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FBI Radiation Surveillance Program:
The U.S. News & World Report reports another big high-tech surveillance story:
  In search of a terrorist nuclear bomb, the federal government since 9/11 has run a far-reaching, top secret program to monitor radiation levels at over a hundred Muslim sites in the Washington, D.C., area, including mosques, homes, businesses, and warehouses, plus similar sites in at least five other cities, U.S. News has learned. In numerous cases, the monitoring required investigators to go on to the property under surveillance, although no search warrants or court orders were ever obtained, according to those with knowledge of the program. Some participants were threatened with loss of their jobs when they questioned the legality of the operation, according to these accounts.
  Federal officials familiar with the program maintain that warrants are unneeded for the kind of radiation sampling the operation entails, but some legal scholars disagree. . . .
  The nuclear surveillance program began in early 2002 and has been run by the FBI and the Department of Energy's Nuclear Emergency Support Team (NEST). Two individuals, who declined to be named because the program is highly classified, spoke to U.S. News because of their concerns about the legality of the program. At its peak, they say, the effort involved three vehicles in Washington, D.C., monitoring 120 sites per day, nearly all of them Muslim targets drawn up by the FBI. For some ten months, officials conducted daily monitoring, and they have resumed daily checks during periods of high threat. The program has also operated in at least five other cities when threat levels there have risen: Chicago, Detroit, Las Vegas, New York, and Seattle.
  Among the interesting Fourth Amendment questions here is whether this monitoring is distinguishable from Kyllo v. United States. For example, is measuring ambient gamma rays different from measuring infrared radiation emanating from a specific surface? Are Geiger counters (or whatever tool they used to measure radiation) in "general public use"? And does Kyllo, which was focused on the case of a private home, also apply to mosques, businesses, and warehouses?

  I'm scheduled to go to the ABC News studio in a bit to discuss some of these issues; if it works out, a blurb or two on the legal issues might make it on to World News Tonight. (BTW, what's with all the high-tech surveillance stories breaking when I'm supposed to be grading exams? Bad timing.)

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. The "Special Needs" Exception:
  2. Radiation Surveillance:
  3. FBI Radiation Surveillance Program:
Michaelg (mail):
Bad timing? No . . . THE HAND OF ROVE.
12.23.2005 4:07pm
Jack John (mail):
No, it isn't the same as a private home. Private home-owners pay taxes. Churches and so on are publicly subsidized. If churches and so on don't want public safety to outweigh their interest in insularity, then they should renounce their tax-exempt status.
12.23.2005 4:08pm
The Original TS (mail):
For example, is measuring ambient gamma rays different from measuring infrared radiation emanating from a specific surface?

Yes, extremely different. First, gamma ray radiation can't be used for imaging. Infrared radiation can. One of the big Constitutional problems in Kyllo was that allowing the police to do infrared imaging would effectively mean that everyone was living in glass houses without curtains.

Measuring radioactivity does not present the same issues. It's more aking to "smell" than it is to "sight." While it is improper for the police to use infrared detectors to "see" a drug lab from the street, there is no problem with "smelling" a drug lab from the street.

Another point is that, unlike infrared imaging, measuring radiation is extremely unlikely to reveal legal activity. Everything emits infrared radiation, especially, people. Hardly anything emits high levels of radiation, especially people. In fact, I'd be willing to bet (though I don't actually know for sure) that possessing something that is highly radioactive is a per se violation of some federal statute. In other words, at some level, radiating your neighborhood is a crime in and of itself.

The point here is that measuring radiation levels is not violating anyone's privacy since it won't provide information regarding legal activities.
12.23.2005 4:15pm
Doug B. (mail) (www):
I find this new report strangely reassuring. I believe that only nuclear terrorism presents the sort of world-changing risks that, in my mind, requires/justifies extraordinary surveillance efforts. I am actually pleased to hear that such efforts (which, as The Original TS effectively details, seem comfortably within constitutional limts) are being made in addition to all the other snooping.
12.23.2005 4:26pm
The Original TS (mail):
radiating your neighborhood

Feh. irradiating your neighborhood
12.23.2005 4:32pm
John Lederer (mail):
Usama,

I am writing you rather than calling on the cell phone, because, well you know..

We ought to store the dirty bomb somewhere else than Washington, Chicago, Detroit, Las Vegas, New York, and Seattle. See the clipping for details.

I suggest Ann Arbor, Berkeley, or Madison.

