Tracking system nabbing drug dealers and law-abiding pilots


A Customs and Border Protection tracking system is snaring many more law-abiding private pilots, who claim federal officers are searching their planes without legal justification.
System is snaring law-abiding pilotsKen Dobson, a retired police officer, sits in his single-engine Cessna at Bermuda Dunes Airport in California. He was detained and his plane searched by federal agents — without legal justification — after he landed at a small airport in Detroit. Instead of uncovering a drug cache, the officials found luggage, golf clubs and an empty Thermos. (Gina Ferazzi, Los Angeles Times)
 
By Dan Weikel
 Ken Dobson, a retired police officer, said he received quite a welcome when he landed his single-engine Cessna in Detroit two days after leaving his home in Palm Desert.

Five sheriff’s cars surrounded the plane and deputies got out with guns drawn. Then a helicopter arrived with four federal agents and a drug-sniffing dog.

They demanded to see Dobson’s pilot’s license, asked about the flight and mentioned that his long trip from Southern California was suspicious.

Fearing he would lose his flight credentials if he didn’t cooperate, Dobson consented to a search of his plane. But instead of uncovering a trophy-shot cache of pot or cocaine, the officers found luggage, golf clubs and an empty Thermos.

“To investigate an innocuous concern like my flight was mystifying to me,” said Dobson, who flew to Detroit to visit relatives. “My wife and I travel long distances in our car to Michigan. That alone does not give the police the right to stop me, question me and search my car.”

Dobson’s Cessna was picked up by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection tracking system in Riverside that uses an extensive radar network to monitor flights across the nation.

Casting such a wide net has helped authorities apprehend dozens of drug smugglers. But the operation also is snaring many more law-abiding private pilots, who say federal officers working with local police are detaining them and searching their planes without legal justification.

The situation has attracted the attention of national organizations that represent about 570,000 pilots and 10,000 aviation-related businesses. Between them, the groups have logged complaints from 50 to 70 pilots whose flights were entirely within the U.S. All were let go, some with apologies.

Those pilots included business owners, retirees, a real estate financier who was detained twice in one trip, a university professor whose car — after leaving an airport — was surrounded by dozens of officers. Even retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Hank Canterbury was tracked.

Canterbury, a fighter pilot in Vietnam who now lives in Arizona, said he was stunned to learn that federal officers had inquired about him at a Texas airport where he landed.

During the last three years and five months ending in February, the tracking operation investigated 1,375 flights. Of those, authorities intercepted 212 at airports and made 39 drug-related arrests. An additional eight were referred to the Federal Aviation Administration for possible regulatory enforcement.

Officials of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Assn. have taken their concerns to members of Congress, including Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.). Wanting to ensure that federal law enforcement is complying with constitutional protections against unwarranted searches and seizures, they have asked Customs and Border Protection for an explanation.

“There is no evidence of any criminal activity in the AOPA incidents,” Graves said. “If law enforcement is screwing this up, they have done a huge disservice to the public. An erratic flight, a long flight or not filing a flight plan is not probable cause” to stop pilots.

Customs and Border Protection officials defend their tracking operation, saying it plays an important role in the war on drugs and protecting national security, especially since 9/11.

They say drug smugglers often rely on aircraft, and that in two acts of domestic terrorism since 2002, pilots rammed small planes into buildings, including an IRS office in Texas.

Agency officials say they dispatch officers to check flights and detain pilots based on a legal standard known as reasonable suspicion, which can be deduced from a series of facts that suggest the possibility of wrongdoing.

Planes are not searched, they say, unless pilots consent or officers have warrants based on probable cause; that is, enough evidence to indicate a crime has probably occurred. Warrants are not required for searches at the border or if evidence is in plain view, people are in imminent danger or evidence faces immediate destruction.

Determining what flights to intercept starts at the Air and Marine Operations Center at the March Air Reserve Base in Riverside. Able to tap 700 radar installations in the U.S. and neighboring countries, the center can track up to 50,000 aircraft and ships at any time.

Staff members scrutinize thousands of flights each day looking for what they consider abnormalities. Usually, one or two aircraft warrant further investigation. Out of those, only one every few days is checked out at airports by federal and local authorities.

During the initial review, trackers consider such things as aircraft type, routes, altitudes, flight distances, where flights originate, whether flight plans are filed, the use of small airports and the identities of pilots, passengers and registered owners. Tips from confidential sources also are important.

Constitutional law and civil rights attorneys say, however, that detentions of private pilots and searches of their aircraft can raise 4th Amendment issues. The amendment forbids unreasonable searches and seizures.

In drug-smuggling cases, lower courts have both thrown out and upheld the causes used by federal law enforcement to stop and search airplanes. But there are no U.S. Supreme Court decisions related to aircraft, said Erwin Chemerinsky, a constitutional law expert and dean of the UC Irvine law school.

Because the high court has given police some latitude to search cars during a legitimate vehicle stop, Chemerinsky said justices might grant similar leeway for aircraft searches if such a case came before them.

