TN - Nashville's police chief is raising stunning new allegations regarding the U.S. Secret Service, saying local agents once asked his officers to fake a warrant.
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The allegations regarding the January 2013 incident are contained in a letter that Anderson sent to several members of the House Committee on Oversight. That's the congressional committee that has spearheaded the on-going investigation into the Secret Service. Secret Service Director Julia Pierson was recently forced to resign as a result of that scandal.
"There's already a lot of fodder to attack the Secret Service with, and this will be more," said Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tennessee, who was among the committee members who received the letter.
In the Nashville case, a Secret Service agent made a frantic call for backup to Nashville police after he and another agent went to the home of a Nashville man, investigating threatening comments on Facebook about the President. The man who posted them had refused to let the agents into his house.
"He shoved the door in our face and went around the corner. Looks like, we're not sure if he ... possibly he had a gun in his hands," the agent told a 911 operator.
In a letter that he first sent to Secret Service headquarters, the Nashville police chief recounted what happened.
"The resident refused to come outside and shouted back, 'Show me your warrant,'" Anderson wrote.
So "one of the agents then asked a police sergeant to 'wave a piece of paper' in an apparent effort to dupe the resident into thinking that they indeed had a warrant."
Anderson demanded a meeting with bosses inside the Secret Service's Nashville office.
He recalled asking, "Do you think it is appropriate to wave a piece of paper in the air and tell him you have a warrant when you do not have a warrant?"
"Answer: 'I don't know. I'm not a lawyer.'"
The legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, Thomas Castelli, called the incident an "absolutely appalling" violation of basic constitutional principles.
"If this is something that not all law enforcement -- and I'm talking about from the cop patrolling the streets in our smallest town in Tennessee all the way up to the Secret Service and the FBI -- if this is not something that they're taught, then that's a big problem," Castelli said.
Police said the resident had not actually committed a crime.
Police use the "Glomar response" to justify withholding documents:
NY - Many a reporter has been stymied by the "Glomar response," as it's known, since 1975, when it was first established as a permissible answer to a federal Freedom of Information Act request. (The backstory, as recounted in this Radiolab segment, involves a sunken Russian nuclear submarine, a Cold War pissing contest, and a company called "Global Marine" -- hence Glomar.)
The justification behind a Glomar response is that, in some cases, simply confirming the existence of certain records would be enough to undermine government interests. If a reporter asked the CIA for any records, say, about a secret CIA time machine project, even acknowledging that there are records fitting that description might be enough to jeopardize secrecy in meaningful ways. Such records would also be indisputably awesome.
The dread Glomar has always been a dodge available to the feds but not to local police, who have wide latitude to deny access to records but generally, under a state freedom-of-information law, have to give some sort of reason for withholding them -- thus acknowledging their existence.
A recent court ruling might bring the legal principle involved into New York State for the first time.
The case involves a Harlem-based imam, Talib Abdur-Rashid, who sued the city to find out whether he and his mosque had been under surveillance by the NYPD. There are strong suggestions that Abdur-Rashid, who has for years preached a politically charged brand of Islam, may have been a target of the department's "demographics unit," which embarked on broad-based surveillance of Muslim groups in the years after 9-11.
As the Associated Press first reported in a Pulitzer Prize-winning series in 2011, Muslim groups as well as Arab and South Asian immigrant communities were for years targeted in a potentially illegal dragnet, one that penetrated mosques and aggressively monitored organizations and individuals based, in some cases, on constitutionally protected speech. (The NYPD initially denied this all rather flatly, and only admitted later that the demographics unit did indeed exist at one time. It has since reportedly been disbanded.)
According to Enemies Within, a book on the demographics unit written by then-AP reporters Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman, Abdur-Rashid was one of 26 people placed on a "watch list" by the department in 2004. His "views on the wars in the Middle East" were what attracted the cops' attention, as well as his anti-Semitic remarks and other comments that were "distasteful," in the authors' characterization, but not illegal.
In 2012, Abdur-Rashid demanded all records related to any investigation of him by the NYPD. Briefs flew back and forth. In February 2013, the department asked a judge to allow them to offer a "Glomar response," rather than refusing to release the records under New York's version of the Freedom of Information Act, which would normally require them to admit, at least, that such records exist.
Their argument in this brief was that merely revealing whether or not the NYPD was spying, could disclose sensitive information about the department's investigative techniques. The department's lawyers admitted that it was an "issue of first impression," and that they were asking the judge to reach beyond state court precedent, essentially deciding the issue based on federal legal doctrine, which would normally have no bearing on a case in state court.
Meanwhile police in DC are using the secretive 'Stingray' cell phone tracking tool.
Back in 2003, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) in Washington, DC was awarded a $260,000 grant from DHS to purchase surveillance technology called Stingray — a contraption the size of a suitcase that simulates a cell phone tower and intercepts mobile phone calls and text messages.
The rationale behind the DHS grant to MPD and other law enforcement agencies was to help them secure new antiterrorism technology from private corporations. But the grant fell a little short, because the MPD couldn't come up with the extra several thousands dollars it needed to train officers how to use and maintain Stingray — so the device sat unused in an "Electronic Surveillance Unit equipment vault" at the department for more than five years.
The details of the MPD's use of Stingray have been shrouded in secrecy. Although there was suspicion the department was utilizing the technology, documentary evidence to support the notion never surfaced.