“American taxpayers pay to be spied upon. That’s one takeaway from new documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has been examining how federal agents spent millions to purchase massive troves of cellphone location data and dodge Fourth Amendment requirements.
As part of a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the ACLU obtained thousands of previously unreleased records showing how DHS agencies—including Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)—are purchasing and accessing “huge volumes of people’s cell phone location information quietly extracted from smartphone apps.”
These agencies are “sidestepping our Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable government searches and seizures,” suggests the ACLU.
In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court held (in Carpenter v. United States) that under the Fourth Amendment, law enforcement must have a warrant before accessing a suspect’s phone location data from cellular service providers. But federal authorities have been getting around this by purchasing aggregated cellphone location data from data broker firms like Venntel and Babel Street. And they’re spending millions of taxpayer dollars doing it.”
“there’s little evidence that DHS has any interest or ability when it comes to admitting and correcting its flaws. Even the people specifically assigned to keep an eye on DHS seem more concerned with shielding the department from consequences for bad behavior than with tempering its malignancy.
“The Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general and his top aides directed staff members to remove damaging findings from investigative reports on domestic violence and sexual misconduct by officers in the department’s law enforcement agencies,” Chris Cameron of The New York Times reported earlier this month. Among the information suppressed were descriptions of cash payouts to settle sexual harassment claims without going through formal procedures. “The inspector general, Joseph V. Cuffari, also directed his staff to remove parts of another draft report showing internal investigations had found that dozens of officers working at the agencies had committed domestic violence, but that they had received ‘little to no discipline.'”
The documents were obtained and published by the Project on Government Oversight. Their existence was subsequently acknowledged by Mayorkas in an internal DHS memo. If history is any guide, don’t hold your breath waiting for big reforms. Charles K. Edwards, a former DHS acting inspector general, was charged with stealing proprietary software and confidential databases from the federal government. He pleaded guilty in January of this year.
Don’t harbor too much hope that DHS will improve its respect for people’s rights. A federal agency whose official watchdog hides details of abusive conduct by its employees against their colleagues and family members when it’s not pilfering property can’t be trusted to be diligent about addressing civil liberties violations against the general public. That’s especially true when those violations are seemingly a baked-in part of how the agency justifies its existence. To repeat the Brennan Center’s warning, DHS suffers from “a dangerous combination of broad authorities, weak safeguards, and insufficient oversight,” and it’s not at all obvious how to fix what’s so profoundly broken.”
“”Social media has become a significant source of information for U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies,” the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law noted in a report released last week. “The Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and the State Department are among the many federal agencies that routinely monitor social platforms, for purposes ranging from conducting investigations to identifying threats to screening travelers and immigrants.””
“In the 24-page report and a seven-page supplement, Murphy alleges four main incidents of wrongdoing by his superiors at the agency:
That then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen repeatedly, and perhaps knowingly, exaggerated the number of suspected terrorists crossing the southern border into the US in official documents and sessions with lawmakers — despite having been briefed numerous times by Murphy that the numbers she was citing were not accurate.
That DHS acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli told Murphy to alter an intelligence report detailing the high levels of corruption, violence, and economic problems in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras to make those countries look like safe destinations for migrants, a judgment that would aid Trump’s restrictive asylum policy.
That DHS acting Secretary Chad Wolf, at the request of White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, ordered Murphy to “cease providing intelligence assessments on the threat of Russian interference in the United States and instead start reporting on interference activities by China and Iran.”
That Cuccinelli and Wolf at different times instructed Murphy to modify domestic terrorism threat assessments to downplay the threat from white supremacists and add information on the prominence of violent left-wing groups like antifa “to ensure [the assessments] matched up with the public comments by President Trump.””
“A word of caution: Multiple people familiar with Murphy’s time at DHS told me he’d often engaged in the same kind of behavior he now accuses his superiors of doing, namely altering assessments to fit the administration’s policies. In addition, news reports in late July revealed that Murphy’s office had been compiling “intelligence reports” on journalists and protesters in Portland, Oregon.
Murphy fiercely denies those allegations, but shortly after the reports were published, he was demoted from his position and reassigned to an administrative support role. Some people I spoke to said Murphy’s whistleblower report is “definitely” meant as retaliation against his superiors for his demotion.
His credibility, then, is somewhat suspect.”
“two sources I spoke to confirmed one of the claims in Murphy’s complaint: that National Security Adviser O’Brien directed DHS to minimize intelligence reports on Russian interference in the 2020 presidential election and instead focus on interference by China and Iran.”
“The Trump administration is holding unaccompanied migrant children in hotels before rapidly expelling them from the US under a new policy that allows officials to turn away anyone who poses a risk of spreading coronavirus — even if they show no symptoms and are seeking asylum.”
“It’s just the latest in a long line of Trump administration policies designed to gut the asylum system on the southern border. Before the pandemic, officials were turning away tens of thousands of migrants at the southern border through the “Remain in Mexico” program, under which asylum seekers were forced to wait in Mexico, often for months at a time, for their immigration court hearings in the US. The new expulsion policy has largely replaced that program as a mechanism for keeping migrants out.
According to court documents, the administration had expelled about 2,000 unaccompanied children under the policy as of June. Though the government has not released more recent data on unaccompanied children specifically, CBP reported expelling more than 105,000 migrants total under the policy by the end of July.
