Border agency watchdog looking into caravan database
By ELLIOT SPAGAT and COLLEEN LONG
Friday, March 8
SAN DIEGO (AP) — The U.S. government kept a database on journalists, activists, organizers and “instigators” during an investigation into last year’s migrant caravan, infuriating civil liberties and media groups who called it a blatant violation of free speech rights.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection compiled information on dozens of people that included passport and social media photos, dates of birth, personal information and their suspected role in the caravan. Some of the people on the list were denied entry into Mexico and had their passports flagged or visas revoked.
On Thursday, officials said the department’s independent watchdog was looking into the database, and stressed that journalists were not targeted based on their occupation or reporting.
“CBP has policies in place that prohibit discrimination against arriving travelers and has specific provisions regarding encounters with journalists,” said Andrew Meehan, assistant commissioner of public affairs.
The database was revealed Wednesday by the San Diego TV station KNSD. People listed in the documents provided to the station included 10 journalists, many of whom are U.S. citizens, and an American attorney. There were several dozen people in all on the list, including many labeled as “instigators.”
The intelligence-gathering efforts were done as part of “Operation Secure Line,” which was designed to monitor the caravan of thousands of people who began making their way north from Central America last year to seek asylum in the United States.
The government compiled the database at a time when the caravan was attracting considerable attention in the White House around the midterm elections, with President Trump repeatedly tweeting about the group.
Customs and Border Protection officials said extra security was implemented after a breach of a border wall in San Diego on Nov. 25 in a violent confrontation between caravan members and border agents. The confrontation closed the nation’s busiest border crossing for five hours on Thanksgiving weekend.
Officials said it was protocol to follow up on such incidents to collect evidence, and determine whether the event was orchestrated.
Such “criminal events … involving assaults on law enforcement and a risk to public safety, are routinely monitored and investigated by authorities,” according to a statement from Customs and Border Protection.
“CBP will continue to maintain a high standard of accountability and transparency with the media and public,” Meehan said.
Lawyers and immigrant rights groups were going back and forth across the U.S.-Mexico late last year to help thousands of people who arrived at the border manage a complicated clogged asylum process and to help provide humanitarian aid as conditions worsened and illness spread. Journalists from several news organizations were also there to chronicle the story.
Bing Guan, a freelance journalist from New York and student at the International Center of Photography, said he and a colleague were stopped by U.S. agents while returning from Tijuana in December. A plainclothes agent who didn’t identify his agency showed Guan a multi-page document with dozens of photos and asked him to identify people in the images. The agent then asked Guan to show him the photos he had taken in Tijuana.
Guan said the report of the dossiers confirmed the long-held suspicions he and other journalists had.
“It’s sort of a weird combination of paranoia and pride,” Guan said. “Paranoia because our own government is conducting these intelligence gathering tactics and these patterns of harassment in order to deter journalists from doing their jobs, but also a little bit of pride because I feel like I’m on the right track,” Guan said.
Two House Democrats asked CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan for any instructions to officers on the 59 people named, an explanation of why they were included and how often they were stopped for additional questioning.
“The appearance that CBP is targeting journalists, lawyers, and advocates, and particularly those who work on immigration matters or report on border and immigration issues, raises questions about possible misuse of CBP’s border search authority and requires oversight to ensure the protection of Americans’ legal and constitutional rights,” wrote Reps. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and Kathleen Rice of New York, who both serve on the Homeland Security Committee.
The database was denounced by a variety of groups, including the Committee to Protect Journalists, American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The database was built at a time of increasingly tense relations between the Trump administration and journalists, with Trump calling some members of the press the “enemy of the people.” There has also been an increase in false news stories proliferating on social media on both the left and right.
The Department of Homeland Security last year sought a contractor to monitor more than 290,000 news sources and social media around the world in several languages, and compile a database of journalists, editors, foreign correspondents and bloggers. DHS officials said the aim was to gather open-source information, not unlike alerts the public can set up through email.
