Archive for the ‘Papers, Please’ Category

Lawyers for Dr. Ibrahim say government acted in bad faith in “no-fly” case

Saturday, April 19th, 2014

Did government lawyers lie to the judge and the plaintiff in the first “no-fly” case to go to trial?

As first noted yesterday by the Courthouse News Service, lawyers for Dr. Rahinah Ibrahim have renewed their allegation that the government acted in “bad faith” before, during, and after the trial.

Since the government chose not to appeal the decision by District Judge William Alsup, the only remaining issues are:

  1. Whether the government defendants should be required to pay Dr. Ibrahim’s legal fees and costs.
  2. Whether the government has complied with Judge Alsup’s judgement and order, which requires the government to (a) inform Dr. Ibrahim of her status on the no-fly list and (b) expunge, correct, and prevent andy future adverse consequences for Dr. Ibrahim form the FBI agent’s mistake in checking the wrong box on a form to put her on the “no-fly” list despite the fact that she posed and poses no threat.

This week, as we noted earlier,  Judge Alsup ruled that, because many of the government’s legal arguments and tactics were “unreasonable”, the government must pay some but not all of Dr. Ibrahim’s legal fees and costs.  But Judge Alsup also found that the government has not acted in “bad faith”, and therefore that Dr. Ibrahim’s lawyers were entitled only to government-standard rates that are a fraction of their usual rates.

The next day, the government submitted a set of declarations purporting to show that the defendants have complied with Judge Alsup’s orders.

The day after that, Dr. Ibrahim’s lawyers filed a motion for reconsideration of Judge Alsup’s decision with respect to legal fees and costs, on the basis of the government’s new declarations as new evidence of government “bad faith” justifying assessment of legal fees at full market rates.

The new declarations show that Dr. Ibrahim was on many watchlists, blacklists, and databases that the government previously failed to disclose, even in response to Judge Alsup’s previous orders granting motions to compel responses to an interrogatory to “identify any other lists or government databases into which plaintiff’s name has been placed.”

The new declarations show that, despite a letter sent to Dr. Ibrahim that “Where it has been determined that a correction to records is warranted, these records have been modified,” this had not in fact been done.

And the new declarations reveal that the government denied Dr. Ibrahim’s latest visa application, purportedly on the basis of a threat of terrorism, despite having admitted in court that it does not in fact believe that she poses any such threat, and despite Judge Alsup having found it uncontested that she poses no such threat.

There’s also more in the motion for reconsideration about the injustice and bad faith implicit in the newly-revealed but still classified and “state secret” (”state secret” like the fact that the FBI agent had checked the wrong box on the form was a “state secret”) exception to the non-binding “standards” for no-fly decisions that the government claims allows it to put people on the no-fly list and deny their right to travel even if it admits there is no reasonable basis to suspect them of anything illegal.

Decision in first “no-fly” trial finally unsealed

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

The complete unredacted decision in favor of Dr.. Rahinah Ibrahim issued by U.S. District Judge William Alsup in January, following the first trial in any case challenging a US government “no-fly” order, was finally made public today by order of the court.  (Unredacted version as unsealed; version with previously redacted portions highlighted.)   The deadline for any appeal has passed, and this order is now final.

Despite the government’s claims that the redactions were of vital “state secrets”, the formerly-redacted portions of the decision, and the declarations filed yesterday by the government, shed relatively little new light on what happened to Dr. Ibrahim and her family. They do, however, contain a previously-redacted chronicle of her having been placed on and off various “watchlists” (de facto blacklists) while her lawsuit was pending, and of a previously unmentioned exception to the nonbinding “standards” for watchlisting:

45. To repeat, government counsel have conceded at trial and this order finds that Dr. Ibrahim is not a threat to the national security of the United States. She does not pose (and has not posed) a threat of committing an act of international or domestic terrorism with respect to an aircraft, a threat to airline passenger or civil aviation security, or a threat of domestic terrorism.

46. In March 2005, Dr. Ibrahim filed a Passenger Identity Verification Form (PIVF) (TX 76).  [This was a predecessor to the DHS-TRIP form.]

