British Tourists Arrested in the U.S. for Tweeting

Does this story make sense to anyone?

The Department of Homeland Security flagged him as a potential threat when he posted an excited tweet to his pals about his forthcoming trip to Hollywood which read: ‘Free this week, for quick gossip/prep before I go and destroy America’.

After making their way through passport control at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) last Monday afternoon the pair were detained by armed guards.

Despite telling officials the term ‘destroy’ was British slang for ‘party’, they were held on suspicion of planning to ‘commit crimes’ and had their passports confiscated.

There just as to be more than this story. The DHS isn’t monitoring the Tweets of random British tourists—they just can’t be.

EDITED TO ADD (1/30): According to DHS documents received by EPIC, the DHS monitors the Internet, including social media.

In February 2011, the Department of Homeland Security announced that the agency planned to implement a program that would monitor media content, including social media data. The proposed initiatives would gather information from “online forums, blogs, public websites, and messages boards” and disseminate information to “federal, state, local, and foreign government and private sector partners.” The program would be executed, in part, by individuals who established fictitious usernames and passwords to create covert social media profiles to spy on other users. The agency stated it would store personal information for up to five years.


The records reveal that the DHS is paying General Dynamics to monitor the news. The agency instructed the company to monitor for “[media] reports that reflect adversely on the U.S. Government, DHS, or prevent, protect, respond government activities.”


The DHS instructed the company to “Monitor public social communications on the Internet.” The records list the websites that will be monitored, including the comments sections of [The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, the Huffington Post, the Drudge Report, Wired, and ABC News.]”

Still, I have trouble believing that this is what happened. For this to work General Dynamics would have had to monitor Twitter for key words. (“Destroy America” is certainly a good key word to search for.) Then, they would have to find out the real name associated with the Twitter account—unlike Facebook or Google+, Twitter doesn’t have real name information—so the TSA could cross-index that name with the airline’s passenger manifests. Then the TSA has to get all this information into the INS computers, so that the border control agent knows to detain him. Sure, it sounds straightforward, but getting all those computers to talk to each other that fast isn’t easy. There has to be more going on here.

EDITED TO ADD (1/30): One reader points out that this story is from the Daily Mail, and that it’s prudent to wait for some more reputable news source to report the story.

EDITED TO ADD (1/30): There’s another story from The Register, but they’re just using the Daily Mail.

EDITED TO ADD (1/30): The FBI is looking for someone to build them a system that can monitor social networks.

The information comes from a document released on 19 January looking for companies who might want to build a monitoring system for the FBI. It spells out what the bureau wants from such a system and invites potential contractors to reply by 10 February.

The bureau’s wish list calls for the system to be able to automatically search “publicly available” material from Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites for keywords relating to terrorism, surveillance operations, online crime and other FBI missions. Agents would be alerted if the searches produce evidence of “breaking events, incidents, and emerging threats.”

Agents will have the option of displaying the tweets and other material captured by the system on a map, to which they can add layers of other data, including the locations of US embassies and military installations, details of previous terrorist attacks and the output from local traffic cameras.

EDITED TO ADD (1/30): New reports are saying that customs was tipped off about the two people, and their detention was not a result of data mining:

“Based on information provided by the LAX Port Authority Infoline—a suspicious activity tipline—CBP conducted a secondary interview of two subjects presenting for entry into the United States,” says the spokesperson, who notes that the CBP “denies entry to thousands of individuals” each year. “Information gathered during this interview revealed that both individuals were inadmissible to the United States and were returned to their country of residence.”

This makes a lot more sense to me.

Posted on January 30, 2012 at 10:52 AM113 Comments


Ms. Cynical January 30, 2012 10:58 AM

Surely even the TSA knows that Marilyn Monroe isn’t buried, but enjoys her eternal rest sealed in a marble mausoleum slot in Westwood.

Or maybe that’s giving them too much credit!

Ben January 30, 2012 11:04 AM

The Electronic Privacy Information Center found out the DHS pays General Dynamics to “monitor public social communications on the Internet”, including Twitter. See “January 2012 disclosure” at the bottom of this page:

Maybe what happened is that GD searched for anyone saying “destroy America” and reported them to the DHS. Then the DHS acted on that.

