The Secret Government Rulebook For Labeling You a Terrorist

The Obama administration has quietly approved a substantial expansion of the terrorist watchlist system, authorizing a secret process that requires neither “concrete facts” nor “irrefutable evidence” to designate an American or foreigner as a terrorist, according to a key government document obtained by The Intercept.

The “March 2013 Watchlisting Guidance,” a 166-page document issued last year by the National Counterterrorism Center, spells out the government’s secret rules for putting individuals on its main terrorist database, as well as the no fly list and the selectee list, which triggers enhanced screening at airports and border crossings. The new guidelines allow individuals to be designated as representatives of terror organizations without any evidence they are actually connected to such organizations, and it gives a single White House official the unilateral authority to place entire “categories” of people the government is tracking onto the no fly and selectee lists. It broadens the authority of government officials to “nominate” people to the watchlists based on what is vaguely described as “fragmentary information.” It also allows for dead people to be watchlisted.

Over the years, the Obama and Bush Administrations have fiercely resisted disclosing the criteria for placing names on the databases—though the guidelines are officially labeled as unclassified. In May, Attorney General Eric Holder even invoked the state secrets privilege to prevent watchlisting guidelines from being disclosed in litigation launched by an American who was on the no fly list. In an affidavit, Holder called them a “clear roadmap” to the government’s terrorist-tracking apparatus, adding: “The Watchlisting Guidance, although unclassified, contains national security information that, if disclosed … could cause significant harm to national security.”

The rulebook, which The Intercept is publishing in full, was developed behind closed doors by representatives of the nation’s intelligence, military, and law-enforcement establishment, including the Pentagon, CIA, NSA, and FBI. Emblazoned with the crests of 19 agencies, it offers the most complete and revealing look into the secret history of the government’s terror list policies to date. It reveals a confounding and convoluted system filled with exceptions to its own rules, and it relies on the elastic concept of “reasonable suspicion” as a standard for determining whether someone is a possible threat. Because the government tracks “suspected terrorists” as well as “known terrorists,” individuals can be watchlisted if they are suspected of being a suspected terrorist, or if they are suspected of associating with people who are suspected of terrorism activity.

“Instead of a watchlist limited to actual, known terrorists, the government has built a vast system based on the unproven and flawed premise that it can predict if a person will commit a terrorist act in the future,” says Hina Shamsi, the head of the ACLU’s National Security Project. “On that dangerous theory, the government is secretly blacklisting people as suspected terrorists and giving them the impossible task of proving themselves innocent of a threat they haven’t carried out.” Shamsi, who reviewed the document, added, “These criteria should never have been kept secret.”

The document’s definition of “terrorist” activity includes actions that fall far short of bombing or hijacking. In addition to expected crimes, such as assassination or hostage-taking, the guidelines also define destruction of government property and damaging computers used by financial institutions as activities meriting placement on a list. They also define as terrorism any act that is “dangerous” to property and intended to influence government policy through intimidation.

This combination—a broad definition of what constitutes terrorism and a low threshold for designating someone a terrorist—opens the way to ensnaring innocent people in secret government dragnets. It can also be counterproductive. When resources are devoted to tracking people who are not genuine risks to national security, the actual threats get fewer resources—and might go unnoticed.

“If reasonable suspicion is the only standard you need to label somebody, then it’s a slippery slope we’re sliding down here, because then you can label anybody anything,” says David Gomez, a former senior FBI special agent with experience running high-profile terrorism investigations. “Because you appear on a telephone list of somebody doesn’t make you a terrorist. That’s the kind of information that gets put in there.”

The fallout is personal too. There are severe consequences for people unfairly labeled a terrorist by the U.S. government, which shares its watchlist data with local law enforcement, foreign governments, and “private entities.” Once the U.S. government secretly labels you a terrorist or terrorist suspect, other institutions tend to treat you as one. It can become difficult to get a job (or simply to stay out of jail). It can become burdensome—or impossible—to travel. And routine encounters with law enforcement can turn into ordeals.

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A chart from the “March 2013 Watchlisting Guidance”

In 2012 Tim Healy, the former director of the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, described to CBS News how watchlists are used by police officers. “So if you are speeding, you get pulled over, they’ll query that name,” he said. “And if they are encountering a known or suspected terrorist, it will pop up and say call the Terrorist Screening Center…. So now the officer on the street knows he may be dealing with a known or suspected terrorist.” Of course, the problem is that the “known or suspected terrorist” might just be an ordinary citizen who should not be treated as a menace to public safety.

Until 2001, the government did not prioritize building a watchlist system. On 9/11, the government’s list of people barred from flying included just 16 names. Today, the no fly list has swelled to tens of thousands of “known or suspected terrorists” (the guidelines refer to them as KSTs). The selectee list subjects people to extra scrutiny and questioning at airports and border crossings. The government has created several other databases, too. The largest is the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE), which gathers terrorism information from sensitive military and intelligence sources around the world. Because it contains classified information that cannot be widely distributed, there is yet another list, the Terrorist Screening Database, or TSDB, which has been stripped of TIDE’s classified data so that it can be shared. When government officials refer to “the watchlist,” they are typically referring to the TSDB. (TIDE is the responsibility of the National Counterterrorism Center; the TSDB is managed by the Terrorist Screening Center at the FBI.)

In a statement, a spokesman for the National Counterterrorism Center told The Intercept that “the watchlisting system is an important part of our layered defense to protect the United States against future terrorist attacks” and that “watchlisting continues to mature to meet an evolving, diffuse threat.” He added that U.S. citizens are afforded extra protections to guard against improper listing, and that no one can be placed on a list solely for activities protected by the First Amendment. A representative of the Terrorist Screening Center did not respond to a request for comment.

The system has been criticized for years. In 2004, Sen. Ted Kennedy complained that he was barred from boarding flights on five separate occasions because his name resembled the alias of a suspected terrorist. Two years later, CBS News obtained a copy of the no fly list and reported that it included Bolivian president Evo Morales and Lebanese parliament head Nabih Berri. One of the watchlists snared Mikey Hicks, a Cub Scout who got his first of many airport pat-downs at age two. In 2007, the Justice Department’s inspector general issued a scathing report identifying “significant weaknesses” in the system. And in 2009, after a Nigerian terrorist was able to board a passenger flight to Detroit and nearly detonated a bomb sewn into his underwear despite his name having been placed on the TIDE list, President Obama admitted that there had been a “systemic failure.”

