I set forth the chain of events that sparked my interest in the 2016 MSP International Airport tour for Somalis only in the post “(DHS) Magical mystery tour (and why I need a lawyer).” Last year I sought information from the Department of Homeland Security Office of Civil Rights (OCR) under the Freedom of Information Act. OCR provided a few heavily redacted pages and rebuffed the administrative law judge when he requested an explanation of the redactions.
Theresa Bevilacqua of Dorsey & Whitney’s Minneapolis office answered my plea for help. Theresa has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security Office of Civil Rights (OCR) on my behalf in federal court in Minneapolis. Thank you, Theresa.
I thought at the time the lawsuit was filed that the Star Tribune might take an interest. If asked about it, I had planned to respond that we are only doing the work the Star Tribune won’t do. However, the Star Tribune hasn’t asked.
Because the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) official to whom I spoke last year directed me to OCR, I neglected to file a separate FOIA request with CBP. On Ms. Bevilacqua’s advice I have now done so and CBP has formally responded. CBP has produced 29 redacted pages (posted below via Scribd) with claimed FOIA exemptions stamped over the redactions. An extremely helpful guide to FOIA exemptions is posted online here. I don’t think the cited FOIA exemptions apply, but we shall see. The CBP is also withholding 31 pages in their entirety. I have administratively appealed the CBP’s response to my FOIA request.
I attempted to follow up on CBP’s response to my FOIA request by email. CBP spokesman Kris Grogan told me by email: “Every year CBP conducts numerous events and programs around the country in which civic, religious and community leaders, as well as interested residents, are afforded an inside look at how CBP secures the border at and between ports of entries. CBP is committed to fostering a positive relationship within the communities we live and serve.”
I asked these follow-up questions of Mr. Grogan: Can you tell me what other groups receive annual tours of the secure areas at MSP Airport such as this one? How can I get myself invited? Do you have any reason to think that invitees who don’t pass vetting (such as the disinvited imam) don’t get information from the vetted guests?
I also asked these questions in a separate email: When did these annual tours begin at MSP? Did one take place this year? Does CBP or DHS conduct other such tours at airports around the United States? If so, what airports?
I told Grogan that I was “working on articles based on the information provided to date and ask for your prompt response to these basic questions or some indication that you decline to respond.”
Grogan has failed to respond in any manner. Stone-cold silence. Something tells me that they really don’t want us to know much of anything about what’s happening here.
Among the redactions in the documents provided are the names of every OCR and CBP officer on the email messages, the names of every Somali guest on the tour and the draft invitation. The documents even redact the name of the CBP Area Port Director, a name that is otherwise easily available — for example, here and here and here. The Area Port Director is Jennifer De La O.
We do have this, however, in an email from someone to someone dated January 13, 2016: “I hope you are staying warm. After much some [some] anticipation, the cold front reached us today. For the airport tour, February 18 would be great from our end. Would between 6pm-8pm work? This would accommodate prayer times well.”