Jo January 30, 2012 11:06 AM

If this is true then I can think of plenty of ways to get certain people I dislike into a lot of trouble.

NobodySpecial January 30, 2012 11:06 AM

Good job they have freedom of speech in the USA. If you tweeted something similar in Britain you would be arrested and locked up.

The whole of Doncaster, not just Robin Hood airport, deserves to be destroyed in a natural cataclysm, preferably involving the impact of a Chicxulub size meteor.

Disclaimer – as only a minor deity it is not in my power to affect the course of minor planatery bodies and so this post doesn’t constitute to a threat to the people of Doncaster.

However if they did decide to permanently deny me entrance to Doncaster I wouldn’t be too upset.

Anonymous Coward January 30, 2012 11:07 AM

Remember the First Rule of the police: if they’re talking to you, they’ve already judged you guilty until proven innocent (and you’re still guilty, even if you DO prove your innocence).

paul January 30, 2012 11:07 AM

What Ben said. The bright sparks in charge of this assume that whoever they are looking for will send out their communications in plaintext over a public broadcast network.

Dito January 30, 2012 11:11 AM

It’s likely that the tweet did get flagged for the “destroy America” phrase. While patently ridiculous… there’s more.

The frightening part is that General Dynamics and/or DHS and/or Twitter and/or the airlines connected the dots between this tweet, the real people, their itineraries, and managed to intercept them at immigration.

THAT’S the part that gives me chills.

Eric January 30, 2012 11:13 AM

I find this to be completely plausible. They’ve been increasingly monitoring everything electronic (which is increasingly everything) for years. And this one was straightforward enough to not require humans to find it.

Ben January 30, 2012 11:16 AM

His user name was @LeighBryan, and the name on his account was Leigh V-B. His real name is Leigh Van Bryan, so it probably wasn’t that hard to find him.

Maybe they didn’t know his itinerary, maybe they just flagged his name. If he’d been called @JohnSmith or @ponyfan2997 I bet they probably wouldn’t have bothered.

Ben January 30, 2012 11:20 AM

Yeah, in fact, the article shows they caught him with a “one day lookout”. Since he’d tweeted he was arriving in the US “3 weeks today”, it wasn’t exactly master detective work to find him. January 30, 2012 11:22 AM

“And this one was straightforward enough to not require humans to find it.” — which is why it was the perfect job for the robots at DHS.

Back to the point though, regardless of the tweet, they should have arrested him for that hairdo.

Mark R January 30, 2012 11:27 AM

I’m not saying it couldn’t have happened exactly as written here, but has this been confirmed by a publication other than the Daily Mail?

All I can find are blog postings reacting to the Daily Mail article… hmmm.

Fred P January 30, 2012 11:29 AM

So I can register a twitter account for whatever politicians I dislike, put up some threatening-sounding but potentially harmless tweets, and get them detained the next time they go on a plane?

Wow… it sounds like elections really are hackable.

orwell January 30, 2012 11:29 AM

Assange/wikileaks has been telling everybody for ages how twitter/facebook are just intelligence gathering devices for the government this is no shocking news

Rob January 30, 2012 11:31 AM

“Emily’s charge sheet stated: ‘It is believed that you are travelling with Leigh-Van Bryan who possibly has the intentions of coming to the United States to commit crimes.'”

Dear God, what have we come to.

OnTheWaterfront January 30, 2012 11:43 AM

This seems very plausible, but still ridiculous. The airlines submit passenger lists to DHS for checking against the terrorist watch list, chances are they also run those names against other databases we are unaware of or potentially feed those names into some kind of search algorithm that scans the internet for relevant data associated with those names. That being said my guess is if his twitter handle wasn’t “LeighBryan” they wouldn’t made the final connection linking him with the tweet.

Can you blame DHS, terrorist and tourist sound a lot a like.

bob January 30, 2012 11:47 AM

“DHS monitors the Internet, including social media”

I suspect that, actually, the DHS monitors bits of the internet, especially social media. Especially social media that is broadcast to anybody.

