Rogue CBP Agent Decided To 'Drain The Swamp' By Tracking Down A Journalist To Sniff Out Her Sources

from the christ-what-an-asshole dept

The DOJ has decided it can safely threaten First Amendment protections, so long as it's done in the pursuit of leakers. The Trump Administration has leaked like no other, prompting AG Jeff Sessions to triple-up on former president Obama's war on whistleblowers. Omelets/eggs broken, I suppose, if the end goal is dialing back leaks to only the ones the administration approves of.

It's cool to target journalists' communications again. That's the general mood of the DOJ, which slapped itself on the wrist during Eric Holder's tenure for hoovering up AP journalists' communications, only to reverse course when the desire to prosecute leakers surpassed its desire to not look like a thuggish force of government oppression.

The indictment of Senate Intelligence Committee advisor James Wolfe contained a lot of journalists' communications and metadata obtained from several sources, including service providers these journalists used. This was disturbing enough, suggesting the new normal for leak investigations is targeting members of the press to work backwards to their anonymous sources.

But there's even more shadiness going on than is observable from that single indictment. A self-appointed freedom fighter with the unbelievable last name of Rambo was apparently trying to suss out journalist Ali Watkins' sources. (Watkins' email and communications data were subpoenaed during the Wolfe investigation.) The first hints that something weird and disturbing was going on behind the scenes was published by The Washington Post. It detailed the apparently rogue (and illegal) actions of a government employee prior to the delivery of the Wolfe indictment.

The actions of a Customs and Border Protection agent who confronted a reporter covering national security issues about her confidential sources are being examined by the CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility, the agency said in a statement Tuesday.

The agent, Jeffrey A. Rambo, contacted journalist Ali Watkins last June as the Trump administration was ramping up its investigations of unauthorized leaks to reporters, and he identified himself as a government agent.

Rambo met with Watkins at a restaurant in Washington after initially contacting her by email. A reporter taking such a meeting with a potential source would not be unusual.

But after he arrived, Rambo said the administration was eager to investigate journalists and learn the identity of their confidential sources to stanch leaks of classified information. He questioned Watkins broadly about her reporting and how she developed information, according to the people familiar with the incident, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter.

The "examination" is now an official investigation, the New York Times reports. More details about Rambo's actions have surfaced, suggesting flagrant abuse of sensitive government databases for the purpose of tracking down Watkins and pressuring her to divulge her sources.

The agent, Jeffrey A. Rambo, who usually worked in the San Diego area, was temporarily assigned at the time to the National Targeting Center, a facility in Sterling, Va., operated by Customs and Border Protection that stores data on the travel of millions of Americans and foreigners. Such information is supposed to be used only under strict rules by immigration and law enforcement officials.

Now the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general and investigators from the border agency are examining whether Mr. Rambo used the travel data improperly or illegally and whether anyone else was involved.

It doesn't appear anyone directed Rambo to meet with Watkins and attempt to discover the identities of her sources. From the statements given to the New York Times, it appears Rambo was simply a self-starter bursting with misdirected gumption.

It remains unclear whether Mr. Rambo handled or heard about an official F.B.I. request to the center for Mr. Wolfe’s travel records, and, if so, whether that led to the discovery that Ms. Watkins was his traveling companion. According to Ms. Watkins’s accounts, Mr. Rambo spoke with enthusiasm to her about Mr. Trump’s crackdown on leaks, telling her that “we’re finally going to be able to drain the swamp,” raising the possibility that he had searched the database for her records on his own initiative.

It really doesn't matter whether Rambo felt draining the swamp was his own personal mission or someone on the inside suggested he check the situation out. Either way, it's an abuse of Rambo's position and access. The DOJ started screwing the pooch with its demand for journalists' records and communications and Rambo came along to botch the job and clumsily bury the canine after performing a hit-and-run on his own career. This is scary stuff and it's not being helped by the anti-journalist attitude being fostered by the man at the top of the governmental food chain.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Jul 2018 @ 7:58pm

    Next up it will be NYC

    NYC seems to think it too has the right to research people including journalists. It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest to find out they have been performing similar amateur investigation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Jul 2018 @ 8:16pm

    Well within security concerns, going after actual illegal LEAKS.

    First, isn't this plain error: "journalist Emily Watkins' sources"? Heh, heh.

    Now, you don't mention that the utterly Establishment SWAMP CREATURE New York Times is still defending its reporter. It's a key point.

    identified himself as a government agent.

    The fiend!

    Rambo said the administration was eager to investigate journalists and learn the identity of their confidential sources to stanch leaks of classified information.

    And... YOUR objection to this evil amount of truth-telling is WHAT?

    He questioned Watkins broadly about her reporting and how she developed information, according to the people familiar with the incident, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter.

