Does U.S. Need a Registry for Released Terrorists?

The House has passed a bill to establish a national database similar to a sex offender registry for people convicted of terrorism-related crimes who have been released from prison. Twenty-five such people will be freed by the end of 2021.

Dozens of Americans convicted of terrorism-related crimes are approaching the end of their prison terms, prompting a debate over how to reintegrate them into society in a way that lowers the potential for repeated crimes, The Hill reports. Experts say the U.S. has yet to formulate a comprehensive policy for reintegrating them into society, 17 years after 9/11 heightened the nation’s fears of terrorist attacks. “It is a blindspot right now when it comes to counterterrorism policy,” said Seamus Hughes of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University. “We have nothing right now. There are programs for reentry for gang members to get out of jail and there is not that right now for terrorism.” Experts also say the U.S. does not have a system to track the activities of individuals convicted of terrorism-related crimes once they are released.

House Republicans are pushing legislation, known as the TRACER Act, that would establish a national database similar to that of a sex offender registry. Upon release, a federal correctional facility would send an individual’s information to state and federal authorities. “TRACER would actually do the same thing [as a sex offender registry] and be providing notification that someone has been released,” said House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) The House passed the bill last year. The Senate has not acted. Richard Clarke, the chief counterterrorism adviser for the National Security Council at the time of the 9/11 attacks, believes each convicted terrorist should have “specially trained parole officers” to monitor them once out of prison. Others argue that people who have served their time should not be treated differently from other convicted criminals. Twenty-five Americans who have been convicted of terrorist-related crimes are expected to be released by the end of 2021, says the New America Foundation, a Washington-based think tank.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Despite Tech Advances, 40% of 9/11 Victims Still Unidentified

A ten-person team of forensic scientists in Virginia made more than 100 identifications of 9/11 remains this year. In July, Scott Michael Johnson of New Jersey was the first victim identified since August 2017.

Forensic scientists with the Bode Technology Group in Virginia, where New York City sent many unidentified human remains after of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the World Trade Center, failed twice in 2002 to extract clear, liquid DNA that could generate a profile, reports North Jersey.com. A decade ago, newly equipped with more advanced technology, the medical examiner’s Missing Persons Unit began trying again. In July, there was a breakthrough: a complete DNA profile and a conclusive link to Scott Michael Johnson, a 26-year-old Montclair, N.J., resident who worked on the 89th floor of the south tower as a securities analyst.

The 10-person team made more than 100 identifications of 9/11 remains this year. Johnson was the only new discovery and the first victim to be identified since August 2017. Of the 2,753 people killed in the attack on New York City, 1,111 victims, about 40 percent, remain unaccounted for. Nearly 22,000 human remains were collected from the rubble of the World Trade Center and surrounding utility manholes, roofs and streets between 2001 and 2010. Most were either whole bodies or tiny fragments, heavily damaged by the fiery crash of the planes, the pressure of the towers collapsing and the tremendous amount of water used to put out the smoldering wreckage, said Jay Aronson of Carnegie Mellon University, author of “Who Owns the Dead? The Science and Politics of Death at Ground Zero.” “If you want to destroy DNA, the best way of doing it is with heat and moisture,” he said. Seventeen years later, the largest and most complex forensic investigation in U.S. history continues.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Hotels Lack Federal OK for Anti-Terror Plans

Stadiums, corporate buildings and other facilities that draw crowds have strengthened their security since 9/11, and in return, have earned U.S. protections in the event their efforts fail to prevent a terrorist attack and they are sued. Hotels have not received the same safeguards, the Associated Press reports.

Stadiums, corporate buildings and other facilities that draw crowds have strengthened their security since 9/11, and in return, have earned U.S. protections in the event their efforts fail to prevent a terrorist attack and they are sued. Hotels have not received the same safeguards, the Associated Press reports. Las Vegas’ world-famous casino-resorts have long been known to be of interest to terrorists, but the constant flow of people may pose a challenge to earning liability protections under a little-known federal law. For the first time, the law is at the center of a legal battle after MGM Resorts International invoked it to sue hundreds of victims of the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history to avoid paying out for lawsuits.

The law was enacted in 2002 to urge development and use of anti-terrorism technologies by providing companies a way to limit liability if federally vetted and approved products or services don’t prevent an attack. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has certified hundreds of security systems, software and equipment, ranging from unarmed guards at shopping malls to flight deck doors. The Associated Press asked four large casino operators — MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment, Wynn Resorts and Las Vegas Sands — whether they have applied for certifications. Only MGM offered a general comment, saying in part, “MGM Resorts’ security teams work closely with federal, state and local law enforcement and we follow FBI and DHS standards and training for a variety of situations, including terrorism.” A high-stakes gambler opened fire from a room at MGM’s Mandalay Bay casino-resort last year, killing 58 people at a concert whose contractor-provided security was federally certified. Casino operators interested in earning federal approvals would have to show the government that security at their properties not only seeks out gambling cheaters but also signs of terrorism, said attorney Brian Finch, who has helped dozens of clients get their systems certified.

from https://thecrimereport.org

John Mueller and Mark Stewart on the Risks of Terrorism

Another excellent paper by the Mueller/Stewart team: "Terrorism and Bathtubs: Comparing and Assessing the Risks": Abstract: The likelihood that anyone outside a war zone will be killed by an Islamist extremist terrorist is extremely small. In the United States, for example, some six people have perished each year since 9/11 at the hands of such terrorists — vastly smaller than…

Another excellent paper by the Mueller/Stewart team: "Terrorism and Bathtubs: Comparing and Assessing the Risks":

Abstract: The likelihood that anyone outside a war zone will be killed by an Islamist extremist terrorist is extremely small. In the United States, for example, some six people have perished each year since 9/11 at the hands of such terrorists -- vastly smaller than the number of people who die in bathtub drownings. Some argue, however, that the incidence of terrorist destruction is low because counterterrorism measures are so effective. They also contend that terrorism may well become more frequent and destructive in the future as terrorists plot and plan and learn from experience, and that terrorism, unlike bathtubs, provides no benefit and exacts costs far beyond those in the event itself by damagingly sowing fear and anxiety and by requiring policy makers to adopt countermeasures that are costly and excessive. This paper finds these arguments to be wanting. In the process, it concludes that terrorism is rare outside war zones because, to a substantial degree, terrorists don't exist there. In general, as with rare diseases that kill few, it makes more policy sense to expend limited funds on hazards that inflict far more damage. It also discusses the issue of risk communication for this hazard.

from https://www.schneier.com/blog/

Seattle Airplane Theft Prompts Terror-Security Worries

Experts say the incident, in which an airline employee took off and then crashed on a sparsely populated island, will prompt a rethink of how to secure aircraft at airports. The employee, Richard Russell, had worked at Horizon Air for 3½ years as a ground-service agent and didn’t have a pilot’s license.

The theft of a Horizon Air passenger plane from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport exposed aviation vulnerabilities that persist even after efforts to enhance security after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Wall Street Journal reports. Experts say the incident, in which an airline employee took off Friday with the plane and then crashed on a sparsely populated island, will prompt a rethink of how to secure aircraft at airports. The employee, Richard Russell, had worked at Horizon Air for 3½ years as a ground-service agent and didn’t have a pilot’s license. Airliners generally don’t have locks on their doors or require keys to start. While there are procedures to secure aircraft, the U.S. aviation industry focuses on securing airfields and then authorizes employees with proper credentials to work there. Jeff Price, a consultant on aviation security, said, “We need to get out of the traditional aviation-security mind-set, where we think that more screening and more surveillance and more cops will solve this problem.”

Most airlines have rules about how planes should be stored overnight, but they can vary from carrier to carrier. The doors are supposed to be secured. To fly a plane, someone would have to know and follow a complicated sequence of tasks that include fueling, starting engines and programming the flight computer. Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, airlines, federal security officials and law-enforcement agencies have focused attention and spent tens of billions of dollars plugging gaping holes in aviation security. Airport-security experts say co-workers are an important line of defense. Aviation-security officials have increasingly become worried about insider threats. Regulators and carriers cooperate on voluntary reporting programs designed to prompt employees who are having mental or substance-abuse problems to seek help. Other workers are encouraged to let management know about difficulties confronting fellow employees.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Don’t Fear the TSA Cutting Airport Security. Be Glad That They’re Talking about It.