Though customs officials contend their results are reasonable, pilot association officials say arrests occurred in only 18.3% of the stops and about 3% of all the flights scrutinized.

Two AOPA pilots, one from California and one from Louisiana, said their hotel rooms were searched without warrants. Still others reported that they were confronted at gunpoint by authorities wearing SWAT gear and that officers who were not trained mechanics removed aircraft panels and engine cowlings during searches, raising safety concerns.

Other pilots said they were told their flights were intercepted because of long travel distances, frequent course changes, landings at remote airports and questionable profiles such as flying east from California — all things they considered common occurrences in general aviation.

“It’s supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, but here we have Big Brother watching,” said AOPA President Mark Baker. “The number of arrests are laughable for all the work they do. This looks like an agency in search of a mission.”

Source: http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-aircraft-searches-20140415,0,7828658.story#axzz2ywgCEPCx

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War on the West: Why More Bundy Standoffs Are Coming


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War on the West: Why More Bundy Standoffs Are Coming

 The federal government’s over-the-top police action against the Bundy family ranch is an ominous portent of more to come, as rogue agencies and their corporate/NGO partners attempt to “cleanse” the West of ranchers, farmers, miners, loggers, and other determined property owners.

On Saturday, April 12, the federal bureaucrats backed down. Faced with hundreds of men and women on horseback and on foot who were armed with firearms and video cameras — as well as local television broadcast stations and independent media streaming live video and radio feeds across America — the Obama administration called off the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) operation to confiscate hundreds of cattle belonging to Cliven Bundy, the current patriarch of a respected pioneer family that has been ranching in Nevada’s Clark County since the 1800s.

Supporters from all across the United States had converged on the Bunkerville, Nevada, area in support of Bundy, who is the “last rancher standing” in Clark County, due to a decades-long campaign by federal agencies and allied enviro-activists to drive all ranchers off of the range. After a tense standoff, orders came down from above for the surrounded and outnumbered federal agents to “stand down” and turn loose the Bundy cattle that had been corralled. 

On Saturday, before the resolution of the standoff, The New American talked to Richard Mack, the former sheriff of Graham County, Arizona, and founder of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), as he headed from a meeting of public officials to a press conference at the Bundy Ranch. He was very grave and worried at the time that the situation could spin out of control, and that federal agents might open fire on citizens. He also expressed his exasperation at Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval and Clark County Sheriff Douglass Gillespie. “If Governor Sandoval and Sheriff Gillespie were doing the jobs they were elected to do, they would have stopped this from getting to a dangerous point,” Sheriff Mack said. “There are lots of things they could have done to defuse this situation, including telling the Feds to ‘stand down,’ and to assert their own jurisdiction and force the federal authorities to obey the law, including the Constitution and the laws of the state of Nevada,” he noted. “I have a very bad feeling about this,” he continued, adding that he hoped the tensions would be deescalated and a peaceful outcome negotiated.

Fortunately, most likely due to the national attention that the Bundy situation was receiving, federal officials backed off, the demonstrators and supporters remained peaceful, and a violent confrontation was averted. However, that does not end the affair. Members of the Bundy family and supporters, such as Sheriff Mack, expressed concerns that the evacuation of the federal police force might be a feint, and that there may be plans for them to return the following day, or as soon as the supporters and television crews had departed.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, whose personal financial stake in the Bundy eviction has been called into question, let it be known that he wants to see the matter pursued.

“Well, it’s not over,” Reid told NBC’s Nevada affiliate KRNV on Monday, April 14. “We can’t have an American people that violate the law and then just walk away from it. So it’s not over.”

Senator Reid, Nevada’s senior senator, is very incensed when the American people, i.e., ordinary citizens, “violate the law” — as he puts it — but he says nothing about the more serious violations of the laws and the Constitution by public officials, such as himself or the BLM officials.

This is the same federal BLM that Chief Judge Robert C. Jones of the Federal District Court of Nevada last year ruled had been engaged in a decades-long criminal “conspiracy” against the Wayne Hage family, fellow ranchers and friends of the Bundys. Among other things, Judge Jones accused the federal bureaucrats of racketeering under the federal RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corruption Organizations) statute, and accused them as well of extortion, mail fraud, and fraud, in an effort “to kill the business of Mr. Hage.” In fact, the government’s actions were so malicious, said the judge, as to “shock the conscience of the Court.” Judge Jones granted an injunction against the agencies and referred area BLM and Forest Service managers to the Justice Department for prosecution.

Has Attorney General Eric Holder prosecuted any federal officials for criminal activity and violation of the Hage family’s constitutionally protected rights? No. Has Sen. Harry Reid denounced this lawlessness and criminal activity by government officials and call upon President Obama and Attorney General Holder to protect the citizens of his state from the depredations of federal officials under their command? No.

Huge Federal Footprint: And a Boot on Every Neck

With attitudes such as those expressed above by Sen. Harry Reid, it is almost a certainty that the recently defused Bundy Ranch standoff will be replayed again — and in the not-too-distant future. And the outcome could be much less amicable for all concerned.

