Police & the FBI set up illegal roadblocks stop every vehicle, question every driver


Conway, NH – A dozen law enforcement vehicles, some marked and some not, pulled into a lot off the south end of the heavily used North-South Road at about 2:20 p.m. Wednesday, at almost the exact time Abigail Hernandez was last seen last Wednesday.

About 20 officers, some uniformed state police, some in FBI jackets, and some in plain clothes, walked onto the road, clipboards in hand, and started stopping every car.  

As the blockade formed, every car was stopped after 2:30 p.m., at about the time Hernandez was said to be walking home along the road, which begins at the south end at the entrance to Kennett High School.

All traffic was stopped, and each driver questioned, at the roadblock from 2:30 p.m. through 4 p.m. That pushed traffic back for more than a quarter mile on the heavily traveled road, which is a bypass to the downtown area.

State police officers standing in the road waved cars over, after which men in FBI coats approached each driver with questions. They were asked to give their names, their addresses, and information about how much they use the road and when they drive it.

The FBI agents explained to each driver that they were trying to find Hernandez, showing them a wanted photo of her.

“We’re asking people who travel this route at this time if they might have seen Abigail,” said one FBI agent who did not give his name.

Illegal warrantless bag searches and more at the Chicago Marathon:

Continuing the trend of mass-suspension of the 4th amendment at every possible event, police searched the bags of anyone they chose along the 26-mile track of the annual Chicago Marathon.  More disturbing than the predictable push to eliminate privacy rights is the public’s utter acquiescence in the face of the growing police state.

At the annual race on Sunday, October 13th, a legion of police officers lined the streets.  Chicago Police sent more than 1,000 officers to the race; some wearing conspicuous yellow vests, others infiltrating the crowd in plain clothes.  FBI agents wearing military fatigues held a visible presence throughout the track, along with federal ATF agents and U.S. Marshals carrying rifles.  DHS agents littered the scene performing searches with dogs.

Department of Homeland Security designated the marathon a “Level Two” event, justifying the massive presence of federal agents at the race.  Near the intersection of Michigan and Jackson, a giant Emergency Alert System banner read “EAS: Alert Level Low.”

Runners had to carry their belongings in clear plastic bags provided by race organizers, and police set up watchtowers near Buckingham Fountain to keep an eye on the record 40,230 athletes assembling in Grant Park. 

“Everywhere you look there’s about 20 officers at the corner, about 14 helicopters in the air,” said Amie Byrne.

Grant Park was locked down with checkpoints and suspicionless bag searches.   To add to the security theater, the race banned costumes for participants and only allowed runners to carry clear plastic baggies.

Once the race began at 7:30 a.m., the runners wound through city streets guarded by police officers in neon yellow vests, FBI agents in military-style fatigues and undercover cops. Police were especially noticeable in the Loop, with at least one officer at every intersection, a show of force.

Police and event organizers instituted new safety measures after the bombings that marred April’s Boston Marathon, but the essential character of the race remained unchanged. Some runners and spectators said they were grateful for the heightened scrutiny, while others said they barely noticed it.

“It’s good that you don’t see the presence because that makes people uncomfortable,” said Kelly Kane, who was cheering on runners in Old Town with few uniformed police officers in sight.

The marathon’s safeguards were evident before the race even began, with a sign near the runners’ check-in cautioning participants not to wear “costumes covering the face or non-formfitting bulky outfits.” (So DHS and the police can identify you using facial recognition at sporting events)

The FBI says a 20% error rate for facial recognition is fine:  

Animetrics a high-tech facial recognition software company may have been used to help ID bombing suspects:  

Big Brother’s reach extends far beyond Facebook’s facial recognition announcement  

The DHS-funded trickle down of the national surveillance state:

The biometric recognition tools described above stand out as an example of a trend I’ve been monitoring for years: the quid pro quo exchange of money for information between the feds and locals.

The DHS equipment document specifies that grantees may only purchase face recognition software that conforms to the DHS standard, “INCITS 385-2004, Information technology – Face Recognition Format for Data Interchange”.

Open source information shows that INCITS 385-2004, established in 2004, was created to “to assist federal agencies, state and local officials, vendors, and travelers in producing photographs that will be accepted for use in travel documents.”

The same federal government that wants to ‘collect it all’ where our communications and associations are concerned also wants to ensure that our travel document photos can be put to good use to identify us at political demonstrations, on city streets, in photographs from private surveillance cameras, or online. If DHS (or any other agency) wants the local cops to find someone, they can ask police to use DHS-funded surveillance cameras and DHS-funded, specific facial recognition software to do it. If there is one standard nationwide, it is easy for DHS and likely other agencies to interact with and query local databases and operate local systems. 

The Department of Homeland Security advertises this expansion of powerful surveillance capabilities to locals as a necessity in the post-9/11 environment, and most local police departments are eager for the resources and equipment. If we want to stop terrorism, the refrain goes, every local cop and sheriff’s department needs to be in the counterterrorism loop, armed with the latest gadgets and flush with information from all the best commercial and private (public) databases.

But will data mining by local police or expanded use of face recognition systems stop terrorist attacks? Hardly.

Contrary to what the many three-letter agencies say, there is no terrorism profile that computers can identify by processing large reams of information. Data mining for terrorism purposes simply doesn’t work. If it did, more than a decade into the ‘collect and mine everything’ 21st century, the Boston Marathon bombing wouldn’t have happened.

To the contrary, experts say that adding more crap into the intelligence ‘haystack’ makes it more difficult — not less — for investigators to identify truly dangerous people among us. Even analysts at another post-9/11 government intelligence bureaucracy, the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC),report being unclear about what their jobs are, and think the intelligence apparatus is too big. The analysts say they are drowning in information, and that there are too many employees clogging up the intelligence gears.

Add to those criticisms multiple congressional reports finding that fusion centers don’t serve a useful counterterrorism purpose, and that DHS is wasting money by throwing it in the billions at state and local law enforcement without sufficient oversight.

If it doesn’t stop terrorism, why is the government turning our local cops into spies? Why doesn’t congress act to stop the flow of funds from DHS to our local police for surveillance gear and information sharing systems, in the absence of evidence that it does anything to keep us safe, and given that we know these programs adversely impact our privacy and liberty?

It’s not likely that (the absence of) evidence about efficacy alone will move congress to take significant action to rein in the expansion of the security state. There are at least four major reasons for that disconnect: cover your ass political games, institutional inertia and self-interest, the growing wealth and political power of the corporate surveillance complex, and the government’s desire for social and political control.

None of those reasons are good ones, particularly given the threat to free society posed by the institutionalization of intelligence-lite technologies and procedures at our police departments nationwide. As just one example among many, the government’s funding of the Boston Regional Intelligence Center did nothing to stop the terrorist attack in Boston in April 2013 – but it did hurt our city.

Back in 2011, the DHS funded fusion center in Boston was busy spying on the Occupy Boston encampment. At the same time, it missed a gruesome, spectacular triple-murder on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 — a crime the authorities now pin on accused terrorist Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Finding terrorists among millions of data points is next to impossible. Spying on peace and economic justice groups is easy.

Occupy Boston posed no threat to the public, but unlike terrorists, it arguably posed a threat to the continuation of DHS programs like this one.

Mass surveillance effects social and political control, not security. If our local police departments want to keep us safe, they should focus on police work like solving murders

Police departments trying to become more like the CIA harms both our public safety and our democracy. But even amidst a government shutdown and with an economic crisis ever looming on the horizon, congress somehow always finds money for these dangerous programs, and local departments are eager to implement them – even in the face of public opposition and outcry.


Start the Conversation

Your email address will not be published.