Watchdog group blasts ‘community engagement tours’ so sensitive that details blacked out
The Department of Homeland Security gave tours of at least three major airports to Somali immigrants, who walked through facilities — including secure areas not open to the press or the public, according to documents uncovered by a conservative watchdog.
Judicial Watch on Thursday released 31 pages of emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request related to the so-called “community engagement tour” at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in February. The tours also took place at airports in Los Angeles and Columbus, Ohio.
“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 information provided to the Somali immigrant groups was so sensitive that the government blacked out portions of the documents it handed over to Judicial Watch, citing a law enforcement “risk circumvention” exception to FOIA.
“Logically, information that is too sensitive to provide to Judicial Watch and the public should not have been given to a ‘community engagement tour,’” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a prepared statement. “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.”
Ian Smith, investigative associate from the Immigration Reform Law Institute, expressed incredulity that the federal government would offer such tours to Somali refugees.
Customs and Border Protection officials did not immediately respond to questions from LifeZette, but the documents released by Judicial Watch indicate that authorities vetted people whom they allowed into secure areas. One email indicates that authorities rejected two people who did not pass the security review the previous year.
Another email from a Customs and Border Protection official mentioned a man “who gave Chicago CBP a hard time after attending the last outreach event — guessing they might bring it up so whoever is going to be there might want to read over” information that was redacted in the copy released to Judicial Watch.
Those invited received briefings of the Global Entry system, the automated passport control system, secondary screening procedures and baggage-screening procedures. They also got tours of holding cells and interview rooms, according to the documents.
“Current CBP and TSA job vacancies were discussed,” notes from the Minneapolis airport tour stated. “Attendees responded with requests for DHS outreach efforts during Somali community events to further advertise these positions to interested individuals.”
Customs and Border Protection officials set up a tour of the Minneapolis airport in 2014 after a Somali Muslim group complained to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson about feeling harassed and profiled. According to records released several months ago by Judicial Watch, government officials offered the tours in order to seek feedback about “modifications to practices that would allow for operations to be more culturally sensitive.”
An invitation sent to participants promised a “step-by-step tour of our operations, designed to offer a greater understanding of airport processes and procedures.” Officials scheduled the tour in Minnesota around Muslim prayer times.
A number of Somali refugees have been implicated in terrorism-related criminal cases in the United States, including Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame, who worked as a baggage handler at the Minnesota airport and bragged about building rockets that could strike planes as they landed, according to court records.
He pleaded guilty in February to trying to help the Islamic State terrorist group, and a federal judge in November sentenced him to 30 months in prison.
CNN reported that another Somali man, accused war criminal Yusuf Abdi Ali, was working as a security officer at Dulles International Airport outside of Washington, D.C. CNN reported that he is one of more than 1,000 accused war criminals living in the United States. He allegedly committed atrocities while he was a military commander during Somalia’s civil war in the 1980s.