Homeland Security gave Somalis tour of airports’ secured areas, documents confirm

by WorldTribune Staff, December 19, 2016

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security gave groups of Somalis comprehensive tours of secured areas in at least three major U.S. airports, according to newly released documents from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The “community engagement tours,” which included security briefings, were held in Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and Columbus, Ohio.

Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport
Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport

The records were released after a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by Judicial Watch.

“The briefings provided to the Somali groups were so sensitive that in 14 instances the agency redacted portions of the records under Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) exemption (B)(7)(e), the law-enforcement ‘risk circumvention’ exemption,” Judicial Watch said.

Exemption 7(E) of the Freedom of Information Act “affords protection to all law enforcement information that would disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions, or would disclose guidelines for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions if such disclosure could reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law.”

During a February 16, 2016, tour of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP), a Somali group was provided briefings of the Global Entry system, APC [Automated Passport Control] system, secondary screening procedures, baggage-screening procedures and given tours of the airport’s holding cells/interview rooms.

“The U.S. government has been aware for years that Minnesota is a hotbed of Somali terrorist-cell activity. The behind-the-scenes tours and security briefings of the Minneapolis airport very well could have created a threat to public safety,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.

The newly released records also reveal:

  • In addition to the Minneapolis Airport tours/briefings given to Somalis during 2014 and 2015 – and first revealed by Judicial Watch in August 2016 – tours of U.S. airports and security briefings also have been provided to other groups at airports in Los Angeles and Columbus, Ohio: “Once we agree on the dates we will select the time based on prayer schedules. Another idea could be the roundtable to take place at the airport after the tour. We have done that before in LA and Columbus and it worked well both times”.
  • The timing of the Minneapolis Airport tour given to a group of Somalis in February 2016 was scheduled between 6-8pm because it would “accommodate prayer times well”
  • During the “annual” tour, federal authorities granted excursions of the facility’s “secure areas.” It is also noted that two parties in the previous year “did not pass vetting.”
  • The invitation extended to the Somalis for the Minneapolis Airport tour addressed them as “Dear Colleague,” and promised “walking people through CBP’s process, walking people through TSA’s process” and provide “a step-by-step tour of our operations, designed to offer a greater understanding of airport processes and procedures.”

Eight senior ranking Homeland Security and Customs officials were tasked with accompanying and briefing the Somalis on the February 18, 2016, Minneapolis Airport tour, including the Minneapolis Area Port Director, the Assistant Port Director, the Watch Commander, a Homeland Security Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Senior Policy Advisor (flown in from Washington), the TSA Federal Security Director and TSA Deputy Federal Security Director.

The documents show Customs officials reported that one of individuals invited on the tour had given “CBP Chicago a hard time” following the last tour and noted three of the invitees had had investigations against them, which had since been closed. Another invitee had an active investigation pending.

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