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You Want to Track Me? Here You Go, F.B.I.
October 31, 2011 9:42 AM   Subscribe

Giving the F.B.I. What It Wants. "A Bangladeshi-born artist and academic is mistakenly detained at the Detroit airport. He doesn’t get mad. He gets even." [Via]

Previously

Tracking Transience v2.0

Hasan Elahi at TED: FBI, here I am!
posted by homunculus (66 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yes. I'm sure everything will be ok now that he's begun antagonizing the FBI. Good luck with that.
posted by crunchland at 9:45 AM on October 31, 2011


Brilliant.

In an era in which everything is archived and tracked, the best way to maintain privacy may be to give it up. Information agencies operate in an industry that values data. Restricted access to information is what makes it valuable. If I cut out the middleman and flood the market with my information, the intelligence the F.B.I. has on me will be of no value. Making my private information public devalues the currency of the information the intelligence gatherers have collected.

See also: The Transparent Society
posted by chavenet at 9:48 AM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Like climbing up out of the trench and running into the machine guns, this really only works well if 2,000,000 like-minded people do it alongside you.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 9:51 AM on October 31, 2011 [11 favorites]


If I cut out the middleman and flood the market with my information, the intelligence the F.B.I. has on me will be of no value.

No economic value, maybe. But the danger from a loss of privacy is not economic. If a government agency were suddenly interested in people who read a particular book, why can't they just grep through and find it, then re-educate you?
posted by DU at 9:53 AM on October 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


This feels a lot like those spy novels and movies where the spy has decided to do everything in life in plain sight with maximum fanfare so that when he/she slips away to do his/her nefarious deed, nobody really misses him for 48 seconds. I don't think I really want to live in a Hitchcock movie.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 9:55 AM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


He might have been on to something were it the sixties and he were calling on everybody to do the same, get on the watch list then flood the spies with info, nowadays it's probably bots that are visiting his site.
posted by hat_eater at 10:00 AM on October 31, 2011


I don't think I like the precedent he's setting for the rest of us.
posted by scottatdrake at 10:01 AM on October 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


This guy has a dangerously shallow understanding about data mining and just how possible it is to find patterns and meaning in seemingly chaotic and mind-bogglingly enormous collections of data. There are hundreds of thousands scientists, researchers, professionals and amateurs who spend their waking hours working on smart algorithms that makes this possible and they couldn't be any happier having access to regular and detailed information about people's personal lives.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 10:03 AM on October 31, 2011 [14 favorites]


This seems a bit strange to me. Perhaps I missed something, but it seems like:

(1) FBI gets a report that this guy was hoarding explosives.

(2) FBI investigates.

(3) FBI decides the report is false and tells the guy he's cleared.

(4) Guy starts spamming the FBI. Does so for years on end.

(5) Guy advocates that 300 million people join him in spamming the FBI.

I'm not sure I get it, really. Should the FBI not have investigated the claim that he was hoarding explosives?
posted by Flunkie at 10:03 AM on October 31, 2011 [17 favorites]


I saw Elahi give a talk during a panel on the surveillance state a few years ago, fascinating stuff.
posted by dhens at 10:03 AM on October 31, 2011


Yeah, the FBI isn't going to just give up tracking people because they have too much information on them. At best, they'll go shopping for shiny new supercomputers to sort through it all.
posted by mrgoat at 10:04 AM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


So basically this guy has been doing the Facebook Timeline thing years before everybody else did?
posted by Herr Fahrstuhl at 10:05 AM on October 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


Flunkie: "This seems a bit strange to me. Perhaps I missed something, but it seems like:

(1) FBI gets a report that this guy was hoarding explosives.

(2) FBI investigates.

(3) FBI decides the report is false and tells the guy he's cleared.

(4) Guy starts spamming the FBI. Does so for years on end.

(5) Guy advocates that 300 million people join him in spamming the FBI.