Taking lists of names and comparing them to the passenger flight manifests that the DHS demands well in advance is trivial.

The tricky bit is matching real names with the slightly munged versions many people use online.

It would be interesting, and probably not hard, to find an equally incendiary message published by “tweetgrrrl07” who managed her trip to the States without any problems.

As usual, post-911 security is a veneer of ill thought out, impractical, useless theatre.

Sam S January 30, 2012 11:48 AM

If this is real, it’s time for a new Twitter Hashtag meme, #DestroyAmerica and #DigUpMarilyn. Overload DHS with their own stupidity.

No One January 30, 2012 11:55 AM

Aren’t these dots /more/ connected than the ones DHS et. al. were lambasted for not connecting with the underwear bomber? I’m not that surprised that DHS would spend money on systems that can connect these dots after that.

Also, I think you left an tag open.

Adrian January 30, 2012 11:58 AM

“Twitter doesn’t have real name information”

…well, it technically does, but it’s entirely optional whether you put something real or not. Possible they have some name filters which check that the given name is real, and then cross check that with some search results.

James January 30, 2012 12:02 PM

Obviously a semantic ‘FAIL’ on the part of DHS’ monitoring system.

I fail to see the logic in perceiving a credible threat here, unless as has been said, there’s more to it.

I can see how they’d be ejected for breaking every public decency and fashion law going, though…

Captain Obvious January 30, 2012 12:04 PM

What this really indicates, is not that DHS flagged the tweet, tracked down the real ID, and detained the perp, but that DHS has a current file linking online IDs with real IDs…you know…just in case Random Joe flips out one day and decides to destroy america.

Anon January 30, 2012 12:05 PM

Foreign tourists, even from visa-waiver countries have to apply online with the DHSbefore arriving ( Since his Twitter handle was @LeighBryan and his account name said Leigh-V-B and the fact that the tweets were 3 weeks before the trip, it shouldn’t be hard at all for even the DHS to cross check the name from his Twitter account against the list of people registered to travel and flag his name in the INS directory.

Mr. Paul January 30, 2012 12:09 PM

Do they actually give you paperwork like that when they refuse entry? Complete with your “Right Index Finger”print? With a handwritten acknowledgement?

This could be a publicity stunt, though it wouldn’t be very good one as it’ll get kiboshed quickly if so.

AlanS January 30, 2012 12:11 PM

Google: “Paul Chambers Twitter” for a Brit that got into trouble in the UK over a joke posted on Twitter.

lax-goalie January 30, 2012 12:16 PM

Totally understandable. Because all of the 9-11 hijackers were British subjects.

Wait, what?

John Betjeman (1906 - 1984) January 30, 2012 12:17 PM

Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough!
It isn’t fit for humans now,
There isn’t grass to graze a cow.
Swarm over, Death!

Come, bombs and blow to smithereens
Those air -conditioned, bright canteens,
Tinned fruit, tinned meat, tinned milk, tinned beans,
Tinned minds, tinned breath.

Mess up the mess they call a town-
A house for ninety-seven down
And once a week a half a crown
For twenty years.

And get that man with double chin
Who’ll always cheat and always win,
Who washes his repulsive skin
In women’s tears:

And smash his desk of polished oak
And smash his hands so used to stroke
And stop his boring dirty joke
And make him yell.

But spare the bald young clerks who add
The profits of the stinking cad;
It’s not their fault that they are mad,
They’ve tasted Hell.

It’s not their fault they do not know
The birdsong from the radio,
It’s not their fault they often go
To Maidenhead

And talk of sport and makes of cars
In various bogus-Tudor bars
And daren’t look up and see the stars
But belch instead.

In labour-saving homes, with care
Their wives frizz out peroxide hair
And dry it in synthetic air
And paint their nails.

Come, friendly bombs and fall on Slough
To get it ready for the plough.
The cabbages are coming now;
The earth exhales.

felix January 30, 2012 12:26 PM

Not to worry, when foreigners land in the Great US and A they fill out a green landing card which clearly ask them the question: “Are you a terrorist ? Are you coming the USA in order to commit illegal acts ?”

