The Department of Homeland Security has for years been operating a secretive domestic-intelligence gathering program that agency employees have complained may be illegal, according report on Monday.
The Overt Human Intelligence Collection Program — run out of the agency’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis — allows officials to bypass lawyers and seek intelligence interviews with individuals being held in local jails, federal prisons and immigrant detention centers, according to documents reviewed by Politico.
While officials must make interviewees aware that questioning is being conducted for intelligence gathering purposes and that participation is voluntary, the practice sparked civil liberties concerns — even from people within DHS — as information revealed by the inmates could potentially be used against them in court.
An unnamed employee quoted in internal DHS documents called the Office of Intelligence and Analysis’ leadership team “shady” and run “like a corrupt government,” Politico reported.
In another document, some employees were so concerned about the legality of their activities that they wanted DHS to cover legal liability insurance, the news outlet reported.
Others feared retaliation for voicing concerns.
“If you speak out, you’ll find yourself on the [southwest] border or in Portland, recalled by [Field Operations Division] HQ, or moved,” one employee said in a document. “If HQ finds out that you’ve spoken to others outside the Division (e.g. OCG, Ombuds), you’ll get in trouble.”
The ability of DHS to be impartial and withstand caving to political pressure was also a major concern, documents show.
An internal analysis during the Trump administration found a “significant number of respondents cited concerns with politicization of analytic products and/or the perceptions of undue influence that may compromise the integrity of the work performed by employees. This concern touches on analytic topics, the review process, and the appropriate safeguards in place to protect against undue influence.”
The document adds that “a number of respondents expressed concerns/challenges with the quality and effectiveness of I&A senior leadership” such as the “inability to resist political pressure.”
“The workforce has a general mistrust of leadership resulting from orders to conduct activities they perceive to be inappropriate, bureaucratic, or political,” the document continues.
DHS “temporarily halted” the program last year due to internal concerns, according to Politico.
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