I'm not sure I get it, really. Should the FBI not have investigated the claim that he was hoarding explosives?
"

This is what I was in the middle of writing when you did it better. The guy seems like an ass who is doing everything he can to make some people lives a headache, people who are just doing their job. And people are praising him for doing this. I imagine those frustrated fbi agents may just take out their understandable frustrations out on the next person.



I COULD have contested the legality of the investigation and gotten a lawyer.

I'd imagine the investigation was fully legal. If they were to just convict him without doing an investigation then he'd have a right to be upset.
posted by 2manyusernames at 10:07 AM on October 31, 2011


This guy has a dangerously shallow understanding about data mining and just how possible it is to find patterns and meaning in seemingly chaotic and mind-bogglingly enormous collections of data.

Repeated for emphasis. More data is better for them, not worse. It means better-trained models. This is on the assumption that the FBI is organized enough to get the information he's sending them to whoever handles the government's data-mining efforts, which is maybe dubious. The assumption that they have data-mining efforts almost certainly isn't.
posted by invitapriore at 10:11 AM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


To be fair, if he was a white guy from central Iowa who had left the country on Sept 10 2011 on a business trip, the FBI probably wouldn't have given a shit. Even if he had been renting a storage unit.
posted by caution live frogs at 10:12 AM on October 31, 2011 [8 favorites]


I'll grant his reaction made me laugh, but you should not talk to cops because you might have violated laws you don't know about or don't understand.. or the cop might think you violated some law he doesn't understand.

If you were paranoid, you might log your life but encrypt the log submissions using gpg/pgp and store the private key outside your own country of residence using secret sharing, like say ssss. In that way, your defense attorney could be given full access your logs for the purpose of proving your innocence, but prosecutors would have difficulty obtaining the private key from your foreign sources. I doubt anyone has ever reached this level of paranoia.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:13 AM on October 31, 2011 [6 favorites]


people who are just doing their job. [...] I imagine those frustrated fbi agents may just take out their understandable frustrations out on the next person.

I'm getting really creeped out by the recurrence of the Eichmann defense in every single discussion about police encroachments on civil liberties these days. Is there some actual reason why we should presumptively be motivated first by sympathy for the feelings of poor aggrieved FBI agents who are just following their orders, rather than by concern for what those orders are and what they make of our society? Because otherwise, this kind of looks like naked authoritarianism.
posted by RogerB at 10:14 AM on October 31, 2011 [46 favorites]


If they were to just convict him without doing an investigation then he'd have a right to be upset.

Of course, it's simply ridiculous for an innocent person to get upset about having been detained for hours, intimidated and then regularly interrogated for months. How uncharitable!
posted by jon1270 at 10:16 AM on October 31, 2011 [29 favorites]


Just because you're innocent doesn't mean you have nothing to hide. And just because you cooperate, even if you're innocent, doesn't mean everything will be OK. Our government has tortured innocent men to death, and recently. Our government has illegally prevented its own citizens from coming home for no other reason than the suspicion of wrongdoing. Cooperating with them is a mistake.
posted by 1adam12 at 10:16 AM on October 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


There are hundreds of thousands scientists, researchers, professionals and amateurs who spend their waking hours working on smart algorithms

Yeah. Reading The Numerati was one heck of an eye-opener. $1K/hr, some of the professionals make.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 10:19 AM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Of course, it's simply ridiculous for an innocent person to get upset about having been detained for hours, intimidated and then regularly interrogated for months. How uncharitable!

This is why we have habeas corpus. Not taking advantage of it is ridiculous.
posted by Brocktoon at 10:20 AM on October 31, 2011


This is why we have habeas corpus.

Do we? Still?

