Lazy eyes listen
According to internal documents, the Department of Homeland Security operates a “virtually unknown” intelligence-gathering program within the United States. Among the revelations were DHS employees’ fears that their work was inappropriate or illegal, as well as the influence of politics on operations.
According to Politico, the “Overt Human Intelligence Collection Program” (OHIC) has been in operation since at least 2016, though the source of the documents is unknown.
OHIC, which is managed by the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A), is designed to collect information on threats such as organized crime and transnational drug trafficking. The program enables DHS officials to “seek interviews with just about anyone” in the United States, including inmates in local jails and federal prisons. Concerns that not having an attorney present for the interviews might violate people’s civil rights prompted that “element” of OHIC to be “paused” in 2022.
“While this questioning is ostensibly voluntary, DHS’s policy ignores the coercive environment in which these individuals are held. It fails to ensure that individuals are represented by a lawyer and does nothing to prevent the government from using a person’s words against them in court.” Patrick Toomey of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) told Politico.
Former DHS adviser and congressional liaison Carrie Bachner called it “immoral” that the agency could be “interviewing people who still have constitutional rights, without their lawyer present.”
Other documents show that some DHS employees had similar concerns about the department’s legality and morality. A dozen “listening sessions” with I&A employees were summarized in an email sent in November 2020, shortly after the US election. Many of their complaints included the fact that many of their tasks were “law enforcement matters and not for an intelligence organization,” and that the title “Departmental Support” appeared to be “a loophole that we exploit to conduct questionable activities.”
According to the same email, one employee described the Field Operations Division leadership as “shady” and “runs like a corrupt government.” Those who provided feedback or criticism that the leadership did not appreciate, according to another, may be transferred to the US-Mexico border or to Portland.
In the summer of 2020, violent ‘Antifa’ demonstrators attacked the federal courthouse in Portland, Oregon, resulting in a media scandal involving the DHS. The Washington Post accused the I&A of spying on journalists and protesters at the end of July. Brian Murphy, the head of I&A, was fired two days later. His replacement, Joseph Maher, rescinded a previous directive interpreting then-President Donald Trump’s order to protect federal buildings and monuments from rioters, and stated that the I&A was no longer in charge.
Maher later worked for the January 6 Select Committee, which was formed by Congressional Democrats to accuse Trump of “insurgency” at the US Capitol.
Stephanie Dobitsch, the acting Deputy Under Secretary for Intelligence Enterprise Operations who wrote the instruction Maher revoked, was later hired on a permanent basis. Dobitsch noted in a March 2022 email commenting on the Intelligence Community Climate Survey Analysis that the most significant instances of “distortion or suppression” of intelligence analysis reported by I&A staff were related to the protection of “bureaucratic interests.”
The DHS workforce “has a general mistrust of leadership as a result of orders to conduct activities they perceive to be inappropriate, bureaucratic, or political,” according to the same survey for fiscal year 2020.