Obama wants a DHS spying campus at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital


President Obama proposed hundreds of millions of dollars in new spending toward consolidation of the Department of Homeland Security on the west campus of St. Elizabeths hospital and creation of a new civilian cyber campus in his budget proposal. (Creating a new spying cyber center? Isn’t there one called the NSA, where does it stop?)  

Locally Tangherlini continues to press congressional appropriators to provide more funding for consolidation of DHS at St. Elizabeths hospital, the campus in Southeast D.C. where the U.S. Coast Guard is now headquartered but where the rest of the project is badly delayed and facing cost escalations as a result. Congress approved $155 million for St. Elizabeths in January, money that will allow for the start of work on the center building on the west campus, and Obama’s fiscal 2015 budget includes another $250 million.

Tangherlini said the project was critical to allowing DHS “to become a more cohesive and collaborative unit” rather than one spread across dozens of leased offices around the region.
But he said the project’s future likely relies on appropriators. (That’s some excuse DHS, you’ve got close to a hundred Fusion Centers and numerous Domain Awareness Centers that’s spy on Americans.)

“Right now this is the only strategy we have, which is to continue to go and seek appropriations and pursue individual projects on the campus,” he said.

The GSA is also seeking $35 million for design of a 650,000-square-foot civilian cyber campus, a project that would provide space for agencies including the DHS and the Department of Justice. Tangherlini  said a location for that facility had not been chosen yet but such a facility would allow the consolidation of a bevy of leased offices. “We are spending a significant amount of resources on rent on multiple sets of activities that could provide value if they were consolidated and co-located,” he said.

EFF is encouraging Americans to Fight Against Domain Awareness Centers:

After an encouraging debate at the Oakland City Council meeting on February 18, EFF has submitted another letter opposing Oakland’s Domain Awareness Center (DAC). The DAC is a potent surveillance system that could enable ubiquitous privacy and civil liberties violations against Oakland residents. The city appeared set to approve a resolution that would have handed the City Administrator authority to sign a contract for completion of the project. However, after strenuous discussion, Councilmember Desley Brooks made a motion to delay the vote for two weeks in order to get more information about the potential civil liberties and financial impacts of the DAC. The council passed the motion with 6 yes votes and 2 abstentions.

Phase I of the DAC, funded by a Department of Homeland Security grant, is already operational. It integrates Port security cameras and an intrusion detection system with City of Oakland traffic cameras, city geographic information system (GIS) mapping, and a gun shot detector called ShotSpotter. The information from these various data sources is integrated using “Physical Security Information Management” PSIM. This allows law enforcement and other agencies to access and analyze all of these data sources through a single user interface. This means DAC staff can look at a single screen and see various video and information feeds at once, allowing much more invasive surveillance of citizens.

At the February 18 meeting, speakers raised myriad issues. One of those was the racial profiling of Yemeni, Muslim, and African-American communities already happening in Oakland. Mokhtar Alkhanshali, a community organizer, talked about how law enforcement already targets the thousands of Muslims in Oakland, stating, “I represent people who are afraid to come here.” Fred Hampton, Jr., son of the murdered Black Panther Party member Fred Hampton, reminded the council about the legacy of surveillance and targeting experienced by African-American activists.

At issue now is whether the Oakland City Council will approve an expansion of the system to include more data sources, considering all the outstanding questions. The council seemed to hear the concerns raised by community members and asked a lot of their own questions at the meeting. The council directed staff to provide further information. Unfortunately, as EFF’s letter states, the most recent staff report:

Continues to punt key issues around the DAC to the future, regardless of the fact that many members of the Council prudently expressed concern about approving the project without a full delineation of what is being approved. These questions include, among others, what types of cameras and other data sources will be included, what relationships and information sharing agreements exist between the City and federal agencies, how DAC analytics will work, how exactly public engagement will occur, when the privacy policy advisory committee will meet and who will be on that committee.