Seriously I'm not sure anymore.
posted by ZeroAmbition at 10:23 AM on October 31, 2011 [6 favorites]


More data...more Watson computers....more Buttle/Tuttle mix-ups...heaven help the brown Buttles.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:23 AM on October 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


Just last night on twitter MeFi's own Jesse Thorn was talking about his dad, who co-founded Vets for Peace, "My dad told me they used to joke around with the FBI guys who monitored their phone calls. There's a place for anger, but I prefer laughter...One last thing: something I learned from my dad is that there's no situation too serious to laugh. Laughter has incredible power."
posted by villanelles at dawn at 10:25 AM on October 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


Unfortunately, the FBI has nearly unlimited power when it comes to suspected terrorism. You should still get a lawyer, but it probably won't help.
posted by dirigibleman at 10:25 AM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


if 300 million people started sending private information to federal agents, the government would need to hire as many as another 300 million people, possibly more, to keep up with the information

This guy knows that security agencies use these things called "computers", right? I mean, he does say that he tries to make his site unintuitive, but unless he's expecting all 300 million people to roll their own unintuitive sites, collecting all that data is, while non-trivial, not all that hard. Mining the data once it's collected is a step above that, but more data usually makes things easier.
posted by kmz at 10:41 AM on October 31, 2011


It was ever thus. Paranoia and invasive government agencies seem to be unfortunately perennial in America. From more than six decades ago:
“I say it has gone too far. We are dividing into the hunted and the hunters. There is loose in the United States the same evil that once split Salem Village between the bewitched and the accused and stole men's reason quite away. We are informers to the secret police. Honest men are spying on their neighbors for patriotism's sake...

“Representatives of the FBI and of other official investigating bodies have questioned me, in the past, about a number of people and I have answered their questions. That's over. From now on any representative of the government, properly identified, can count on a drink and perhaps informed talk about the Red (but non-communist) Sox at my house. But if he wants information from me about anyone whomsoever, no soap. If it is my duty as a citizen to tell what I know about someone, I will perform that duty under subpoena, in open court, before that person and his attorney. This notice is posted in the courthouse square: I will not discuss anyone in private with any government investigator.

“I like a country where it's nobody's damn business what magazines anyone reads, what he thinks, whom he has cocktails with. I like a country where we do not have to stuff the chimney against listening ears and where what we say does not go into the FBI files along with a note from S-17 that I may have another wife in California. I like a country where no college-trained flatfeet collect memoranda about us and ask judicial protection for them, a country where when someone makes statements about us to officials he can be held to account. We had that kind of country only a little while ago and I'm for getting it back. It was a lot less scared than the one we've got now. It slept sound no matter how many people joined communist reading circles and it put common scolds to the ducking stool. Let's rip off the gingerbread and restore the original paneling.”
— Bernard DeVoto, DUE NOTICE TO THE F.B.I., Harper's Magazine, Oct 1949


The answer is simple, although that certainly doesn't make it simple. Now, as then, the only possible recourse we have as citizens is not to cooperate with any private or secret investigation whatsoever.
posted by koeselitz at 10:43 AM on October 31, 2011 [12 favorites]


If you've done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide have no reason not to behave like an actual convict on parole.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:47 AM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


"... although that certainly doesn't make it easy."
posted by koeselitz at 10:47 AM on October 31, 2011


Brocktoon: "Of course, it's simply ridiculous for an innocent person to get upset about having been detained for hours, intimidated and then regularly interrogated for months. How uncharitable!

This is why we have habeas corpus. Not taking advantage of it is ridiculous.
"


I don't believe anyone is saying he doesn't have a reason to be upset. I am just not sure that his choice of expressing his understandable frustration is the best way to handle it.

Questioning and investigating suspects is rather important. It is certainly better than not investigating or questioning suspects.

How would you suggest the police/fbi/etc handle suspects?
posted by 2manyusernames at 11:12 AM on October 31, 2011


^^ my comment about him being upset IF they convicted him without investigating was in response to the guy contemplating suing the FBI for investigating him.
posted by 2manyusernames at 11:18 AM on October 31, 2011


How would you suggest the police/fbi/etc handle suspects?

Maybe they should start by having a good reason for deciding someone is a suspect.
posted by 23skidoo at 11:22 AM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


jeffburdges: you should not talk to cops because you might have violated laws you don't know about or don't understand.. or the cop might think you violated some law he doesn't understand.