Obama hoped that his response to the “underwear bomber” would be a turning point. In 2010, he gave increased powers and responsibilities to the agencies that nominate individuals to the lists, placing pressure on them to add names. His administration also issued a set of new guidelines for the watchlists. Problems persisted, however. In 2012, the U.S. Government Accountability Office published a report that bluntly noted there was no agency responsible for figuring out “whether watchlist-related screening or vetting is achieving intended results.” The guidelines were revised and expanded in 2013—and a source within the intelligence community subsequently provided a copy to The Intercept.

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“Concrete facts are not necessary”

The five chapters and 11 appendices of the “Watchlisting Guidance” are filled with acronyms, legal citations, and numbered paragraphs; it reads like an arcane textbook with a vocabulary all its own. Different types of data on suspected terrorists are referred to as “derogatory information,” “substantive derogatory information,” “extreme derogatory information” and “particularized derogatory information.” The names of suspected terrorists are passed along a bureaucratic ecosystem of “originators,” “nominators,” “aggregators,” “screeners,” and “encountering agencies.” And “upgrade,” usually a happy word for travellers, is repurposed to mean that an individual has been placed on a more restrictive list.

The heart of the document revolves around the rules for placing individuals on a watchlist. “All executive departments and agencies,” the document says, are responsible for collecting and sharing information on terrorist suspects with the National Counterterrorism Center. It sets a low standard—”reasonable suspicion“—for placing names on the watchlists, and offers a multitude of vague, confusing, or contradictory instructions for gauging it. In the chapter on “Minimum Substantive Derogatory Criteria”—even the title is hard to digest—the key sentence on reasonable suspicion offers little clarity:

“To meet the REASONABLE SUSPICION standard, the NOMINATOR, based on the totality of the circumstances, must rely upon articulable intelligence or information which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrants a determination that an individual is known or suspected to be or has been knowingly engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to TERRORISM and/or TERRORIST ACTIVITIES.”

The rulebook makes no effort to define an essential phrase in the passage—”articulable intelligence or information.” After stressing that hunches are not reasonable suspicion and that “there must be an objective factual basis” for labeling someone a terrorist, it goes on to state that no actual facts are required:

“In determining whether a REASONABLE SUSPICION exists, due weight should be given to the specific reasonable inferences that a NOMINATOR is entitled to draw from the facts in light of his/her experience and not on unfounded suspicions or hunches. Although irrefutable evidence or concrete facts are not necessary, to be reasonable, suspicion should be as clear and as fully developed as circumstances permit.”

While the guidelines nominally prohibit nominations based on unreliable information, they explicitly regard “uncorroborated” Facebook or Twitter posts as sufficient grounds for putting an individual on one of the watchlists. “Single source information,” the guidelines state, “including but not limited to ‘walk-in,’ ‘write-in,’ or postings on social media sites, however, should not automatically be discounted … the NOMINATING AGENCY should evaluate the credibility of the source, as well as the nature and specificity of the information, and nominate even if that source is uncorroborated.”

There are a number of loopholes for putting people onto the watchlists even if reasonable suspicion cannot be met.

One is clearly defined: The immediate family of suspected terrorists—their spouses, children, parents, or siblings—may be watchlisted without any suspicion that they themselves are engaged in terrorist activity. But another loophole is quite broad—”associates” who have a defined relationship with a suspected terrorist, but whose involvement in terrorist activity is not known. A third loophole is broader still—individuals with “a possible nexus” to terrorism, but for whom there is not enough “derogatory information” to meet the reasonable suspicion standard.

Americans and foreigners can be nominated for the watchlists if they are associated with a terrorist group, even if that group has not been designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government. They can also be treated as “representatives” of a terrorist group even if they have “neither membership in nor association with the organization.” The guidelines do helpfully note that certain associations, such as providing janitorial services or delivering packages, are not grounds for being watchlisted.

The nomination system appears to lack meaningful checks and balances. Although government officials have repeatedly said there is a rigorous process for making sure no one is unfairly placed in the databases, the guidelines acknowledge that all nominations of “known terrorists” are considered justified unless the National Counterterrorism Center has evidence to the contrary. In a recent court filing, the government disclosed that there were 468,749 KST nominations in 2013, of which only 4,915 were rejected–a rate of about one percent. The rulebook appears to invert the legal principle of due process, defining nominations as “presumptively valid.”

Profiling categories of people

While the nomination process appears methodical on paper, in practice there is a shortcut around the entire system. Known as a “threat-based expedited upgrade,” it gives a single White House official the unilateral authority to elevate entire “categories of people” whose names appear in the larger databases onto the no fly or selectee lists. This can occur, the guidelines state, when there is a “particular threat stream” indicating that a certain type of individual may commit a terrorist act.

This extraordinary power for “categorical watchlisting”—otherwise known as profiling—is vested in the assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, a position formerly held by CIA Director John Brennan that does not require Senate confirmation.

The rulebook does not indicate what “categories of people” have been subjected to threat-based upgrades. It is not clear, for example, whether a category might be as broad as military-age males from Yemen. The guidelines do make clear that American citizens and green card holders are subject to such upgrades, though government officials are required to review their status in an “expedited” procedure. Upgrades can remain in effect for 72 hours before being reviewed by a small committee of senior officials. If approved, they can remain in place for 30 days before a renewal is required, and can continue “until the threat no longer exists.”

“In a set of watchlisting criteria riddled with exceptions that swallow rules, this exception is perhaps the most expansive and certainly one of the most troubling,” Shamsi, the ACLU attorney, says. “It’s reminiscent of the Bush administration’s heavily criticized color-coded threat alerts, except that here, bureaucrats can exercise virtually standard-less authority in secret with specific negative consequences for entire categories of people.”

The National Counterterrorism Center declined to provide any details on the upgrade authority, including how often it has been exercised and for what categories of people.

Pocket litter and scuba gear

The guidelines provide the clearest explanation yet of what is happening when Americans and foreigners are pulled aside at airports and border crossings by government agents. The fifth chapter, titled “Encounter Management and Analysis,” details the type of information that is targeted for collection during “encounters” with people on the watchlists, as well as the different organizations that should collect the data. The Department of Homeland Security is described as having the largest number of encounters, but other authorities, ranging from the State Department and Coast Guard to foreign governments and “certain private entities,” are also involved in assembling “encounter packages” when watchlisted individuals cross their paths. The encounters can be face-to-face meetings or electronic interactions—for instance, when a watchlisted individual applies for a visa.

In addition to data like fingerprints, travel itineraries, identification documents and gun licenses, the rules encourage screeners to acquire health insurance information, drug prescriptions, “any cards with an electronic strip on it (hotel cards, grocery cards, gift cards, frequent flyer cards),” cellphones, email addresses, binoculars, peroxide, bank account numbers, pay stubs, academic transcripts, parking and speeding tickets, and want ads. The digital information singled out for collection includes social media accounts, cell phone lists, speed dial numbers, laptop images, thumb drives, iPods, Kindles, and cameras. All of the information is then uploaded to the TIDE database.

