In one day, two separate domestic spying scandals involving components of the Department of Homeland Security were revealed. Both Immigrations and Custom Enforcement (ICE) and Custom and Border Patrol (CBP) are engaged in monitoring and tracking First Amendment protected activity. While Defending Rights & Dissent strongly supports calls to abolish ICE and always objects to spying on dissent, in both cases, the two agencies strayed well beyond their stated mandate.
The Nation magazine obtained via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) documents revealing that ICE’s investigative arm, Homeland Security Investigations, kept of a list of what the agency described in its own words as “anti-Trump protests.” The included protests went far beyond just demonstrations against Trump. A protest against the NRA organized by Gays Against Guns found itself in the ICE database of “anti-Trump protests.” Similarly, a rally against “xenophobia and racism” organized by Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY) as a response to a gathering of Identity Evropa, a notorious white nationalist group, was also included. Rep. Espaillat has raised question about the extent of ICE’s monitoring of his event and whether it included infiltration, surveillance, and monitoring that went beyond inclusion in a spreadsheet.
Even more shocking, NBC’s San Diego affiliate obtained documents showing that CBP was tracking lawyers, journalists, and activists associated with the migrant caravan as a part of “national security investigations.” The documents were obtained by a whistleblower who was disturbed by the investigations. The whistleblower explained:
“We are a criminal investigation agency, we’re not an intelligence agency. We can’t create dossiers on people and they’re creating dossiers. This is an abuse of the Border Search Authority.”
As part of “Operation Secure Line,” CBP gathered dossiers on 59 individuals deemed, “Suspected Organizers, Coordinators, Instigators, and Media.” Information in the dossiers included not just passport photos, but information clearly taken from social media. According to NBC News:
The list includes 10 journalists, seven of them U.S. citizens, a U.S.-based attorney and others labeled as organizers and “instigators,” 31 of whom are American. Symbols on the list show that by the time it was compiled 12 of the individuals had already been through additional questioning during border crossings and nine had been arrested.
Individuals flagged for this list received additional questioning at the border, so-called “secondary screening.” They were seperated from electronic devices, but it is unclear if the devices were searched. Some individuals had alerts placed on their passports, which prevented them traveling.
CBP was not alone in this operation. The documents obtained show Mexican intelligence agencies were helping to track the individuals in question and turning over the information to the US. Additionally:
The source said the documents or screenshots show a SharePoint application that was used by agents from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the U.S. Border Patrol, Homeland Security Investigations and some agents from the San Diego sector of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI).
Monitoring of political speech is inherently chilling. It is also outside the jurisdiction of both ICE and CBP. That CBP used First Amendment protected activity to subject individuals to additions searches, screenings, and detentions is also entirely unconstitutional. Congress needs to exercise its oversight authority and investigate both matters.