Tag Archives: huffington post

Update: Two Years Later the TSA is STILL Keeping You Safe Five Percent of the Time

Transportation Security Administration TSA Failed 95 Percent

Once again, TSA inspectors have failed to find 95% of the mock weapons sent through checkpoints by Homeland Security agents working undercover.

Just over two years ago, in June of 2015, I posted about tests Homeland Security had run at airports across the country. In those tests, undercover agents were sent through pre-boarding checkpoints run by the Transportation Security Administration. (Video from that original post is embedded below.)

Those agents carried realistic looking weapons and explosive devices past TSA screeners in order to determine how often the “weapons” would be detected. This included replicas of pistols, knives, nunchucks, tasers, ammunition, and even defused hand grenades.

Out of 70 items that should have been stopped, TSA screeners found a grand total of three of them. As I noted, at the time that translates to a failure rate of 95%. Not exactly a number that will make you feel happy as you stand in the giant line at the security checkpoint next time you fly somewhere.

Surely they’ve addressed those issues in those 2+ years and improved dramatically, though. After all, you could seemingly stumble into a higher level of success just by randomly guessing which passengers have some sort of contraband in their luggage. Right?

Not so much, according to the Washington Times:

Undercover federal agents successfully snuck drugs and explosives past security screeners at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport last week, according to the local Fox affiliate.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) conducted the test last Thursday by sending agents disguised as ordinary passengers into the airport in order to see if screeners were up to snuff, KMSP reported.

The TSA “red team” attempted to smuggle 18 different items past airport security that should easily be detected but prevailed almost every time, the Fox affiliate reported.

“In most cases, they succeeded in getting the banned items through. 17 out of 18 tries by the undercover federal agents saw explosive materials, fake weapons or drugs pass through TSA screening undetected,” KMSP reported, citing unnamed sources familiar with the operation.
In fact, it could have even been worse this time:

The security test was ultimately abandoned once the TSA’s failure rate reached 95 percent, the station reported.

So, before the Mercy Rule was invoked, the TSA screeners in Minneapolis had successfully found a weapon being smuggled onto a plane once. Which, like 2015, equates to just five percent of the time.

Basically, when you eliminate groping people; especially underage passengers, taking lewd photos of unsuspecting women, and stealing shit out of your luggage, they just aren’t very proficient at what they do. (To be fair, they do seem to be pretty good at finding spare change passengers being subjected to their ineffectual security theater leave behind.)

Truth be told, they actually couldn’t be much less useful (and would be quite a bit less annoying and exploitative) if they just slept through their shift, like the guy in the picture at the top of this post.

Minneapolis – St. Paul TSA Screeners Fail Yet Again

Successful Five Percent of the Time in 2015

Groping People to Keep You Safe Almost Never

Leave a comment

Retired New York Jail Guard Treated Like “Just Another Black Dude” by Brothers in Blue

“I kept trying to tell them I’m one of you, but…”

Ronald Lanier, a retired New York corrections officer, cried heavily during a press conference as he described how he discovered the hard way that All Lives Don’t Matter to police. In fact, All Blue Lives aren’t even guaranteed to matter when his Brothers in Blue are in search of someone matching the description of “some black guy.” (Obviously, in such situations jumping on the first black person you come across is the most efficient option available to Police Heroes.)

According to Lanier, he was shopping at a local grocery store when two police officers assaulted him from behind, then beat and arrested him without any sort of provocation. They even ignored his frantic attempts to alert them that he had worn one of their Magic Suits for 22 years. Instead of extending the typical get out of jail free secret handshake, as police are customarily  trained to do in the police academy, Lanier found himself being laughed at and horribly disrespected as if he was “just another black dude.”

Via the Huffington Post:

Ronald Lanier, 53, was shopping in a Mineola supermarket on Nov. 30 when he alleges the officers grabbed him from behind without warning, Newsday reported. The Garden City police officers, whose district borders Mineola, were searching for a fleeing shoplifter, according to CBS 2 News.

