Head of Turner prize-nominated Forensic Architecture barred from US visit

David Batty
Photograph: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images

The director of the Turner prize-nominated investigative group Forensic Architecture has said he has been barred from travelling to the US after being flagged as a security risk.

Eyal Weizman, who is also a professor at Goldsmiths, University of London, was due to attend the opening of an art exhibition in Miami on Wednesday, but was informed via email last week that his right to travel to the US under a visa waiver programme had been revoked.

In a statement presented in his absence at the Miami exhibition, Weizman said he went to the US embassy in London on 14 February to apply for a visa but was told by an official that an algorithm had identified a security threat related to him.

The professor, who holds British and Israeli passports, said the embassy official suggested that the threat could be related to something he was involved in, people he was in contact with, places he had visited, hotels where he had stayed, or a pattern of relations among those things.

He added that the embassy official asked him to provide details about his travel over the last 15 years, including who had paid for it, and specifically queried whether he had visited Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen or Somalia or met nationals from those countries.

He said the official also told him Homeland Security investigators could assess his case more promptly if he supplied the names of anyone in his network who he thought might have triggered the security algorithm. “I declined to provide this information,” he said.

Weizman had hoped to open a retrospective of Forensic Architecture’s work at Miami Dade College’s Museum of Art and Design, which opens to the public on Friday.

In a statement presented by his wife, Ines Weizman, at the exhibition preview, and published on the collective’s website, he expressed alarm over being targeted by the US authorities: “In my interview the officer informed me that my authorisation to travel had been revoked because the ‘algorithm’ had identified a security threat.

“This much we know: we are being electronically monitored for a set of connections – the network of associations, people, places, calls and transactions – that make up our lives. Working in human rights means being in contact with vulnerable communities, activists and experts, and being entrusted with sensitive information. 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.”

Forensic Architecture, uses modern technology such as remote sensing, 3D modelling and vessel-tracking to search for evidence of human rights violations. Its work includes investigations into a CIA drone strike in Pakistan, a joint-study with investigative journalism website Bellingcat into the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons, an inquiry into the Israeli bombing the city of Rafah in the Gaza strip, and the shooting by police of Mark Duggan, in Tottenham, north London, which triggered the biggest riots in modern English history.

In conjunction with the Miami exhibition, entitled True to Scale, Forensic Architecture is launching an investigation into the Homestead detention centre in Florida, where unaccompanied migrant children have been allegedly held in ‘prison-like conditions’.

Nick Waters, a senior investigator at Bellingcat, said on Twitter: “Eyal is a man who has consistently used his remarkable intellect to investigate abuses of power. Some of those abuses have included the US. The revocation of his visa is a travesty and should be reversed immediately.”

A spokesman for US Customs and Border Protection said its officers “have the statutory authority to refer any individuals for additional screening about whom we need more information to make a determination of risk. These referrals are based on multiple factors that could include a combination of an individual’s activities, associations, and travel patterns.”