And according to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by The Nation, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, another part of Homeland Security, tracked a series of anti-Trump protests in New York City last year, including several that promoted immigrants’ rights and one organized by a member of Congress.
The caravan documents, dated Jan. 9, are titled “San Diego Sector Foreign Operations Branch: Migrant Caravan FY-2019, Suspected Organizers, Coordinators, Instigators and Media.” According to the San Diego station, the material was used by Homeland Security and other agencies, including some FBI agents.
One dossier was on Nicole Ramos, the refugee director and attorney for Al Otro Lado, a law center for migrants and refugees in Tijuana, Mexico. It included details such as the kind of car she drives and her mother’s name, KNSD-TV reported.
A photographer working for The Associated Press was also on the list.
The Mexican government, which denied entry to some of the people in the database, said it disapproved of spying and didn’t do “illegal surveillance.” Mexican officials also said they would ask the U.S. to clarify any possible cases of “illegal spying.”
“Mexico welcomes all foreign visitors who, obeying immigration laws, carry out in our territory tourism or professional activities,” according to a joint statement from the Foreign Relations Department and the Department of Security and Citizen Protection.
Long reported from Washington. Associated Press Writers Nomaan Merchant in Houston and Peter Orsi in Mexico City contributed to this report.
The US government might charge for satellite data again – here’s why that would be a big mistake
March 8, 2019
Author: Zhe Zhu, Assistant Professor of Natural Resources and the Environment, University of Connecticut
Disclosure statement: Zhe Zhu receives funding from USGS and Climate Corporation.
Partners: University of Connecticut provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Landsat is one of the most important U.S. satellite systems. Since the program’s launch in 1972, Landsat satellites have provided the longest-running terrestrial satellite record and collected more than 5.6 million images.
For a long time, the U.S. government charged a fee for every Landsat image. But this changed on Oct. 1, 2008, when the U.S. Geological Survey opened the Landsat archive and made it free for everyone to use.
This open data policy has led to a dramatic increase in the use of Landsat data. Studies have used Landsat data to map global forest loss, surface water extent, human settlements and land cover, among other features.
However, the free and open Landsat data policy is now under scrutiny. An April 2018 news report revealed that the Department of the Interior was considering putting a price on Landsat data again. The decision will come sometime this year.
This potential policy change is concerning. The USGS-NASA Landsat Science Team, of which I am a member, published a study on Feb. 27 highlighting the major benefits of Landsat’s free data policy. For the Landsat program to remain successful, free and open data is the key.
1. Encouraged more data use and research
Before the free data policy, the USGS and private sector sold at most 3,000 Landsat images per month. At the time, a single Landsat image cost approximately US $600.
In the first full year of free data policy, users downloaded more than 1 million images. That number has shot up over time, with more than 20 million images downloaded in 2017.
The number of Landsat-related scientific publications also increased rapidly. More than four times as many scientific publications came out in 2017 as did in 2005.
The free data policy has opened the doors for new research. The use of Landsat data to track landscape changes over time increased rapidly after the new policy, which has advanced remote sensing science in a variety of ways. With the denser Landsat data, scientists can create better land cover maps; more accurately detect landscape changes; and map natural resources in near real-time.
Landsat data is also archived by several commercial cloud computing services, such as Google Earth Engine and Amazon Web Services. This allows less-established institutions to use Landsat data and lets people share the code they used to analyze images more easily. Charging a fee for Landsat data would jeopardize the continued availability of Landsat data in private sector archives.
2. Created economic benefits
In a 2014 paper, the National Geospatial Advisory Committee analyzed 16 economic sectors – such as water consumption, wildfire mapping and agriculture – in which Landsat data has lead to substantial productivity savings.
Just for the year of 2011, the estimated economic benefit of Landsat data was more than $1.7 billion for U.S. users and $400 million for users outside the U.S.
