“Following the money” in travel surveillance
The growth of a homeland-security industrial complex funded by single-source contracts and shielded by knee-jerk invocation of “security” as an excuse for secrecy has created huge opportunities for cronyism and collusion between lobbyists, contractors, and government officials.
The poster child for this revolving door and its invidious effects on government policies and spending is former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and his work as a lobbyist for Rapiscan, the supplier of the TSA’s virtual strip-search machines.
Unsurprisingly, the US isn’t alone in allowing the commercial interests of spy-tech companies to drive government decisions to spy on travelers.
In the latest issue of the EDRi-gram newsletter, our friends at the European Digital Rights Initiative explore “The curious tale of the French prime minister, PNR and peculiar patterns.” It seems that the French military technology contractor Safran, whose “Morpho” division is one of the leading vendors of turnkey PNR-based traveler surveillance and profiling systems, is one of the largest employers in the home town of French Prime Minister Manuel Valls.
According to Estelle Massé and Joe McNamee of EDRi:
France has been particularly insistent on the unsubstantiated benefit of profiling all travellers — indiscriminately and in the absence of suspicion. French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve pushed for swift adoption of the EU PNR directive before the EU Council, going so far as to accuse the European Parliament of being “irresponsible for delaying the vote” — implying that democratic debate over a privacy-invasive measure is simply wasting time. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls also pushed for the directive, allegedly arguing for adoption as a strong symbolic gesture in the fight against terrorism…
Safran has a major base in Evry, the small town south of Paris where Valls was mayor from 2001-2012. The company employs more than 3300 people and, earlier this year, Valls visited the siteand discussed Safran’s role in ensuring long-term employment in the region. The French government said in a statement following the visit, “We have one aim: that the French industry stays ahead.”
The company now appears to be in fine fettle. It won major contracts to put in place expensive PNR systems in France and Estonia. Now that the PNR directive will make such systems mandatory across the EU, it is also seeking contracts in several other EU countries.
That’s not the end of the story. The pattern of links between Valls and Safran run even deeper. According to the French news outlet Marianne, in 2012, when a Safran contract was not renewed, Valls, who was then interior minister, allegedly intervened to help the company. He appears to have done so despite the fact that the proposed change to the contract could have saved 30 million euro of public funds.
Bertrand Marechaux, the police chief who questioned the contract, kept fighting to modify it and initiating legal proceedings against Morpho, a subsidiary of Safran. He was ultimately removed from his position. Valls’ office didn’t respond to Marianne’s request for comment at the time.