Ya.. But that only works if you are in a privileged position. Otherwise the authority you are dealing with will take care of the punishment before you ever get to talk to your lawyer.
posted by Chuckles at 11:29 AM on October 31, 2011


Maybe they should start by having a good reason for deciding someone is a suspect.

Sounds like they had good reason, for like 20 minutes. Then it was all cleared up and time to move on to the next red herring.

In the end, something really ugly happened to this guy. I don't think his reaction is very interesting though..
posted by Chuckles at 11:33 AM on October 31, 2011


He started this project in 2003, after an incident that occured in 2002. I think if there were any repercussions they would have happened long ago.
posted by muddgirl at 11:40 AM on October 31, 2011


23skidoo: "How would you suggest the police/fbi/etc handle suspects?

Maybe they should start by having a good reason for deciding someone is a suspect.
"

maybe they did. We have no idea. We are only hearing one side of the story.

Not only should the cops have a good reason for suspecting someone, but we should have a good reason to assume the cops are acting maliciously and don't have a good reason for their suspicions.
posted by 2manyusernames at 11:42 AM on October 31, 2011


If he thinks the security state doesn't know how to train neural networks to organize our data points for them he's a fool.

In the end, something really ugly happened to this guy. I don't think his reaction is very interesting though..

His reaction is equally ugly, but for different reasons.
posted by clarknova at 11:46 AM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


we should have a good reason to assume the cops are acting maliciously and don't have a good reason for their suspicions.

As far as I'm concerned, the police lost the benefit of the doubt a long, long time ago.
posted by xedrik at 11:51 AM on October 31, 2011 [7 favorites]


but we should have a good reason to assume the cops are acting maliciously and don't have a good reason for their suspicions.

Because why? Federal law enforcement long ago lost any good faith assumptions from me, and, I suspect, multitudes of other Americans who have watched the long, long march toward a police state.
posted by IvoShandor at 11:52 AM on October 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


maybe they did. We have no idea. We are only hearing one side of the story.

What is this, the NPR newsroom?
posted by rhizome at 12:13 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


"The unexamined life is not worth living." - Socrates

If it is no longer possible to keep The Authorities from being 'all up in your business', the only alternative is to turn it to your advantage. I was told long ago that the best way to avoid getting traffic tickets is by having "SUPPORT THE POLICE" stickers on your car.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:32 PM on October 31, 2011


Not only should the cops have a good reason for suspecting someone, but we should have a good reason to assume the cops are acting maliciously

A Bangladeshi-American citizen, artist and professor with seemingly no ties whatsoever to terrorism spends six months answering FBI questions, is compelled to take polygraph tests and is advised to alert the FBI anytime he's planning on traveling in order to avoid harassment. In that situation, I don't know that I'd be mollified by their good intentions. It doesn't have to be malicious to be asinine.
posted by JaredSeth at 12:44 PM on October 31, 2011 [8 favorites]


I'm not sure I get it, really. Should the FBI not have investigated the claim that he was hoarding explosives?

As someone who is brown and gets "randomly screened" everytime I travel by air, I can see what he's trying to do. The point is not that he's giving them all this info without knowing that they have algorithms and the like that might be able to parse his info. He's trying to thumb his nose at a system that is inefficient at best, and engages in racist profiling at worst.

Even someone like myself, who's resigned to being scrutinized for no good reason, feels anger when the TSA agent gropes my balls for the third time in a week. This country's intelligence system is broken. They use reactive methods that do not work, and will not stop someone with a new and undetectable technology from executing an attack. The only people they've caught with these methods are daft buffoons (i.e. Richard Reid and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab).

So, giving this info to the FBI makes him feel like he has some modicum of power against a monolithic entity too stupid and idiotic to know how to find the real terrorists.

posted by reenum at 12:57 PM on October 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


He's trying to thumb his nose at a system that is inefficient at best, and engages in racist profiling at worst.