Regards,
Suleiman
Caliphate Bomb Tech II
12.23.2005 5:01pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
Suleimnan..May alla be praised, did you forget that Ann Arbor,Berkeley, and Madison are already reserved for the Ebola bombs?? Usama
12.23.2005 5:42pm
Ron Wright (mail):
b>The Traditional Law Enforcement/Criminal Justice System Paradigm Is Ill Prepared to Fight this War On Terror -

OK. I've taken a couple of deep breaths. I've been a local LE investigator for almost 35 years (So Cal Agency).

Here's a post I just sent to some of my contacts re this article. I rarely resort to lettered profanity but this just takes the cake.

*****

HT Memoerandum

OK folks this takes the cake. Whatever happened to the saying, "loose lips sinks ships." STHFU!

This is becoming very trite but THIS COUNTRY IS AT WAR!

So what if someone has a radiation monitor in a driveway/parking lot or other generally common public area BFD!

If it was me I would walk around with a personal radiation monitor and pretend to be the "cable guy" or some other suitable ruse to get access where the potential/suspicion that the enemy has secreted this material.

EXCUSE ME - if there was significantly more than a background level of natural radiation I would have every alphabet soup agency converge on the premis like, "stink on poop." I would consider this a genuine "exigent circumstance" under the recognized exceptions to the s/w requirement of the 4th Amendment.

WTF are people thinking. Have they ever watched FOX's 24 Hours to know the iminent threat posed by such material?

I'm sorry this is not worthy of academic debate. Common sense would dictate secure the radiological material and then sort out the pieces later.

This is the danger I've been harping about for two years the traditional LE/criminal justice paradigm [*]is ill prepared to deal with the enemy in the GWOT with regard to rules of engagement.

There comes a point in which the LL, MSM, armchair pundits, and the ivory tower legal eagles need to take a backseat and let common sense reign.

Ron

[*]

The Traditional Law Enforcement/Criminal Justice System Paradigm Is Ill Prepared to Fight this War On Terror -

What Should Our Domestic Rules of Engagement be?

By Ron Wright
August 11, 2004

[...]

Armed Liberal was kind enough to post this as a separate thread after closing another hot discussion thread at Winds of Change:

Here
12.23.2005 6:50pm
John Lederer (mail):
Usama,

We already used the ebola bombs! Didn't you recognize the symptoms in the deranged fever of the inhabitants?.

Please excuse the pigeon poop on this message, but we had a problem with bad bird seed for our new communications device.

Regards,
Suleimann
Caliphate Bomb Tech II
12.23.2005 6:54pm
Robert Schwartz (mail):
Kyllo was wrongly decided. What occurs in your ome is private. The radiation you emit is not. If you want to have a fight with your wife, don't shout so loud the neighbors can hear.
12.23.2005 11:24pm
Cynicus Prime (mail) (www):
If such a program did not exist, I would worry about the minds of our leaders. The fact that some whiny utopian bureaucratic functionary leaked its existence is outrageous. They need to be arrested and charged with something punishable by no less than life in prison. If there were nuclear activities going on in such places, they're now going to be moved to a more secure and less obvious location because of this story. Damnit. Call Jack Bauer.
One good thing that this story does do is give me comfort that our government is not in reality caving to political correctness. They may publicize the fact that they won't pull more than two Muslim men out of line at the airport, but behind the scenes they're actually using common sense. Imagine...
12.24.2005 12:00am
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):
It would seem that the obvious difference (w.r.t Kyllo) is that infrared radiation is a normal part of life; people emit infrared, lamps emit infrared, and so on. Mean free path of betas is really short, so we can be pretty confident they're not being detected, but I can't think of any ordinary situation in which a mosque, a home, or a regular small storefront would be emitting alpha and gamma significantly above the background. Similarly on air sampling, it's hard to think of a normal situation in which there would be picocuries of material in the air well above normal background that wouldn't be, at least, pretty suspicious.
12.24.2005 12:24am
unbelievable!:
the fact that the ny times is touting this story as a violation of someones rights is truly astonishing. i think it's a pretty damned good idea to keep a close eye on muslims, given that islam seems to be the genesis of most carnage that's going in in the world today.
12.24.2005 12:45am
mls (mail):
I agree that this seems different from Kyllo. The only remaining issue, then, is racial profiling. Not a 4th amendment issue, of course, but an equal protection (or more properly since it is the feds doing it, a 5th am due process issue).

And I'm not at all upset that this has made the papers. Strikes me that letting folks know we ARE monitoring for radiation works as a pretty good deterrent/disincentive to have dirty bombs. Maybe secrecy is justified when monitoring communications, but not necessarily when monitoring radiation. . . .
12.24.2005 1:00am
tioedong (mail) (www):
Ummm...is this different from monitoring the subways?
Because reports of people treated for Graves disease and thyroid cancer (with radioactive Iodine )have been stopped in the NYC subway systems... JAMA. 2002 Dec 4;288(21):2687. (requires reg) alternate posting on FR:
Police detain thyroid patient
and thyroid docs are told to give their patients letters:
Give your patients a letter
The I131 for Graves disease is small, but that for cancer is large enough that we tell them not to hug their grandkids...
There are also warnings about lower dose scans setting off radiation detectors at airports
warning for patients with scans
scans set off radiation detectors
I suspect that many of the patients consider this a bad joke, just like when my hard of hearing elderly husband sets of the metal detector at airports because he forgets he has his rosary in a back pocket, so ends up being scanned...
12.24.2005 1:04am
unhyphenatedconservative (mail):
Cynicus,
You took the words right out of my mouth. Lack of such a program should be the trigger for heads rolling.
12.24.2005 1:10am
Henry Bowman:
The NY Times quotes an FBI official [speaking on anonymity, of course; don't they all]:

"If you can go drive a car into the parking lot near the shopping mall, we can go there," he said. "It's nothing intrusive. We're not searching into a particular building, just sniffing the air in the area."

This, if true [do FBI folks ever lie?], would make the whole matter seem pretty benign. Gamma-ray "sniffers" are basically air samples, although they can be exceptionally sensitive, depending upon which model is used.
12.24.2005 8:54am
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):

And I'm not at all upset that this has made the papers. Strikes me that letting folks know we ARE monitoring for radiation works as a pretty good deterrent/disincentive to have dirty bombs. Maybe secrecy is justified when monitoring communications, but not necessarily when monitoring radiation. . . .

It's another one of those "sources and methods" things, though. If the hypothetical terrorists with a box of radiological waste know that we're looking for it in mosques in DC, they're likely to move bomb-assembly to a convenience store in Peoria or something.
12.24.2005 12:00pm
Dick King:
Gamma rays can be used for imaging.

This technology has the weakness that it won't work well except for a small number of point sources [but that might well not be a problem with chasing dirty bombs] but this product apparently scans and can achieve apparently a resolution of 10 milliradians [about the resolution of a housfly's eyes; 20/20 vision is a resolution of about 0.6 milliradians].

However, gamma rays cannot be used for imaging people and their common artifacts. The human body is bright in infrared but relatively dim in gamma rays. Not completely dark [potassium 40, for example], but too dim to image.

The SWIFT Burst Array Telescope has about half the resolution of a human eye, 20/40 vision which will let you drive a car in most states, but like all coded aperature telescopes may suffer on other than point sources [although I think it's actually okay on this -- are there any coded aperature array geeks out there who can help me out?] This device will just about fit in a van [with one of its steel sides replaced by aluminum] and it can snap pictures in seconds -- that's what it's for [in the orbiting telescope] but it costs millions of dollars.

I'm being pedantic here, but that's not altogether inappropriate. Furthermore, the resolution might not be too different from drug-sniffing dogs, which do go to specific spots. Imaging might even be a good thing for the suspect, since the law enforcement agency would be able to go right to the source, as it were, without trating apart the whole target.

-dk
12.25.2005 10:58am
adfh (mail):
12.26.2005 1:21am
The Ace:
For example, is measuring ambient gamma rays different from measuring infrared radiation emanating from a specific surface?

Surely, I hope you are joking.
12.26.2005 7:08pm
abb3w:
Charlie (Colorado): Natural Radon could do it handily, especially in some parts of NY &NJ... although it would be suprising if any such buildings remain undiscovered after the 1990's ruckus about in-home radon. However, despite my libertarian-to-liberal leanings (and being in the "Impeach Bush!" crowd regarding the NSA/FISA allegations), I'd agree with the folks who consider this as described to be a completely reasonable search, despite the contrast to IR scans. A further example of how nuclear weapons are considered a special case in the law is exhibited by the prominent 18 USC 831 (e) exception to Posse Commitatus.
1.1.2006 2:15pm