Last week, CNN reported that the Transportation Security Administration is considering eliminating security at U.S. airports that fly only smaller planes — 60 seats or fewer. Passengers connecting to larger planes would clear security at their destinations. To be clear, the TSA has put forth no concrete proposal. The internal agency working group’s report obtained by CNN contains no recommendations….

Last week, CNN reported that the Transportation Security Administration is considering eliminating security at U.S. airports that fly only smaller planes -- 60 seats or fewer. Passengers connecting to larger planes would clear security at their destinations.

To be clear, the TSA has put forth no concrete proposal. The internal agency working group's report obtained by CNN contains no recommendations. It's nothing more than 20 people examining the potential security risks of the policy change. It's not even new: The TSA considered this back in 2011, and the agency reviews its security policies every year. But commentary around the news has been strongly negative. Regardless of the idea's merit, it will almost certainly not happen. That's the result of politics, not security: Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), one of numerous outraged lawmakers, has already penned a letter to the agency saying that "TSA documents proposing to scrap critical passenger security screenings, without so much as a metal detector in place in some airports, would effectively clear the runway for potential terrorist attacks." He continued, "It simply boggles the mind to even think that the TSA has plans like this on paper in the first place."

We don't know enough to conclude whether this is a good idea, but it shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. We need to evaluate airport security based on concrete costs and benefits, and not continue to implement security theater based on fear. And we should applaud the agency's willingness to explore changes in the screening process.

There is already a tiered system for airport security, varying for both airports and passengers. Many people are enrolled in TSA PreCheck, allowing them to go through checkpoints faster and with less screening. Smaller airports don't have modern screening equipment like full-body scanners or CT baggage screeners, making it impossible for them to detect some plastic explosives. Any would-be terrorist is already able to pick and choose his flight conditions to suit his plot.

Over the years, I have written many essays critical of the TSA and airport security, in general. Most of it is security theater -- measures that make us feel safer without improving security. For example, the liquids ban makes no sense as implemented, because there's no penalty for repeatedly trying to evade the scanners. The full-body scanners are terrible at detecting the explosive material PETN if it is well concealed -- which is their whole point.

There are two basic kinds of terrorists. The amateurs will be deterred or detected by even basic security measures. The professionals will figure out how to evade even the most stringent measures. I've repeatedly said that the two things that have made flying safer since 9/11 are reinforcing the cockpit doors and persuading passengers that they need to fight back. Everything beyond that isn't worth it.

It's always possible to increase security by adding more onerous -- and expensive -- procedures. If that were the only concern, we would all be strip-searched and prohibited from traveling with luggage. Realistically, we need to analyze whether the increased security of any measure is worth the cost, in money, time and convenience. We spend $8 billion a year on the TSA, and we'd like to get the most security possible for that money.

This is exactly what that TSA working group was doing. CNN reported that the group specifically evaluated the costs and benefits of eliminating security at minor airports, saving $115 million a year with a "small (nonzero) undesirable increase in risk related to additional adversary opportunity." That money could be used to bolster security at larger airports or to reduce threats totally removed from airports.

We need more of this kind of thinking, not less. In 2017, political scientists Mark Stewart and John Mueller published a detailed evaluation of airport security measures based on the cost to implement and the benefit in terms of lives saved. They concluded that most of what our government does either isn't effective at preventing terrorism or is simply too expensive to justify the security it does provide. Others might disagree with their conclusions, but their analysis provides enough detailed information to have a meaningful argument.