47. In December 2005, Dr. Ibrahim was removed from the selectee list. Around this time, however, she was added to TACTICS (used by Australia) and TUSCAN (used by Canada). No reason was provided for this at trial.

48. On January 27, 2006, this action was filed.

49. In a form dated February 10, 2006, an unidentified government agent requested that Dr. Ibrahim be “Remove[d] From ALL Watchlisting Supported Systems (For terrorist subjects: due to closure of case AND no nexus to terrorism)” (TX 10). For the question “Is the individual qualified for placement on the no fly list,” the “No” box was checked. For the question, “If no, is the individual qualified for placement on the selectee list,” the “No” box was checked.

50. In 2006, the government determined that Dr. Ibrahim did not meet the reasonable suspicion standard. On September 18, 2006, Dr. Ibrahim was removed from the TSDB. The trial record, however, does not show whether she was removed from all of the customer watchlists subscribing to the TSDB.

51. In a letter dated March 1, 2006, the TSA responded to Dr. Ibrahim’s PIVF submission… The response did not indicate Dr. Ibrahim’s status with respect to the TSDB and no-fly and selectee lists.

52. One year later, on March 2, 2007, Dr. Ibrahim was placed back in the TSDB. The trial record does not show why or which customer watchlists were to be notified.

53. Two months later, however, on May 30, 2007, Dr. Ibrahim was again removed from the TSDB. The trial record does not show the extent to which Dr. Ibrahim’s name was then removed from the customer watchlists, nor the reason for the removal.

54. Dr. Ibrahim did not apply for a new visa from 2005 to 2009. In 2009, however, she applied for a visa to attend proceedings in this action. On September 29, 2009, Dr. Ibrahim was interviewed at the American Embassy in Kuala Lumpur for her visa application.

55. On October 20, 2009, Dr. Ibrahim was nominated to the TSDB pursuant to a secret exception to the reasonable suspicion standard. The nature of the exception and the reasons for the nomination are claimed to be state secrets. In Dr. Ibrahim’s circumstance, the effect of the nomination was that Dr. Ibrahim’s information was exported solely to the Department of State’s CLASS database and the United States Customs and Border Patrol’s TECS database.

56. From October 2009 to present, Dr. Ibrahim has been included in the TSDB, CLASS, and TECS. She has been off the no-fly and selectee lists….

60. On December 14, 2009, Dr. Ibrahim’s visa application was denied….

64. The TSC has determined that Dr. Ibrahim does not currently meet the reasonable suspicion standard for inclusion in the TSDB. She, however, remains in the TSDB pursuant to a classified and secret exception to the reasonable suspicion standard. Again, both the reasonable suspicion standard and the secret exception are self-imposed processes and procedures within the Executive Branch.

65. In September 2013, Dr. Ibrahim submitted a visa application so that she could attend the trial on this matter…. Trial in this action began on December 2 and ended on December 6. As of December 6, Dr. Ibrahim had not received a response to her visa application. At trial, however, government counsel stated verbally that the visa had been denied. Plaintiff’s counsel said that they had not been so aware and that Dr. Ibrahim had not been so notified….

70. Since 2005, Dr. Ibrahim has never been permitted to enter the United States.

The other most significant remaining questions concern Dr. Ibrahim’s daughter, Ms. Raihan Mustafa Kamal, who was born in the US and is a US citizen, but was prevented from flying to the US to observe and testify at her mother’s trial. (Previous reporting about Ms. Mustafa Kamal here, here, and here.)

According to a section of Judge Alsup’s decision (pp. 24-25) about Ms. Mustafa Kamal that was previously redacted in its entirety:

On December 1 [2013], the National Targeting Center (“NTC”) within the Department of Homeland Security began vetting passengers for the Philippine Airlines flight. NTC officers determined that Ms. Kamal was matched to a record that was listed in the TSDB in a category which notifies the Department of State and Department of Homeland Security that other government agencies may be in possession of substantive “derogatory” information about the individual that may be relevant to an admissibility determination under the Immigration and Nationality Act. United States citizens, of course, are not subject to the admissibility provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act….

On December 2, Ms. Kamal’s records were updated in the TSDB to reflect that she was a United States citizen. The request for additional screening was rescinded and it was requested that Ms. Kamal be allowed to board without delay.