Seriously, they do ask this.

So the Brits can just show them the landing card, show how they clearly checked no.

AnonymousOne January 30, 2012 12:29 PM

What is more scary? That this story may be true or that I wasn’t surprised when I read it.

These stories WILL become reality for all citizens and non-citizens who travel into, out of, and through US territories.

Freedom is dead in the land that freedom was born.

felix January 30, 2012 12:30 PM

actual text of the landing card:


blockquote>Have you ever been or are you now involved in espionage or sabotage; or in terrorist activities; or genocide; or between 1933 and 1945 were involved, in any way, in persecutions associated with Nazi German or its allies ?

Have you ever been arrested or convicted for an offense or crime involving moral turpitude or a violation related to a controlled substance; … or are you seeking entry to go engage in criminal or immoral activities ?

Immoral ? Who is the judge of that ??

David January 30, 2012 12:30 PM

@Steve: “looks like the Daily Mail and Bruce may have both fallen for bad satire.”

Possible. On the other hand:

1) Google news times show the daily mail post older than the satire, though I don’t put a lot of weight there.

2) More importantly, the Daily Mail article contains many photos and quotes not in the spoof. While it’s possible they just manufactured these out of whole cloth, that doesn’t seem like an innocent mistake.

3) The site very clearly and repeatedly states that it’s satire. While it’s possible that they missed it, this does decrease the likelihood of such an explanation.

I do agree that it’s odd for the spoof site to post a story basically unadulterated, however. Perhaps there was a true story, the spoof added false details, and they got fed back into the reporting?

If it is in fact false, can the DHS sue the Daily Mail for libel in UK court? That might help us fix this deficit…

Bruce Schneier January 30, 2012 12:39 PM

“If this is real, it’s time for a new Twitter Hashtag meme, #DestroyAmerica and #DigUpMarilyn. Overload DHS with their own stupidity.”

I agree with this.

Nick P January 30, 2012 12:39 PM

MSNBC & Reuters on monitoring

Then you have to consider all the ISP backdooring, Echelon monitoring system, UEFI/TPM shenanigans, intelligence database integration efforts, etc. Put it all together & you would expect to see more of this stuff.

@ Bruce

They already can snatch someone out of an airport for a rendition flight because the NSA’s computers saw risky keywords or phone call patterns. They’ve been doing it for years. (Actually, there’s a nice movie on it by the same name.) How is tracing a PII-containing Twitter feed to a ticker purchase so much harder? Such a targeted effort with PII available should be much easier than what NSA has to go on sifting through a flood of information & working with many other agencies. Yet, the spooks regularly find and grab targets of their choosing before their plane leaves.

Nick P January 30, 2012 12:41 PM

Found this comment on one of the linked pages:

“It is actually pretty funny that they have a saved search for “Destroy America”. Better watch what I say for the superbowl, don’t want to talk about killing the patriots or anything…”


No One January 30, 2012 12:45 PM

“between 1933 and 1945 were involved, in any way, in persecutions associated with Nazi German or its allies?”

What if you were a victim? Doesn’t that count as being “involved… in persecutions…”?

Mem January 30, 2012 12:46 PM

Can DHS get the Twitter user’s email address from Twitter?

Maybe that email account was also used to order the flight tickets?

Then DHS doesn’t have to have access to the email account, just correlate the email address with airline booking systems.

Reality Doesn't Care January 30, 2012 12:50 PM

The bright sparks in charge of this assume that whoever they are looking for will send out their communications in plaintext over a public broadcast network.

Considering just how outstandingly stupid most terrorists are, as Bruce has regularly pointed out, the Feds would be irresponsible NOT to monitor what they could monitor easily and cheaply.

Spaceman Spiff January 30, 2012 12:53 PM

Well, true or not, this “story” has certainly generated a lot of feedback! And the fact that many people will believe the story, even if not true (yet tbd), says a lot about the dissonance between DHS/TSA and the traveling public.

Antonio Lorusso January 30, 2012 1:36 PM

If the facts reported are accurate and there is nothing more (of significance) to this story than reported then it makes perfect sense to me.