The more we politicize security, the worse we are. People are generally terrible judges of risk. We fear threats in the news out of proportion with the actual dangers. We overestimate rare and spectacular risks, and underestimate commonplace ones. We fear specific "movie-plot threats" that we can bring to mind. That's why we fear flying over driving, even though the latter kills about 35,000 people each year -- about a 9/11's worth of deaths each month. And it's why the idea of the TSA eliminating security at minor airports fills us with fear. We can imagine the plot unfolding, only without Bruce Willis saving the day.

Very little today is immune to politics, including the TSA. It drove most of the agency's decisions in the early years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. That the TSA is willing to consider politically unpopular ideas is a credit to the organization. Let's let them perform their analyses in peace.

This essay originally appeared in the Washington Post.

from https://www.schneier.com/blog/

‘Quiet Skies’ Surveillance Program Targets Ordinary Air Travelers

Some air marshals say the program has them tasked with shadowing travelers who appear to pose no real threat, such as a businesswoman who happened to have traveled through a Mideast hot spot, a Southwest Airlines flight attendant, and a fellow federal law enforcement officer.

Federal air marshals are following ordinary U.S. citizens not suspected of a crime or on a terrorist watch list and collecting extensive information about their movements and behavior under a new domestic surveillance program that is drawing criticism from within the agency, the Boston Globe reports.

The program, called “Quiet Skies,” targets travelers who “are not under investigation by any agency and are not in the Terrorist Screening Data Base,” according to a Transportation Security Administration bulletin. The bulletin describes the program’s goal as thwarting threats to commercial aircraft “posed by unknown or partially known terrorists,” and gives the agency broad discretion over which air travelers to focus on and how closely they are tracked.

Some air marshals say the program has them tasked with shadowing travelers who appear to pose no real threat, such as a businesswoman who happened to have traveled through a Mideast hot spot, a Southwest Airlines flight attendant, and a fellow federal law enforcement officer.

It is a time-consuming and costly assignment that they say saps their ability to do more vital law enforcement work. TSA officials declined to discuss whether Quiet Skies has intercepted any threats, or even to confirm that the program exists. Under Quiet Skies, thousands of unsuspecting Americans have been subjected to targeted airport and inflight surveillance, carried out by small teams of armed, undercover air marshals. The teams document whether passengers fidget, use a computer, have a “jump” in their Adam’s apple or a “cold penetrating stare,” among other behaviors.

All U.S. citizens who enter the country are screened for inclusion in Quiet Skies — their travel patterns and affiliations are checked and their names run against a terrorist watch list and other databases. The program relies on 15 rules to screen passengers, and the criteria appear broad.

from https://thecrimereport.org

TSA Follows Ordinary Citizens in ‘Quiet Skies’ Surveillance

Some air marshals say the program has them tasked with shadowing travelers who appear to pose no real threat, such as a businesswoman who happened to have traveled through a Mideast hot spot, a Southwest Airlines flight attendant, and a fellow federal law enforcement officer.

Federal air marshals are following ordinary U.S. citizens not suspected of a crime or on a terrorist watch list and collecting extensive information about their movements and behavior under a new domestic surveillance program that is drawing criticism from within the agency, the Boston Globe reports.

The program, called “Quiet Skies,” targets travelers who “are not under investigation by any agency and are not in the Terrorist Screening Data Base,” according to a Transportation Security Administration bulletin. The bulletin describes the program’s goal as thwarting threats to commercial aircraft “posed by unknown or partially known terrorists,” and gives the agency broad discretion over which air travelers to focus on and how closely they are tracked.

Some air marshals say the program has them tasked with shadowing travelers who appear to pose no real threat, such as a businesswoman who happened to have traveled through a Mideast hot spot, a Southwest Airlines flight attendant, and a fellow federal law enforcement officer.

It is a time-consuming and costly assignment that they say saps their ability to do more vital law enforcement work. TSA officials declined to discuss whether Quiet Skies has intercepted any threats, or even to confirm that the program exists. Under Quiet Skies, thousands of unsuspecting Americans have been subjected to targeted airport and inflight surveillance, carried out by small teams of armed, undercover air marshals. The teams document whether passengers fidget, use a computer, have a “jump” in their Adam’s apple or a “cold penetrating stare,” among other behaviors.