Screeners are also instructed to collect data on any “pocket litter,” scuba gear, EZ Passes, library cards, and the titles of any books, along with information about their condition—”e.g., new, dog-eared, annotated, unopened.” Business cards and conference materials are also targeted, as well as “anything with an account number” and information about any gold or jewelry worn by the watchlisted individual. Even “animal information”—details about pets from veterinarians or tracking chips—is requested. The rulebook also encourages the collection of biometric or biographical data about the travel partners of watchlisted individuals.

The list of government entities that collect this data includes the U.S. Agency for International Development, which is neither an intelligence nor law-enforcement agency. As the rulebook notes, USAID funds foreign aid programs that promote environmentalism, health care, and education. USAID, which presents itself as committed to fighting global poverty, nonetheless appears to serve as a conduit for sensitive intelligence about foreigners. According to the guidelines, “When USAID receives an application seeking financial assistance, prior to granting, these applications are subject to vetting by USAID intelligence analysts at the TSC.” The guidelines do not disclose the volume of names provided by USAID, the type of information it provides, or the number and duties of the “USAID intelligence analysts.”

A USAID spokesman told The Intercept that “in certain high risk countries, such as Afghanistan, USAID has determined that vetting potential partner organizations with the terrorist watchlist is warranted to protect U.S. taxpayer dollars and to minimize the risk of inadvertent funding of terrorism.” He stated that since 2007, the agency has checked “the names and other personal identifying information of key individuals of contractors and grantees, and sub-recipients.”

Death and the watchlist

The government has been widely criticized for making it impossible for people to know why they have been placed on a watchlist, and for making it nearly impossible to get off. The guidelines bluntly state that “the general policy of the U.S. Government is to neither confirm nor deny an individual’s watchlist status.” But the courts have taken exception to the official silence and footdragging: In June, a federal judge described the government’s secretive removal process as unconstitutional and “wholly ineffective.”

The difficulty of getting off the list is highlighted by a passage in the guidelines stating that an individual can be kept on the watchlist, or even placed onto the watchlist, despite being acquitted of a terrorism-related crime. The rulebook justifies this by noting that conviction in U.S. courts requires evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, whereas watchlisting requires only a reasonable suspicion. Once suspicion is raised, even a jury’s verdict cannot erase it.

Not even death provides a guarantee of getting off the list. The guidelines say the names of dead people will stay on the list if there is reason to believe the deceased’s identity may be used by a suspected terrorist–which the National Counterterrorism Center calls a “demonstrated terrorist tactic.” In fact, for the same reason, the rules permit the deceased spouses of suspected terrorists to be placed onto the list after they have died.

For the living, the process of getting off the watchlist is simple yet opaque. A complaint can be filed through the Department of Homeland Security Traveler Redress Inquiry Program, which launches an internal review that is not subject to oversight by any court or entity outside the counterterrorism community. The review can result in removal from a watchlist or an adjustment of watchlist status, but the individual will not be told if he or she prevails. The guidelines highlight one of the reasons why it has been difficult to get off the list—if multiple agencies have contributed information on a watchlisted individual, all of them must agree to removing him or her.

If a U.S. citizen is placed on the no fly list while abroad and is turned away from a flight bound for the U.S., the guidelines say they should be referred to the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate, which is prohibited from informing them why they were blocked from flying. According to the rules, these individuals can be granted a “One-Time Waiver” to fly, though they will not be told that they are traveling on a waiver. Back in the United States, they will be unable to board another flight.

The document states that nominating agencies are “under a continuing obligation” to provide exculpatory information when it emerges. It adds that the agencies are expected to conduct annual reviews of watchlisted American citizens and green card holders. It is unclear whether foreigners—or the dead—are reviewed at the same pace. As the rulebook notes, “watchlisting is not an exact science.”

By Jeremy Scahill and Ryan Devereaux 23 Jul 2014, 2:45 PM EDT 378
Josh Begley, Lynn Dombek, and Peter Maass contributed to this story.

Find this story at 23 July 2014

© 2014 First Look Productions, Inc.

Leitlinien geleakt So leicht landen Sie in der US-Terrordatenbank

“The Intercept” hat die vertraulichen Leitlinien für die Terrordatenbank der US-Regierung veröffentlicht. Demnach sind konkrete Fakten nicht nötig, um jemanden als suspekt einzustufen. Die Folgen können gravierend sein.

“The Intercept”, die Enthüllungswebsite, für die auch Glenn Greenwald arbeitet, hat am Mittwoch ein internes Dokument der US-Regierung im Volltext veröffentlicht. In den Leitlinien mit dem Titel “March 2013 Watchlisting Guidance” wird auf 166 Seiten dargelegt, wie verdächtige Personen auf der nationalen Terrorliste landen und wieder entfernt werden können.

Die US-Regierung hatte vor der Veröffentlichung gewarnt. Die Anleitung sei ein “Fahrplan” in Sachen Terrorbekämpfung, heißt es von US-Justizminister Eric Holder. Eine Veröffentlichung könne der nationalen Sicherheit erheblichen Schaden zufügen.

Greenwalds Redaktion hält dagegen, das Dokument sei nicht als geheim eingestuft. An der Erstellung der Leitlinien hätten 19 Dienste und Regierungsbehörden mitgearbeitet, vom FBI über die CIA bis zur NSA. Das Papier richtet sich “The Intercept” zufolge an zahlreiche US-Behörden. Wer auf Grundlage des Dokuments einmal auf der allgemeinen Überwachungsliste landet, läuft demnach etwa Gefahr, mit einem Flugverbot belegt oder an Flughäfen und Grenzübergängen strenger kontrolliert zu werden.

Die Kriterien, die darüber entscheiden, ob jemand auf der Beobachtungsliste der US-Regierung landet, scheinen recht unscharf. So soll im Zweifel ein nicht näher zu begründender “angemessener Verdacht” reichen, “konkrete Fakten” oder “unumstößliche Beweise” seien nicht erforderlich. Zudem sei es selbst einzelnen Regierungsbeamten jederzeit möglich, “komplette Kategorien” von Verdächtigen der Terrorliste hinzuzufügen. Was man sich darunter konkret vorstellen darf, wird jedoch nicht ausgeführt.

Selbst Tote könnten in der Liste auftauchen. Die US-Regierung verweist hier auf die Gefahr, dass die Identität eines Verstorbenen von einem anderen Terrorverdächtigen angenommen werden könnte. Auch Familienangehörige von Verdächtigen können ohne eigenes Fehlverhalten auf der Liste landen.