Cover Your Ass On Steroids And Stupidity.

Mark R January 30, 2012 1:46 PM

If this is true, this basically means that “Jokes about bombs” will no longer be tolerated, not just in the line at the security checkpoint, but in public discourse in general.

Please, internet, produce evidence that this didn’t happen…

Mark R January 30, 2012 2:02 PM

From the TSA website:

Week at a Glance: 1-23-12 through 1-29-12



  • 2 artfully concealed prohibited items found at checkpoints
  • 31 firearms found at checkpoints
  • 0 passengers arrested after investigation of suspicious behavior or fraudulent travel documents
  • So, does “detained for questioning and put on the next flight back to country of origin” count as “arrested?”

    David January 30, 2012 2:09 PM

    CNN just contacted me about this story. More evidence that it’s not a hoax.

    Did you ask them whether they had sources other than the Daily Mail?

    Looking over the story on Google news reminds me of

    vwm January 30, 2012 2:13 PM

    Might be the other way around: DHS does not need to filter all Tweets, try to find the real names and put those on a arrest-on-sight-list.

    Instead, DHS might just single out some random incoming travelers for background-check (now including social media etc.). Than that guy just hat bad luck being selected and having his incriminating tweet found.

    Remember, in recent years a lot of people reported about being interrogated about Amazon purchases or wish lists at the border. Still, nobody assumed that DHS is checking every Amazon purchases routinely.

    Luke Welling January 30, 2012 2:15 PM

    The Daily Mail and The Sun who had it online long before anybody else (according to google news) are both crediting Small World News Service ( ) for the photos, if not the story.

    That does seem to be a legit news agency, but it also seems to do a lot of business in those hard to verify “News of wierd”/”Lighter Side”/whatever story that papers like to print about strange happenings that happened in exotic foreign places.


    If you want to chase down the truth, I’d ask them where they got it from.

    ashk4n January 30, 2012 2:18 PM

    this story seems a bit embellished, specially the quote “You’ve really f***ed up with that tweet, boy’’.

    i’d wait for a real outlet to report it accurately before getting worked up.

    HowQuaint January 30, 2012 3:21 PM

    This is why I read Bruce. Instead of immediately flying off the handle, he looks for sources and rationales. If only news agencies could reasonably be expected to do the same these days. Or for that matter, police departments.

    Sam S January 30, 2012 3:26 PM

    According to an ABC news blog, CBP has issued a statement wherein they admit that two people were taken for “secondary interviews” and that they were found to be inadmissible. The total lack of any refutation of the account on DailyMail indicates to me that, sadly, this may be true.

    This is not how I want my country to present itself to those who would be our guests. On behalf of the USA, I apologize to the world, for whatever that’s worth. If it makes you feel better, at least you don’t have to live with these people in your home country.

    Frog January 30, 2012 3:50 PM

    Has anybody tweeted or phoned this guy to ask him if it’s real yet?

    Where is our congressional oversight of TSA? Why don’t we have it yet? What is it going to take?

    Christian January 30, 2012 4:10 PM

    If you compare the photographs from his twitter account, the form and the mail article, his hairstyle changes twice. But perhaps that’s just normal for an upcoming actor/singer.

    mike January 30, 2012 4:12 PM

    TSA Week at a Glance:…

    2 artfully concealed prohibited items found at checkpoints
    31 firearms found at checkpoints
    0 passengers arrested after investigation of suspicious behavior or fraudulent travel documents
    So, does “detained for questioning and put on the next flight back to country of origin” count as “arrested?”

    Probably not, I think arrested usually implies charges being filed. What I found amusing was:

    2 artfully concealed prohibited items found at checkpoints

    How many bets that a swiss army knife tossed into youl bag counts as ‘artfully concealed’?

    Chris Zweber January 30, 2012 4:18 PM

    General Dynamics 2010 10-K financial

    A few highlights:

    “In the IT services business, volume increased on the group’s IT
    support and modernization programs for the intelligence community and the Network-Centric Solutions (NETCENTS) program, which provides network support for federal agencies.”

