CBP Put A Bunch Of Journalists, Immigration Lawyers, And Activists On A Secret Watchlist

from the fuck-the-Constitution-I-guess dept

Leaked documents obtained by an NBC affiliate show the government has taken a direct interest in journalists and activists covering the many, many happenings at our southern border. But the government isn’t interested in keeping them safe or giving them the space to do their jobs. Nope, the CBP has been treating journalists like suspected criminals, hauling them in for hours of questioning and examining the contents of their phones and laptops.

Oh well. I guess the First Amendment had a good run.

Documents obtained by NBC 7 Investigates show the U.S. government created a secret database of activists, journalists, and social media influencers tied to the migrant caravan and in some cases, placed alerts on their passports.


One photojournalist said she was pulled into secondary inspections three times and asked questions about who she saw and photographed in Tijuana shelters. Another photojournalist said she spent 13 hours detained by Mexican authorities when she tried to cross the border into Mexico City. Eventually, she was denied entry into Mexico and sent back to the U.S.

The documents (which appear to be screenshots of the CBP database) show an extensive list of journalists and activists, along with notes stating whether or not the person was interviewed and/or placed on a CBP “alert” list. The surveillance of protected First Amendment activities is apparently part of the DHS’s “Operation Secure Line,” which monitored the caravan travelling through Mexico to the US border.

Here’s who’s on the list, according to NBC 7’s investigation:

The individuals listed include ten journalists, seven of whom are U.S. citizens, a U.S. attorney, and 47 people from the U.S. and other countries, labeled as organizers, instigators or their roles “unknown.” The target list includes advocates from organizations like Border Angels and Pueblo Sin Frontera.

The CBP’s first statement said this all just normal border-protecting stuff. According to its initial deflection, adding journalists and activists to watchlists that targeted them for enhanced screening and other unpleasantness is all part of the government’s plan to address the multiple caravans headed for our borders. The CBP statement does not explain why targeting lawyers, activists, and journalists is considered an appropriate use of government resources. In fact, it doesn’t attempt to address the database and its contents at all.

And it’s not just secondary screenings and hours-long interviews of people engaging in protected speech. The DHS is apparently compiling entire dossiers about this group of targets — none of which is suspected of participating in criminal behavior. According to a DHS source quoted in the article, the agency doesn’t have the authority to compile information on people not suspected of criminal activity. As the unnamed person notes, DHS isn’t an intelligence agency. It’s a law enforcement agency.

CBP now appears to be in panic mode. An update added to the story indicates the agency is throwing any justification it can against the wall in hopes of something sticking.

Minutes after our story published and five days after a Customs and Border Protection spokesperson gave us the agency’s statement above, CBP told our colleagues at NBC News that the names in the database are all people who were present during violence that broke out at the border in November. The agency also said journalists are being tracked so that the agency can learn more about what started that violence. CBP never clarified that point directly to NBC 7 Investigates.

Even this hasty course correction is a spectacular failure of logic. The CBP is investigating a confrontation at the border… by placing journalists, lawyers, and activists under surveillance? That makes no sense. The CBP can speak to these people without placing them on an alert list and subjecting them to enhanced screening and device searches. If the agency needs to interview witnesses, there are processes for that — none of which look like an attempt to chill press freedom and pro-immigrant activism at the border.

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Comments on “CBP Put A Bunch Of Journalists, Immigration Lawyers, And Activists On A Secret Watchlist”

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Rog S. says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:Nice rategy

Sure, provide proof, name, DOB, and whistle blower incident because Gary said so. Fully identify yourself to "Gary."

Then, more Garys can pile on, and target you more, because Garys and their types who have done little or nothing in the way of protecting rights, or civil luberties, like to sit back as keyboard commandoes, and spit on people who HAVE taken moral or ethical stands.

These are basically rats, chewing through the balast stones of (D)emocracy, in a race to the bottom.

Its the Gary [St]rategy

TFG says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:Nice rategy

The AC claims to be a former whistleblower but is arguing that snitches get what they deserve.

That’s quite the moral stance to take, that journalists should shut up and not report on governmental malfeasance.

Citation is needed regarding his claim to be a former whistleblower in order for this claim to be believed, given that this claim does not jive with his currently stated anti-whistleblower/anti-press stance.

Please take your suppositions and put them in the dumpster where they belong.

Anonymous Coward says:

What about data sharing?

Another photojournalist said she spent 13 hours detained by Mexican authorities when she tried to cross the border into Mexico City. Eventually, she was denied entry into Mexico and sent back to the U.S.

But that wouldn’t be the American CBP denying her entry to Mexico. Is the implication that they’re sharing all this data with Mexico? Or some of it? What about other countries? The story doesn’t explain.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: What about data sharing?

Does it? The closest thing I see is "agents warned her that an alert had been placed on her passport and that she would be pulled into a secondary screening again if she crossed the border."

I’m not familiar with "passport alerts" and don’t see an explanation. Obviously the Mexican officials found out about this alert somehow. Does the USA simply share all such data with Mexico (and other countries?) as a standard policy? Is someone at CBP leaking data selectively?

Toom1275 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: What about data sharing?

Emblazoned on it are the American and Mexican flags, with a banner that reads: "ILU-OASSIS-OMEGA." An official at the Department of Homeland Security said the seal indicates that the documents are a product of the International Liaison Unit (ILU), which coordinates intelligence between Mexico and the United States.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: What about data sharing?

