Homeland Security Banned Forensic Architecture’s Director From Entry to US

Set to attend the opening of his exhibition at Miami’s Museum of Art and Design, Eyal Weizman was told by an officer at the US Embassy in London that his visa was revoked for triggering a “security algorithm.”

Eyal Weizman, the founder and director of the London-based research group Forensic Architecture, revealed today that he was banned entry to the United States.

On February 12, two days before his scheduled flight from London to New York, Weizman received an email from the US Embassy notifying him that his visa-waiver (ESTA) had been revoked, and that he was not authorized to travel to the US. The embassy’s notice stated no reason for the revocation and did not offer Weizman the opportunity to appeal the decision or to arrange for an alternative visa (Weizman holds British and Israeli nationalities).

Formed in 2010, Forensic Architecture is a research agency that uses architectural software to investigate human rights violations. Its team is comprised of architects, software developers, filmmakers, journalists, lawyers, artists, and scientists working from Goldsmiths, University of London.

Weizman was planning to attend today’s private opening of True to Scale at Miami’s Museum of Art and Design (MOAD), Forensic Architecture’s first major survey exhibition in the United States. At the event, his wife, Ines Weizman, delivered a statement on his behalf.

“It was also a family trip,” Weizman added. “My wife Prof. Ines Weizman, who was scheduled to give talks in the US herself, and our two children traveled a day before I was supposed to go,” he continued. “They were stopped at JFK airport in New York where Ines was separated from our children and interrogated by immigration officials for two and a half hours before being allowed entry.”

Weizman said he ventured to the US Embassy in London the following day, and that in an interview, an officer told him that his authorization to travel had been revoked because a “security algorithm” identified him, or someone associated with him, as a “security threat.” A spokesperson for the US Embassy in London was not available for comment.

“He said he did not know what had triggered the algorithm but suggested that it could be something I was involved in, people I am or was in contact with, places to which I had traveled (had I recently been in Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, or Somalia or met their nationals?), hotels at which I stayed, or a certain pattern of relations among these things,” Weizman said.

Weizman was asked to provide the embassy with additional information, including 15 years of travel history, with emphasis on who funded his trips. The artist adds that he was cajoled to disclose contacts that “might have triggered the algorithm” to Homeland Security investigators. Weizman declined to provide this information to the authorities.

“Working in human rights means being in contact with vulnerable communities, activists and experts, and being entrusted with sensitive information,” Weizman said. “These networks are the lifeline of any investigative work. I am alarmed that relations among our colleagues, stakeholders, and staff are being targeted by the US government as security threats.”

In an email to Hyperallergic, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said its “officers are trained to enforce U.S. laws uniformly and fairly and they do not discriminate based on religion, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation” and that “[t]he issuance of a visa or participation in the visa waiver program does not guarantee entry to the United States.”

CBP continues to say:

However, as part of a multi-layered approach to security, CBP officers have the statutory authority to refer any individuals for additional screening about whom we need more information to make a determination of risk on such things as health-related grounds, national security concerns, intending immigration without proper authorization, criminality, document requirements or violations and many more. These referrals are based on multiple factors that could include a combination of an individual’s activities, associations, and travel patterns.

Curated by Sophie Landres, the current exhibition at MOAD highlights over a dozen impactful Forensic Architecture investigations. Those include an investigation into a CIA drone strike in Pakistan; an analysis of the Chicago police killing of a barber that lead to an investigation by the mayor and the city’s police department; an investigation into the Syrian Regime’s use of chemical weapons; and an inquiry into the Israeli bombing of the Palestinian city of Rafah that informed the International Criminal Court’s recent decision to open an investigation into the possibility of Israeli war crimes.

The group made noise at the 2019 Whitney Biennial with a video work — Triple-Chaser (2019) — that linked Safariland Group, a company run by the Whitney Museum’s former vice-chair Warren Kanders, with war crimes in Gaza. The video prompted legal action against Safariland by the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights. The group later requested its work be withdrawn from the exhibition, shortly before Kanders announced his resignation.

In conjunction with the MOAD exhibition, Forensic Architecture is launching a joint investigation with local groups into human rights violations in the Homestead detention center in Florida, where migrant children have been allegedly held in inhumane conditions. True to Scale opens to the public tomorrow, February 20.

“Eyal was very involved in the design of the exhibition so it is a blow not having him here to participate in the final days of the installation,” Landres told Hyperallergic in an email.

“Knowledge production and community involvement are central to Forensic Architecture’s work and it is a shame that Eyal was prevented from helping develop that component of the exhibition this week,” Landres continued. “It is shameful that a person who has done so much for human rights is not being welcomed here with open arms.”

Weizman’s trip to the US was also meant to include a public talk at the Center for European and Russian Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Kamari Clarke, a professor at UCLA’s Department of Anthropology, told Hyperallergic that the scheduled lecture and workshop will now be held “via electronic mediation.”

“We are disappointed to hear of the news of the revocation of Eyal’s ESTA,” the professor said. “Though we await the review of his situation, we also know that he is a scholar and human rights advocate whose work has had a positive profound impact in Europe and beyond.”

Weizman said that the revocation of his visa-waiver “exemplifies — albeit in a far less intense manner and at a much less drastic scale — critical aspects of the ‘arbitrary logic of the border’” that Forensic Architecture seeks to expose.

“These works seek to demonstrate that we can invert the forensic gaze and turn it against the actors — police, militaries, secret services, border agencies — that usually seek to monopolise information,” he said. “But in employing the counter-forensic gaze one is also exposed to higher level monitoring by the very state agencies investigated.”