At an emotional press conference last week, Lanier said he cooperated with the officers and identified himself as law enforcement. But he said they laughed and manhandled him as they placed him in handcuffs.

“I’ve never been cursed, physically abused, beaten and treated like a slave as I was two days ago,” Lanier said in tears.

Lanier’s attorney, Fred Brewington, slammed the officers’ alleged response as racial discrimination.

“They didn’t have a good description of who they were looking for. That doesn’t give you the right to go into a store and grab the first black person you see and throw them to the ground,” Brewington told 1010 WINS. “The fact that he happened to be a black male in the store does not make him a culprit. It does not make him a suspect.”

Lanier said he spent about 20 minutes inside a squad car before the officers let him go, without an apology or explanation. Another suspect had reportedly being taken into custody for the crime.

You can’t help but feel bad for Lanier. It’s gotta be difficult to suddenly be awakened to the fact that your “Brothers” still consider you “just another black dude” after you spent over two decades deluding yourself into thinking blue is the only color that matters and that you are “one of them.” Being beaten, disrespected, and falsely arrested as if you’re some mere mortal and not a Fearless Hero is a wake up call no-one in his position ever wants to receive.

(And, once again, the words used are telling. In the video, Lanier doesn’t complain about police mistreating black dudes. He complains that they mistreated HIM as if he was “just another black dude.” I’m sure in the 22 years he spent as a corrections officer he never saw them mistreat any black dudes, so this was a total surprise to him. Or maybe the tears are just because he never thought he would be that black dude.)

Leave a comment

Riots Erupt in North Carolina After Man Holding Book Killed By Police While Picking Up Son From School

Update: People are beginning to gather in Charlotte again and it appears their may be a second night of riots. Reportedly, riot police are already using tear gas and rubber bullets in an effort to disperse a growing crowd.

Click here for a livestream of the riots currently taking place in Charlotte.

On September 20th, riots broke out near the campus of UNC-Charlotte after Charlotte-Mecklenburg police shot a man while searching for a different man wanted on a warrant.

Police claim that the man they killed, identified as Keith Lamont Scott, had stepped out of his car with a gun and then subsequently got back inside. They then claim he got back outside of the vehicle after they approached and posed an “imminent deadly threat” to them, necessitating his shooting.

Although the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police began using body cams a year ago, at least three, and possibly four, of the previous five fatal shootings by the department “somehow” weren’t captured by the body cameras. (“It’s unclear if a June 3 shooting was filmed by the department’s body cameras.” – According to the HuffPost article quoted below.)

According to CMPD Police Chief Kerr Putney, some of the officers at the scene were wearing body cams and there is also video from dash cameras, but he hasn’t reviewed the footage yet and he is predictably refusing to release it using various excuses. In addition, North Carolina recently passed a law restricting the public’s access to police shooting videos. So, it’s unlikely that any video will be released unless it clearly supports the police narrative of what happened, regardless.

Via the Huffington Post:

The shooting ― the sixth Charlotte-Mecklenburg police killing of a civilian in the past year ― happened just before 4 p.m. at an apartment complex roughly a mile from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department officers were searching at the complex for someone else who was wanted on an outstanding warrant, police said in a statement.

During the search, officers said they saw a man exit a vehicle with a firearm, then get back inside. When police approached, the man got out of the vehicle again and “posed an imminent deadly threat to the officers who subsequently fired their weapon striking the subject,” according to the police statement.

Police said they called a medic and administered CPR. Scott, 43, died at the hospital.

Police identified the shooter as Officer Brentley Vinson, who has worked for the department since July 2014. Vinson is black.

Witnesses, however, testified that he was disabled and was “armed” only with a book. Later, Scott’s brother stated that Keith Scott was reading the book while waiting to pick his son up from a school bus prior to the incident that led to him being shot. Scott’s sister also stated that he was unarmed when he was shot. Family and other witnesses also stated that the police involved in the shooting were dressed in plain clothes, rather than in police uniforms.

