Report: DHS Gave Somali Muslims Private Tours of Secure Areas at Major Airports

Perhaps the U.S. needs to rethink its community outreach program.

As part of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, federal watchdog group Judicial Watch (JW) has learned that U.S. Customs and Homeland Security gave groups of Somali Muslims private tours of secure areas in at least three major airports, including them in things like security briefings and TSA procedures.

These events curiously dubbed “community engagement tours” have been scheduled several times over the last few years at Los Angeles International, Minneapolis-St.Paul Airport, and the Columbus, Ohio airport. JW revealed that “the briefings provided to Somali groups were so sensitive that in 14 instances the agency redacted portions of the records” under the FOIA “risk circumvention” exemption. In other words, the Somali groups had a front-row seat to restricted areas and information at U.S. airport that the rest of us aren’t cleared to see. JW was told this information is “too law-enforcement sensitive” even though it was “provided in full to the Somali group[s].” 

“The invitees were provided briefings of the Global Entry system, APC [Automated Passport Control] system, secondary screening procedures, baggage-screening procedures and given tours of the holding cells/interview rooms,” the report states.

For a February Minneapolis airport tour, the following was discussed according to the records released to JW:

“Current CBP [Customs and Border Protection] and TSA job vacancies were discussed. Attendees responded with requests for DHS outreach efforts during Somali community events to further advertise these positions to interested individuals.”

“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.”

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.”

The Somalis were accompanied by eight senior ranking DHS and Customs officials while on the tour, one a Homeland Security Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Senior Policy Advisor that was flown in from Washington. The officials were also aware that one of the invited Muslims had given “CBP Chicago a hard time” during an earlier tour, that three of the invitees had closed investigations against them, and one had an active investigation pending.

JW first reported these findings back in August in its Corruption Chronicles:

“The Obama administration gave Somali Muslims behind-the-scenes tours at a major U.S. airport after the group complained to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson about feeling harassed and profiled, government records obtained by Judicial Watch reveal. The special security tours not offered to any other group occurred at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport after Department of Homeland Security roundtable meetings with local Somali leaders to obtain feedback for ‘modifications to practices that would allow for operations to be more culturally sensitive.’”

JW President Tom Fitton says:

“Logically, information that is too sensitive to provide to Judicial Watch and the public should not have been given to a ‘community engagement tour.’ 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.”

Issues

Organizations