It’s obvious that Mexico got the data, in some cases. What’s not obvious is whether this is permitted by law, or CBP has some weird NSA-style reinterpretation of the law, or a rogue CBP agent (or "rogue" CBP agent, wink wink) is illegally passing data around. That determines whether we need to sue an agent, sue the agency, or rewrite the law.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

This is just a continuation of whats been going on for a very long time. We had Fusion Terrorism Centers doing deep background on some Grandma’s who dared to protest a bank by applying chalk to sidewalk. Somewhere in my memory were charges (possible federal) charging a kid did 100’s of thousands in damage to a bank by calking the sidewalk.

The tools we let them have to keep us ‘safe’ always end up being misused against us… and there is never a downside for those misusing them. How many stories have we had about creeper cops using the databases to try and setup dates with cuties they pulled over, ex’s they want to stalk, etc.

Our government has falling in the the same trap we’ve seen over and over and over…
Protecting our image is job number one!

The DOJ stood in a courtroom & said outloud that reasonable doubt didn’t matter. That just accepting their narrative was the correct thing to do, so they could punish the people who were at a protest (who clearly did nothing wrong but should be responsible for the actions of others) to remind people protesting against the government is bad.

Corporations with political ties manage to avoid investigations into predatory behaviors, but the law gleeful supports their right to prey on citizens. (see also 3000% interest rates on payday loans).

Corporation alleges a website is stealing their music, website taken & held… evidence never appears & they still drag their feet returning it.

Someone alleges someone with power did them wrong, their story is attacked while the accused is treated very fairly (and if you reverse the roles you knwo what happens).

We have to hide these things otherwise the terrorists will win!
We have to have this power so we can catch the terrorists! (pay no attention to the fact we used this law for almost exclusively for drug warrants).
We don’t break the rules of engagement, ignore that video, ignore we tried to get the whistleblower to commit suicide in custody, ignore we are still trying to arrest & punish the leader of the platform who made us look bad.

Broken system is broken, and it just gets worse as long as we allow them to prey upon our fears to chip away rules, laws, oversight allowing them to do all the things they swore they would never do.

We have a zone 100 miles inland from the border that suspends our rights… all in the name of safety! Yet it doesn’t stop terrorists & had enabled a couple serial rapists & serial killers who had CBP badges to hunt… but reporting on that gets you on a watchlist so you can be harrassed so maybe you won’t make them look bad… they care more about how they are seen then if they are putting a serial killer out there to hunt.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

That 100-mile zone is 100% made up and there is no law or amendment to the Constitution that would make that 100-mile zone legal. It is a farce that people have fallen for. It is not legal and everyone pretending it is is just making it worse. The border is the border, period. If they want to shrink that border, I claim the land that used to belong to the US.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The private sector is as or more evil. We’re rotten to the core as a society.

Everyone likes to call themselves the exception while remaining friendly to those in power. Those who don’t have powerful friends (and are clean) are, well, powerless.

We treat sociopathy, violence, dishonesty, and corruption as facts of life when they do not have to be. One day we’ll evolve past this but not likely soon.

"That AC" seems to be a major communications hub between a number of very evil factions. Whenever the data hammer drops this will become very clear. The "clever" name with the initials is quite the tell if one is patient and observant. Of anonymous and coward, the name is only fifty percent accurate.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Oh honey you came back!!!

Please tell the class who you think I am, come right out with it.
Stupider people that you have tried and failed, so surely you can succeed where others have failed.

I openly admit to being an immortal sociopath, yet somehow people take me more seriously than you. That says something.

The pity is you never have anything to refute a single premise I put forward, instead trying to play the ‘we all know who you really are’ card trying to scare me or something…

This "attack" vector is nearly as pointless as the idiot who kept suggesting that I was an ESL speaker, who refused to accept the idea that my native language was in fact LOLCat. I’ve grown weary of the people who attack my spelling & grammar b/c they can’t be bothered to refute the things I’ve said, so they try to draw the focus away.

I misspell words. Oops.

My grammar sucks. Oops.

I turn phrases that sound funny to you, but not to people in other areas of the country. Oops. (But this is intentional on my part masking where I am from).

So please oh please, tell the class who I am, let’s see how right or wrong you end up being.

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

As the unnamed person notes, DHS isn’t an intelligence agency. It’s a law enforcement agency.

That might have been a nice theory on the part of the people who wrote the law that created DHS. But any law enforcement official will tell you that intelligence is an essential part of law enforcement. Just ask NYPD.

The insane thing is that anyone thanks that they can somehow create a law enforcement agency that won’t immediately aspire to become an intelligence agency.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

That is a clear example of doing it wrong. Law enforcement is to be in the open whenever possible as a deterrent because they are alway outnumbered — – if they aren’t they are a massive burden that either needs enforcement in itself or are trustworthy and could be better employed elsewhere. Besides and their role is /public/ order. A law ignored by all fails to be a law and becomes a mere blackmail measure.

Meanwhile intelligence agencies are supposed to be covert and not detected. They even defer taking action using the very intelligence gathered to avoud detection. They also need to find what is more or less /hidden/. Even open but uncounted is more scouting than intelligence as that deals with open logistics. There was one insider trading case that got outright dismissed – the defendant was predicting stock performance based upon company parking lots and the count and newness of vehicles over time. It was all publically available without any lawbreaking so it wasn’t insider trading – there was no privileged information – as opposed to cases where stock traders went to jail for hiring hackers to snoop on company emails.

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