker, and their own government is taking advantage.

“Winging It” is not an emergency plan

As much as I mock the generally inept Department of Homeland (In)security, their sub-agency, FEMA is quite often on the mark with their Ready.gov projects.  The newest push, during National Preparedness Month (that would be now, September), is suggesting you make an emergency plan with your kids.  And really, when was the last time you checked your emergency plan.  September 10, 2001?

Worrying about terrorism is not going to help. Instead you should worry about a local disaster, such as a gas tanker exploding in your neighbourhood (Gainesville, VA in July), or a propane tanker overturning near volatile oil lines (Sudley Manor Road in 2012). Snow storms, earthquakes and severe weather (Sandy, Katrina, Ivan, Floyd) are more likely to cause a disaster, and result in serious damage to your home than any random act of terrorism.

And yet, most people have not done much to prepare. And worse, as the echos of the last storm (in this case Sandy), fade, and the real pressures of day-to-day life take over, the desire and focus on preparation fades.  When was the last time you checked the water in your basement?  How about that canned food? Do you have any emergency cash? Updated your document cache with all those new forms? What about that new pet?  If you had to evacuate now, would you be able to? Would you know where to go? Could your family reunite? Where? How? When? Under what conditions?

If the answers to the above questions start with “…umm…” then you are not prepared. Take sometime this weekend and look at your kits, your plans, and ensure your tools are ready.  Because you might not get a second chance.

On Snowden

Whether or not you think Edward Snowden is a hero or a villain, he is getting the politicians to say a number of interesting things.  Take for instance, this blurb from Paul Ryan (R-WI) that was replayed on the CBC news on Monday evening:

If we are not able to convince our allies or other countries to help us with this, that doesn’t speak very well to how we are being viewed in the world, it does speak well to our credibility.

Let me highlight one part of this: …it does not speak well to our credibility.  What Mr. Ryan does not understand, or at least does not seem to grasp, is that the credibility of the United States is pretty much a joke in the rest of the world.  And the Snowden leaks are only the latest example of why the United States is the butt of the world’s jokes.

There have been several reports, reported by the BBC, and the CBC, but surprisingly not by any US news outlet of how trade with the EU and the United States is in rough shape because of US policies, public or not, on issues like transparency of government, crime and punishment, climate and environmental issues,  and of course, privacy.  The Snowden revelations are only the latest bit of glass being thrown into the international communities eyes.

This is a global economy.  Information is, for the most part, is available with a few key strokes, not just the unclassified, but much of the so called classified information, if you have the time and patience to sort through the minutia to find it.  Big data sifting can be done with almost any server today, so if you want to know what is going on, it is not hard to find out.

Yet there are many in the United States that do not want to know what is going on and see all of this as a great blow to the efforts and image of the United States.  To these individuals, Mr. Ryan included, I say this.  The image of the United States was irreparably damaged when the United States invaded a sovereign nation with little more provocation that they might have had weapons of mass destruction, and, having found nothing, did not so much as say sorry. Further, has left the country in worse shape economically and socially than when they invaded it.  And that is only one of many events I can point at.

I cannot help but laugh at the politicians and other pundits that are worried about the credibility of the United States.  You should worry more about other, more critical things.  This one is a tempest in a tea pot, designed to distract from the fact that these same politicians are the same ones that allowed the NSA to do this in the first place.

The NSA is listening – quelle surprise!

Through a top-secret program authorized by federal judges working under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the U.S. intelligence community can gain access to the servers of nine Internet companies for a wide range of digital data. Documents describing the previously undisclosed program, obtained by The Washington Post, show the breadth of U.S. electronic surveillance capabilities in the wake of a widely publicized controversy over warrantless wiretapping of U.S. domestic telephone communications in 2005. These slides, annotated by The Washington Post, represent a selection from the overall document, and certain portions are redacted. (Washington Post)

I am trying hard not to laugh. No really, I am. Someone, and I am not sure who, has suddenly decided to release (sorry, a document was leaked) information that via FISA, under the Patriot Act, the National Surveillance Agency is listening to phone calls made by Americans, to Americans, within the United States, as well as filtering ISP pipes, social media sites and reading your email. What I find funny is the absurd level of outrage being vented by Congress (who knew all along about this) and the American public, who, despite having a short memory about things, should know better by now that the United States is one nation under surveillance.  And this is all to protect us from terrorists. Whatever that means.

If you find this offensive, well, the horses are well gone and the barn has burned down, the ashes already scattered to the four winds.  If you find this offensive, it really is too late to do much about it.

But if you want to keep most of your traffic safe, use encryption.  At least that way you are not publishing everything on a postcard and they have to at least work at it.

Feel free to use my PGP key for any correspondence.  The fingerprint is: 2428 CE82 2E0C E6B7 E1E3 8D84 85BD BF93 B6CF CE1B

 

Deja Vu all over again

The average American has a very short attention span.  Fortunately, there are some who remember what has gone before.  A talking head this morning pointed out that the Oklahoma City Bombing occurred on April 19, 1995.  The bombing in Boston occurred on the celebration of “Patriot’s Day,” the third Monday in April, but the official day is…April 19.

Neither Oklahoma or Boston is the first act of domestic terrorism, nor will it likely be the last.  And yes, I fully expect, once the officials in charge have sorted the mess, they will find it was an act of domestic terrorism.  What concerns me is not that it happened, but that there are Americans that feel this is an appropriate way to protest their government. And calling it terrorism really gives it more of a spotlight than it deserves.  It is murder, pure and simple, and the perpetrators are murderers.  Nothing more. They are not patriots or freedom fighters, they are murderers, slimy, bottom feeders that should be put out of our misery and not given any more of a platform than a swift drop and a sudden stop.

Sadly, this will only make the police state that has evolved since September 11, 2001 only worse.  And in that regard, we all lose.

TSA, not here to protect you

I have illustrated the lapses in the so called increased security at airports lately.  But in case you have been living under a rock or actually think being strip searched, fondled, and irradiated are good for you and mean that the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) is there to keep you safe and ensure that the bad guys are not going to blow up or hijack your aircraft should think again.

This morning, this article was in our local news.  Drinks Bought Inside Airports Tested (WTOP).  Lest you think that is a typo and should read Drinks Brought Into Airports Tested, no, it is not.  The TSA is testing drinks, purchased inside the secure area for explosives because:

Vendors and employees at airports are not screened every day

As George Carlin would say: “Let me say that again, because it sounds, vaguely important.” Vendors and employees at airports are not screened every day. I can understand that there is a certain level of expectation of, oh, call it goodness in those that run the airport.  FAA air traffic controllers, airport management, and life safety officials (police, fire, rescue) are all subjected to numerous, one would hope, rigorous background checks.  They have access to areas of the airport that the average person would never get to go (like the runways for example).  But to extend this assumption to the vendors, many of whom are not US citizens – at least here in DC, and I am sure in other places – is ludicrous.  Worse, to think that they are more trustworthy than the traveling public, which includes numerous people with higher clearances, and more intense background checks than those who are working at the airport is just absurd.

The TSA’s job is to protect the traveling public.  Their focus, since their creation, has been on improving the perceived weaknesses in air safety. They have failed.  Utterly.  This is only the latest example of their short comings.  How many more are we, their paymasters, going to allow?