And this is but one of many incidents that can be expected, because the Bundy family are not the only victims in the federal crosshairs. The BLM, U.S. Forest Service (USFS), National Park Service (NPS), U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and other federal agencies own and/or control hundreds of millions of acres of the 12 western states. The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is not as large a landlord as some of these bigger agencies, but it exercises enormous regulatory clout over both private and public lands, air, and water. And while the EPA’s draconian, arbitrary, and costly regulations affect the entire country, they fall especially hard on the states in the West, where the federal impact is already massive due to the outsized footprint of the federal agencies.

federal landAs the accompanying map graphically demonstrates, there is a striking difference between the federal government’s claim to physical real estate in the states of East and the Midwest versus those of the West. In Maine, for instance, federal agencies occupy only 1.1 percent of the state’s land area; in New York it’s a mere 0.8 percent. The federal government claims only 1.8 percent of Indiana, 1.6 percent of Alabama, and 1.7 percent of Ohio. But in the Western states, the federal footprint covers from nearly one-third to over four-fifths of the area of the states.

Here are the ugly facts of the federal government’s ownership of the lands in the Western states:

Nevada: 84.5 percent
Alaska: 69.1 percent
Utah: 57.4 percent
Oregon: 53.1 percent
Idaho: 50.2 percent
Arizona: 48.1 percent
California: 45.3 percent
Wyoming: 42.4 percent
New Mexico: 41.8 percent
Colorado: 36.6 percent
Washington: 30.3 percent
Montana: 29.9 percent

These and many more relevant statistics can be found in Federal Real Property Report for Fiscal Year 2012 (the latest available) from the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). For instance, in addition to its enormous real estate portfolio, the U.S. Department of Interior (home to BLM, NPS, USFWS) boasts 43,554 buildings covering more than 107.1 million square feet. These agencies, together with the Forest Service, exercise an enormous — and harmful — impact on the economies, livelihoods, and politics of the Western states. And, contrary to the claims of the federal advocates, federal policies are also taking a devastating toll on the environment of the West, most especially as manifested in the destruction of millions of acres of national forests through mismanagement, which has led to immense insect infestations and super-nova wildfires.

Yet, President Obama is following the example of his predecessors and unconstitutionally taking millions more acres in the Western states, under the pretext of protecting “endangered species.” (See: “Specious Endangerment: Obama Awards Spotted Owls 9.6 Million Acres” and “Obama Using ‘Endangered’ Species to Kill Economy, Push Extreme Agenda.”)

Because this has been the “normal” status of things for generations, the enormity and significance of this picture often passes unnoticed and unconsidered by most Americans. But in our current economic crisis, and with mounting friction caused by imperial edicts emanating from federal agencies, many citizens and state and local governments are being forced to reevaluate our unbalanced federal relationship.

Our Founding Fathers did not intend for new territories that would be admitted to statehood in the future to be unfairly shackled by the central government; they would not have countenanced that the people of Nevada, Utah, Idaho, and Alaska, for instance, would be groveling under the thumbs of politicians from New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. As Joe Wolverton noted in a recent article for The New American, they intended for future states to be admitted into the Union on a “equal footing” with the existing states. They most certainly did not intend for politicians of the Eastern states and federal bureaucrats to enjoy a stranglehold on the lifeblood of the people of the Western states.

And as those politicians and bureaucrats continue to tighten their chokehold on the people who own and work the land, there will inevitably be conflict. Even peaceful, law-abiding people will not stand idly by while their own life’s work and that of their forebears is being taken by lawless officials. The solution is for the American public to put pressure on all their elected officials — state, local, and federal — to stop strangling our fellow citizens. Ultimately, that means decentralizing, and dramatically downsizing (and then abolishing) many of these agencies and returning the land to the states and the people. The people of the Western states must be allowed to determine their own futures, to enjoy the blessings of liberty, just as Americans in all the other states have experienced.

Related articles:

Questions Raised About Senator Reid’s Connection to Bundy Ranch Dispute

Last Man Standing: Nevada Ranch Family in Fedgov Face-off

Bundy’s Case: Feds Do Not Own the Land Where His Cattle Graze

BLM’s Seizure of Nevada Rancher’s Land Rights Unconstitutional

Harry Reid Bolsters Son’s Interests in Chinese Solar Plant Deal

Burning Up the West: Feds, Greens Cause Catastrophic Fires

Federal Judge Rules for Property Rights, Smacks Down Abusive Feds

Judge Blasts Federal Conspiracy; Ranch Family Vindicated — Again!

Huge Win for Property Owners

Remembering a Champion: Helen Chenoweth-Hage

The United Nations’ Big Green Machine, by Helen Chenoweth-Hage

Supreme Court Ruling: Victory for Property Owners, Defeat for EPA

The EPA’s Property Wrongs in America

Eco-Villains? No — Just Pawns in the Federal Land-grab Scam

This Land Is My Land — Isn’t It?

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