For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Risk Management Agency provides crop insurance to U.S. farmers. More than 1.2 million policies are issued every year. One in five policies are issued in areas subject to flooding, leading to higher premiums.
Before Landsat data was used for mapping crop flood zones, the flooding areas were very broad, causing many farmers with little potential for flooding to pay a lot more. Today, the flood rate maps are updated constantly based on newly collected Landsat images. These detailed zones reduced the cost to farmers by more than $300 million per year. The researchers estimated that the Risk Management Agency would have to raise premiums for more than 200,000 policies each year, if it could not use Landsat data.
3. Tightened international partnerships
In the past, some proportion of the Landsat data was downloaded directly from the ground stations. The Landsat satellites did not have enough capability to store the data. In areas without a U.S. ground station, data was not downloaded to a U.S. archive, but into international cooperator ground stations.
The U.S. Landsat Global Archive Consolidation program collects this internationally stored data, then reprocesses it into a central archive, where it is made available to all users free of charge.
Since this initiative launched in 2010, it has ingested large amounts of satellite data that were not available in the U.S. archive before. This has made historical Landsat data more accessible, while greatly increasing the temporal and spatial coverage of the U.S. satellite data archive.
Without the free Landsat data, this initiative would likely never have existed. The discontinuation of the open policy could affect its continued success.
What’s more, Landsat’s open policy stimulated other international Earth observation programs, such as the Copernicus Program of the European Union, to make their data free. If the Landsat program reverts to asking users to pay for data, our group worries that it may indirectly encourage other programs to do the same.
The program also encouraged international satellite programs to collaborate so that their databases worked together and followed similar standards. This has made it easier for scientists to combine data from multiple satellite systems for analysis.
Landsat imagery shows how Hurricane Irma churned up sediment in the Florida Keys in 2017. U.S. Geological Survey
Keeping Landsat free and open
The U.S. is a global leader in the collection and application of Earth observation remote sensing data. Open access to Landsat, as well as other satellite data, has become the norm.
Officials at the Department of the Interior are exploring the possibility of recovering some of Landsat’s operation costs from users. This is understandable. However, if Americans want to continue enjoying its societal benefits, then our group feels that the data needs to remain free and open.
3 ways activist kids these days resemble their predecessors
March 8, 2019
Author: David S. Meyer, Professor of Sociology, University of California, Irvine
Disclosure statement: David S. Meyer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: University of California provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
A gaggle of young activists recently paid Dianne Feinstein a visit at the senator’s San Francisco office, imploring her to support the Green New Deal framework for confronting climate change. She responded by explaining the complicated legislative process, emphasizing her decades of experience and promising to pursue a considerably more modest approach to confronting climate change with a better shot at passage in the Senate.
The lawmaker tried to come across as sympathetic, yet sounded condescending in a short video clip that quickly went viral, eliciting a stream of criticism. A longer version told a more nuanced story, including why she believes her own “responsible resolution” has a better chance of passage.
It’s easy to understand why Feinstein’s confrontation went viral. Saying “no” to earnest children who see their futures in jeopardy makes politicians look callous.
Although the advent of social media has made it easier for millions to witness these awkward encounters, there is nothing new about kids engaging in grassroots activism. And based on my research about social movements, I find that today’s young activists have a lot in common with the leaders of earlier youth movements.
This clip of Sen. Dianne Feinstein arguing with a group of students about climate policy went viral.
Young people often appear at the front lines of social change for three main reasons.
1. Passionate about causes
First, young people may refuse to ignore injustices or wait patiently when they feel passionately about a cause. That means they’re more apt to take risks.
During the civil rights era, Ernest Green, Thelma Mothershed and seven other children known as the “Little Rock Nine” followed federal troops past jeering crowds of white teens to integrate Central High School in Arkansas in 1957.
More than 70 years later, the dean of students at a public high school less than an hour from Little Rock paddled three high school students for walking out of school to protest gun violence.