Since Ms, Mustafa Kamal was not a party to her mother’s case (although the government had been notified that she was a potential witness), the issues related to her were not pursued or resolved in that case.

So we still don’t know what “derogatory” information would be relevant to the “admissibility” to the US of a US citizen, or why DHS is keeping records of such information or “watchlisting” such individuals.

Also today, Judge Alsup ruled that the government must pay some, but not all, of Dr. Ibrahim’s legal fees and costs. The exact amount remains to be determined by a special master.  Judge Alsup found that the government had been “unreasonable” in many of its actions and arguments, but had not been shown to have acted in bad faith.

As we’ve previously reported, other no-fly cases are moving forward, with that of Gulet Mohamed (currently in the early stages of discovery in Disctrict Court on remand following denial by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals of the government’s motions to dismiss) likely next in line for trial.

FBI tells Dr. Ibrahim she’s not on the “no-fly” list

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

Yesterday, in response to a court order, the FBI — the nominal “owner” of the US government’s “no-fly” list — sent the letter above to Dr. Rahinah Ibrahim, informing her that she isn’t on that list.

This is the first time the US government has ever officially disclosed to an individual whether they are on the “no-fly” list, although of course — as the judge noted during the trial in Dr. Ibrahim’s lawsuit challenging her placement on the “no-fly” list — anyone can tell that they are on the list if they are prevented from flying despite having a valid ticket and all other required documents and complying with all of the rules the airline’s tariff.

Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper personally signed declarations under penalty of perjury that to disclose exactly this information, to Dr. Ibrahim specifically, would harm national security, and that this information was therefore a “state secret”.

Needless to say, the sky didn’t fall yesterday when the FBI told Dr. Ibrahim the “state secret” that she is not on the “no-fly” list.

The letter from the FBI to Dr. Ibrahim was included in a set of declarations from officials of Orwellian US government organizations like the “Directorate of Terrorist Identities” which were filed with the court by the government yesterday to show that it had complied with the order by U.S. District Judge William Alsup.

These declarations give interesting insights into the structure of the various interlocking databases, but say nothing about the criteria for “no-fly” and other blacklisting and watchlisting decision.

Despite Dr. Ibrahim not being on the “no-fly” list, and despite testimony at the trial that she poses no threat, she has repeatedly been denied a visa to return to the US on the grounds that she “has engaged in terrorist activity” and is the spouse or child (presumably this allegation relates to her husband) of a person who is similarly inadmissible to the US, pursuant to 8 U.S. Code §1182(a)(3)(B)(i)(I) and §1182(a)(3)(B)(i)(IX). Her latest visa application was refused on these grounds just this Monday, April 14, 2014, at the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

The declarations filed by the government say nothing about what happened to Dr. Ibrahim’s daughter, Ms. Raihan Mustafa Kamal, who was born in the US and is a US citizen, but was prevented from flying to the US to observe and testify at her mother’s trial. (Previous reporting about Ms. Mustafa Kamal here, here, and here.)

In accordance with Judge Alsup’s orders, and the government’s decision not to appeal, the unredacted version of Judge Alsup’s findings (including several pages of sealed findings concerning what happened to Ms. Mustafa Kamal) was scheduled to be unsealed yesterday.  The decision is now officially “unsealed”, but is still being processed by the court clerk’s office. We’ll publish it as soon as we receive it.

District Court dismisses complaint in Mocek v. Albuquerque

Friday, April 4th, 2014

Judge James O. Browning of the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico has dismissed Phillip Mocek’s complaints against the city of Albuquerque, the Albuquerque Police Department, and the individual Albuquerque police officers who falsely arrested him (at the behest of the TSA) in 2009 at a TSA checkpoint at the Albuquerque Sunport, improperly seized and tried to delete his digital recordings that provided the best evidence of their misconduct, and filed false reports about what had happened.

Mr. Mocek had arrived at the airport with a valid ticket but without any government-issued ID credentials. He was trying to exercise his right to travel through a public facility and by common carrier, and to document the process of flying without showing government-issued ID credentials. (More about Mocek v. Albuquerque et al.)