    “Information technology (IT) services $342M revenue increase in 2009”

    “$55M from the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US CERT) to analyze and reduce cyber threats and vulnerabilities.”

    “One of 46 awards from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) under the Information Technology Supplies and Support Services (ITSSS) program to provide technical services and engage in developmental projects and programs. The program has a maximum potential value of $30 billion among all awardees over eight years.”

    jack January 30, 2012 4:23 PM

    I can already see it in the news:
    “Department of Homeland Security arrests 200+ people after looking at entries they posted at”

    jjoensuu January 30, 2012 5:11 PM


    Looking over the story on Google news reminds me of

    yea well it goes like that…

    How a De-Facto Fact is born

    A. the story gets started
    B. someone copies it
    C. others copy it from the someone
    D. multiple copying ends up placing it in multiple locations on The Internet
    E. Google (& Bing, etc) find all locations and promote it BECAUSE it is in so many locations
    F. BECAUSE it is visible in Google etc, others take it for a [likely] fact
    G. Thus we end up with the self-feeding Kraken-circle of a De-Facto Fact…

    Sam S January 30, 2012 5:16 PM

    The Forbes blog entry states that CBP is now saying a call to the “suspicious activity tipline” is what tipped them off. So they didn’t need to be as smart as Bruce was worried they might be, they only needed to be their usual dumb gullible selves.

    jjoensuu January 30, 2012 5:23 PM

    Being that US of A now [supposedly] had a system called Echelon already a very long time ago (the first stories I heard of it was over 10 years ago).

    And, being that said Echelon was supposedly able to intercept and monitor any and all forms of electronic communications.

    It should therefore not be particularly unusual if they are capable of that today?

    Although, perhaps Echelon never was a match to its own hype.

    I love USA (yes yes please believe me) January 30, 2012 5:32 PM

    So in the end the real terrorists see all this and decide to start their own language.

    In this language, if they want to use that D-word (the one that ends in “roy” and which I dare not write online) they will instead write “love”. If they want to say the N-word (the one that ends in “clear”) they will write “cheese”. The B-word (that also ends in “b”) will become “bread”.

    And so on.

    Instantly making all searching for specific words in the communication useless.

    Natanael L January 30, 2012 5:36 PM

    @jack: That would be hilarious. Or not. Or it would be once DHS gets the treatment they did in Cory Doctorow’s novel Little Brother. 😛

    (Hmm, maybe I am on a watchlist now? Well, whatever, I’m not planning to ever go to USA anyway.)

    Clive Robinson January 30, 2012 6:16 PM

    The story would appear to be in a number of UK newspapers one of which is “The Sun” often refered to by the likes of readers for the Gaurdian (which Bruce did the odd piece for) as “The Scum”,

    Warning The Sun is a Murdoch “News International” Empire UK red top from the same journalistic stable as the now shamed, shuned and closed down News of The World.

    The Sun was where Rebekah Brooks (nee Wade, previous wife to TV hard man Ross Kemp) editor of the News of The World cut her editorial teeth even though she had never been a journalist.

    Perhaps coincidently just over the past weekend the police following up on the “News of the World Phone Hacking Scandal” arrested four journalists (all belived to be from The Sun) and a police officer who allegadly supplied them with confidential information for “a consideration” in a brown envelope etc.

    Oh it should be mentioned that Rebekah Brooks is no stranger to being arrested, not only was she arrested over the “News of the World Phone Hacking scandle” she was also previously arrested for assulting her then husband actor Ross Kemp. Some witnesses indicated she was in a drunken rage and went at Ross all out like a “deranged fish wife”. As she has been arrested for a crime of violence she should not now be alowed into the US without first having to plead her case to US Embassy officials…

    Mr. Paul January 30, 2012 6:54 PM

    How many bets that a swiss army knife tossed into youl bag counts as ‘artfully concealed’?

    I’ve been following the TSA blog for quite some time. They are fairly clear on artfully concealed and it seems like a reasonable definition. Regardless of what one might think of their policies, they find a pretty good pile of weapons every week. I am astounded every time at the number of hand guns in carry on luggage with a round chambered

    Larry the Transatlantic Cable Guy January 30, 2012 7:19 PM

    Ron White already covered all the major points of this. In four words.

