In “Prosecutors say member of alleged ISIL recruit’s defense team preached jihad,” Star Tribune reporter Stephen Montemayor noted in passing that local imams and Muslim “community leaders” had received a “behind-the-scenes security tour” in February at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Montemayor mentioned the tour when he noted that Hassan Mohamud — “Sheikh Hassan” — had been “uninvited” from the tour.
What??? What tour?
That’s where Montemayor left matters, so I asked airport spokesman Patrick Hogan about it. Hogan gave me the courtesy of a prompt response, though he denied any knowledge of the tour. He also referred me to the Transportation Security Administration and to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. A TSA spokesman denied knowledge (wrongly, as it turned out). Several calls to CBP resulted in a bingo with midwest CBP spokesman Kristoffer Grogan in Michigan. Grogan called in response to my inquiries at the airport and emailed me the following explanation:
Per our conversation U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) conducted a community engagement tour at the St. Paul International Airport on February 18th. The tour included roughly 20 community members from the greater Minneapolis area and was facilitated through the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. The tour showed the participants the process that all arriving passengers go through when arriving at the Federal Inspection Services (FIS) area at Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport. CBP conducts these types of tours regularly as part of our outreach efforts to improve ties between CBP and our community members.
The tour was conducted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection leadership assigned to the Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport. I currently do not have a list of those who attended the tour. You would need to reach out to the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties for that information.
So I called the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the number provided by Grogan. DHS instructed me to email my inquiry to their public affairs address. I wrote with the subject “Request for information regarding security tour of MSP International Airport given to imams by CBP on February 18.” This was my request:
[The March 29] Star Tribune refers in passing to a behind the scenes security tour given to local imams and Muslim community leaders at the Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport [in February]. They report that Imam Hassan Muhamad was “disinvited” from the tour. I have confirmed the date/location/purpose of the tour with CBP midwest spokesman Kristoffer Grogan. He tells me that the tour was “facilitated” by the DHS Office of Civil Rights and has referred me to you for additional information regarding invitees and details regarding the tour.
I am following up on Mr. Grogan’s referral. I am seeking the information regarding the tour including: invitees, participants, tour guides, areas toured, and the nature of any security checks conducted before extending the invitations.
I received this ludicrously unilluminating response from DHS press secretary Marsha Catron:
We cannot comment on individual cases due to privacy concerns. However, the Department of Homeland Security does not at any time nor for any reason bar a participant from an event based on protected First Amendment activity.
If an event takes place at a secure facility, a security or background check may be run on an individual before he or she is allowed to enter a secure location.
She added an equally uninformative sentence for my “BACKGROUND use.” I wrote her back:
Marsha: I understand. This is to request the other information: invitees, attendees, areas of the airport that were toured, who conducted the tour and so on.
I am writing to make one more request for the additional information I sought earlier this week. Please give me the courtesy of a response.
This is an interim report, I think. I’m going to keep asking.
UPDATE: In response to my inquiry this morning, Ms. Catron indicates she will advise me of the department’s procedure for submitting a FOIA request. I have now submitted my request through the department’s FOIA page. Why this should be necessary for the basic information sought is beyond me.