by Janet Phelan
Trying to get off the Terrorist Watchlist — or even getting to the right person to ask how to do so — has become as difficult as undoing a Chinese puzzle box. Increasingly, journalists and whistleblowers are finding out that they have been put non-consensually on various lists, ranging from no-fly lists to weapons-testing lists, and there doesn’t seem to be anything anyone will do about this.
Earlier, I wrote about these lists as evidence of some sort of “social credit” assessment. Two former NSA employees-turned-whistleblowers were among those who appeared to be inflicted with the denial of financial services linked with this emerging technology. In addition to the denial of normal financial services, such as using Western Union or buying items online, was some discussion of refusal of medical services, a form of targeting which appears to be escalating.
According to a 2016 ACLU report, the numbers of watch listed individuals have ballooned “exponentially.”
“From just over 13,000 entries in 2003, VGTOF (Violent Gang and Terrorist Organizations File) ballooned to 272,198 entries in 2008, and KST (Known or Suspected Terrorists) is likely far larger today,” states the report.
Tellingly, the report goes on to assert that “The primary purpose of the VGTOF/KST File is not law enforcement, but the surveillance and tracking of individuals for indefinite periods.”
The involvement of the FISA court in issuing shadowy surveillance authorities has added dimension, but not redress, to this issue. Individuals may not even know that they are subject to a FISA case nor are they allowed to give input to any decision that may be rendered concerning them. FISA proceedings, which are cloaked in secrecy, may result in enhanced round-the-clock surveillance and, just possibly, much much more.
When Bilal Abdul Kareem, a US-born journalist (birth name Darren Phelps) who has covered the Middle East for Al Jazeera, CNN and others, filed a case in federal court maintaining that he was not only subjected to watch listing but was now on a “kill list,” the US DOJ waltzed into court and said the magic words: “NATIONAL SECURITY” and Kareem’s case was dismissed.
The fact that kill lists and “national security” now trump life and liberty should have been front-page news across the country.
Recently, I set out to redress my own situation, which has involved police assault, seizure of assets and more. My first stop was the hotline for the Office of Inspector General at Homeland Security. “We are not involved in any watchlisting,” I was brusquely informed. It was suggested that I contact ICE. The individual manning the OIG hotline denied any knowledge of any contact number for ICE.
The Office of Public Affairs for ICE declares that it is “dedicated to communicating and fostering an understanding of the agency’s mission through outreach to employees, the media and the general public. OPA also oversees the agency’s internal communication needs, offering a wide range of products to employees through a variety of mediums.”
However, on May 23 no one answered the phone for that office, nor was there an option to leave a message on a voicemail system. Several calls were placed throughout the day.
Not to be deterred, I then reached out to the Victims Assistance line. The ICE website states that “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Victims Engagement and Services Line (VESL) serves as a comprehensive and inclusive support system for all victims, regardless of immigration status or the immigration status of the perpetrator.
Alexa (operator number 45) at the VESL hotline stated there was nothing ICE could do and suggested I contact the FBI. “The FBI maintains the Watchlist,” she declared.
The FBI was then contacted, through their Los Angeles field office and, when the question was raised — “How do I get off this list” — they referred me to another number within the FBI, the Criminal Justice Information Services Division.
“At last, I am getting somewhere,” I thought. This FBI office wanted to know why I thought I was on a list. I stated that I could go on and on about home invasions, seizure of bank assets and physical assaults but why complicate things? “Every time I fly I get four SSSS’s on my boarding pass,” I said. “That means I am on the Selectee List.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secondary_Security_Screening_Selection
I was hung up on.
Surprised but undaunted, I called back again. This time, I was told to “get a lawyer.” I reiterated that I was a reporter and was asking how to get my name off what was turning into a nightmarish list. I was then told to contact ICE.
Finally, I reached someone at an FBI field office who agreed to take a report. I was not given a report tracking number and was told that it was entirely possible that no one would ever reach out to me about this. It was suggested that I file a FOIA for my FBI file. I had already done so, with bizarre results.
