Politico: DHS Employees So Worried About Domestic Surveillance They Asked About Legal Liability Insurance
“Run Like a Corrupt Government"
Politico on Monday released the results of an investigation into activities of “virtually unknown” domestic intelligence activities within the Department of Homeland Security.
In documents obtained by Politico, one DHS employee said that the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis is “shady” and is “run like a corrupt government.” Some employees were so worried about the thin legal justification for their domestic spying activities that they wanted their employer to cover them with legal liability insurance.
A survey by I&A Field Operations Division, now called the Office of Regional Intelligence, found that one-half of respondents said they had alerted managers that they were concerned their activity was inappropriate or illegal. Many felt senior leadership had an “inability to resist political pressure.”
“In recent years, the office’s political leadership – Democrat and Republican – has pushed I&A to take a more and more expansive view of its mandate, putting officers in the position of surveilling Americans’ views and associations protected by the U.S. Constitution,” said Spencer Reynolds, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, himself a former DHS intelligence and counterintelligence attorney. “There’s a tendency to use the office’s power to paint political opponents – be they left-wing demonstrators or QAnon truthers – as extremists and dangerous. This has had a disastrous impact on morale – most people don’t join the Intelligence Community to monitor their fellow Americans’ political, religious, and social beliefs.”
He added that I&A’s leadership has “sidelined” oversight offices, leaving employees little recourse but to comply.
I&A intelligence agents can also seek voluntary interviews with incarcerated people, including people awaiting trial. They must state that the interview is voluntary and that they have no sway over judges either in criminal or immigration cases. But they also can seek these interviews with inmates and those awaiting trial without alerting their attorneys. In many cases, the interviewees’ lawyers aren’t aware that the conversations are happening.
“While this questioning is purportedly voluntary, DHS’s policy ignores the coercive environment these individuals are held in,” said Patrick Toomey of the American Civil Liberties Union National Security Project. “It fails to ensure that individuals have a lawyer present, and it does nothing to prevent the government from using a person’s word against them in court.”
The civil liberties community owes a big debt of gratitude to Politico for this in-depth piece. Domestic intelligence gathering is pervasive and often without guardrails. Congress has much to investigate.