1,5 Millionen Namen auf der Liste

Die großzügige Einschätzung von tatsächlicher oder nur angenommener Bedrohung hat dazu geführt, dass die Terror-Liste inzwischen 1,5 Millionen Namen enthält. Noch im August 2013 soll die Anzahl der erfassten Verdächtigen bei 700.000 gelegen haben, meldete die Nachrichtenagentur AP. Als Aktivität eines Terroristen definieren die Leitlinien übrigens nicht nur Bombenattentate, Flugzeugentführungen oder Geiselnahmen. Eine Aufnahme in die Liste hält die US-Regierung auch dann für gerechtfertigt, wenn jemand im Verdacht steht, Regierungseigentum zerstören zu wollen oder Computer zu beschädigen, die Finanzbehörden verwenden.

Amerikanische Bürgerrechtsgruppen kritisierten die schwammigen Kriterien der Regierung. “Anstatt die Watchlist auf aktuell bekannte Terroristen zu beschränken, hat die Regierung ein riesiges System geschaffen, das auf der unbewiesenen und fehlerhaften Annahme beruht, es sei möglich, künftige Terrorakte vorherzusagen”, sagte Hina Shamsi von der Bürgerrechtsorganisation American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Die Bürgerrechtler werfen der Regierung auch vor, dass es keine Möglichkeit gebe, sich gegen eine Nennung auf der Liste zu wehren. Ebenso sei es kaum möglich, die Gründe für eine Listen-Aufnahme herauszufinden. In den Leitlinien heißt es, ein Grundsatz der Regierung sei es, den Beobachtungslisten-Status einzelner Personen weder zu bestätigen noch zu dementieren.

Die Liste war nach den Terroranschlägen vom 11. September 2001 eingeführt worden. Ihr Umfang nahm rasant zu, nachdem im Dezember 2009 der Nigerianer Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab versucht hatte, einen in seine Unterhose eingenähten Sprengsatz an Bord einer US-Passagiermaschine von Amsterdam nach Detroit zu zünden.

24. Juli 2014, 11:30 Uhr

Find this story at 24 July 2014

© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2014

Muslim Americans Who Claim FBI Used No-Fly List to Coerce Them Into Becoming Informants File Lawsuit

Naveed Shinwari is one of four American Muslims who filed suit against the government this week for placing them on the U.S. “no-fly list” in order to coerce them into becoming FBI informants. The plaintiffs say the government refuses to explain why they were named on the no-fly list. They also believe that their names continue to be listed because they would not agree to become FBI informants and spy on their local communities. “It’s very frustrating, you feel helpless,” Shinwari says. “No one will tell you how you can get off of it, how you got on it. It has a profound impact on people’s lives.” We are also joined by Shayana Kadidal, senior managing attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, which is seeking to remove the men from the no-fly list and establish a new legal mechanism to challenge placement on it.

TRANSCRIPT
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin today’s show with the story of four American Muslims who say they were placed on the U.S. no-fly list by the FBI after they refused to become government informants. They say they were barred from flying, not because they were accused of any crime, but because they refused government requests to spy on their own communities. On Tuesday night, the men filed a lawsuit seeking their removal from the no-fly list, as well as a new legal mechanism to challenge placement on it.

The New York Times reports the list, officially called the Terrorist Screening Database, has grown to at least 700,000 people. The government refuses to reveal who is on the list, how one can get off it, and what criteria are used to place someone on it in the first place.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we’re joined by Naveed Shinwari, one of the four American Muslims filing a lawsuit accusing the FBI of unjustly placing them on the no-fly list and trying to coerce them to spy on their community. Also with us is Shayana Kadidal, senior managing attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. CCR is representing the four men, along with the City University of New York’s Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility program, or CLEAR.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Naveed, let’s begin with you. Tell us your story. What happened?

NAVEED SHINWARI: Thank you, first of all, for having us. I’ve been a big fan of the show since college days.

Well, in October 2011, I went on a Hajj pilgrimage, religious pilgrimage, with my mother. And after that, we went to Afghanistan, and that’s where I got married, too. On the way coming back, late February of 2012, I got—I was trying to obtain a boarding pass in Dubai. My flight was from Kabul to Dubai and then to Houston. And I was denied boarding pass in Dubai. I was told that I had to go outside and meet with the immigration, U.S. immigrations, or the embassy, consulate. I had to obtain a temporary visa. And my mother and I, we went out, out of the airport.

And then I was interrogated by two FBI agents for roughly about four hours, and I was told to—I was pressured to give them everything that I knew in order to go back home. And then they will—the more that I give them, the better chances of me coming back home that I had. I was told to take a lie detector test, and they wanted to take photos with their phone of mine, and which, both of them, I refused, because I was very truthful to them from the beginning.

Finally, after five days, we were able to—we had to buy new tickets, and we were able to come to the U.S. Then I was interrogated at the airport in Washington by a couple of FBI agents. And then I had several visits in my house. In March of 2012, I found out that I was on the no-fly list, when I had a flight to Orlando for a job. And in the airport, I was escorted by police officers telling me that I could not fly anymore. That’s the first time I found out.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: When you say they interrogated you the first time around, what kinds of questions were they asking you?

NAVEED SHINWARI: They told me to “tell us everything. And where did you been—where have you been? And have you attended any training camps in Afghanistan, or even to Pakistan?” And to all of those questions, my answer was negative. If you met individuals that pose a threat to national security, and my answer was negative, of course.

AMY GOODMAN: What are your feelings about being on the no-fly list? How has it affected your life? Where is your wife now, by the way?

NAVEED SHINWARI: She’s in Afghanistan, and it’s been 26 months, counting, that I have not seen her.

AMY GOODMAN: For more than two years.

NAVEED SHINWARI: That’s correct. I spent a month with her, and then I had to leave. And then, ever since, I haven’t been able to go back.

AMY GOODMAN: Shayana Kadidal, what is the legality of this?

SHAYANA KADIDAL: Well, I think it’s completely illegal. You know, most people find out that they’re on the list the same way Naveed did. They try to fly, and then they’re denied boarding, and sometimes a gate agent will tell them, “Well, you’re on this list.”

Now, there’s a process to challenge it, nominally, through the Department of Homeland Security, but when you file a complaint, you never get told whether or not you’re on the list or whether you’ve been removed from the list. The government never tells us what the criteria for being on the list is. We think it has something to do with whether you’re a threat to civil aviation, whatever that means, but they’ve never sort of published a definition, and they never tell you what evidence, you know, they’ve used to put you on there, right?