I don't see it that way. I figure they know who he is and if he sends them every little detail of his travels, then the only reason he would ever be pulled aside is racial profiling. When the FBI agent told him to call about potential problems traveling, the FBI agent volunteered the agency to be a travel-clearing service for him.
posted by rhizome at 1:23 PM on October 31, 2011


If I cut out the middleman and flood the market with my information, the intelligence the F.B.I. has on me will be of no value. Making my private information public devalues the currency of the information the intelligence gatherers have collected.

No. You're relying on the assumption that the FBI cares about factual information. If you take for a moment to consider that the FBI is at the behest of political entities who can spin a few underage prostitutes into a governorship, you'll run the fuck away.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:50 PM on October 31, 2011


This guy was not "randomly screened" due to "racist profiling"; they had a report that he had hoarded explosives. Again, should the FBI not have investigated?

From the book Dark Side, at least, it seems like the FBI generally behaved reasonably in the aftermath of 9/11; attempting to get info as they always have - through normal police work - and protesting against the legality, morality, and efficacy of the methods that the CIA were using. The CIA is the organization that behaved abhorrently (and parts of the military as well), not the FBI.

Again, it seems like what happened is that the FBI got a report that he was hoarding explosives, they investigated, cleared him, and that was that. Isn't that what's supposed to happen?

If it were the CIA, he would have been kidnapped by men in black masks, beat up for a while, flown to Slovakia or Poland or Afghanistan or who knows where, shackled to a wall in a stressful position, deprived of human contact for months on end other than people screaming "YOU KNOW WHAT WE WANT NOW TELL IT TO US", waterboarded, alternately left in freezing and burning rooms, had his head rammed into the wall, put in a sensory deprivation tank for weeks at a time... and all the while, there would have been a few people in the CIA saying "Uh, it looks like his story checks out, I don't think we've got the right guy", but higher-ups would've said to keep working on him anyway. Eventually after like a year of this, with the CIA knowing that he was innocent virtually the entire time, he would be taken in the middle of the night to within a mile of the border of the Czech Republic or some such, told "Walk that way and don't look back", and abandoned there. I'm unfortunately not making this up.

That's not what happened here. Again, what happened here, based on his own account, seemed to be a criminal report, an investigation, and a clearing, through normal police procedures. Am I wrong?
posted by Flunkie at 2:10 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


This guy was not "randomly screened" due to "racist profiling"; they had a report that he had hoarded explosives. Again, should the FBI not have investigated?

Well, they should have investigated the tip first. "The FBI had a report" could be anything (or less), as history has taught us.
posted by rhizome at 2:37 PM on October 31, 2011


they had a report that he had hoarded explosives.

Evidence for this: he says they said so. And they're allowed to lie during questioning.
posted by Zed at 2:39 PM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yes. I'm sure everything will be ok now that he's begun antagonizing the FBI. Good luck with that.
Sure, but what can they do to him? He can prove his whereabouts at every moment, so it would be difficult to accuse him of some crime or something.
Like climbing up out of the trench and running into the machine guns, this really only works well if 2,000,000 like-minded people do it alongside you. -- stupidsexyFlanders
I actually don't think that works well either way
This guy has a dangerously shallow understanding about data mining and just how possible it is to find patterns and meaning in seemingly chaotic and mind-bogglingly enormous collections of data.
Well, for starters, they can just ignore everything on his website. But realistically, while data mining is certainly possible it takes a lot of work to turn a specific data stream into useful knowledge. You can't just point your data-miner 2000 at some random guys website and learn everything there is to know about that guy. It has to be in a specific format, you have to know what to do with it, etc.
they had a report that he had hoarded explosives.
Which was easily proven false. So why the six months of interrogations? I don't mean to be rude but anyone can bullshit claims they want. Remember how the family of the underwear bomber tried to alert the FBI about their kid and no one did anything? Well, it came out that the u.s. got hundreds of thousands of 'tips' from family members, most of them bullshit because people were just reporting things to fuck people up.