Mr. Mocek has until April 29, 2014, to decide whether to appeal any or all of the District Court’s rulings to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.

We’ll have more to say about the District Court’s latest decision once Mr. Mocek decides whether to appeal.

Interpol renews push for worldwide ID-based travel controls

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

Despite admitting that it was “too soon to speculate about any connection between these stolen passports and the missing plane,” Interpol officials did not hesitate to use the fact that two passengers on the missing Malaysian Airlines flight used stolen passports as the opportunity to step up its longstanding campaign for a global travel control system in which all travelers worldwide will be required to: (a) show standardized government-issued travel credentials, and (b) have those credentials “vetted” against a global blacklist maintained by Interpol, before being given permission to buy an airline ticket or “open a bank account, rent a car or check into a hotel”.

(more…)

UN Human Rights Committee calls on US to effectuate the ICCPR

Friday, March 28th, 2014

Following two days of face-to-face public questioning (Day 1, Day 2) of a US government delegation earlier this month, the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) has published its concluding observations on US implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

The UNHRC’s concluding observations include a strong endorsement of our call for Congress to enact legislation to “effectuate” the ICCPR by making the treaty enforceable by US courts, particularly where violations of the ICCPR do not constitute violations of any other US law.  As one of its key recommendations, the UNHRC says that:

The State party [i.e. the US] should … Taking into account its declaration that provisions of the Covenant are non-self-executing, ensure that effective remedies are available for violations of the Covenant, including those that do not, at the same time, constitute violations of U.S. domestic law, and undertake a review of such areas with a view to proposing to the Congress implementing legislation to fill any legislative gaps.

At the end of a press conference announcing the UNHRC’s concluding observations concerning the US, UNHRC Chairperson Nigel Rodley had this to say about committee’s review of US implementation  of the ICCPR the need for judicial enforcement and accountability for human rights violations:

Of course they [the US government's representatives] stressed the improvements they’ve made, so that people wouldn’t be doing the same things in the future. But absolutely not — there was no suggestion that any of those responsible for any of the past criminal violations of our Covenant [i.e. the ICCPR] would be brought to justice or that its victims would have access to their day in court.

The UNHRC’s concluding observations recommend that, “The responsibility of those who provided legal pretexts for manifestly illegal behavior should also be established.”

We won’t hold our breath for Congress to act, but we hope that this recommendation from the only independent body officially empowered to review the state of human rights treaty compliance by the US will prompt members of Congress to consider sponsoring legislation to create a cause of action for violations of the ICCPR and give US courts jurisdiction to hear such complaints.

The UNHRC also criticized US mass surveillance, but mentioned only communication surveillance and metadata and not the closely related issue of NSA and DHS mass surveillance of travel metadata.

UN Human Rights Committee review of US implementation of the ICCPR: Day 2

Friday, March 14th, 2014

US government delegation listens to questions from the UN Human Rights Committee. (Click image for larger version.) At the head table, left to right: Scott Shuchart (Senior Adviser, Office of Civil Rights & Civil Liberties, DHS), Megan Mack (Officer for Civil Rights & Civil Liberties, DHS), Bruce Swartz (Deputy Assistant Attorney General, DOJ), Roy Austin, Jr. (Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division, DOJ), Mary McLeod (head of the US delegation and Principal Deputy Legal Adviser, Department of State). US Army Brigadier General Richard Gross (Legal Counsel to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Department of Defense) in profile at left in front of Ms. Mack.

Questioning of a US government delegation by the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) concerning US implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) continued today in Geneva.

Many of the same issues as were raised in yesterday’s first round of questions from members of the Human Rights Committee continued to be pursued in today’s follow-up questioning, along with other concerns including NSA surveillance and collection of communications metadata.

But as the day went on, there was an increasing focus on the “meta-issues” of applicability, enforceability, and remedies and redress for violations of the rights guaranteed by the ICCPR:

  • Does the US accept that everyone subject to US jurisdiction is entitled to human rights, as the Human Rights Committee and almost every other party to the ICCPR (except Israel) interprets the treaty to mean?  Or does the treaty only apply to US actions within its borders, allowing the US to violate human rights abroad with impunity?
  • In light of the US interpretation of the ICCPR as not being “self-executing”, and the failure of Congress to enact effectuating legislation to enable the treaty to be invoked in US courts, what “effective” means of judicial redress (as required by the ICCPR itself) are available to those whose human rights are violated, especially if those violations of the ICCPR don’t also constitute violations of domestic US law?