Lyric Scott, Keith’s daughter, posted an hour-long video of the family confronting the police afterwards, via Facebook Live. During the video she stated, “The police just shot my daddy four times for being black.” Soon after, hundreds of protesters began converging on the location where Keith Scott had been shot.

Lyric Scott’s Video:

Protests soon turned into a full scale riot with least 16 cops being injured in the ensuing mayhem. Several police cars were destroyed by the protesters, who also blocked traffic on I-85 and broke into a local Walmart. In the process, several semi trucks on the highway were also looted and then set on fire. In addition, numerous other cops that had been surrounded while heroically attempting to flee the scene of the riots had to be rescued by a “Civil Emergency Unit.”

Other Video/Photos:

Leave a comment

Update: Shooting Nevada Inmates With Birdshot Banned by New NDOC Director (For Now)

As I’ve reported here on CopBlock.org in several posts over the past year, the use of shotguns loaded with birdshot has come under scrutiny recently in Nevada prisons after a high-profile case in which an inmate was killed after a fight with another inmate. The family of that inmate, as well the family of the other inmate, who was also shot but survived, and others have made claims that the fight was instigated by guards intentionally in order to allow for the shooting.

Although the Nevada Department of Corrections continues to deny that, they have filed manslaughter charges against one of the guards involved. In addition, the former director of the NV Department of Corrections, Greg Cox, was forced to resign by Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval.

In April, James Dzurenda was appointed to take over as the director of the NDOC. Prior to this, he worked in the corrections department in New York and was the DOC commissioner in Connecticut. During that time, he drafted the use-of-force policy for New York State.

In a recent interview with a local NPR affiliate in Nevada, Dzurenda has indicated that one of his first moves as the state DOC director will be to suspend the use of shotguns loaded with birdshot within Nevada Prisons. Previously, the NDOC had indicated that they would not accept the recommendations of experts who had stated shotguns should not be used by prison guards included in a report prompted by the most recent shooting and other similar incidents. However, although he states that he thinks that he feels it’s unnecessary, he seems reluctant to actually stop their use permanently, instead specifying that it is a temporary ban.

The interview also touches on Nevada’s “unique” prison culture and use of guns within those prisons. Dzurenda also indicates that he wants to focus more on rehabilitation and “reintegration” of prisoners being released back into society. plus, he wants more money (surprise!) and he thinks you can help him get it.

Via KNPR.org in Las Vegas:

Throughout history, however, Nevada has developed a unique prison culture. Huffington Post recently published an in-depth story about the use of guns inside Nevada’s prisons following the High Desert State Prison incident, and the sub-headline says it all: “Guards inside prisons shouldn’t have guns. That’s pretty much an accepted fact. Except in Nevada – and the results are mayhem and death.”

When interviewing writer Dana Liebelson, she told KNPR that Nevada’s use of guns inside its prisons “is highly unusual.” Skolnik said he agreed with her – to an extent.

“When I left, Nevada had the lowest rate of correction officer to inmates in the United States,” Skolnik said. “I don’t anticipate it’s gotten any better. If anything, it’s probably gotten worse.”

Is Dzurenda possibly wondering what he’s gotten himself into? Maybe. But he’s not shying away from tough questions about the state of the Nevada’s prisons. In fact, Dzurenda’s interview with KNPR was a first – former director Cox and interim director McDaniel never responded to multiple requests for interviews for the past few years.

One of his first orders of business, he said, is stopping the use of birdshot (the pellet-style ammunition that killed Carlos Perez in 2014) at least temporarily.

“To me, I don’t think it’s necessary,” Dzurenda said. “I’m not saying it’s going to be eliminated, but I’m going to temporarily take it offline because I think there are better things out in the world today we can use to control inmate populations.”

These things include non-lethal rounds of ammunition such as bean bags, rubber or plastic.

Dzurenda is more concerned, however, with programming inside correctional facilities – and considers an inmate’s first day at prison what should be the first day of reintegration efforts.

