FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

How Drug Courier Profiles Begot Terrorism Watch Lists

by JAMES BOVARD

Friends of freedom have been chagrined over the past decade to learn that federal terrorist watch lists incorporate criteria — such as openly praising the Constitution or the Second Amendment — that put them in the crosshairs. More than a million names are now included on the catch-all terrorist watch list maintained by U.S. government agencies. The feds’ definition of terrorist threats is so broad that the Homeland Security Department warned local law-enforcement agencies to keep an eye on anyone who “expressed dislike of attitudes and decisions of the U.S. government.”

That standard makes no sense — unless the feds are seeking to maximize the number of persons they have a pretext to target. Federal agencies are relying on a technique previously pioneered for the drug war. It is not possible to understand the tactics and perils of terrorist watch lists without considering the sordid history of drug-courier profiles.

Drug-courier profiles are “an informally compiled abstract of characteristics thought typical of persons carrying illicit drugs,” according to a 1980 Supreme Court decision. Those profiles proved to be the “philosopher’s stone,” allowing police to stop and search anyone they please — or anyone who displeases them. Once the police created a drug profile, they claimed “reasonable suspicion” to stop and demand information from a person and often to pressure or force him (or her) to submit to a search.

Federal agents have shown remarkable creativity in devising drug-courier profiles for airplane passengers. Some profiles assert that either the first or the last person off the plane is probably a drug dealer. In case that does not suffice, there are also drug-courier profiles that reveal that people who exit amid a throng of passengers half-way through deplaning are the bad guys. Federal agents have used profiles that assert that people who take nonstop flights are couriers —as are people who changed planes along the way. Other suspicious traits include appearing nervous while flying — or appearing unnaturally calm. In the era before pervasive cell phones, “immediately making a telephone call after deplaning” was considered a telltale sign of a drug courier.

On April 7, 1995, an airline ticket agent at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport called DEA agent William Grant to alert him that Manuel Sanchez had just paid cash for a round-trip ticket to Houston. Grant and another DEA agent proceeded to the gate and asked Sanchez to leave the plane for questioning. Grant asked Sanchez whether he was carrying any money, and Sanchez replied that he had about $9,000 in cash. Grant asked how he had earned it. Sanchez said that he had worked at a jewelry store. Grant asked the name of the store, and Sanchez hesitated, then said he could not remember. Grant informed Sanchez he was confiscating the money because he believed it was related to narcotics trafficking. The money was put before a drug dog, which dutifully reacted.

Federal Judge James Moran struck down the forfeiture in a 1996 ruling that “the government must come forward with more than a ‘drug-courier profile’ and a positive dog sniff in order to link the defendant’s funds to illicit drug transactions.” The judge declared that “it is not reasonable for this court to infer from the mere fact that claimant was in possession of an envelope with a considerable sum of money that he was involved in activities proscribed by the Drug Act.” The judge was offended that the government apparently did nothing to justify its accusations against Sanchez, observing that “there must be some independent objective factual basis for determining the validity of the government’s assertions beyond their mere recitation by a drug agent clothed with official authority.”

The feds have also pioneered catchall profiles for anyone traveling on the nation’s roads, which have been eagerly adapted by state and local law-enforcement agencies. One Florida trial judge observed of the Florida police’s courier profile, “When you boil the profile down to its essentials, it covers just about every rental automobile or private automobile with out-of-state license plates traveling north on the turnpike or I-95.”

Police profited by combining drug-courier profiles with asset-forfeiture laws. The Volusia County, Florida, sheriff’s department set up a “forfeiture trap” run by a Selective Enforcement Team to stop motorists traveling Interstate 95 and seized an average of more than $5,000 a day from motorists between 1989 and 1992 — more than $8 million total. In three-quarters of the seizures, no criminal charges were filed.

A Pulitzer-prize-winning investigation by the Orlando Sentinel revealed that 90 percent of those seizure victims were black or Hispanic. When confronted with that statistic, the county sheriff, Bob Vogel, said, “What this data tells me is that the majority of money being transported for drug activity involves blacks and Hispanics.” People whose cash was seized by the deputies received scant due process of law; as the Sentinel noted, one deputy told two blacks from whom he had just confiscated $19,000, “You have the right to follow us back to the station and get a receipt.” Even citizens who provided proof that their money was honestly acquired (including a lottery winner’s proof of his lottery receipts) were treated like drug dealers. Volusia County officials routinely offered “settlements” to drivers whose cash they seized, promising to return a percentage of the seized cash if the drivers would sign a form promising not to sue.

The ACLU and the NAACP sued Volusia County for racial bias in its drug-courier profiles. In court proceedings two members of the team swore that Sheriff Vogel specifically instructed them to stop black and Hispanic drivers to search for drugs and cash. The officers also said that they had seen copies of a courier profile that included as one of the target characteristics, “Ethnic groups associated with the drug trade.” One deputy also stated that a caricature of a drug courier was posted on a department bulletin board that showed a black man wearing a large gold medallion and cowboy boots.

Abusive searches sparked a backlash that resulted in Congress’s pretending to seriously consider reining in forfeiture abuses. Rep. Ed Bryant (R-Tenn.) debunked other congressmen’s comments about the number of people whose money was seized though they had no drugs on them: “The way the system works in this is when there are couriers … they either have the money or they have the drugs, but they do not have them both…. So we either find drugs on the person or money on the person, depending which way they are going.” Thus the fact that someone is caught with lots of money but no drugs proves he is a drug courier. And Bryant happily ignored the vast number of cases where police stopped and searched people and found neither drugs nor stacks of cash.