Another major concern expressed at the meeting was the connection between the Domain Awareness Center and other law enforcement agencies, including the FBI. While city staff has repeatedly assured the public and the Oakland City Council that there are no information sharing agreements with federal agencies, the city already works several of them. EFF’s letter addresses this:

Implying that there is any sort of firewall between DAC information and the federal government is disingenuous at best. As has been pointed out to the Council, Oakland already shares information with the FBI through its participation in a Joint Terrorism Task Force. Similarly, the Oakland Police Department participates in the Bay Area Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI), a Department of Homeland Security program. In fact, Renee Domingo is part of the “Approval Authority” for UASI. The Approval authority “provides policy direction and is responsible for final decisions regarding projects and funding,” to UASI.

Implying that the DAC has no relationship to fusion centers is also disingenuous. UASI is one of the primary funders for the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC), the regional Bay Area fusion center. Furthermore, the DAC itself has been “featured” regarding information sharing in relationship to NCRIC and other federal agencies; in a 2013 port security workshop that included Department of Homeland Security, NCRIC and Port of Oakland officials and brought in other federal agencies, law enforcement, and private interests, the DAC and NCRIC were used as models for information sharing relationships.  In fact, pursuant to City Council resolutions, the Oakland Police Department and Fire Department staffed the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center in 2011 and 2012.


 What’s wrong with mass surveillance of travel metadata?

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden gave this explanation of what’s wrong with pervasive, suspicionless tracking and logging of our activities:

What’s the worst and most realistic harm from bulk collection of data?… 
The worst and happening-right-now harm of bulk collection — which again, is a euphemism for mass surveillance — is two-fold.

The first is the chilling effect, which is well-understood. Study after study has show that human behavior changes when we know we’re being watched. Under observation, we act less free, which means we effectively *are* less free.

The second, less understood but far more sinister effect of these classified programs, is that they effectively create “permanent records” of our daily activities, even in the absence of any wrongdoing on our part. This enables a capability called “retroactive investigation,” where once you come to the government’s attention, they’ve got a very complete record of your daily activity going back, under current law, often as far as five years. You might not remember where you went to dinner on June 12th 2009, but the government does.

The power these records represent can’t be overstated. In fact, researchers have referred to this sort of data gathering as resulting in “databases of ruin,” where harmful and embarrassing details exist about even the most innocent individuals. The fact that these records are gathered without the government having any reasonable suspicion or probable cause justifying the seizure of data is so divorced from the domain of reason as to be incapable of ever being made lawful at all, and this view was endorsed as recently as today by the federal government’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight board.

Fundamentally, a society in which the pervasive monitoring of the sum of civil activity becomes routine is turning from the traditions of liberty toward what is an inherently illiberal infrastructure of preemptive investigation, a sort of quantified state where the least of actions are measured for propriety. I don’t seek to pass judgment in favor or against such a state in the short time I have here, only to declare that it is not the one we inherited, and should we as a society embrace it, it should be the result of public decision rather than closed conference.

Most of the reporting on Mr. Snowden’s revelations has focused on the NSA’s collection and use of communications “metadata”:  not the content of our phone calls and email messages, but information about the movements of those messages, such as from whom, to whom, and when they were sent.
But communications (message movement) metadata isn’t the only category of movement metadata being collected by the NSA.  Documents leaked by Mr. Snowden reveal that the NSA is also hacking into airline reservation systems to collect what we would call, “travel metadata”: information about the movements of our physical bodies, such as from where, to where, and when we traveled. And of course, the DHS is also collecting this sort of data, and compiling it into lifetime “personal travel history” files.

Do you want the government to be able to demand an explanation, years later, of every trip you have taken, when, where, why, and with whom, even if at the time it was a perfectly legal journey and you were under no suspicion?  We’ve been questioned by US border guards about innocuous years-old entries in our Automated Targeting System files, and it’s a disturbing experience. (It would have been even more creepy if we hadn’t previouslyrequested and obtained our files, so we knew at least part of what was in the records about which we were being questioned.) That potential is inherent in any collection and retention of travel metadata.

Both message movement metadata and personal movement metadata are important, and neither should be the subject of government surveillance without a warrant supported by probable cause.
You might think that information about the movements of our physical bodies would be considered more intimate, and subject to greater protection, than information about the movements of our messages. In the US, however, none of the limited protections against communications surveillance apply to travel surveillance, except to the very limited extent that reservation messages are protected by wiretapping laws.

DHS/TSA intercepts U.S. citizens emails & questions her about her sex life:

At first blush, a lawsuit filed last week by the ACLU on behalf of a sociology professor at Indiana University wrongly detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection seems to be about whether CBP is exceeding the limitations on its police powers, and detaining US citizens for purposes unrelated to customs and borders.

That’s bad, but unsurprising in light of the history of abuse of limited administrative search powers as a pretext for unrelated police purposes by CBP and other DHS components, notably the TSA.

What’s more unusual, however, is the complaint that the DHS is using email messages, presumably obtained from the NSA (unless the DHS has some email interception program of its own) as the basis for detention and interrogation of US citizens who aren’t trying to travel or ship any goods across US borders.

And what was the subject of this warrantless custodial interrogation of a non-traveling US citizen by armed “Customs and Border Protection” officers, based on email intercepts? Her sex life. 

Don’t be surprised, if the government claims that intercepting email messages on grounds of “national security” and then handing them over to another government department in order to detain and interrogate an innocent US citizen about her sex life is a “state secret”.

Professor Christine Von Der Haar of Indiana University tells the story in her complaint, in an interview with the Bloomington Herald-Times in 2012 at the time of the bizarre CBP doings that led to her lawsuit, and in a video interview with the Indianapolis Star last week when the lawsuit was filed.

A few years ago, Dr. Von Der Haar, a US citizen, reconnected online with Dimitris Papatheodoropoulos, a Greek freelance transport and logistics manager and consultant who she had been friends with as a teenager, 40 years earlier, at an international school they both attended in Switzerland.  After a year’s exchange of email, some of which Dr. Von Der Haar says was “flirtatious and romantic in nature”, Mr. Papatheodoropoulos arranged for a visit to Dr. Von Der Haar in Bloomington during her summer break from university teaching.

Von Der Haar believes her friend is a victim of a cultural misunderstanding. His emails signed off “I love you. I miss you. I kiss you.” Marriage, though, was beyond the pale for two adults in their mid-50s who hadn’t seen each other for decades, they say.
Sure, his language is flowery, but Von Der Haar laughs about it, slightly embarrassed: “We’re silly. He’s a Greek man. What can I say?.”

Read more:

The State Department is actively looking for terrorists on Twitter:

A few million dollars annually—is funding the State Department’s trolling of jihadists on Twitter.

One of the State Department’s official (and verified) Twitter accounts, called “Think AgainTurn Away” and going by the handle @ThinkAgain_DOS, is devoted to speaking “some truths about terrorism” online. If you follow the account, you’ll notice that this truth often manifests itself in the form of the State Department directly tweeting at Islamists and their supporters in English, and countering their beliefs.

This kind of thing isn’t unusual for the State Department. The Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications was established in 2010 to coordinate messaging to target violent extremism on the internet, especially that of Al Qaeda and affiliates. CSCC (an interagency center that is housed at State) initially focused on non-English online forums where the State Department saw jihadists attempting to recruit and raise money (message boards, comments on Al Jazeera Talk, etc.) Late last year, CSCC made a move into English-language websites, with the small team of analysts and microbloggers expanding their fight on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and elsewhere, under the banner of the US State Department. @ThinkAgain_DOS is just one of their tools in this digital-outreach turf war.


3 thoughts on “Obama wants a DHS spying campus at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital

  1. This complex is being built as I write. It was proposed before Berry got into office. This is OLD news. .

    1. “This is OLD news.”
      What are you getting at here, buddy? Maybe we should just stop posting anything that didn’t happen today. I mean, you know about it so that is all that matters, right? Tell me, what is the point of your comment?

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