“If you take a snapshot today, and you don’t arrest anyone ever again, there’s 13,500 inmates in the system right now and 88 percent of those have less than 20-year sentences,” Dzurenda explained. “That means 12,000 of those offenders are released into our community pretty soon – that’s if you arrest no one.

“No matter how we feel about an offender, they are going back into the community. If we don’t funnel resources to do better for them, we’re just going to re-victimize our communities.”

As Skolnik noted, however, getting the money and resources together to have proper programming for inmates is no walk in the park. So how could Dzurenda do what his predecessors could not?

Constituents. Dzurenda may not be a political candidate – but getting the constituents to care about the people being put back into their communities might be able to get the ears of their represented politicians.

You can listen to the entire interview here on KNPR’s site.

Leave a comment

Questionable FBI Surveillance Aircraft Fleet Outed by Coalition of Journalists, Activists, And Techies

The following post was submitted to the CopBlock Network by Isiah Holmes, who has been featured several times previously on Cop Block, via the CopBlock.org Submissions Page. In this post, Isiah discusses the use of aircraft FBI to conduct surveillance and the role that private citizens (along with the media) played in uncovering and exposing the program’s existence and just how widespread its use is.

(Note: The FBI’s use of surveillance aircraft to spy on activists and protesters was also discussed by Asa J in an earlier post published in August of last year.)

Mice Chasing The Hawk

There exists a variety of stories notorious — amongst those whom it concerns — for their uncanny quality of illuminating hidden plights and unsung heroes. Such tales, unfortunately, rarely experience veneration in modern western society. For the sake of this piece, think not of the many examples of centuries old legends and fables. Instead, accept the challenge of recognizing just one of this variety’s countless modern manifestations. For instance, when a loose coalition of professional and citizen journalists, activists, and techies blew the lid off the FBI’s questionable, nationwide aerial surveillance program. Blew the lid–only to have the story locked into a press loop where it ultimately succumbed to starvation. This piece might be considered a functional revival of the tale.

It began in Baltimore in 2015, after Freddie Gray’s death in police custody and during the subsequent protests and riots. Cameras were everywhere, whether belonging to Baltimore PD, press, bystanders or active civic dissidents. No one, however, anticipated cameras and cell phone collection tech, for that matter, having circled above them for days. International Business Times reports, Benjamin Shayne, leader of the police radio site www.scanbaltimore.com, was among the first to notice unusual air traffic. Shayne took to Twitter: “Anyone know who has been flying the light plane in circles above the city for the past few nights?” The planes, according to IBT, which flew from April 30th-May 2nd 2015, appeared shortly after Baltimore initiated a city-wide curfew.

anti-police state banner

Following Benjamin’s tip, a coalition of Twitter and Reddit users, including one former ACLU employee, united to monitor the planes. According to IBT, a trove of data on the aircraft was compiled through their combined talents. Exact flight paths, docking airports, and owners were tracked. The planes were now being watched back.

According to a Washington Post piece, although one plane appeared to lack a tail number, a second was tracked back to “NG Research.” The company’s website boasts of expertise in air quality, aerosol chemistry, and health effects, but speaks not on why its plane was over Baltimore that day.

Once questions started flooding web feeds, the FBI, surprisingly, released a statement glistening with trepidation. “The aircraft,” officials said; according to the Washington Post, “were specifically used to provide high altitude observation of potential criminal activity to enable rapid response by police officials on the ground.” An Improv Online investigation into suspicious planes had–undoubtedly–forced “The Man” to come forward publicly on this “program.” Perhaps it’s safe to say that information, or rather free information, is power.

Due to the government’s reluctance, as well as technology concerns, the ACLU filed several FOIA requests. In tandem with the ACLU’s push, the Associated Press launched their own in depth investigation on the aircraft’s purpose and origin. As it turns out, an entire FBI controlled surveillance-purposed fleet waited for them at the end of the rabbit hole.

CLICK banner to get AWESOME COPBLOCK GEAR!

CLICK banner to get AWESOME COPBLOCK GEAR!

