WASHINGTON – Representative Bennie Thompson on Monday joined calls for the Department of Homeland Security to provide information on a secret unit that was investigating journalists, elected officials and other Americans.
Yahoo News on Saturday revealed that a customs and border protection unit, known as the Counter Network Division, had investigated up to 20 journalists, as well as members of Congress and their staff. The investigations included searching databases about their trip and determining if they had any links to the terrorism watchlist, as well as collecting other personal data.
“While it is true, this abuse of government surveillance powers to target journalists, elected officials and their staff is deeply troubling,” Thompson, Democratic chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement. âThe United States government has an obligation to protect the right of all citizens to privacy and freedom of expression. There must be accountability and protections in place to ensure that such incidents never occur. “
The division’s work sparked an FBI investigation of a reporter and Senate member, which in turn led to the DHS Inspector General investigating the CBP officials involved. While the Inspector General referred several employees on possible charges, none were prosecuted and at least two returned to work at the agency.
Associated Press editor-in-chief Julie Pace also wrote to DHS secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Monday, asking why one of its reporters had been consulted by CBP in government databases. “This is a glaring example of a federal agency using its power to examine journalists’ contacts,” Pace wrote in his letter. “While the actions detailed in the Inspector General’s report took place under a previous administration, the practices were described as routine.”
The Inspector General’s report, completed in 2020, does not appear to have ever been delivered to Congress, despite previous requests.
“The Inspector General must provide this report to Congress to allow for critical oversight work,” said Thompson, echoing a request made Sunday by Senator Ron Wyden, chairman of the Senate finance committee.
“If the allegations in this story are true, customs and border protection have clearly abused government surveillance powers to target journalists and elected officials under the most fragile pretext,” Wyden told Yahoo News in his statement. .
DHS and CBP did not respond to requests for comment, including whether Dan White, one of the employees fired for possible lawsuits by the Inspector General, remains in a supervisory role in the Counter Network division.