Monday, October 29, 2012
Litter,' Evidence found on those Crossing the Border
On October 12, a pregnant medical doctor from Guadalajara,
Mexico, attempted to enter the United States through the San Ysidro border crossing. The woman reportedly wanted to give birth
in the United States so that her child would be a U.S. citizen. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers arrested the woman,
who has since been charged with visa fraud in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.
Ordinarily, the arrest of a Mexican national for document fraud at a border crossing would
hardly be newsworthy. However, this case may be anything but ordinary: Authorities have identified the woman as Alejandrina
Gisselle Guzman Salazar, who reportedly is the daughter of Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera, one of the world's most wanted
If Guzman is indeed the daughter of El Chapo, the arrest could provide
much-needed intelligence to those pursuing the fugitive drug lord. Aside from the intelligence gathered during her interrogation,
investigators could also learn much from the information she may have been inadvertently carrying on her person. In law enforcement
and intelligence circles, the items of miscellaneous information an individual carries are called "pocket litter" and are carefully reviewed for intelligence value. But the concept of combing
through pocket litter for critical information also carries with it some important implications for people who are not criminals.
Danger for Criminals
enforcement officers arrest someone, they conduct a thorough search of the suspect and his or her immediate possessions. This
is referred to as a "search incident to arrest," and items discovered during this search are considered admissible
as evidence in U.S. courts (and the courts of many other countries). During the search, officers are looking for items of
evidentiary value to the case in question and for items that could endanger the officers -- weapons and handcuff keys, for
example. But in addition to these items, a search incident to arrest also gives law enforcement officers an excellent chance
to gather intelligence that could be used to identify other individuals involved in the criminal activity.
Of course, items found in pockets, purses or wallets -- business cards, slips of paper containing
names, telephone numbers, addresses and email addresses, to name a few -- can provide intelligence leads. But even less obvious
items, such as receipts and airline boarding passes, are likewise valuable. In narcotics cases, pocket litter frequently helps
identify drug suppliers, and in cases of document fraud, pocket litter helps identify the document vendor.
Once these items of potential intelligence are collected, they are processed. This means
determining who corresponds to a particular phone number, address or email account and then running them through local, state
or federal law enforcement databases. Public records, the Internet and social media can also be searched for relevant information.
Often this process will produce additional leads that can later be investigated.
In addition to its uses in fighting street crime, pocket litter is also important in counterterrorism and counterintelligence
cases. It can help identify associates, weapons or explosives components purchases, the location of storage lockers used to
house such materials, bomb making recipes, fund transfers and information pertaining to targets the subject has surveilled.
Since the October 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, the U.S. military has turned the collection
and processing of pocket litter into a highly sophisticated and productive exercise. When the military captures a militant
on the battlefield, or when special operations forces seize or kill a high-value target, his body and the surrounding area
are immediately searched for pocket litter, which is then collected, categorized and sent to the appropriate intelligence
unit for processing.
Document exploitation teams operating in Afghanistan
(and later Iraq) created huge searchable databases containing data from militants. In many cases, these teams proved more
successful in satisfying intelligence taskings than did interrogation teams working with captured individuals.
Notably, what we refer to as pocket litter has changed as technology has evolved. Originally
denoting physical items like slips of paper, the term now includes electronic devices, such as iPods, smartphones, tablets and laptop computers, from which vast amounts
of intelligence can be gleaned. These devices can contain photographs, Internet search histories, voice mails, call logs and
text message archives. Many phones also have features that, if activated, can provide historical GPS data on their owners'
How far a search incident to arrest can go in cases involving
cellphones currently is a controversial subject in the United States because cellphones can contain vast amounts of information
regarding their owners. Conflicting rulings in different U.S. circuit courts make it likely that the topic will be brought
to the U.S. Supreme Court at some point. The fact that judges must often compare cellphones to diaries or locked containers
while looking for comparable case law illustrates the challenges the new technology has presented to the judicial system.
Danger for Civilians
litter has been exploited as long as there have been criminals, law enforcement, pockets and writing. Yet despite hundreds
of years of this practice, criminals continue to carry incriminating evidence on their persons. The reason for this is quite
simple: human nature has not changed. Most people do not trust their memories, and they consider it safer and easier to jot
down the information on a slip of paper and place it in a wallet or purse, or in modern times, store it in a cellphone or
computer. The number of items jotted down or otherwise stored in this manner can become quite substantial as this practice
continues over time.
But these shortcomings exemplified by criminals also
pertain to law-abiding citizens. Most people walk around with significant amounts of information on their person, and many
cannot account for all their belongings. Some people are completely unaware of the treasure trove of information they carry
in their cellphones, tablets and laptop computers. For most civilians, it is not intelligence exploitation by the government
that is a concern, but exploitation by cunning criminals, who can use pocket litter to commit credit card, bank or identity
Therefore, it is imperative that people examine and carefully consider
their pocket litter and attempt to reduce that litter to only those items that are absolutely necessary. This is especially
true of people traveling in areas with high crime or intelligence threats, but the concept is universal. One can have a wallet,
purse or cellphone stolen at a place of worship, the supermarket or the gym. It is also important to remember that pocket
litter inadvertently tossed into the trash can be recovered and exploited by criminals.
Recovering from the theft of a purse or cellphone is difficult enough under the best of circumstances, but it is
much more difficult if one does not know what information was compromised or if one unnecessarily exposed documents and information
to theft. For example, many people needlessly carry their original social security cards or write their social security numbers
and ATM pin numbers down rather than memorizing them. People should maintain a list of the credit cards they carry with them,
along with contact numbers for those card companies in a separate place.
there are many vulnerabilities associated with smartphones, locking them with passwords and using encrypted files for storing information such
as account numbers and passwords are steps in the right direction. These measures may not save a terrorist suspect from the
computing power of the U.S. National Security Agency, but they will likely prevent most thieves from accessing your important
"Pocket Litter: The Evidence That Criminals Carry," was first published in "Security Weekly" (Oct. 25, 2012), by Stratfor. "Security Weekly" is one of three free publications offered by Stratfor, a privately owned publisher of geopolitical analysis where analysts use a unique,
intel-based approach to study world affairs.
Scott Stewart, VP of Analysis,
oversees Stratfor's security team and its analytic efforts on issues around the globe. He also oversees Stratfor's
extensive coverage of the security environment in Mexico, and closely monitors Mexican drug cartels, their areas of influence
and their drug trafficking routes.
Reprinted with permission.