All U.S. citizens who enter the country are screened for inclusion in Quiet Skies — their travel patterns and affiliations are checked and their names run against a terrorist watch list and other databases. The program relies on 15 rules to screen passengers, and the criteria appear broad.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Police Foundation Launches Center for Mass Violence Research Studies

The center, piloted by one of the nation’s leading police think tanks, will explore how police and other first responders can improve their ability to handle mass violence incidents like terror attacks and school shootings.

One of the country’s leading police research organizations is launching a Center for Mass Violence Research Studies to explore how police and other first responders can improve their ability to handle mass violence incidents like terror attacks and school shootings.

The Police Foundation described the center’s mission as an effort to help public safety authorities and community leaders “think critically about mass violence events, so as to develop and implement comprehensive prevention, response and recovery strategies.”

“Public safety officials, policy and decision makers, and community leaders learn from research, data and comprehensive case studies to identify what’s working, and what areas can be improved to enhance public safety’s response to mass violence events,” said Foundation President Jim Bueermann, a former chief of police in Redlands, Ca., in a press statement.

“As threats constantly evolve, it is critical that we continuously evaluate protocols to ensure our communities remain as safe as possible.”

The Foundation said it was spurred to action by recent acts of violence across the U.S., ranging from the terror attack in San Bernadino, Ca. in 2015, at the 2016 massacre at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando, Fl., and the shootings earlier this year at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fl.

Noting that such incidents remained “relatively infrequent,” the Foundation said the chaos and devastation suffered by communities and survivors in their wake, represented a new strategic challenge to emergency response protocols.

The Police Foundation, established in 1970 as a non-partisan think tank with a grant from the Ford Foundation, has sponsored research that has led to significant changes in policing in areas ranging from police ethics and use of force to immigration enforcement and gun policy.

Its senior staff and research fellows includes former police chiefs and senior police managers.

In 2015, with funding from the National Institute of Justice and the Office of Community Oriented Policing, it created the Averted School Violence database, and is currently expanding it to include a state by state review of school and building safety security standards.

from https://thecrimereport.org

FBI Says It Thwarted July 4 Terror Attack in Cleveland

An Ohio man plotted to set off a bomb at the Fourth of July fireworks celebration in downtown Cleveland in an attempt to “strike at the values at the very core of our nation.” Demetrius Pitts, 48, expressed a desire to join al Qaeda and kill US citizens, the FBI said.

A Maple Heights, Ohio, man plotted to set off a bomb at the Fourth of July fireworks celebration in downtown Cleveland in an attempt to “strike at the values at the very core of our nation,” reports Cleveland.com. Demetrius Pitts, 48, expressed a desire to join al Qaeda and kill U.S. citizens — including military personnel and their families — as he told the undercover agent of his plot to conduct a July 4 attack on Voinovich Park, where fireworks are set off each year. “Just last week, this defendant was walking around downtown Cleveland conducting reconnaissance on what he believed would thought was a large-scale attack,” said U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman. “He looked for a place to park a van full of explosives.”

Pitts is charged with one count of attempting to provide material support to al-Qaeda, a designated foreign terrorist organization. The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force arrested Pitts on Sunday afternoon. Pitts is a US citizen and Philadelphia native, but he became radicalized. An affidavit says Pitt expressed anti-American sentiment between 2015 and 2017. This year, he was introduced to an undercover FBI agent who he believed to be a “brother,” the affidavit says. FBI agent Stephen Anthony declined to say if Pitts had access to, or was capable of making, an explosive. “Law enforcement cannot sit back and wait for Mr. Pitts to commit a violent attack,” Anthony said. An undercover agent told Pitts that people would die in a potential terrorist attack, but Pitts responded by saying he did not care and had no regrets, the affidavit says. Pitts has an extensive criminal history, including prior convictions for felonious assault, domestic violence, carrying concealed weapons. Herdman, Anthony and Cleveland police Chief Calvin Williams said they expect the Fourth of July celebration to be safe.

from https://thecrimereport.org