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The ACLU Targets the Secret Airport Police Who Detained 14,000 Travelers

The ACLU Targets the Secret Airport Police Who Detained 14,000 Travelers
Jeff Edwards

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is suing the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency over a secret program which it says has carte blanche to “target, detain, and interrogate innocent travelers.” The ACLU and the CUNY Law School CLEAR Project filed suit seeking details on the mandate for the so-called “Tactical Terrorism Response Teams (TTRTs).”

Why Don’t You Like President Trump?

The only way to tell if you’ve been targeted by the TTRT is if those letters appear on a Global Entry kiosk when you’re returning to the country. That’s what happened to Apple executive Andreas Gal who was detained by TTRT officers at San Francisco International Airport (SFO).

Gal, represented in the ACLU’s lawsuit, was reportedly questioned about his public opposition to warrantless mass surveillance and criticism of the Trump administration. Gal, a U.S. citizen, says he was eventually released only after repeatedly refusing to unlock his laptop and phone. He later called it “the most invasive search the government could possibly do.”

Other TTRT detainees did not fare as well as Gal. Court filings reveal that in 2017, more than 14,000 arriving passengers were denied entry to the U.S. by TTRT agents despite possessing valid travel and entry documents. TTRT units are believed to be operating in at least 46 airports across the U.S.

A Secret Police Force

Lawyers for the ACLU are suing to expose a secret U.S. Customs and Border Protection for targeting and detaining passengers with little to no cause. The lawsuit filed on December 18th alleges that units known as Tactical Terrorism Response Teams are, in fact, a thinly disguised secret police force with little to no checks on their authority.

“While TTRTs operate largely in secret, we know from public statements by CBP officials that the teams are explicitly targeting individuals who are not on any government watchlist — as flawed as even those are — and who the government has never identified as posing a security risk,” the ACLU and the CLEAR project said in a joint statement announcing the legal action.

Working on a Hunch

“Even more concerning, former CBP Commissioner and former acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan has indicated that TTRT officers may rely on their “instincts” or hunches to target travelers…

“The public has a right to know how these teams operate, how their officers are trained, and whether the guidelines that govern their activities contain civil liberties and privacy safeguards. We also want to know just how many individuals are subject to detention, questioning, and/or denial of entry into the U.S. by these teams, and the basis for these decisions.”

“An officer’s reliance on ‘instincts’ creates the risk that these secretive teams are targeting travelers based on explicit or implicit biases,” the federal lawsuit contends.

“Such targeting may result in unlawful profiling if officers detain, search, and/or question travelers on the basis of their race, religion, ethnicity, or national origin. It may also result in officers detaining and questioning travelers because of their speech or associations, which may be protected by the First Amendment.

“Finally, these teams’ activities raise due process and fairness concerns when information inappropriately gathered by them results in further government scrutiny, such as placement on a government watchlist.”

View Comments (7)

7 Comments

  1. Dr.Ells

    January 7, 2020 at 8:48 pm

    Anyone suspicious should be on a watch list!

  2. skidooman

    January 8, 2020 at 4:12 am

    Sure Dr Ells. But you need to “police” that watch list so only those that deserve to be on one actually are.

    Being critic of Trump – or any administration, for that matter – is not justification enough. That’s call the First Amendment.

  3. RSSrsvp

    January 8, 2020 at 8:15 am

    Dr. Ellis, Let me remind you that in the USA we have something called freedom of speech which is a fundamental right. If I were detained because I was outspoken and critical of the current government that would be unacceptable.

  4. bosman

    January 8, 2020 at 8:49 am

    This clearly is waay too big and complex an issue to leave it up to a frequent flyer blogger to properly communicate and address issues/comments. Jeff, stick to issues you are qualified to discuss.

  5. PaulMSN

    January 8, 2020 at 2:07 pm

    Apparently, bosman doesn’t want exposure for this program, so he tries to denigrate the writer.

  6. Global321

    January 8, 2020 at 8:42 pm

    Let’s be clear… this is ONE… ONE allegation.

    The 14k refers to denied entry, which has nothing to do with the ONE, ONE allegation.

  7. BOBAD

    January 9, 2020 at 5:43 am

    Anyone making comments like: “Anyone suspicious should be on a watch list” should be on a watch list.

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