    Pretty clearly, he has run afoul not of me and most people, but of The Establishment -- of which Techdirt is a tiny goose-stepping part.

    "examining whether" ... "It remains unclear" ... "raising the possibility"

    Means that illegalities aren't even yet confirmed: minion here is doing hysterics sheerly from the audacity of any person in gov't acting for the good of the country, instead of "the swamp".

    It really doesn't matter whether Rambo felt draining the swamp was his own personal mission or someone on the inside suggested he check the situation out.

    Again, shows that minion objects to ANY attempt to "drain the [Establishment's] swamp".

    Either way, it's an abuse of Rambo's position and access.

    NO, that's just your assertion at this point, and when so stated without any actual evidence in support, only the fact of an "investigation" ongoing, is a LIE.

    The only good of this attack piece is gave me cause to comment in this cesspit. Typical pro-Establishment ending to exceptionally dull week.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Jul 2018 @ 8:20pm

      Re: Well within security concerns, going after actual illegal LEAKS.

      Did Pruitt lend you his soundproof booth yet?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Toom1275 (profile), 13 Jul 2018 @ 8:21pm

      Re: Well within security concerns, going after actual illegal LEAKS.

      Thanks for the view from planet Htrae.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Jul 2018 @ 8:49pm

      You are the kind who will kiss the boot stomping on your face

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 13 Jul 2018 @ 11:20pm

        Re: You are the kind who will kiss the boot stomping on your face

        I don't think out_of_the_blue would stop at kissing. Too vanilla for his tastes.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Jul 2018 @ 3:50am

      Re: Well within security concerns, going after actual illegal LEAKS.

      jesus christ, put a gun to your head and stop the madness. can't imagine the hell it is living in your head!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Stop the Lunacy, Fringe, 15 Jul 2018 @ 11:24pm

        Re: Re: Well within security concerns, going after actual illegal LEAKS.

        Its far more telling of your own head hells that you'd demand someone kill themselves for simply having an opinion with which you do not agree. If this is how you react, you're a boil on the anal sphincter of society.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 14 Jul 2018 @ 8:22am

      Re:

      YOUR objection to this evil amount of truth-telling is WHAT?

      Journalists rely on the whole “keeping sources confidential” thing to learn information from said sources that they might not otherwise discover. Deep Throat would have never come forward if he had thought he would be outed by Woodward and Bernstein.

      Pretty clearly, he has run afoul not of me and most people, but of The Establishment -- of which Techdirt is a tiny goose-stepping part.

      Godwinned already, damn.

      Means that illegalities aren't even yet confirmed: minion here is doing hysterics sheerly from the audacity of any person in gov't acting for the good of the country, instead of "the swamp".

      They may not be confirmed, but if an investigation is happening, enough smoke has billowed up to make people believe there is a fire. While Agent Rambo may have believed he was acting, as you put it, “for the good of the country”, execution overrides intent every time—and if his actions found to be illegal/out of bounds of his duties, they cannot and should not be excused by “good intentions”.

      Again, shows that minion objects to ANY attempt to "drain the [Establishment's] swamp".

      You might hate any news source that is not InfoWars, but you would not be able to do nearly as much complaining as you do if “The Establishment” went belly-up overnight. Count yourself lucky you have a target for all your pent-up (and impotent) rage.

      that's just your assertion at this point, and when so stated without any actual evidence in support, only the fact of an "investigation" ongoing, is a LIE.

      If the claims against Agent Rambo are proven true, his actions would be an abuse of his position and access; if they are proven false, the supposed actions would still count as an abuse of the position and access afforded to agents like Rambo, and this situation could possibly serve as a warning to people who would carry out such abuses.

      Show me where I lied.

      The only good of this attack piece is gave me cause to comment in this cesspit.

      If you hate this site and everyone who writes/comments here, why do you continue to come back here?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 14 Jul 2018 @ 6:01pm

        Re: Re:

        If you hate this site and everyone who writes/comments here, why do you continue to come back here?

        Obsessive fixation on the site that could very well(and likely does given how long they've been doing it) reach the level of an actual psychological issue.

        Of course the best part is that by calling the site a cesspit and then wallowing in it for so long they've said a lot more about themself than the site, even if they were right. Still, at least they never fail to entertain.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Toom1275 (profile), 14 Jul 2018 @ 10:25pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Funny thing, it's only a "cesspit" whenever they show up.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 15 Jul 2018 @ 2:40am

          Re: Re: Re:

          out_of_the_blue has once claimed that he is unable to leave. In the context that he considered himself physically incapable of literally visiting any other website. This came months after he resurfaced in circa 2015 to drop a snarky (by his standards) message on a Funniest/Insightful column early in the year thinking nobody would notice.