The manned planes, carrying both powerful cameras, including infrared cameras, and cell phone data collection technology reputedly operate above cities quite often. All the craft, the Huffpost reports, are superficially attached not to a government program, but to fictitious companies used as fronts. Many sources reported on the infrared camera’s capabilities of literally seeing people inside of homes. The very nature of the technology is rather wide reaching and indiscriminate, meaning non-targets frequently are recorded. A 2001 Supreme Court decision, Kyllo v. United States, Washington Post reports, held using thermal imagers to “see details” inside enclosed buildings without a warrant amounts to an unlawful search.

AP journalists also discovered that despite the program’s capabilities, deployments are rarely approved by a judge. In light of this fact, according to the Huffington Post, FBI asserts the planes are deployed only for specific, ongoing investigations. Exactly what sort of investigations is entirely unclear.

In fact, nearly a year later, even basic information on the program is vigorously withheld. In terms of explicit references, the HuffPost reports, little more than already heavily censored Justice Department Inspector General reports is public. “The FBI’s aviation program is not secret”, says spokesman Christopher Allen. “Specific aircraft”, he continues, “and their capabilities are protected for operational purposes.” Allen, according to the HuffPost, asserts the planes are not “equipped, designed, or used for bulk collection activities or mass surveillance.” The FBI also, apparently, allocates the fleet as air support for local departments, on-request.

fbi-spy-plane-2-bSuch statements downplaying the possibility of bulk data collection do nothing, however, to explain the plane’s flight patterns. The AP, the HuffPost reports, uncovered flights orbiting large, enclosed buildings for extended periods of time. These areas, such as Virginia’s Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Minnesota’s Mall Of America, made photo surveillance unlikely. Rather, electronic signals collection, the AP found, proves far more effective under such circumstances. The FBI planes, according to the AP’s flight data analysis, by 2015 had flown over at least 40,000 residents.

Conversely, officials did attribute gear capable of identifying people by their cellphones, even when not making calls, to the craft. Officials, the HuffPost echoed, say such devices, which mimic cellphone towers into providing basic subscriber information, are rarely deployed. The FBI’s cryptic program, sources claim, conjures memories of reports of suspicious planes circling US neighborhoods in 2003.

Through its investigation, the Associated Press was able to track 50 planes down to at least 13 fake companies. No, this is not hyperbole. They’re literally fraudulent, not real, lies, or whatever synonym you care to choose. FVX Research, KQM Aviation, NBR aviation, and PXW Services, according to the Huffington Post, were included among the AP’s findings. It’s interesting to note that, at least with these four companies, all have three letter acronym names. Not, of course, unlike the Federal Bureau of Investigations. A 2010 federal budget document, according to the HuffPost, verified the FBI’s fleet size at around 115 craft.

So really, to what extent is the federal law enforcement organization being brazenly, shamelessly deceptive? The FBI, according to the HuffPost, did ask the AP to not include any company names in its reporting. The bureau reputedly used the taxpayer dollars which would go towards replacing the disclosed companies as a kind of blackmail. Classy. The AP, of course, declined the FBI’s request as only publicly accessible information was used.

Most of the aircraft, despite belonging to different “companies”, were registered under a specific name–Robert Lindley. Registration documents signed by Lindley’s hand, HuffPost reports, display at least three distinct signatures. Hoping to verify the man’s existence, the AP has tried and failed to reach Robert through multiple Washington-area phone numbers under that name. FBI officials, to this day, refuse to comment on whether or not Lindley is a government employee.

By analyzing the plane’s flight data, journalists discovered the FBI fleet flew over more than 30 cities over a 30 day period. Since April 2015, two months before the Huffington Post piece, at least 100 flights circled both major cities and rural areas. Associated Press photographers even captured an image of a plane circling like a ghostly hawk in northern Virginia’s skies. The aircraft, the HuffPost reports, sported both a variety of suspicious antenna under its fuselage and a mounted camera.