This latter point, raised today by at least four members of the UNHRC, was one that we had taken the lead in asking the UNHRC to address, through both an initial and a supplemental submission to the UNHRC in advance of this week’s session.

The head of the US government delegation, Mary McLeod of the State Department, responded to these questions today by telling the UNHRC that the US “sees no need” to allow the ICCPR to be invoked in US courts.

Her implicit message, and that of the other members of the US delegation in their responses to questions about specific issues, was that internal administrative measures provide an adequate substitute for judicial oversight or enforcement of human rights obligations.

But many of those claims about administrative “remedies” rang hollow:

  • DHS Officer for Civil Rights & Civil Liberties Megan Mack, who has been officially designated as responsible for implementation of the ICCPR by the DHS, said that her office “enforces” DHS administrative standards for use of deadly force by US Customs and Border Protection officers.  But she didn’t mention that her office is purely advisory, and has no authority to order any sanctions against CBP officers or any other DHS employees or contractors.
  • Ms. Mack told the UNHRC that her office “receives complaints” of violations of the ICCPR by DHS components, which is true. But she didn’t tell the UNHRC that  some of those  complaints, including some of ours, have been pending with her office for years without any response.  Nor did she mention that her office has claimed that violations of the ICCPR were “authorized” by US law, suggesting a profoundly mistaken belief that the US can derogate from its treaty obligations by enacting domestic statutes.
  • Roy Austin, Jr., Deputy Assistant Attorney General and head of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, told the UNHRC how important it is to ensure that people who believe their human rights have been violated have a place to complain, and receive a response to their complaint.  But he didn’t disclose to the UNHRC that — as we learned in response to one of our FOIA requests — his Department has no record of ever having designated a point of contact for such complaints, or of ever having responded to any of them.
  • Deputy Assistant Attorney General Bruce Swartz talked about Attorney General Holder’s policy that his “Department will not defend an invocation of the [state secrets] privilege to conceal … administrative error”, but didn’t mention that A.G. Holder personally signed a sworn declaration to the court in the first “no-fly” trial, explicitly quoting that policy while invoking the state secrets privilege to try to prevent the plaintiff, who the government admitted posed no danger, from learning or obtaining redress for her having been placed on the “no-fly” list as a result of what the government admits was a mistake by an FBI agent who checked the boxes on a form he was supposed to un-check and un-chekked the boxes he was supposed to check.

Throughout the day, there was much talk of “guidelines” and “policies”, but little talk of laws or of whether practices conform to aspirational administrative “guidance”.

The UNHRC is expected to issue its report on US implementation of the ICCPR , in the form of “concluding observations” from its review, on March 27th.

UN Human Rights Committee review of US implementation of the ICCPR: Day 1

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

Public questioning by the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) of a delegation from the US government on the subject of US implementation (or not) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) began today in Geneva, Switzerland, and will continue tomorrow. The proceedings are part of the periodic review of each party to the ICCPR, which the treaty itself mandates be conducted every five years by the UNHRC.

The UNHRC consists of independent individual experts, not representatives of national governments as in the confusingly similarly-named UN Human Rights Council. The ad hoc 32-member US delegation consists of high-level but not top-level officials (e.g. the Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for Policy) from half a dozen Federal executive (administrative) agencies led by the Department of State, along with officials from one state (Mississippi) and one municipal (Salt Lake City, UT) government.

With well-designed symbolism, the members of the the US government delegation and the UN Human Rights Committee, facing each other across the central well of the circular Salle XVIII in the UN’s “Palais des Nations”, were almost encircled by rising rings of observers from an NGO delegation of unprecendented size and diversity. Almost 100 human rights activists, mainly from the  the USA but also from other countries where people are concerned about human rights violations in the US and by the US government, came to the UNHRC session. Many more organizations who couldn’t afford to attend the session in Geneva in person made written submissions in advance to the UNHRC of suggestions for issues, questions, and “concluding observations”.