“We don’t have a file on you,” I was initially told. When I mentioned that a court had issued a restraining order against me, barring me from contacting the police or any other law enforcement agency, and that said restraining order mandated inclusion in CLETS which then mandated an inclusion in an FBI file, I was subsequently told, sure, we will send you your file.
We’ll send you your file in three years.
So this is the deal. If you are on a list, you are likely not going to get off it. If you contact Mother Government about this, you’ll be sent in circles till your head is spinning. Should the list you are on involve lethal protocols, well that’s apparently just the price of “national security,” whatever the heck that means.
Sort of like “Ours not to reason why, ours but to do and die.”
Except that this quote, from a Tennyson poem, references the duty of soldiers to fight an enemy. So are we at war? Who is making war against American citizens, individuals, whistleblowers and journalists? I don’t recall joining a military expedition. Why was I not so informed? And since we are now in the line of fire, why are we being shot at and what in the world can we do about it?
There are few success stories in this world of hurt. Robert Torres (Bobby Towers) maintains he was able to get off a watchlist. He states he did so by picking up the phone and filing a criminal complaint with the FBI, circa 2014. Subsequently, Torres has published articles and books revealing his method of success. His writings are peppered with good advice such as the following:
“… I suggest to anyone to leave out all the esoteric or conceivably fictitious science. If your complaint sounds made up or fantastic you may just end up inadvertently labeling yourself a kook. Even things that may be real to you like Morgellons, V2k, nanoparticles and so on for instance may get you labeled ‘schizophrenic.’ The average person taking your complaint is just that. You don’t want to be giving a science lesson during your legal complaint. You don’t want to go through all this trouble just to be brushed aside and then blackballed because you think telling your story is more important. No matter how true it is to you, or really is. For instance, I told my story to the feds so I knew I didn’t want to look like a fool. When they asked questions I stuck to the truth, but left much of it out…”
Others have attempted to file criminal complaints with less success. According to Lorraine Valente, “Like you, I was hung up on by the FBI. When they can’t or do not want to answer they disconnect.”
She goes on to state that “I was hung up on by the FBI when I reported home break ins and falsification of reports by the Manalapan Police Department. I filed a complaint on their website and was NEVER contacted. ” In addition, Valente filed an FBI FOIA in 2021 and was told that there were “no responsive documents.”
Valente, who maintains an email list on watchlisting and other relevant issues, has a Masters of Science degree and is a Certified Clinical Hypnotist.
LaJuana A. Reid, a former data specialist with the University of California, Berkeley, states she is making progress in being removed from a watchlist. Reid, however, is taking the opposite approach from Robert Torres and is directly confronting the disturbing technological aspects of her watchlisting.
Reid states her targeting began around 1999. Recently, she flew to Utah where she was scanned by a security specialist who found unusual frequencies emanating from her body. These frequencies were further analyzed by Dr. Hildegarde Staninger, whose clientele includes a number of targeted individuals. Reid forwarded Staninger’s report to this reporter.
The frequencies found emanating from Reid’s body were traced by Staninger back to a number of police departments and Homeland Security offices.
Armed with this evidence, Reid has filed a demand with the Office of the Inspector General, Department of Homeland Security that she be removed from any and all watchlists. Last week she received a response that her requests are in “process.”
That would be the same OIG that informed this reporter that they have no connection with any watchlist.
The media relations arm of DHS did not respond to queries as to the inconsistency between their statements that they have no involvement in watchlisting and their subsequent processing of LaJuana A. Reid’s complaint.
In a heavily viewed video of a Congressional event, former Congressman Trey Gowdy asks the following:
“What process is afforded a US citizen before they go on that list?”
The official he is asking, a “Ms. Burriesci,” asserts that there is indeed a process to redress being watchlisted, though she admits there is no process prior to being so listed.
Gowdy was recently contacted with questions as to the process for redress referred to in the video. At the time of going to press, he has not replied.
And there really is just one question lingering here, which is now echoing from sea to shining sea — “How do I get my rights back?”