The tours, which included security briefings, were organized for immigrant neighborhoods, in Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and Ohio in 2014 and 2015, according to US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) records cited by Judicial Watch.
The groups, predominantly consisting of people of Somali descent, were taken to secure areas at Los Angeles International Airport, Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport, and John Glenn Columbus International Airport in Ohio, the documents say.
It later turned out that one of the Somali attendees had an active investigation pending, and three others had previous investigations against them which were then closed. The documents also noted that one of the individuals had given CBP Chicago “a hard time” following the last tour.
The 31 pages of records were obtained by the watchdog following a May 2016 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. However, the documents fail to detail exactly what went on during the tours and briefings, as some of the information was deemed so sensitive that US Customs and Border Protection redacted it under the FOIA “risk circumvention” exemption in 14 instances.
CBP also exempted a portion of a February 16, 2016 “Minute by Minute Agenda” provided during a tour of the Minneapolis airport. The information was deemed too sensitive to be provided to Judicial Watch, yet was provided to the people taking part in the tours.
The redacted information included a section titled “TSA (Transportation and Security Administration) Overview – Processing [Redacted].” Those invited were also provided briefings on the Global Entry system, APC (Automated Passport Control) system, secondary screening procedures, baggage screening procedures, and given tours of holding cells and interview rooms.
“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 statement.
The invitation given to Somalis for a Minneapolis airport tour promised “walking people through CBP’s process, walking people through TSA’s process” and “a step-by-step tour of our operations, designed to offer a greater understanding of airport processes and procedures.”
Fitton said the tours and security briefings at the Minneapolis airport “very well could have created a threat to public safety,” adding that “the US government has been aware for years that Minnesota is a hotbed of Somali terrorist-cell activity.”
Notes from that event also state that “current CBP and TSA job vacancies were discussed…”
According to 2010 American Community Survey data, there are approximately 85,700 Somalis in the United States, around 25,000 of whom live in Minnesota, mostly in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area.
In September, a man of Somali origin stabbed nine people at a Minnesota mall. In June, three Somali-Americans living in Minnesota were found guilty of plotting to join Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).