    NobodySpecial January 30, 2012 10:46 PM

    How do I sign up for twitter?

    I’m going to the US in a couple of days and I just wanted to tweet that all DHS/TSA agents are a marvelous example of the best of America and a shining example to all of us.

    The same goes for everyone at United Airlines checkin desk – especially those responsible for upgrades!

    Reader January 31, 2012 2:02 AM

    “If this is real, it’s time for a new Twitter Hashtag meme, #DestroyAmerica and #DigUpMarilyn. Overload DHS with their own stupidity.”

    I agree with this.

    Wouldn’t work because there won’t be a “matching” passenger.

    Adam January 31, 2012 2:31 AM

    The trick with Daily Mail stories is to assume the headline is a lie, that the story is toploaded to give the impression that the lie is true and then the actual truth or mitigating facts is buried right at the bottom.

    Virtually every story fits this pattern

    moz January 31, 2012 2:53 AM

    “This makes a lot more sense to me.”

    I hope you didn’t mean that the way it sounds. Basically anyone who doesn’t like what you say can get your travel plans destroyed? Get an anonymous tip and investigate; fine. Use some stupid tweets found in the investigation as a justification to stop somebody’s holiday; outrageous. These people were clearly not a threat and should have been allowed in.

    John January 31, 2012 3:21 AM

    I’m glad to see people checking this story and sad that it appears to be true.

    Many sensible people already refuse to visit the USA because of the security nonsense.

    I fear this will make it even more unlikely that the majority of Americans will never meet a visitor from another country and thus gain a wider perspective. The increased isolation of Americans from alternative points of view will have bad consequences.

    David Conrad January 31, 2012 4:18 AM

    Shocking if true. Their stupidity knows no bounds. Someone needs to get to the bottom of this and confirm or debunk it.

    Note: blog spam five comments above this, at least at the time I was writing this.

    oliverdw January 31, 2012 5:06 AM

    The documents shown in the Huffington Post story are indicative of the level of fact checking in the Daily Mail: Bryan is Irish, not British, and was arriving from Paris. (I think that the Mail article mentions this at some point, but clearly not in the headline. Internal consistency of stories has never been their strong point though).

    Rory January 31, 2012 5:31 AM

    It isn’t a spoof. Here’s a local newspaper report, with a photo of the pair:

    “They asked why we wanted to destroy America and we tried to explain it meant to get trashed and party,” [Emily Banting] said. “I almost burst out laughing when they asked me if I was going to be Leigh’s lookout while he dug up Marilyn Monroe. I couldn’t believe it because it was a quote from Family Guy. It got even more ridiculous because the officials searched our suitcases and said they were looking for spades and shovels. They did a full body search on me too.”

    A full body search because of her friend’s tweets. In case she had a shovel under her sweater, perhaps.

    onearmedspartan January 31, 2012 6:47 AM

    True or not, I’m sure the TSA is already blogging their side of the story to make it seem like they saved the world from annihilation.

    Reader January 31, 2012 7:43 AM

    “unlike Facebook or Google+, Twitter doesn’t have real name information — so the TSA could cross-index that name with the airline’s passenger manifests”

    His Twitter ID is LeighBryan. Surely you can run some probabilities on whether those are first and surnames. From a technology POV perfectly doable (and as it seems revealing their capabilities). Such a system might be quite sophisticated and expensive, but from a mission effectiveness POV, useless and wasteful.

    It shows you what data exchange is already happening behind the scenes, that’s the biggest news here.

    nobodySpecial January 31, 2012 7:45 AM

    @kingsnake – if they had the TSA 300 years ago the Brits wouldn’t have been there in the first place!

    RandomReader January 31, 2012 8:06 AM

    I’m not sure how seriously I can take this analysis and comments when everyone keeps referring to some “INS” database or directory and in fact the “INS” hasn’t existed since 2003.

    jacob January 31, 2012 8:40 AM

    So many thoughts. Really? a couple of young people say something it’s blown out of proportion. Instead of a local law enforcement, the feds get involved. Seems that we are turning into a more top to bottom run “republic” every day..