It's a ridiculous situation where some random person, hopped up on fox news and Glenn Beck can see some brown person and fuck up their lives because of some imagined phantasm. Or worse, torture results in false 'confessions' complete with 'naming names' of everyone they know (which is what happened with that Canadian guy who was rendered to Syria)
posted by delmoi at 2:56 PM on October 31, 2011 [6 favorites]


Like climbing up out of the trench and running into the machine guns, this really only works well if 2,000,000 like-minded people do it alongside you.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 9:51 AM on October 31 [7 favorites] No other comments.


In stupidsexyFlanders fields, the poppies blow/between the crosses, row on row (evidence that no matter how many like-minded people you have running against machine guns, the machine guns always win unless you lead with artillery)
posted by toodleydoodley at 3:37 PM on October 31, 2011


You can't just point your data-miner 2000 at some random guys website and learn everything there is to know about that guy. It has to be in a specific format, you have to know what to do with it, etc.

Delmoi, this is simply incorrect. Data does not have to be in any specific format, you do not need to know what to do with it. You don't even need to "point "DataMiner 2000" at anything specific. By correlating location data, social networking data, credit card data, public records, etc, accumulating context over time, not only can you know a frightening amount of information about any individual person (and everyone they know and have ever known -- thank you GPS, Facebook, and cell phones), but you can make frighteningly accurate predictions about their future behavior and whereabouts. (As in, "there's an 85% chance delmoi will be within 100 meters of $LAT $LONG at 6:15PM next Thursday. He'll be meeting A, B, and C for drinks. What do you want to know about C?")

I'd recommend reading Jeff Jonas for a primer on this subject. Jonas demonstrates methods of real time, big data analytics where "the data finds the data, and then the relevance finds the user." Applied, this means that the "sensemaking systems" that are actually built doesn't just make non-obvious correlations, it suggests insightful questions the user (the FBI in this case) never even thought to ask. Such systems actually prefer large quantities of messy data, as they depend on context to make sense of things and decide relevance.

In a certain respect, the additional context that Hasan Elahi has provided actually does serve to exclude him from the watchlist, as most cases of false alarms are based upon similar names in a contextual vaccum. Ironically, Elahi may exonerate himself by the exact opposite of his intention -- it's not that a flood of data will confuse them. It's that the flood of personal data will sharpen their vision and exclude him.
posted by edverb at 6:25 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


This guy was not "randomly screened" due to "racist profiling"; they had a report that he had hoarded explosives. Again, should the FBI not have investigated?

I have no problem with the FBI investigating a tip. But, they continued harrassing him and bringing him back in for questioning over the next 6 months. Perhaps you have a FBI building within walking distance and some contacts who can get you in and out quickly, but for most people, this would entail taking the whole day off work or spending a whole weekend day while the FBI questions you in the hopes that you'll slip up or crack and spill the beans about a terrorist plot.

After the first few questioning sessions, the FBI were likely on a fishing expedition, hoping that this bad brown man could lead them to other bad brown men.

It is this sort of invasive conduct that the government wants to normalize so they can hold people indefinitely, grope them at the airport, and generally abridge the rights that are inconvenient to keeping the populace docile. If there aren't people to challenge this sort of conduct, then the Founding Fathers' vision of freedom and self-determination will collapse like an antique Jenga board at a hipster party.
posted by reenum at 7:00 PM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


In fact, the FBI might even have sought to train him, because hey catching real terrorists might be hard, especially if they don't exist.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:13 PM on October 31, 2011


But, they continued harrassing him and bringing him back in for questioning over the next 6 months.

And he let them.
posted by Brocktoon at 9:34 PM on October 31, 2011


  This is why we have habeas corpus.
Do we? Still?
Seriously I'm not sure anymore.


There was a repeated back-and-forth during the 43Bush years with the Executive saying we don't, or we do but it's powerless, or we never have had it; and the Judiciary saying that's bullshit. Obama seems to be willing to admit that it exists, fortunately.
posted by hattifattener at 10:06 PM on October 31, 2011


It is like two addicts feeding each other's addictions.