During the 1950s citizens who invoked their constitutional rights and refused to testify about their politics were sometimes known as Fifth Amendment communists, whether or not they were communists. The modern equivalent is Fourth Amendment drug couriers. When a policeman asks a citizen to voluntarily submit to a search, the policeman is essentially asking the citizen to waive his constitutional right to privacy. Even if a citizen refuses to agree to be searched, police routinely forcibly search the person and then lie afterwards, denying that the citizen refused permission. Police also sometimes argue in court that a citizen’s unwillingness to permit himself to be searched is itself sufficient evidence to suspect the citizen of breaking the law. Though such arguments should be beyond contempt, many judges —eager to give the police as much discretionary power as possible —accept them with a straight face.

Initially, such profiles were difficult to reconcile with Americans’ constitutional rights. The Fourth Amendment purports to guarantee that government agents cannot forcibly search citizens without probable cause and reasonable suspicion that they have broken the law. The Fourth Amendment was a symbol of the Founding Fathers’ hatred of British customs officials, who claimed the right to break into  any private home or warehouse and search it for evidence of smuggled goods.

The Supreme Court decreed in 1891, “No right is held more sacred, or is more carefully guarded, by the common law, than the right of every individual to the possession and control of his own person, free from all restraint or interference of others, unless by clear and unquestionable authority of law.” Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson wrote in 1949 that “uncontrolled search and seizure is one of the first and more effective weapons in the arsenal of every arbitrary government.” In 1967 the Supreme Court declared, “Wherever a man may be, he is entitled to know that he will remain free from unreasonable searches and seizures.” But as the Drug War expanded, courts turned a blind eye to one procedure after another that would have been struck down in earlier times that were friendlier to individual rights.

Because the courts gave the feds so much leeway to fight drugs, it is not surprising that judges have thus far tolerated one anti-terrorist absurdity after another. But as the anti-freedom precedents pile up, time is running out on putting a leash on Leviathan.

James Bovard, a policy advisor to the Future of Freedom Foundation, is the author of  author of  Public Policy Hooligan, Attention Deficit Democracy, The Bush Betrayal, Terrorism and Tyranny, and other books. On Twitter – @jimbovard

James Bovard is the author of Attention Deficit Democracy, The Bush Betrayal, Terrorism and Tyranny, and other books. Bovard is on the USA Today Board of Contributors. He is on Twitter at @jimbovard. His website is at www.jimbovard.com

More articles by:
July 26, 2016
Andrew Levine
Pillory Hillary Now
Kshama Sawant
A Call to Action: Walk Out from the Democratic National Convention!
Russell Mokhiber
The Rabble Rise Together Against Bernie, Barney, Elizabeth and Hillary
Jeffrey St. Clair
Don’t Cry For Me, DNC: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Angie Beeman
Why Doesn’t Middle America Trust Hillary? She Thinks She’s Better Than Us and We Know It
Paul Street
An Update on the Hate…
Fran Shor
Beyond Trump vs Clinton
Ellen Brown
Japan’s “Helicopter Money” Play: Road to Hyperinflation or Cure for Debt Deflation?
Richard W. Behan
The Banana Republic of America: Democracy Be Damned
Binoy Kampmark
Undermining Bernie Sanders: the DNC Campaign, WikiLeaks and Russia
Arun Gupta
Trickledown Revenge: the Racial Politics of Donald Trump
Sen. Bernard Sanders
What This Election is About: Speech to DNC Convention
David Swanson
DNC Now Less Popular Than Atheism
Linn Washington Jr.
‘Clintonville’ Reflects True Horror of Poverty in US
Deepak Tripathi
Britain in the Doldrums After the Brexit Vote
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Threats: Arbitrary Lines on Political Maps
Robert J. Gould
Proactive Philanthropy: Don’t Wait, Reach Out!
Victor Grossman
Horror and Sorrow in Germany
Nyla Ali Khan
Regionalism, Ethnicity, and Trifurcation: All in the Name of National Integration
Andrew Feinberg
The Good TPP
400 US Academics
Letter to US Government Officials Concerning Recent Events in Turkey
July 25, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
As the Election Turns: Trump the Anti-Neocon, Hillary the New Darling of the Neocons
Ted Rall
Hillary’s Strategy: Snub Liberal Democrats, Move Right to Nab Anti-Trump Republicans
William K. Black
Doubling Down on Wall Street: Hillary and Tim Kaine
Russell Mokhiber
Bernie Delegates Take on Bernie Sanders
Quincy Saul
Resurgent Mexico
Andy Thayer
Letter to a Bernie Activist
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan is Strengthened by the Failed Coup, But Turkey is the Loser
Robert Fisk
The Hypocrisies of Terror Talk
Lee Hall
Purloined Platitudes and Bipartisan Bunk: An Adjunct’s View
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of Collective Punishment: Russia, Doping and WADA
Nozomi Hayase
Cryptography as Democratic Weapon Against Demagoguery
Cesar Chelala
The Real Donald Trump
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Propaganda Machinery and State Surveillance of Muslim Children
Denis Conroy
Australia: Election Time Blues for Clones
Marjorie Cohn
Killing With Robots Increases Militarization of Police
David Swanson
RNC War Party, DNC War Makers
Eugene Schulman
The US Role in the Israeli-Palestine Conflict
Nauman Sadiq
Imran Khan’s Faustian Bargain
Peter Breschard
Kaine the Weepy Executioner
Weekend Edition
July 22, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Good as Goldman: Hillary and Wall Street
Joseph E. Lowndes
From Silent Majority to White-Hot Rage: Observations from Cleveland
Paul Street
Political Correctness: Handle with Care
Richard Moser
Actions Express Priorities: 40 Years of Failed Lesser Evil Voting
Eric Draitser
Hillary and Tim Kaine: a Match Made on Wall Street
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail