May 6, 2010

Stories on mainstream sites that begin with "sources tell..." but do not name those sources usually end badly. This one is no exception. Because OMG, can you believe this? Faisal Shahzad has been on a Homeland Security List since 1999!!! CBS News says it, so it must be true, right? As usual, the answer is yes, and no.

The Department of Homeland Security and concept of 'no-fly' lists were not born until 2002 -- November 25, 2002-- to be exact, when President Bush signed the Homeland Security Act. Here's a handy timeline.

CBS News Investigates, in their own words:

Sources tell CBS News that would-be Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad appeared on a Department of Homeland Security travel lookout list - Traveler Enforcement Compliance System (TECS) - between 1999 and 2008 because he brought approximately $80,000 cash or cash instruments into the United States.

Well, that doesn't really square with the large headline saying he was "ON A LIST", does it? Sometime between 1999 and 2008 is not "since 1999", no matter how you spin it.

TECS is a major law enforcement computer system that allows its approximately 120,000 users from 20 federal agencies to share information. The database is designed to identify individuals suspected of or involved in violation of federal law.

Yeah, not so much on the purpose of the TECS database, CBS. Here's the official word from the DOJ archives on what TECS is. TECS II is a container database for specific data on people entering and leaving the US. The key passage:

As noted above, IBIS is a multi-agency database of lookout information that was initiated in 1989 to improve border enforcement and facilitate inspection of individuals applying for admission to the United States at ports of entry and pre-inspection facilities. IBIS is a joint effort of the INS, the Customs Service, and the Departments of Agriculture and State.11 It combines lookout information from 27 agencies into the Treasury Enforcement Communications System II (TECS II) database. The system, created and maintained by United States Customs Service, supports federal agencies by collecting information on individuals suspected of illegal activities.

TECS II was created to maintain and receive information on persons entering the United States and now serves as the central database for IBIS.

I can see why the CBS News Investigates person was confused. Use of the generic term "the system" could certainly lead one to conclude the reference was to TECS II. It could also lead one to conclude that the IBIS database is the "lookout" database which is part of the larger system combining Treasury Enforcement Data. Whatever it was, it was initiated in 1989, and the TECS database contained the IBIS database.

I'm mostly disturbed by the 30-point bold headline on the site and article suggesting some sort of failure on someone's part because this man may have landed on a list years before the DHS was even a glimmer in Cheney's eye.

Yes, he was in a database. So am I. So are you. So what? He brought cash into the country in excess of $10,000. Maybe they suspected him of dealing drugs. Who knows? The existence of a name on a list is evidence of absolutely nothing beyond evidence of a list. And a name.

(h/t The Political Carnival)

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