Members of the UNHRC welcomed the NGO presence — unprecedented in scale and diversity — despite describing it in their opening remarks as “overwhelming”.  Human rights aren’t just an issue for women or for people of color, and the US rainbow is well represented. But it says a great deal about the unbalanced gender and racial burdens of human rights violations in the US that perhaps 80% of the US NGO delegation are women and a similar percentage are people of color. Traditional leaders and tribal governments of Native Americans, Native Alaskans, and Native Hawaiians are also in attendance, lumped together by UN procedural rules with “non-governmental” organizations.

The proceedings today were webcast, as those tomorrow will be, and will also be archived for streaming on demand. “Every animal is equal,” UNHRC Chair Nigel Rodley quipped as he called today’s session to order, “But not every animal can get UN TV to the Human Rights Committee,” a small and normally quiet corner of the complicated system of UN treaty bodies. But this is the US, and no other country’s actions have such extraterritorial impacts, good or bad, on the human rights of people around the world.

The UNHRC is authorized by the ICCPR to issue “Concluding Observations” after its review of each country’s implementation of the treaty, but has no power to enforce its recommendations. Despite this major limitation, the extreme reluctance of the US to accept any external oversight over its actions leaves the UNHRC as the sole international body with the authority to compel the US government, on a regular basis (albeit for only two days every five years), to respond publicly to cross-examination  about its human rights record.

For those tuning in for the first time to the UN TV webcast today and tomorrow, it may seem like this is the culmination of the process of review of the US by the UNHRC. At first glance, it might even look like the public dialogue between the UNHRC and the US government is “the review”.

But those of us who’ve been part of the process know that this week’s events in Geneva are neither its start nor its end. (more…)

Public questioning of US government on human rights

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

Today and tomorrow in Geneva (early Thursday and  Friday morning in the USA), a delegation from the US government will be questioned publicly by members of the UN Human Rights Committee about US implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Here’s the schedule of the webcast public questioning:

  • Thursday, March 13, 15:00-18:30 Geneva time (7 am-10:30 am PDT, 10 am-1:30 pm EDT)
  • Friday, March 14, 10:00-13:00 Geneva time (2 am-5 am PDT, 5 am-8 am EDT)
  • tentative additional session Friday, March 14, 14:00-17:00 Geneva time (6 am-9 am PDT, 9 am-noon EDT)

This is neither the first nor the last step, but a critical step, in the review conducted by the Human Rights Committee every five years (as with each other country that is a party to the treaty) of US implementation of this international human rights treaty.

We’ll have more details after the sessions, but here are some quick links for those tuning in to the webcast:

DHS uses email intercepts to question US citizen about her sex life

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

At first blush, a lawsuit filed last week by the ACLU on behalf of a sociology professor at Indiana University wrongly detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection seems to be about whether CBP is exceeding the limitations on its police powers, and detaining US citizens for purposes unrelated to customs and borders.

That’s bad, but unsurprising in light of the history of abuse of limited administrative search powers as a pretext for unrelated police purposes by CBP and other DHS components, notably the TSA.

What’s more unusual, however, is the complaint that the DHS is using email messages, presumably obtained from the NSA (unless the DHS has some email interception program of its own) as the basis for detention and interrogation of US citizens who aren’t trying to travel or ship any goods across US borders.

And what was the subject of this warrantless custodial interrogation of a non-traveling US citizen by armed “Customs and Border Protection” officers, based on email intercepts? Her sex life.

No, we’re not making this up.

Professor Christine Von Der Haar of Indiana University tells the story in her complaint, in an interview with the Bloomington Herald-Times in 2012 at the time of the bizarre CBP doings that led to her lawsuit, and in a video interview with the Indianapolis Star last week when the lawsuit was filed.

A few years ago, Dr. Von Der Haar, a US citizen, reconnected online with Dimitris Papatheodoropoulos, a Greek freelance transport and logistics manager and consultant who she had been friends with as a teenager, 40 years earlier, at an international school they both attended in Switzerland.  After a year’s exchange of email, some of which Dr. Von Der Haar says was “flirtatious and romantic in nature”, Mr. Papatheodoropoulos arranged for a visit to Dr. Von Der Haar in Bloomington during her summer break from university teaching.