The FBI questions him, asking for dates and details. Oh boy does he have what they want. Way before iPads and iPhones, there was the Palm Pilot, and this guy has his whole life's schedule, minute by minute, stored inside his.

Despite this, they keep questioning him for six months. They want him to call any time he travels.

This guy seems obsessive compulsive about documenting his life, and I'm not sure what to call the FBI's endless need to collect information from this guy. It must be an amazing joy for an addict to find someone who feeds off his addiction, who needs his information as much as he needs to generate it.

The secondary interesting thing about this story is his point about how the whole world is now operating just like he has for decades--recording all their daily activities and putting it into computers so everyone else can see. It must be gratifying to him to find that his addiction has become fashion.
posted by eye of newt at 11:16 PM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


How the Patriot Act stripped me of my free-speech rights
posted by homunculus at 11:33 PM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


they had a report that he had hoarded explosives.

Evidence for this: he says they said so. And they're allowed to lie during questioning.


Actually, there's more evidence than that. They were aware that he had a storage unit in Tampa. Unless we assume that the FBI is omniscient, they obviously received some sort of tip about him. Presumably the tip wasn't that he was keeping stuff for a garage sale.
posted by pardonyou? at 8:07 AM on November 1, 2011


Unless we assume that the FBI is omniscient, they obviously received some sort of tip about him.

The presumption isn't omniscience; obviously, they did poke into his business at some point. It remains an open question whether they ever had a good reason to do so.
posted by Zed at 11:41 AM on November 1, 2011


"The F.B.I. agent seemed to know quite remarkable details about things like the regular versus the Hezbollah bus routes in Beirut, and the person memorialized in the statue at the entrance of the American University there. His knowledge frightened me."

My God, the FBI can google bus routes and academia sites. Terrifying.

Is there some actual reason why we should presumptively be motivated first by sympathy for the feelings of poor aggrieved FBI agents who are just following their orders, rather than by concern for what those orders are and what they make of our society? Because otherwise, this kind of looks like naked authoritarianism.


Calling him up, asking him to come to an office, asking him some questions, telling him he's cleared = authoritarianism.

So where's that put what happened to Jose Padilla? Like, super-Nazi stuff?
(Or would the term be uber-Nazi?)

What are FBI agents supposed to do? NOT follow leads and question people suspected of connection with terrorist acts more than a year after Sept. 11?

I see other comments with a "no snitchin'" theme.
Glad I don't live in your neighborhood. Someone hauling stuff out of my house into a van, but screw dialing 911 because the police are fascist thugs.

Plenty of things the FBI does wrong. This doesn't really seem like one of them.


"I COULD have contested the legality of the investigation and gotten a lawyer. But I thought that would make things messier."


This is about where he lost my sympathy with the guy.
.
Sure, I COULD have availed myself of the rights that people have fought, bleed and died for in battles, in the streets, facing actual authoritarianism and violence from gun barrels and at the end of truncheons, gotten a lawyer, done the work and put in the time maybe covered the other people going through the same kind of hell who don't have the brains or guts or resources I have ... buuuut screw it, I'll e-mail them pictures of me and links and stuff and go on the talk circuit about it.

"So, giving this info to the FBI makes him feel like he has some modicum of power against a monolithic entity too stupid and idiotic to know how to find the real terrorists."

Except the FBI has apprehended many terrorists. And it was the Customs that detained him for nine hours. The FBI just called him and asked him to come in then cut him loose, but seemed to be fishing for him to be their buddy since he travels overseas.

But let me get all this bit straight: Obsessive-compulsive guy with Muslim sounding name - born in Bangladesh, a predominantly Muslim country (which in 2002 was going through political and social upheaval and was seen (perhaps not correctly, but at the time) as an escape for terrorists fleeing Afghanistan and had several verified (by NGO's) terrorist training camps near the border with Burma) - travels to Lebanon (apparently to the American University in Beirut, or Africa, the story changes) some time in 2002.