    I bet some people start talking/conversing back and forth in a game of klingon boggle would really throw them off. Make it an obscure dialect just to challenge the babysitters…Yes, I am that much of a geek to even know that exists.

    What about a language that only a couple of hundred people know, (nearly extinct languages do exist). I can see the smoke coming out of their ears now, LOL.

    No One January 31, 2012 9:23 AM

    New plan: Google bomb “TSA” into a verb meaning, “to be willfully ignorant of common sense.”

    Oops. I said “bomb”. ONOES I did it again!

    Ush January 31, 2012 10:54 AM

    Of course there is also the possibility that such publicity is designed to encourage people to self-censor what they publish.

    If even obviously innocent activity such as this can result in detention by The Authorities then anyone skirting the borders of acceptable activity “should have known what to expect, etc.”.

    kattemann January 31, 2012 10:59 AM

    “Have you ever been or are you now involved in espionage or sabotage; or in terrorist activities;”

    Elderly retired lawyer: “Yes. In 1944 I helped carry explosives to blow up a German facility in occupied Norway.”

    Luke Welling January 31, 2012 11:05 AM

    Here is my bet.

    This will turn into an utterly mundane case of the DHS deciding this he was an aspiring singer trying to come to Hollywood to work on a tourist visa (or visa waiver).

    Here is a newspaper article that seems to be about the same guy’s singing career:


    Youtube: [NSFW]

    Somebody with the same name as the female in the pair did some acting in the UK previously. But I have no other data so don’t know if they are the same person:

    friedov January 31, 2012 1:42 PM

    People are missing a huge part of this story… who called the tipline?

    There is some sad vigilante out there who believes it is his solemn duty to search twitter for “destroy america”, find out the identity of who wrote it, and call the authorities.

    Alice January 31, 2012 6:32 PM

    Other tweeting ideas: “I have an explosive diarrhea and just destroyed a bathroom of an American airport’s bathroom.”

    Peter Maxwell February 2, 2012 5:35 AM

    As someone pointed out above, this is entirely possible: Paul Chambers was convicted here (UK) because of a similar Tweet picked up by airport security. The judge in question got rather annoyed at thousands of people retweeting the “offending” tweet (to demonstrate that it’s stupid and challenge the authorities to arrest thousands of people).

    If you’ve ever used Twitter’s streaming API, it’s not technically difficult at all and most people are easily identifiable from their Twitter profile anyway.

    GregW February 2, 2012 9:02 AM

    Anonymous tip lines could be a cutout for government agencies who don’t want to reveal sources and methods. The real question here is “does the tipster work for a (US|UK|other) government agency (which does unlawful/unethical monitoring)? Would or could we ever know?

    Andy February 3, 2012 11:22 AM

    This is just data mining software.
    I know you think I’m paranoid, blah, blah,
    but there are ‘spymarts’ in the US,
    which are data centers the size of a super-market.

    Imaging racks of networking and storage gear
    that saves almost every piece of SIGINT that
    is generated, in real time. 100s of rows,
    each one with 100s of racks, all data-mining
    cell calls, tweets, emails, facebook posts,
    google queries, flight reservations, everything.

    So some data-mining code correlated the tweet
    to the travel plans and generated an alert.

    Keso February 13, 2012 6:42 AM

    It seems that the U.S. doesn’t want any of their business to grow internationally.
    As a Europena I can only say thank you very much. First droping the ball on online gambling. European online casino operators were big winners there. Now you are actively discouraging foreigners from using your big social networking sites. I’m sure some enterprising Europeans are busy coding alternatives to facebook and twitter. I myself will be going to Macau instead of Vegas this year.
    So yeah thanks America for all the jobs you are creating everywhere but home.

    Heather March 28, 2012 8:43 PM

    Nice article Bruce. You mentioned earlier: “In February 2011, the Department of Homeland Security announced that the agency planned to implement a program that would monitor media content, including social media data…”

    I believes that new program is called Facebook!! And the CIA head of the department is mark zuckerberg.

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