In both instances, young activists took risks that would scare off most adults.
2. Dramatic images
Second, politically engaged young people can create dramatic and appealing images to dramatize their cause. That’s what happened when Martin Luther King Jr. put schoolchildren at the front of a march for civil rights through Birmingham, Alabama. He surely knew they were likely to face police willing to use firehoses and dogs to disperse the crowds.
The visuals horrified the nation and inspired more action not only in the streets but in Congress – which passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 soon after that showdown.
Similarly, Jefferson County, Colorado high school students walked out of school in 2014 to campaign against their new school board’s promise to stop offering an advanced placement course in American history because these officials said its curriculum undermined patriotism. Some of the students must have read ahead in the text, for they carried placards with slogans like “There is nothing more patriotic than protest.”
3. Dilemmas for authorities
Third, dismissing or attacking young activists who appear earnest and sincere can prove perilous.
When Birmingham’s children’s march was met with police violence, national attention forced civil rights to the top of the White House’s agenda. It also cost Bull Connor, Birmingham’s public safety commissioner, his job.
Before Feinstein’s awkward encounter went viral, Fox News host Laura Ingraham experienced a similar snafu when she ridiculed gun-control activist David Hogg. The pundit teased the Parkland shooting survivor after he didn’t get into any of the four California universities at the top of his list, a move widely perceived as bullying.
Hogg’s youth made it tough for Ingraham to attack him. His political savvy made it even tougher when he tweeted the names of Ingraham’s sponsors, and suggested his supporters boycott her show. Ingraham eventually apologized, but only after losing some sponsors.
Hogg won this political standoff and even more. He will enroll at Harvard University in the fall of 2019 – along with Jaclyn Corin, a fellow Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School graduate and March for Our Lives co-founder.
The young activists who caught Feinstein off-guard, and another group that got arrested for trying to discuss climate policy with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, belong to the Sunrise Movement. The relatively new group describes itself as an “army of young people.”
Like other youngsters before them, its members claim to have greater stake in forceful environmental action than their elders. Unlike many of the adults who call the shots on policy, they expect to be around to face the consequences should their leaders keep failing to take forceful action on climate change.
American kids and young adults are making these claims not only in the halls of Congress but also in court. More than 20 young people are plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit, Juliana v. U.S., that aims to force the government to slash the emissions that cause climate change.
Young people around the world, led by Swedish teen Greta Thunberg, are also organizing “climate strikes,” where young people will skip school to discuss the urgency of doing more about climate change and protest how little progress the authorities have made.
On March 15, tens of thousands of U.S. children plan to take part in a global action by walking out of schools. Large numbers of European students are already staging similar events.
Some critics are arguing that these young activists are serving as pawns of manipulative adults who are eager to use fresh faces to tout their own cause. The writer Caitlin Flanagan dismissed them as “jackbooted tots and aggrieved teenagers” and Feinstein referred to “whoever sent you here” during her brush with the Sunrise Movement.
But as sociologist Rebecca Klatch has found, teen activists have historically tended to echo their parents’ views authentically, just with more energy and enthusiasm.
Analysts: Normal operations restored at NKorean launch site
By KIM TONG-HYUNG
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — U.S. analysts say North Korea appears to have restored normal operations at a long-range rocket launch site it had partially dismantled last year as part of disarmament steps.
Some experts say North Korea is trying to convey displeasure over the breakdown of a high-stakes nuclear summit last week between leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump over what the Americans said were Kim’s excessive demands for sanctions relief.
North Korea’s state media on Friday acknowledged for the first time that the summit ended without an agreement. But the Rodong Sinmun, which primarily targets the domestic audience, held back from criticizing the United States and instead berated “detestable” Japan for supposedly celebrating the “unexpected” setback and supporting sanctions against the North.
The United States and North Korea accused each other of causing the breakdown of the talks in Vietnam, but both sides left the door open for future negotiations.