Where, in March, 2002, terror attacks in Israel were at a peak and Israel began Operation Defensive Shield. And where in April, 2002 Hezbollah was targeting the hell out of Israel, staging offensives, and it looked like an all-out war because Hezbollah had gained enough foreign fighters and a rocket arsenal to be capable of strategic operations out of Hezbollahland.
And where Colin Powell went to give warnings, blah de blah.

And where, in May, Kamal Kharazi visited Beirut to tell them to knock it off and tensions ease. The offensive scales back. Many foreign volunteers withdraw.

And that's when this guy comes back from Lebanon (or Africa depending on the version), in June, 2002.

Yeah, nothing fishy about that. Move along inconspicuous Muslim guy with extreme narcissism coming from politically volatile area. You fit no profile of any kind, sir.

So ok, then - in a self-promoting opinion piece - the guy claims he was phoned by the FBI to come to an office and questioned intermittently over six months because they had useless erroneous data, after which he is told he's cleared, everything is fine and even offered assistance by an agent in case he has trouble again with Customs.
(Presumably because they had asked him if he had seen anything in addition to investigating the report of him fleeing with explosives and the primary research tool of Law Enforcement is informants and civilian assistance ... or he's an Orwellian nightmare travesty playing a very long game of cat and mouse, biding his time until the new Nazi regime, or whatever. But maybe the first thing).

And so, because of this investigation predicated on erroneous data, and wasted time paring down leads from an overabundance of reports, he goes on a six year long campaign to waste government employee time by supplying an overabundance of useless data himself - without regard to who else he might recording or whether what he records can be subpoenaed and what effect it has on the 5th amendment (presumably because those civil rights lawyers are so messy).

There's no proof that it happened, and there's no FBI report, but there's NO PROOF IT DIDN'T, so why not take this guy at his word.
(Skepticism: religion and governments have an agenda, people don't)

Again, the FBI could screw up a one car funeral, but this guy seems more like a self-indulgent artist.
Which, hey, no problem. There's too much surveillance in society and it's good he's drawing attention to it.

But there are actual and grievous abuses and his story seems to trivialize those. Not only because it doesn't really pass the smell test for me, but because it's so self-congratulatory.

And ok, maybe he's an artist and this is what he knows how to do and he's doing it. Fine.

But the Electronic Frontier Foundation and people like that are actually doing something beyond self-promotion to fight encroachment of surveillance without the pretension.

Of course, it involves lawsuits, filing complaints, defending rights. A bit more work and a lot messier than hanging up an easy scapegoat and trading on it.

I can see going for any port in a storm. And one more voice in this, yeah. But he seems more out for himself than interested in doing this for social good like the EFF (et.al.).
posted by Smedleyman at 3:11 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can see going for any port in a storm. And one more voice in this, yeah. But he seems more out for himself than interested in doing this for social good like the EFF (et.al.).

He's one person who felt harrassed. I can't fault him for expressing his frustration the way he did rather than doing it in ways which you or I feel are more productive. Calling attention to a problem is worthwhile, and his reaction is human and understandable. It's too bad you're willing to sympathize with the FBI for what they did to him and villify him for his reaction.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:53 PM on November 1, 2011


When the government decided I was a terrorist: While I was living in Norway, a shadowy branch of the U.S. Treasury Department put a block on my bank account
posted by homunculus at 9:41 PM on November 3, 2011


Wow! Nice find homunculus! Check out ioerror's comment too.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:22 AM on November 4, 2011


CIA following Twitter and Facebook
posted by jeffburdges at 9:21 AM on November 4, 2011


There was no FOIA request here but enough similar cases have turned upon FOIA requests that this seems relevant :

Justice Department drops controversial FOIA change to allow federal agencies to lie about the existence of records
posted by jeffburdges at 9:27 AM on November 4, 2011


They're dropping the change but still following the Meese Guidelines.
posted by rhizome at 1:28 PM on November 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


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