And a lot of times, I don’t think the government knows what evidence they’ve used to put you on there, because a field-level FBI agent, for all practical purposes, can nominate someone like Naveed. Those guys who interviewed him in Dubai could do it on their own discretion, just as if a New York City beat cop could put you on the no-fly list. And it’s basically a rubber stamp, the level of review that it gets once it goes into the Terrorist Screening Center that runs the list.

So, you know, you get this situation that’s ripe for abuse. And Naveed, like our other clients, you know, I think the FBI put him on the list basically because they knew there was no process where he could challenge it, where he could get off, other than coming to court, like we have now, and therefore they could use it very effectively to twist their arms to work and spy on completely innocent members of their Muslim community.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Right, and this issue of some of your clients being—or your clients being asked to spy on their communities, could you elaborate on that?

SHAYANA KADIDAL: Sure. Well, so you see Naveed, you know, answered all those questions negatively and was still—and still ended up on the list, right? They are asking people not to spy on friends and family and acquaintances who the government suspects of involvement in crime or terrorism; they’re asking them to troll the Muslim community for information. You know, it’s the same mentality as underlies the NSA surveillance programs, right? Gather every bit of information on civil society, and then we’ll figure out why we wanted it later.

AMY GOODMAN: Aviation security specialist Glenn Winn told San Diego news station 6 that people are not put on the no-fly list arbitrarily.

GLENN WINN: There’s something has arisen in his background, and it has restricted his movement on a U.S. carrier of the United States, i.e. a threat.
AMY GOODMAN: Shayana Kadidal, your response?

SHAYANA KADIDAL: I mean, I think, you know, the most obvious response to that is to look at the Rahinah Ibrahim case that was just litigated out on the West Coast and where the government for eight years fought, you know, invoking every secrecy doctrine you can imagine, to resist telling a former Stanford Ph.D. student whether or not she was on the list. Turned out they had accidentally put her on the list because an FBI agent had kind of incompetently checked the “yes” box instead of not checking it as he intended to. They took her off the list in 2005, and yet they fought for eight years in court to avoid having to tell her that and to really avoid telling the public that they made a spectacular mistake.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, in December, we spoke about the hidden cost of being placed on the no-fly list with the lawyer for Stanford University student Rahinah Ibrahim. Ibrahim sued the U.S. government after her name was placed on the no-fly list and she was barred from flying back from Malaysia to the United States in 2005 to complete her studies at Stanford. This is her attorney, Anya Bernstein.

ANYA BERNSTEIN: People are harmed by being on these watch lists. They’re harmed by being not allowed to fly. They’re also harmed by being subject to a lot more scrutiny from law enforcement officers every time they run into them. So if you’re on a watch list like this and you are stopped for speeding, the officer runs your license through a computer system, and he’s informed that you’re on the watch list. And then, naturally, he’s going to be paying a lot more attention to you; you’re much more likely to be arrested and to receive a certain kind of treatment. So, those are—those are more due process rights that may be infringed, and those are kind of the obvious costs of the terrorist watch lists.
The hidden costs are the systemic costs that people don’t really talk about as much, such as the effects on policy. So, one of the striking things about these watch lists is that, as far as we know, there is absolutely no mechanism for the agencies who run them to assess how well they’re doing. There’s nothing built into the system for people to review and say, “10 years ago we thought this was a bad guy. How did that turn out? How did our prediction pan out? And if it didn’t pan out, maybe we’re doing something wrong. What should we change?” So, one of the hidden costs is the bloating of the watch list with lots and lots of people who are most likely or even definitely not harmful and don’t pose a threat, and yet give us the impression that the main danger we face today is terrorism.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Anya Bernstein, attorney for the only person who has been able to successfully challenge being on the no-fly list. The impact on you and other people that you personally have been acquainted with who might have also been placed on the no-fly list?

NAVEED SHINWARI: It’s very frustrating, and you feel helpless. No one will tell you how you can get off of it, how you got on it. And it has a profound impact on people’s lives, and it has had a big impact on my life and on my family. And so, this is one of the reasons that I wanted to come out, was to—that there might be a lot of people that are afraid to speak up. And I wanted to—you know, I wanted to come out and show to everyone that, you know what, you don’t have to be afraid in this country, and you can come out and speak your mind, and we have to come together in order to resolve these kind of programs and these sort of issues.

AMY GOODMAN: Shayana, can you describe the other men who are suing?

SHAYANA KADIDAL: Sure. Well, you know, so Naveed hasn’t seen his wife in 26 months, right? We have another plaintiff who hasn’t seen his wife and his three small daughters for five years because he’s on the no-fly list. You know, all of our clients have family overseas. Two are Pakistani-American. Naveed’s Afghan-American. One’s Yemeni-American. And, you know, another client has a 93-year-old grandmother in Pakistan who’s begging to see him, because she’s gravely ill, she can’t travel here. You know, this woman raised him, and he can’t fly back there because he’s on this list. It’s devastating, you know, and there’s a stigmatic element to it, too. You know, there are people in the community who have turned away from some of our clients, because they wonder, you know, why did the government put them on this list. Surely there must be some reason, right?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And could you talk about this in the context of the other instances of surveillance of the Muslim community in the United States? Obviously, in New York City we had the notorious example, now stopped by the de Blasio administration, of conducting random surveillances of the Muslim community.

SHAYANA KADIDAL: Mm-hmm, right. Well, I think, you know, we have—you know, after 12 years since 9/11, 13 years, we have a huge, very well-financed infrastructure for counterterrorism, and it—you know, it generates a need, pressure to produce, quote-unquote, “results,” right? So FBI agents feel pressure to hit numerical quotas to produce a certain number of, quote-unquote, “informers.” Doesn’t matter whether the, you know, quote-unquote, “informers” have any tie to crime or terrorism or whether the people they know do, either, right? It’s, again, part of this program of just surveilling the community for surveillance’s sake.

AMY GOODMAN: A pro-Palestinian activist named Kevin Iraniha said he was mysteriously questioned by the FBI after a trip he took to the Middle East. He later found himself on a no-fly list while trying to fly to San Diego from Costa Rica. The law student reportedly returned to California by flying to Mexico and then walking across the border. He addressed supporters after returning home.

KEVIN IRANIHA: I’m happy to be home, finally, in my own hometown, you know, where I was born and raised. You see my bloodshot eyes. I’m still—I’m still going through it. It’s very tiring, and it was very depressing. This is very disappointing for anybody—to happen to anybody, you know, especially if they were born and raised here, or anybody on—outside also, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: Kevin is a U.S. citizen, and so he holds this news conference. Naveed, you’re here talking publicly. What about the repercussions for you? Are you concerned about any, about how people will view you?