Cities on the FBI’s flight list include: Houston, Phoenix, Seattle, Chicago, Boston, Minneapolis, and southern California. Some of these cities, a quick google search reveals, were subject to recent protests and/or civil unrest, such as California, Chicago and, of course, Baltimore. Despite any such public data professional and citizen journalists, analysts, or researchers may gleam, fundamental questions abound. What precisely is the purpose or function of this specific program? How long has it been operational, and under what laws is it bound or regulated? Where does excess data and footage go? How far is too far?

FBI Surveillance BaltimoreDespite the FBI’s recent downplaying of its surveillance program, its statement before congress in 2009 really says it all. “Aircraft surveillance has become an indispensable intelligence collection and investigative technique which serves as a force multiplier to the ground teams.” According to the Huffington Post, this was part of the FBI’s bid to Congress for $5.1 million in funding for the so-called “spy plane” program.

Ask yourself, what does this statement and the amount of money the FBI requested, taken either alone or together, say about the program? Does it seem like its aircraft and the technology they’re equipped with would be so rarely utilized as officials claim? “A lot of questions are unclear”, says ACLU staff attorney Nathan Wessler, the Washington Post reports.

Is it safe to suppose at least part of the programs mandate involves surveillance of generously populated protests, rowdy or otherwise? Almost sensing the question lurking about its flank the Justice Department, the HuffPost reports, maintained its “drones” don’t deploy “solely” to monitor First Amendment protected activity. In Baltimore’s case, according to FBI and Federal Aviation Administration documents, both night vision and inferred tech scanned crowds below. The documents, Washington Post reports, were obtained by the ACLU through Freedom Of Information Act requests.

An FBI official, under anonymity due to the programs sensitive nature, claimed the planes were ensuring public safety. The official, according to Washington Post, used a “potential for large scale violence and riots” as justification. “Potential”, suggesting the planes were in the air before the ground atmosphere went agro. In case you’re wondering, documents also showed no evidence of a warrant being obtained prior or after the Baltimore operation.

Start building your own Cell so that you don't have to rely on police. Click banner for more details

Start building your own Cell so that you don’t have to rely on police. Click banner for more details

If there’s at all a silver lining in any of this, it’s how much independent people really contributed to the story. Most of the information used to track, verify, and ultimately link the planes to FBI’s program hid within a slush of online data. Even the Associated Press wouldn’t have conducted an investigation had Benjamin Shayne not first tweeted about the suspicious planes. A decentralized online contingent of bloggers and Reddit users, not the organized press, was the first to conduct any serious inquiry. It’s an utter travesty that the same headline, “FBI behind mysterious surveillance aircraft over cities”, along with nearly the same AP articles, were published across the board. If that’s not a press loop then a challenge goes out to anyone who can give a more textbook example.

For anyone interested conducting a more concurrent investigation, technologist John Wiseman, Fusion.net reports, has some tips to offer. Wiseman himself used public records to get flight routes, some of which can be found online. One would be surprised what kind of legitimate information floats about the slush untouched simply because no one, except those who care, bothers to look. John also reputedly used a modified radio receiver to pick up aircraft transmissions, and tracked tail numbers, provided by the Washington Post, to a fake company. Wiseman, Fusion.net reports, recommends sites like flightradar20 and flightaware for tracking aircraft registration numbers.

Here’s where this blog gets functional! Anyone willing, able, and/or both are by all means invited to rehash the investigation. Larger news organizations might feel subliminal pressure from the feds to keep quiet, edit stories, or what have you, but the people will not. How hard would it be to, say, check up on new data on the already “found out” planes? Where are they now? Have they traded hands or do the front-companies still stand? Speaking of the “companies”, they’re fair game too! NG Research, for example, has a website which can be easily found by googling the company name. No, there isn’t any product listings on the page. No, the page hasn’t changed for over a year despite it apparently being an actual company. A functional revival of the FBI’s surveillance program, even if not published, may prove uniquely valuable in the days to come.

– Isiah Holmes

Leave a comment