North Korea-focused website 38 North said Thursday that commercial satellite images from March 6 indicate that the launch site appears to have returned to “normal operational status” following rapid construction to rebuild a launch pad and a rocket engine test stand.
The Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies published similar findings and said the North’s actions amount to a “snapback” from the moderate dismantlement it undertook following the first Trump-Kim summit last June.
“The rebuilding activities at Sohae demonstrate how quickly North Korea can easily render reversible any steps taken toward scrapping its WMD program with little hesitation,” the CSIS said in a study authored by Joseph Bermudez and Victor Cha. “This poses challenges for the U.S. goal of final, irreversible and verifiable denuclearization.”
Trump said he’s a “little disappointed” by the reports of the new North Korean activity and that time will tell if U.S. diplomacy with the reclusive country will be successful.
The Sohae satellite launching center in Tongchang-ri, a seaside region in western North Korea, is where the North carried out satellite launches in recent years, resulting in U.N. sanctions over claims that they were disguised tests of banned missile technology.
Some experts see the North as trying to put pressure on Washington and Seoul, which has acted as a mediator, to make a deal by creating an impression that it could resume missile or rocket tests.
South Korea’s spy agency has also told lawmakers in a closed-door intelligence briefing that increased vehicle movement was detected at a missile research center on the outskirts of Pyongyang where the North is believed to build long-range missiles targeting the U.S. mainland.
South Korea’s Defense Ministry said Thursday that it is carefully monitoring North Korean nuclear and missile facilities and that the U.S. and South Korean militaries were closely coordinating intelligence over the developments at Tongchang-ri and the missile research center.
Moon Seong Mook, an analyst for the Seoul-based Korea Research Institute for National Strategy, said it’s unlikely that North Korea will resume major missile tests or satellite launches anytime soon because that would risk destroying its fragile negotiations with Washington and could bring even harsher sanctions on its crippled economy.
He said North Korea will also want to see if South Korea will support its position more strongly. Undeterred by the breakdown of the Trump-Kim summit, South Korea has continued to urge the United States to ease sanctions on North Korea to allow a resumption of inter-Korean economic projects and encourage more disarmament steps from the North.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who has said it was Seoul’s “outmost priority” to prevent nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang from derailing, nominated a dovish scholar as his new point-man on North Korea on Friday in an apparent effort to push further his engagement policy with the North.
Kim Yeonchul, currently the head of the state-funded Korea Institute for National Unification, has been an outspoken supporter of inter-Korean rapprochement and frequently expressed skepticism on whether sanctions work with North Korea. The presidential Blue House described Kim as a leading expert in “inter-Korean economic cooperation and the North Korean nuclear problem.”
When asked about the prospects of restarting operations at an inter-Korean factory park in the North Korean border town of Kaesong and South Korean tours to the North’s Diamond Mountain resort, Kim told reporters on Friday that Seoul should “work on it.”
South Korean calls for partial sanctions relief to encourage nuclear disarmament steps by North Korea has caused disagreements with Washington, which does not want to give up what it sees as its main leverage with the North. A senior State Department official told reporters on Thursday that Washington isn’t considering sanctions exemptions for inter-Korean economic projects.
Analyzing commercial satellite images from March 6, the CSIS report assessed that the North had completed rebuilding the superstructure and covering of the rocket engine test stand at the launch site. Additional work at the stand, such as the construction of a shelter on the entrance ramp, could indicate preparations to test rocket engines again, it said.
The 38 North study said the North appears to have also finished rebuilding a rail-mounted transfer structure at the launch pad and that the structure may now be operational. The structure is used to move rocket stages from an underground transfer point to a processing building and from the processing building to the launch tower, according to CSIS, which provided a similar account on the developments.
Satellite images taken weeks after the first Trump-Kim summit had shown the North was taking steps to dismantle the rocket engine test stand and the rail-mounted transfer structure at the launch pad.
Associated Press writer Hyung-jin Kim contributed to this report.