NAVEED SHINWARI: Yes. Even within my household, there were—they were not in favor of me coming out. And they thought that this might make your situation difficult in bringing your wife here in the future. So that’s even within my house. Outside, many friends and family were against this, as well, too. But in every civil rights case, or whenever civil rights are violated or abused, people have to speak out. And if I don’t do it, who else will do it? So there are 16,000 to 21,000 people on this list, and the majority of them are innocent people, and they don’t know what they have done wrong. And I think we—it’s about time we need some openness to this program.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Naveed, we want to thank you for coming to Democracy Now! and telling your story. Naveed Shinwari is one of four American Muslims who filed a lawsuit accusing the FBI of unjustly placing them on the no-fly list and trying to coerce them to spy on their community. He has not seen his new wife in more than two years. Shayana Kadidal is senior managing attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, a federal court has ruled that a memo must be released that explains the rationale for killing the Awlakis, Anwar al-Awlaki and his son Abdulrahman, as well as other American citizen, Samir Khan. Stay with us.

THURSDAY, APRIL 24, 2014

Find this story at 24 April 2014

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No-fly list used by FBI to coerce Muslims into informing, lawsuit claims

Case highlights plight of people wrongfully added to database who face lengthy, secretive process to clear their names

Innocent people are being put on no-fly list as coercion or punishment by the FBI, a lawsuit alleges.

Naveed Shinwari hasn’t seen his wife in 26 months. He suspects it’s because he refused to become an informant for the FBI.

In February 2012 Shinwari, who has lived in the US since he was 14, flew to Afghanistan to get married. He says that before he could get home to Omaha, Nebraska, he was twice detained and questioned by FBI agents who wanted to know if he knew anything about national security threats. A third FBI visit followed when he got home.

The following month, after Shinwari bought another plane ticket for a temporary job in Connecticut, he couldn’t get a boarding pass. Police told him he had been placed on the US no-fly list, although he had never in his life been accused of breaking any law. Another FBI visit soon followed, with agents wanting to know about the “local Omaha community, did I know anyone who’s a threat”, he says.

“I’m just very frustrated, [and I said] what can I do to clear my name?” recalls Shinwari, 30. “And that’s where it was mentioned to me: you help us, we help you. We know you don’t have a job; we’ll give you money.”

Shinwari is one of four American Muslims in a new lawsuit who accuse the FBI of placing them on the no-fly list, either to intimidate them into becoming informants or to retaliate against them for declining.

Filed on Tuesday night in the US district court for the southern district of New York, the case accuses the US attorney general, Eric Holder, the FBI director, James Comey, the homeland security secretary, Jeh Johnson, and two dozen FBI agents of creating an atmosphere in which Muslims who are not accused of wrongdoing are forbidden from flying, apparently as leverage to get them snitching on their communities.

Their lawsuit seeks not only the plaintiffs’ removal from the no-fly list but also the establishment of a more robust legal mechanism to contest placement upon it.

“This policy and set of practices by the FBI is part of a much broader set of policies that reflect overpolicing in Muslim-American communities,” said Diala Shamas, one of the lawyers for the four plaintiffs.

In recent years Muslim community leaders in the US have stated that they feel law enforcement at times considers them a target, particularly thanks to mosque infiltrations and other surveillance practices. Material demonizing Muslims and Islam has been present in FBI counter-terrorism training, which the bureau has conceded was inappropriate. The New York police department recently shut down a unit tasked with spying on Muslim businesses, mosques and community centers in New York and New Jersey.

Like his co-plaintiffs Shinwari does not know for sure that the FBI deliberately placed him on the no-fly list as either a punitive measure or a pressure tactic.

Their four stories differ in important respects.

Jameel Algibhah of the Bronx alleges that the FBI explicitly asked him to infiltrate a Queens mosque and pose as an extremist in online forums. But they have in common an allegation of an implied quid pro quo. “We’re the only ones who can take you off the list,” an unnamed FBI agent who wanted Algibhah to inform to is alleged to have told him.

Their case follows at least one other, brought by the ACLU in Oregon, that alleges the FBI attempted to leverage no-fly selectees into informants. That case also challenges as insufficient the process afforded to people seeking to remove themselves from the list.

Shinwari, who now lives in Connecticut and works for a temp agency, has not attempted to return to Afghanistan to see his wife. While he was able to board a flight last month, he wonders if he received a reprieve from the no-fly list that the FBI offered to him in 2012 as enticement. Repeated attempts to formally remove himself from the list resulted in vague and inconclusive notifications from the government – which he, his co-plaintiffs and his lawyers contend feeds into the problem.

The no-fly list is among the most opaque post-9/11 measures. It is maintained by the FBI and implemented at airports by the Department of Homeland Security. Few know they’ve been placed on it, and those who do face a complicated redress process to have themselves removed. The new lawsuit alleges that the opacity contributes to watchlist abuse.

According to the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, which maintains the list, there were approximately 16,000 people, fewer than 500 of them Americans, on the no-fly list as of September 2011.

A larger pool of data that feeds the no-fly list and other government watchlists, known as the Terrorist Screening Database, contemporaneously contained records of 420,000 people. Famously it included Nelson Mandela until 2008. The government’s policy is to not to confirm or deny someone’s placement upon a watchlist.

Several earlier lawsuits have attempted to get people off the no-fly list. In February Rahinah Ibrahim became the first since 9/11 to win such a case, after demonstrating that the FBI adder her name by mistake. She had been unable to fly since 2004.

The criteria for inclusion on the list are unclear. In a March 2011 federal court filing Christopher Piehota, the current director of the Terrorist Screening Center, affirmed that FBI agents could nominate candidates to it.

Inclusion on the broader Terrorist Screening Database depends upon “whether there is reasonable suspicion to believe that a person is a known or suspected terrorist”, Piehota, then the deputy director of the Terrorist Screening Center, told the eastern district court of Virginia.

“Mere guesses or ‘hunches,’ or the reporting of suspicious activity alone is not enough to constitute a reasonable suspicion and are not sufficient bases to watchlist an individual.” Audits and other quality control measures were periodic, Piehota told the court.

An ACLU study last month challenged that criterion. “It is not at all clear what separates a reasonable-suspicion-based-on-a-reasonable-suspicion from a simple hunch,” it said, calling inclusion on a government watchlist a potentially “life-altering” experience.

A redress system for thwarted travelers was operated by the Department of Homeland Security and referred complaints to the FBI, Piehota further affirmed. A subsequent records check determined “whether the complainant’s current status in the TSDB [Terrorist Screening Database] is suitable based on the most current, accurate and thorough information available”.

