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Report: DHS Freezes Intelligence Program Over Civil Rights Concerns: ‘Runs Like A Corrupt Government’

  The   Department of Homeland Security   (DHS) paused a domestic-intelligence program last year over concerns that it may run afoul of Amer...

 The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) paused a domestic-intelligence program last year over concerns that it may run afoul of Americans’ civil rights.

The DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A), one of 18 government offices and agencies that make up the U.S. Intelligence Community, oversees the “Overt Human Intelligence Collection Program” as part of its intelligence-gathering operations. The program allows the I&A to interview almost anyone in the United States, according to internal DHS documents reviewed by POLITICO.

Part of the I&A program was put on hold last year as concerns grew within the department that it could lead to violations of the rights of interviewees who are currently incarcerated, out of prison on parole, or otherwise in a sensitive position regarding authorities. Some employees concerned about the legally gray area they operated in asked about government-covered legal liability insurance.

Others worried about raising internal concerns about I&A or blowing the whistle on aspects of the agency they felt violated the Constitution. According to an April 2021 document reviewed by POLITICO, one unnamed employee said the leadership of the I&A’s Office of Regional Intelligence “is ‘shady’ and ‘runs like a corrupt government.’”

Former acting head of DHS in the Trump administration, Chad Wolf, told POLITICO that the I&A’s issues “largely stemmed from lack of proper leadership and a clearly defined mission.” He added, “the concept of I&A is sound but how it is put into practice and operationalized has proven difficult.”

DHS Under Secretary for I&A Kenneth Wainstein did not answer questions about the I&A’s human intelligence program.

“The true measure of a government organization is its ability to persevere through challenging times, openly acknowledge and learn from those challenges, and move forward in service of the American people,” Wainstein said in a statement. “The Office of Intelligence and Analysis has done just that over the past few years.”

Legal experts say human intelligence collection – intelligence gathered from people directly rather than from avenues such as a satellite or forensics – can be violative of constitutional rights. The I&A program reportedly allows agents to contact inmates, paroled persons, or those awaiting trial without contacting their attorney first. The agents are supposed to tell the interviewee that participation is voluntary and that nothing can be expected to be gained from helping the agents with intelligence collection. The interviewees are also supposed to be told that they have no control over how the information they tell the agents can be used.

Criminals and those awaiting trial often cut deals with prosecutors, exchanging information for lighter sentences. Attorneys are also typically protective of their clients and do not recommend speaking with law enforcement or prosecutors without legal counsel present. Conversation between criminals or charged persons and prosecutors often happens entirely through legal representation.

News of the frozen I&A program comes as DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas faces mounting impeachment threats over his handling of the immigration crisis on the U.S. southern border. North Carolina Rep. Dan Bishop, a Republican who sits on the House Homeland Security and Judiciary committees, said over the weekend that Mayorkas has flouted federal immigration law.

“There’s a laundry list of statutes that he has explicitly disobeyed,” he told The Daily Signal. “That is high crimes and misdemeanors. You got to build consensus within a Republican conference. Some want to use a light touch on these things all the time. A lot of people say, ‘Well, if we can’t, we’re not assured that the Senate will convict, and it’s in Democrat hands, why would we do any of it?’”

“There are reasons to do it, but we’ve got a process to go through, marshal the evidence, conduct the hearings in public and, if it leads in the direction and all the evidence adds up when you’ve done it in a real rigorous way like that, do you move forward with impeachment? I think so,” he said.

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