Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials gave Somalis security briefings and access to secured areas in “community engagement tours” at major U.S. airports, according to documents obtained by nonprofit watchdog Judicial Watch.
The briefings Somali groups received were so sensitive that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) redacted 14 sections of the 31 pages Judicial Watch received under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) on the basis that releasing the information could risk law enforcement operations, known as a (b)(7) FOIA exemption. DHS officials gave tours in at least three airports in Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and Columbus, Ohio, in the last year.
“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 news release. “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.”
Invitees heard briefings on the airport’s global entry system, automated passport control system, secondary screening procedures and baggage-screening procedures, according to the agenda included in the documents. CBP redacted the type of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) processing procedures officials showed the Somalis. DHS officials at the same airport discussed CBP and Transportation Security Administration job vacancies with Somalis on the tour, according to the CBP documents.
The documents also revealed two Somali groups who came to a previous year’s Minneapolis tour “did not pass vetting” for the facility’s “secure areas,” the CBP records note. (RELATED: DHS Knew OSU Attacker Was Terror Recruitment Target)
“We (CBP) can vet all of those that RSVP, but need at least one full business day to do so,” a Jan. 8, 2016 email from a redacted DHS email account to a redacted recipient said. “For anyone who does not pass vetting, our preference would be … to reach out to them and advise that we cannot accommodate them for the tour. You may recall that we had two parties show up last year that did not pass vetting. Attempts were made to contact them, but to no avail.”
The records show DHS officials scheduled the tours “based on prayer schedules.” A Minneapolis airport tour for a group of Somalis in February 2016 was scheduled between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. because it would “accommodate prayer times well,” the CBP documents show.
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