It was with some initial amusement that I read a story last week about the “fashion statement” of one Yongda Huang Harris.
Harris, a 28-year-old male and dual U.S.-Japanese national, arrived in Los Angeles October 5 on an Asiana Airlines flight from Seoul, South Korea originating in Japan. While clearing customs, Harris aroused the suspicion of Customs & Border Protection (C&BP) officers due to his attire. Harris arrived wearing a makeshift bulletproof vest, knee pads and leg coverings as well as fire retardant pants. It appears that C&BP sent him to secondary inspection for a more through search, at which time officers searched his luggage.
Harris had only a laptop as his carry-on luggage. But, when inspectors examined his luggage, they allegedly found knives, leather coated billy-clubs, a bio-hazard suit, handcuffs and a smoke grenade, among other items. He was arrested and charged with the felony offense of transporting hazardous materials.
The Transportation Security Administration categorizes a smoke grenade as an explosive device. The fact that Harris had no access to this “explosive” during the flight made no difference. I can imagine the C&BP officer explaining to Harris, “rules is rules.”
A follow-up story in USA Today stated the Harris intended to plead not guilty and fight the charge against him. In regard to his attire, Harris’ attorney stated: “That was stuff he was wearing as a fashion statement …This is just a normal kid. It’s this newfangled generation we’re dealing with and their different fashion habits.”
Basically, as a consequence of the never-ending “War on Terror,” Harris faces five years imprisonment for transporting items no more hazardous that what might be found at an S&M party.
But what really attracted my attention was this statement in the article: “The Department of Homeland Security has said Harris had no criminal record and no derogatory national-security record.”
A “national-security record?” I had never heard that term before. Neither US Today nor any of the hundreds of Internet journalists reposting the article bothered to define the phrase, or even to speculate what it might mean.
To find out for myself, I searched every possible variation of the term “national-security record.” Other than attacks on Obama’s “national security record,” along with reports from the Heritage Foundation with this title, I found nothing.
I suspect that the term “national security record” is a shorthand phrase to summarize the status of a traveler in the programs and databases the Department of Homeland Security (which includes C&BP and the Transportation Security Administration) maintains on travelers.
This status comes up whenever a CB&P official swipes your passport and possibly in other circumstances. Naturally, you have no right to view that record or correct any inaccuracies in it. (An administrative process exists to appeal your designation as a security threat, but currently no right exists to dispute that status in court.)
The most important of these programs and databases appears to be called “Secure Flight.” This is a DHS program that compares airline passenger records against various watch lists. DHS has announced plans to incorporate Secure Flight into what it calls the “Automated Targeting System.” This is an initiative that allows the government to assign a risk assessment number to individual travelers. If you have a high enough risk assessment, you get singled out for additional screening—or you don’t get to travel at all. I wrote about this initiative here.
Then there’s SPOT, or “Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques.” This is a behavior observation and analysis program the TSA runs. The TSA deploys “behavioral detection officers” (BDOs) at or near security checkpoints (or conceivably, anywhere). They’re trained to “detect involuntary physical and physiological reactions that may indicate stress, fear, or deception.” Naturally, since the TSA doesn’t want to be accused of prejudice, these reactions supposedly occur “regardless of race, gender, age, or religion.”
Are you feeling aggressive, or do you simply not like the TSA? In that event, you might find yourself on another and apparently unnamed TSA database. That database maintains a record of anyone who makes TSA screeners feel threatened.
The C&BP also keeps records indicating if individuals passing through immigration have an outstanding warrant or are otherwise wanted for questioning. Those travelers red-flagged in this manner are targeted for secondary inspection and possible arrest.
Occasionally, the TSA detains or otherwise harasses individuals considered political enemies of whichever criminal syndicate currently holds the reigns of power in Washington, D.C. The second Bush administration targeted its political opponents in this manner, and I suspect the practice continues today.
Outside the airport, the DHS now has deployed more than 500 x-ray vans. The van drives up to a suspicious looking object, vehicle, house, or individual, and zaps it (or him or her) with a focused stream of X-rays. Technicians then analyze the reflection of the x-rays (the “backscatter”) to determine if explosives, drugs, or other contraband substances are present. This technology is similar to that deployed in the full-body scanners used at security checkpoints to produce full-body—and anatomically correct—images of passengers. I wrote about this initiative here, and speculated that it’s much more likely that DHS officers are x-raying attractive teenage girls than looking for contraband.
In any event, the fact that Harris has no “derogatory national security record” probably means:
1. He’s not considered a risk on the Secure Flight database.
2. His behavioral patterns haven’t landed him on the SPOT database.
3. He hasn’t been overly aggressive to TSA screeners to be labeled a security risk.
4. He’s not considered a political enemy of the Obama administration
5. He doesn’t have any warrants issued against him or is wanted for questioning.
6. DHS vans haven’t x-rayed him and found explosives, drugs, or other contraband substances.
Don’t you feel safer knowing that your government is making certain that you have no “derogatory national security record” that might endanger your fellow travelers? If not, you might want to consider attending my upcoming “Escape from America” conference–now just two weeks away–to start planning your own escape from Big Brother. Click here to learn more.
Copyright © 2012 by Mark Nestmann