Von Der Haar believes her friend is a victim of a cultural misunderstanding. His emails signed off “I love you. I miss you. I kiss you.” Marriage, though, was beyond the pale for two adults in their mid-50s who hadn’t seen each other for decades, they say.

Sure, his language is flowery, but Von Der Haar laughs about it, slightly embarrassed: “We’re silly. He’s a Greek man. What can I say?.”

Mr. Papatheodoropoulos obtained a 10-year, multiple entry B1/B2 business and tourism visa to the US, allowing him to consult with business associates and negotiate contracts as well as visit friends. Since he works as a freelancer, and wasn’t sure how long he would be staying in the US, he shipped a computer and some other electronic equipment by air freight, but removed the hard drive with his data and carried it with him.

On arrival, Mr. Papatheodoropoulos cleared US customs and immigration and was admitted to the US without incident. But when Dr. Von Der Haar took him back to the Indianapolis airport a few days later to pick up the items he had shipped by air freight, they were referred to the CBP office at the airport.

According to Dr. Von Der Haar’s complaint, armed CBP officers detained both her and Mr. Papatheodoropoulos, took them into separate rooms, and stood blocking the exit door while they interrogated Dr. Von Der Haar about, “the nature of her relationship with Mr. Papatheodoropoulos … the contents of email messages that Dr. Von Der Haar and Mr. Papatheodoropoulos had sent each other … [and] if she and Mr. Papatheodoropoulos were having sexual relations.”

Given that Mr. Papatheodoropoulos had retained his hard drive that contained the emails, the only way that the Customs and Border Protection Agents could have reviewed the emails is for someone to have surreptitiously monitored the communications between Dr. Von Der Haar and Mr. Papatheodoropoulos and reported those communications to the agents questioning her. Defendant Lieba admitted that employees of the United States had read email communications between Dr. Von Der Haar and Mr. Papatheodoropoulos.

Dr. Von Der Haar was taken into the back room of the CBP office for questioning twice, for a total of about half an hour, while Mr. Papatheodoropoulos was questioned for “approximately 4 1/2 - 5 hours” before he emerged and was allowed to leave. His Greek passport (property of the Greek government) was confiscated without warrant, leaving him unable to leave the US even had he decided to cut his visit short, and he was “served with notice that a proceeding was initiated against him for removal from the United States” on the basis that:

You obtained your B1/B2 visa by misrepresenting your intentions to come to the United States to wit; It is your intention to immigrate to the United States, you abandoned your foreign residence, you intend to overstay your admission to the United States.

“None of this was true” according to the complaint. Mr. Papatheodoropoulos requested an expedited trial on these allegations, but “the removal action did not proceed. His passport was returned to him and he left the United States at the end of August of 2012 and has not returned.”

What are we to make of this episode?

First, CBP officers grossly exceeded their jurisdiction. Dr. Dr. Von Der Haar’s US citizenship was never questioned; she wasn’t trying to enter, leave, or ship and goods in or out of the country; and she was never accused of any crime.  In general, immigration (as distinct from customs) offenses are handled by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Border Patrol, not CBP. We’re curious what basis CBP will claim for its officers’ authority to detain and interrogate Dr. Dr. Von Der Haar or obtain her email.

Second, unless this incident has exposed some previously unsuspected DHS email interception program, it seems likely that CBP obtained copies of email between Dr. Dr. Von Der Haar and Mr. Papatheodoropoulos from the NSA.  We know that the NSA is copying and archiving as much email as it can get its hands on.  But was this email traffic flagged by the NSA as being of interest, and brought to the attention of the DHS? Or did the DHS ask the NSA to retrieve these email messages from the NSA archives, and provide them to the CBP? When, how, and on what basis, does the NSA “share” its email intercepts with the DHS?

We look forward to learning more. We won’t be surprised, though, if the government claims that intercepting email messages on grounds of “national security” and then handing them over to another government department in order to detain and interrogate an innocent US citizen about her sex life is a “state secret”.