CBP Now Has Access To NSA, CIA Collections

from the fantastic-news-for-authoritarians dept

Welcome to the Intelligence Community, CBP!

Pushing further toward its goal of “extreme vetting,” the Trump administration is creating a new center in suburban Virginia that will allow immigration agents to access, for the first time, the sprawling array of information scooped up by America’s intelligence agencies, from phone calls intercepted by the National Security Agency to material gathered by the CIA’s spies overseas to tips from informants in Central America.

CBP and ICE have been pushing for this for several months now, nudged along by an administration that has decided to treat immigration as a national emergency rather than an explicit endorsement of the American Dream™. Now that immigrants crossing the border are "threats" rather than potential contributing American citizens, CBP has been given access to intelligence gathered by foreign-facing intelligence agencies.

"National security = border security" says our nation's president, his administration, and his revolving door of short-lived agency heads. This greatly overstates the reality of the situation. Multiple studies have shown immigrants tend to be less dangerous than natural born citizens, but the Man Up Top still believes our last president was a Kenyan interloper so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Multiple agencies have access to data collected by intelligence agencies. The FBI in particular loves the backdoor searches these supposedly foreign-facing collections offer. Working backwards from overseas connections, the FBI can engage in secondhand domestic surveillance, all without troubling the Constitution enough for courts or Congress to shut this bullshit down.

Add CBP to that list. When not harassing foreigners because they're foreigners, the CBP can (theoretically but come on, how long until some abuse is exposed?) continue its surveillance of domestic journalists, lawyers, and activists, all without worrying too much about this snooping being exposed in court proceedings. Once you tap into natsec pipelines, you have a built-in STFU when people start asking questions.

This snooping will be added to the list of things CBP gets away with due to its border/national security tasking. The Constitution is barely applied at the border, so things the CBP does won't be subjected to the strictest scrutiny.

All of this alone would be reason to worry. But as Melissa del Bosque's report for ProPublica points out, the volatility of this particular administration adds additional concerns to the mix. Oversight is already kind of a joke. Direct control of this access is going to be up in the air until at least 2021.

“You have an acting secretary who could be gone in an hour by tweet,” said Carrie Cordero, a senior fellow with the Washington-based bipartisan think tank Center for a New American Security. “The general counsel for DHS, who ultimately has the responsibility for making sure that oversight rules are followed, was just fired. So, there’s real questions as to what kind of management decisions are being made.”

Laying the groundwork now ensures this will be perfectly lawful and normal going forward. It will take more than a regime change to claw back CBP's access to IC collections once they've been codified. Congress had a line drawn between domestic law enforcement agencies and foreign-facing intelligence agencies, but that line has been blurred over the past 18 years. The FBI has rebranded itself as a counterterrorist agency and other law enforcement entities have insisted their drug war is a global effort that shouldn't be limited by firewalls meant to protect Americans from domestic snooping.

President Trump, however, has decided protecting Americans doesn't make America great.

Trump’s memo requires even the most sensitive intelligence agencies, including the NSA and the CIA, to share classified intelligence with the CBP-run center. It also requires the center to expand vetting beyond counterterrorism into new areas such as transnational crime and counterintelligence.

If you think CBP won't abuse its access to expand its questionable targeting of journalists, activists, and immigration lawyers, you haven't been paying attention to the last six years of leaks and FOIA documents. The NSA has abused its collections. The FBI has abused the NSA's collections. The CIA has abused pretty much everything it's touched, domestic or foreign. And the CBP has abused its powers to perform surveillance of people engaged in protected or privileged communications. This isn't good news for anyone.

Filed Under: cbp, cia, intelligence data, law enforcement, nsa, surveillance


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2019 @ 4:13pm

    This is where rando foreign and domestic operatives are going to get access to the Mass Surveillance Pipe and use it for their own purposes. Of all the agencies to have access to collections, this will be be the most leaky, insecure one with the most awful, low-quality employees.


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