          He's now assumed the position of "I could leave, but fuck you". All the while drawing attention to his own failings by asking other readers to track his progress over the years. Once you click the link back to the comment Dark Helmet made which permanently shoved a stick up blue boy's ass, you have a good idea from the early 2010s of the sort of genius that drives this copyright fanatic.

          You could not make this level of failure up.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            PaulT (profile), 16 Jul 2018 @ 2:30am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            "out_of_the_blue has once claimed that he is unable to leave. In the context that he considered himself physically incapable of literally visiting any other website"

            Well, he's evolved now to some degree, as one of his go-to "I can't disagree with anything in the article but still have to perform a negative attack" moves is to whine about things covered on Torrentfreak but not here - a site he used to claim linking to here meant you supported piracy, no less.

            "You could not make this level of failure up."

            Well, you could, but nobody would believe it.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Jul 2018 @ 9:40pm

    [Related] DoJ Response to Sen Wyden

    DOJ letter listing subpoenaed reporters did not name NYT journalist”, by Max Greenwood, The Hill, July 11, 2018

    The seizure of [] New York Times reporter [Ali Watkins]'s email and phone records was not mentioned in a Justice Department letter addressing its use of law enforcement tools to collect journalists' communications.

    The letter, dated March 5, came in response to an October 2017 request by Sen. Ron Wyden . . .

    [N]owhere in the letter, which was first reported by BuzzFeed News, did Boyd mention the seizure of New York Times reporter Ali Watkins's email and phone records . . .

    A Reporter Who Had Her Records Seized Wasn’t On A List Of Subpoenaed Journalists The Justice Department Sent To A Senator”, by Zoe Tillman, BuzzFeed, July 11, 2018

    The department’s response letter dated March 5, 2018, obtained by BuzzFeed News, listed instances from “January 2012 to the present.” Not included: the seizure of New York Times reporter Ali Watkins’ email and phone records.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 14 Jul 2018 @ 12:29am

    They like to talk about how citizens are doing all these unamaerican things...
    Do they not have mirrors?

    Perhaps before decrying others, clean out your own damn house.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Jul 2018 @ 3:56am

      Re:

      Being American now means bowing to an authoritarian government and not looking into what they are really doing, so leaking is the most unamerican thing anybody can do, followed closely by publishing leaks

      (I will leave it up to the reader to decide the level of sarcasm being exhibited.)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 14 Jul 2018 @ 1:15am

    What for?

    The actions of a Customs and Border Protection agent who confronted a reporter covering national security issues about her confidential sources are being examined by the CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility, the agency said in a statement Tuesday.

    Are they trying to figure out whether to give him a raise or promotion or medal? Is he going to hold pep talks?

    Are there supposed to be consequences discouraging future such action? Or is this more trying to look into how agents may employ personal initiative for breaking the law for the government's gain?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JoeCool (profile), 14 Jul 2018 @ 4:41am

    Epic hypocrisy

    How the hell do you "drain the swamp" by covering up corruption? I guess they're going by the old adage - if you can't see it/don't heat about it, it doesn't exist.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anon E Mouse, 14 Jul 2018 @ 4:46am

    On the plus side, this rogue agent had a fitting name.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Jul 2018 @ 6:44am

    More fake leaks == more excuses for their draconian measures.

    Sorta like the music publishers pirating their own copyright to justify their calls for ridiculous measures.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 14 Jul 2018 @ 11:29am

    Lies, Secrets, and honesty..

    There are things that need to be secret, FOR A SHORT TIME..
    As no secret is ever, forever.

    A Secret isnt to protect or HIDE a persons information, Such as HOW a Gov. Employee(Congress, reps) voted on a bill that REMOVED PERSONAL protections, or released a Corp from following the law..
    Why would the secrets act allow for something to be hidden for 40 years?? They are all DEAD and there is no responsibility, left to enforce..

    Still true..that there are secrets that NEED to be held for a time. And released, and open to see..BECAUSE YOU DIDNT DO IT AGAINST THE LAW..

    Then comes the journalist/reporter/person to release the information..
    WOULD you NOT verify the information..? unless you dont care about facts, you would TRY to prove anything stipulated in the forms/paper/documents..
    UNLESS YOU DONT MIND LOOKING AS AN IDIOT..

    I love the idea that the Military had access to an OPEN channel that led to many Countries to be read and copied..
    Or was it? To me it sounds more like a Spy network channel. How many countries Speak the same language..
    It probably shows more then you think, BUT Im not going into conspiracies here..Thats for another channel.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jul 2018 @ 2:11am

    Stalking

    Stalking under color of law. Amazing the shit you get away with when you have a shiny badge (or anything the uneducated might mistake for such).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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