CSI: Commerce Department
Government disbands unit that snooped on employees, letter writers
Years ago, poultry inspectors in a large state were ridiculed when they appealed to the state legislature to provide them with firearms.
One can see why the inspectors wanted to be armed. There is a certain glamor attached to being law enforcement, the smell of cordite at the firing range, the weight of a gun belt, the badge and the respect that goes with it. These inspectors were denied guns, however, because they did not need them to do their job.
In the federal government, with so many small offices within divisions inside agencies within departments, there are pockets of officials who are running programs that are poorly conceived and poorly supervised. One of them, the Investigations and Threat Management Service (ITMS) inside the Commerce Department, was a privacy nightmare.
For fifteen years, the 13-person ITMS ran criminal probes and counterespionage activities apparently with little oversight. They rummaged through the offices and computers of Commerce Department employees. They investigated Americans who made disparaging comments about the Census on their social media accounts. And they opened investigations into people who wrote letters to the Secretary of Commerce (always a dead giveaway of the sleeper agents among us).
Worse, a five-month investigation by Commerce Department lawyers found that the ITMS lacked “adequate legal authority” to even run the criminal probes it had pursued for 15 years. This lack of authority did not keep ITMS agents from running names through classified databases.
Like a bad cop show, ITMS is now being cancelled. The Commerce Department announced earlier this month it would close this office. But one wonders how many other offices are role-playing at the expense of our privacy.
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