The process was entirely internal, with DHS informing the would-be traveler what the system had determined “without disclosing the traveler’s status in the TSDB”, Piehota said.

A study by the justice department’s inspector general, partially declassified on 25 March, painted a mixed picture of the FBI’s watchlisting processes. “Subjects of closed terrorism investigations were removed from the watchlist when the case was closed,” it found, but it noted the FBI was “not timely in submitting watchlist nomination and removal packages for individuals not under investigation by the FBI”. In such cases it took the FBI a median of 78 days to remove people from the lists.

“Because non-investigative subjects may be retained on the watchlist for an extended period of time, this subset of watchlist practices will continue to grow throughout the years,” the inspector general’s report said.

The FBI declined to comment on the allegations in the new lawsuit, which was filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility project at the City University of New York.

Shinwari said his placement on the no-fly list and his dealings with the FBI had a chilling effect. “I don’t want to open up to people any more, or express myself politically or otherwise. It’s definitely had an effect on me participating in my local mosque,” he said.

“I just want to see some changes to this process, and openness and transparency would be good. That’s what Obama originally ran for.”

Spencer Ackerman in New York
theguardian.com, Wednesday 23 April 2014 03.00 BST

Find this story at 23 April 2014

© 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

THE FBI IS TRYING TO RECRUIT MUSLIMS AS SNITCHES BY PUTTING THEM ON NO-FLY LISTS

Dr Rahinah Ibrahim is not a national security threat.

The federal government even said so.

It took a lawsuit that has stretched for eight years for the feds to yield that admission. It is one answer in a case that opened up many more questions.

Namely: How did an innocent Malaysian architectural scholar remain on a terrorism no fly-list – effectively branded a terrorist – for years after a FBI paperwork screw up put her there? The answer to that question – to paraphrase a particularly hawkish former Secretary of Defense – may be unknowable.

Last week, there was a depressing development in the case. A judge’s decision was made public and it revealed that the White House has created at least one “secret exception” to the legal standard that federal authorities use to place people on such lists. This should trouble anyone who cares about niggling things like legal due process or the US Constitution. No one is clear what the exception is – because it’s secret, duh – meaning government is basically placing people on terror watchlists that can ruin their lives without explaining why or how they landed on those lists in the first place.

This flies in the face of what the government has told Congress and the American public. Previously, federal officials said that in order to land on one of these terror watchlists, someone has to meet a “reasonable suspicion standard”. That means there have to be clear facts supporting the government’s assertion that the individual in question is, you know, doing some terrorist shit. Which seems like a good idea.

But not any more, apparently.

Dr Rahinah Ibrahim (Photo via University Putra Malaysia)

Ibrahim, a Muslim who is currently the Dean of Architecture at University Putra Malaysia, was placed on the federal no-fly list in late 2004. She was removed from that specific list the following year, but her name remained on federal terrorism watchlist databases. Her daughter, a US citizen, was also watchlisted. Ibrahim was arrested at San Francisco International Airport while she was enrolled as a PhD student at Stanford University. She was not charged with any crime, but her student visa was revoked; later attempts at obtaining a new visa were denied. She sued the US government in 2006, basically saying that what the federal authorities did was illegal. Eight long years of litigation followed.

She found herself in a guilty-until-proven innocent legal quagmire. Perhaps most importantly, she was never given an explanation as to what landed her on this list. For that answer, she is still waiting. The government would ultimately concede that she had never posed a national security threat. In January, the court found the US government violated her due process rights.

During the case, there was one clue as to what may have convinced the US that Ibrahim was a potential terrorist. She belongs to a women’s economic organisation called Jamaah Islah Malaysia – there have been rumours that the FBI confused this with the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah.

Which would obviously be a really, really dumb thing for an investigative agency to do.

Ibrahim’s attorney, Elizabeth Pipkin, says she can’t say for sure how the authorities first became interested in her client. “That was speculation on our part,” she said. “The sad thing is, even after eight years of litigation, we weren’t able to get to the bottom of what was the underlying information that lead an FBI agent to her door and brought this whole thing about.”

But as great as a “Feds Suck at Googling” headline would be, it could be even more simple and ridiculous. According to one judge, an FBI agent made a basic paperwork error by filling out the form the opposite way from the instructions – ticking the lists she thought Ibrahim should not be on rather than the ones that she should. That screw up might be to blame for turning eight years of her life into a hellish pit of litigation.

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The real criteria of the no-fly list – if there is one – remains cloaked in secrecy. In America’s post-9/11 fever dream, it’s looking increasingly like the government has targeted Muslims who have no connection to terrorism on such lists, in the hope of developing informants, according to multiple ongoing federal lawsuits. (More on that in a minute.) And once you’re on these lists and terrorist databases, it’s a bitch to clear your name, as Ibrahim found out.

Pipkin says the only historical precedent for a like-minded programme occurred during the McCarthy era back in the 1950s, when the government denied passports for people who were suspected communists. It would appear the G-men of the 21st century are ripping a page right out of J Edgar Hoover’s playbook. When the Red Scare was all the rage, a case challenging such a policy went all the way to the US Supreme Court, which found that if someone is deprived of their right to travel, the government has to say why – something the authorities have failed to do in Ibrahim’s case.

As head of the FBI, J Edgar Hoover ran roughshod over civil liberties during the 1950s, during which time one US policy tried to prevent passports from being issued to suspected communists.
(Photo via)

In other words, it’s secret law: the government is deciding it doesn’t like you for some reason and punishing you, but declining to say what exactly you did to trigger the punishment. People like Ibrahim are stuck in a legal no-man’s land, where they can’t fly but they have not been charged with a crime.

“The assertion of executive privilege in this case was extreme and the secrecy that was asserted by the federal government with respect to its action here are really hard to stomach when you believe that this should be a democratic country,” said Pipkin.

Ibrahim is not the only Muslim to be caught in an extrajudicial limbo.

Gulet Mohamed, a US citizen of Somali descent, is also currently challenging his placement on a no-fly list. Mohamed has not been charged with any crime, but his placement on the list left him stranded in Kuwait for a month from December 2010 to January 2011. His designation prevented him from flying home. During his confinement, US authorities grilled him about his travels in Somalia and Yemen, but Mohamed denied having contact with militants. Mohamed, then still a teenager, says he was beaten and that federal agents made him an offer of becoming an informant, which he turned down. Ultimately, he was allowed back into the US in January 2011. This January, a federal judge ruled that he had a right to challenge his placement on the list.

His attorney, Gadeir Abbas, of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the watchlist policy violates due process rights guaranteed by the US Constitution.

“We know that whatever it was that interested them in Gulet, it was not enough for them to press charges against him, and if you can’t test your allegations through the criminal process, then what, exactly, are you doing?” he asked.