“They’re coming here because they have legitimate claims for humanitarian protection,” Steven Kang, an attorney for the ACLU, said Friday. “For this country turn them right around is not only wrong — it’s not what Congress wanted. This whole shadow deportation scheme bypasses and ignores all the important rights that Congress gave them.””
“Though overcrowding of such facilities was a concern at the outset of the pandemic, HHS shelters are now operating at 5-to-10-percent capacity — well below normal, Kang said. That suggests that there is plenty of room to safely enforce social distancing and quarantine anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 or develops symptoms.
The lawsuit also argues that children have the right to an attorney and a full immigration court hearing to determine whether they are entitled to protections that would allow them to stay in the US, which is required by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPRA).
The government has argued that it has the authority to reject any migrant who poses a risk of spreading communicable disease under Title 42, a federal public health provision. Mark Morgan, the acting CBP commissioner, said earlier this month that the policy helps mitigate the risk of spreading the virus to anyone the migrants might come into contact with while being processed and in HHS shelters.”
“Twenty-six-year-old Donavan LaBella was holding a speaker above his head across from the federal courthouse in downtown Portland when one of a group of camouflage-clad federal agents threw some sort of smoking, flashing canister at him. LaBella rolled the canister away from this feet, into an empty portion of the street, then held up the speaker again. Suddenly there was a loud bang, then some sort of impact munition (a.k.a. “firearm-delivered projectiles,” such as rubber bullets or bean bags) flying through the air. Then LaBella falls to the ground. Other protesters come to his aid and drag him out of the street.
Video captured the whole horrifying incident.
“An American has been shot and sent to the hospital for apparently exercising his right of free speech,” marveled Steven Strauss, a visiting professor at Princeton.
Donavan’s mom, Desiree LaBella, told Oregon Public Broadcasting that her son had sustained skull and facial fractures and had to have facial reconstruction surgery. As of Sunday morning, he was responding to doctors and able to move his arms and legs.”
“NPR notes that “Wolf claimed there had been violence against officers in Portland. DHS later clarified Wolf was referring to fireworks shot toward officers as well as protesters pointing lasers at federal police. Several protesters in Portland were charged with assault on a federal officer because of those actions.””
“She said that as Hurricane Maria approached Puerto Rico and Duke argued for an emergency declaration before its landfall, Mick Mulvaney, then the president’s budget director, resisted.
“Quit being so emotional, Elaine, it’s not about the people; it’s about the money,” she said Mulvaney told her. Asked about the comment, Mulvaney said Friday: “I never made such a remark. My experience with the acting director was that she rarely got anything right at DHS. At least she’s consistent.””
“The Department of Homeland Security stopped updating its annual models of the havoc that pandemics would wreak on America’s critical infrastructure in 2017, according to current and former DHS officials with direct knowledge of the matter.
From at least 2005 to 2017, an office inside DHS, in tandem with analysts and supercomputers at several national laboratories, produced detailed analyses of what would happen to everything from transportation systems to hospitals if a pandemic hit the United States.”
” the work abruptly stopped in 2017 amid a bureaucratic dispute over its value, two of the former officials said, leaving the department flat-footed as it seeks to stay ahead of the impacts the COVID-19 outbreak is having on vast swathes of the U.S. economy. Officials at other agencies have requested some of the reports from the pandemic modeling unit at DHS in recent days, only to find the information they needed scattered or hard to find quickly.”
““A lot of what we’re doing now is shooting in the dark, and there’s going to be secondary impacts to infrastructure that are going to be felt in part because we didn’t maintain these models,” said one of the former DHS officials. “Our ability to potentially foresee where the impacts are or may manifest is a result of the fact that we don’t have the capabilities anymore.””
” Much of the blame for the switch in focus at DHS, according to two of the former officials, falls on longtime DHS employee Robert Hanson, who became division director of prioritization and modeling at the department’s Office of Cyber and Infrastructure Analysis (OCIA) in May 2016.”
“Hanson wanted to focus more on visualizations of events like hurricanes and “going down rabbit holes that really didn’t need to be done,” according to one of the former officials. He also wanted to focus more on elections and cybersecurity because “cyber is the magic word to attract money,” said the other former official.
“They’ve allowed a lot of capability to decay, including the pandemic models and transportation models and a whole bunch of other stuff in favor of chasing the soccer ball on different cyber things,” including trying to use machine learning and AI in work on cybersecurity, this person said.
In an interview, Hanson acknowledged decreasing some funding away from pandemic modeling to other topics of research because he had “been given direction by my leadership at the time to reprioritize a lot of the projects,” and he agreed it was necessary. He also said that when he took over the modeling program, it was considered “ineffective” by DHS leadership and by executive branch overseers.
Hanson thought, too, that pandemic modeling was best done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the former DHS officials said, although the CDC’s mandate is different and researchers there don’t focus on how a pandemic could affect non-health related infrastructure.”
“It wouldn’t be easy for DHS to rebuild its capacity to model pandemics, given the brain drain within the department: Many of the people who worked on the models have now scattered across the government or left government service altogether, one of the former officials said.”
“current officials are left essentially to reinvent the wheel in the middle of a pandemic”
” “I’ve heard people say it’s a black swan. It’s not a black swan,” said one of the former DHS officials. “This is the whitest of white swans. This was absolutely inevitable, and the fact is we didn’t even maintain the capacity that we had or even the records of what we had done so that information could be quickly located and turned over to people who are making the critical operations right now.””