Abbas said that Federal authorities have significantly expanded the use of such watchlists since that guy decided to ring in Christmas 2009 by stuffing explosives into his skivvies and boarding a plane that was bound for Detroit. The feds, he said, are now using the watchlists as a, “punitive tool that it can use as leverage [against] individuals that they want to interrogate, to become informants”.

Put another way: Federal authorities are using the watchlists to target Muslims in the hopes they will spy on their own communities on behalf of the US government.

Hina Shamsi, the director for the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) National Security Project, meanwhile, has said the US terrorist database is broken. Thousands of people, she said, have been added to a no-fly list without any explanation as to why and with no opportunity to correct “the error or innuendo” that landed them there in the first place.

Abe Mashal

Abe Mashal was one such instance. The married father of four grew up the son of an Italian-American mother and a Palestinian father in Illinois. He is a former Marine. He also happens to be Muslim. He believes the confluence of those last two factors may have caused him a considerable headache.

Mashal trains dogs for a living. Sometimes this requires him to fly around the country. One day in April 2010, he arrived at Chicago’s Midway International Airport to fly to Washington state for a dog training job. He wasn’t allowed to board, he learned, because he had been placed on a no-fly list.

He is now part of an ongoing ACLU lawsuit challenging the legality of the no-fly list. In a familiar story, he’s never been clear exactly about what landed him on the list. He says he can fly now; he was apparently taken off the list but was never told when, how or why. But for three-and-a-half years it hurt his business. About a third of his clientele required him to fly, he said.

Mashal has not been charged with a crime. He thinks federal authorities targeted him because he was a former Marine who identified himself on his military records as Muslim.

Authorities, he thought, saw him as someone whom they could groom to be a solid informant. He said during his attempts to get off the watchlist, federal authorities offered him a deal: become an informant, spy on your fellow Muslims and you’ll be off the list. He declined and lawyered up. There are several other ex-military Muslims who are part of the ACLU’s suit, he said.

“I think they feel that you’re a patriotic person and you’re used to taking orders. They want someone with that type of discipline as well,” he told me. “You start putting the pieces together and say, ‘They’re aiming for military people who claim to be Muslims.’”

He added, “The FBI is very good and trained at intimidating people and getting them to do what they want. It’s been a frustrating experience. It’s made me question whether we have these rights that they say we do.” When the government can put you on a terror-list without giving you a reason, that seems a fair question to raise.

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security both declined to comment for this story, deferring to other agencies. The Department of Justice did not respond to a request for comment before deadline.

By: Danny McDonald
Apr 23 2014

Find this story at 23 April 2014

© 2014 Vice Media Inc

Advocate General’s Opinion in Joined Cases C-539/10 P and C-550/10 P Stichting Al-Aqsa v Council and Netherlands v Stichting Al-Aqsa

In Advocate General Trstenjak’s view, the Council may freeze funds in the fight against terrorism only while national prosecutions of the persons concerned are ongoing.
In view of the repeal of the Netherlands measures against Al-Aqsa, the General Court was therefore right to annul the legal acts by which the Council allowed Al-Aqsa’s funds to remain frozen.
The Netherlands Al-Aqsa foundation has been engaged since 2003 in judicial proceedings challenging its inclusion or its continued inclusion in the list drawn up by the Council of persons and entities whose assets are to be frozen in the fight against terrorism. An initial series of Council decisions by which the Council included or retained Al-Aqsa in that list was annulled by the General Court of the European Union on the ground of inadequate statement of reasons. A second series of such Council measures adopted between 2007 and 2009 was also annulled by the General Court, in that case because the Netherlands had repealed the ministerial regulation relating to Al-Aqsa which ultimately formed the basis of subsequent Council measures. Inclusion or retention in the list is conditional upon the active pursuit of a national investigation or prosecution of the relevant person on account of a terrorist act, or enforcement of a penalty previously imposed.

In an appeal brought by the Netherlands against the latter judgment of the General Court, the Court of Justice has been called upon to examine the conditions under which funds may be frozen.
In her Opinion announced today, Advocate General Verica Trstenjak proposes that the Court of Justice uphold the judgment of the General Court. She points out that EU measures to combat terrorism3 are not a matter for the Council’s discretion. Rather, the Council can freeze the funds of persons and entities on the basis of a suspicion that they are supporting terrorist activities only if a Member State has at least instigated investigations against such persons or entities following a decision by the authorities. Since it is ultimately those investigations alone which justify the freezing of funds, the Council must unfreeze those funds if, in accordance with its duty regularly to review the measures adopted, it determines that the national decision has ceased to apply or the investigations being conducted at a national level are no longer being pursued.

Against that background, there were no longer any grounds for keeping Al-Aqsa on the Council’s list. The Netherlands had, as long ago as August 2003, repealed the ministerial regulation relating to Al-Aqsa on which that foundation’s inclusion in the Council’s list was ultimately based, and the Council had not checked whether there was any other national investigation that might have constituted grounds for the Council’s freezing of Al-Aqsa’s funds. The fact that a Netherlands court had, in June 2003, dismissed an application by Al-Aqsa for the temporary suspension of the Netherlands ministerial regulation is not relevant in this context. To that extent, the General Court was right to find that that Netherlands judgment has no significance of its own following the repeal of the ministerial regulation.
Advocate General Trstenjak therefore proposes that the Court of Justice dismiss the appeal by the Netherlands. She further proposes that the appeal brought by Al-Aqsa also be dismissed, as that appeal is directed not against the outcome of the judgment of the General Court of the European Union but merely against the considerations contained within it, and is thus inadmissible.
NOTE: The Advocate General’s Opinion is not binding on the Court of Justice. It is the role of the Advocates General to propose to the Court, in complete independence, a legal solution to the cases for which they are responsible. The Judges of the Court are now beginning their deliberations in this case. Judgment will be given at a later date.
NOTE: An appeal, on a point or points of law only, may be brought before the Court of Justice against a judgment or order of the General Court. In principle, the appeal does not have suspensive effect. If the appeal is admissible and well founded, the Court of Justice sets aside the judgment of the General Court. Where the state of the proceedings so permits, the Court of Justice may itself give final judgment in the case. Otherwise, it refers the case back to the General Court, which is bound by the decision given by the Court of Justice on the appeal.

Unofficial document for media use, not binding on the Court of Justice.

Court of Justice of the European Union
PRESS RELEASE No 72/12
Luxembourg, 6 June 2012
Press and Information

The full text of the Opinion is published on the CURIA website on the day of delivery.

Press contact: Christopher Fretwell  (+352) 4303 3355
www.curia.europa.eu