from the which-do-you-prefer?-a.)-spying-for-us-or-b.)-being-arrested? dept
The FBI and CBP have been using the nation's borders as recruiting stations for informants. This phrasing makes it sound a lot more voluntary than it actually is. The Intercept has obtained documents showing how these two agencies work together to pressure foreign visitors into basically becoming spies for the United States.
The FBI gives CBP a list of countries of origin to watch out for among passengers, sometimes specifying other characteristics, such as travel history or age. It also briefs CPB officers on its intelligence requirements. The CBP sifts through its data to provide the bureau with a list of incoming travelers of potential interest. The FBI can then ask CBP to flag people for extra screening, questioning, and follow-up visits. According to the documents, the FBI uses the border questioning as a pretext to approach people it wants to turn informant and inserts itself into the immigration process by instructing agents on how to offer an “immigration relief dangle.”
These documents confirm what was alleged in a lawsuit filed by Rahinah Ibrahim two years ago. Her filing pointed out that the FBI has used threats in the past to secure cooperation, like revoking traveling privileges or trying to prosecute immigrants for minor crimes. Ibrahim's lawsuit had another allegation: the secret "no fly" list is also being used as a coercive tool, with agents threatening to add travelers' names to the list if they refused to go to work as informants.
The documents obtained here note that the joint recruiting efforts have expanded far past the nation's border. Some form exists in every airport in the nation. Travel to and from certain countries is flagged for extra scrutiny. The CBP collects extensive data on everything crossing US borders -- people or products -- and turns this over to the FBI with any potential targets pre-flagged. It also provides the FBI with a list of passengers expected to arrive from "countries of interest" at the nation's airports within the next 72 hours.
The CBP is supposedly in the border-securing business and the FBI in the law enforcement business, but these directives turn them both into intelligence agencies. This has made both agencies far more interested in recruitment and data harvesting than their original directives. The documents show that the CBP tends to grab the most data, starting with basic traveler information. There is no predetermined endpoint to the CBP's investigative work. Secondary screenings at borders could run from a few minutes to several hours, depending on how much the CBP wants to harvest.
The CBP materials indicate that as part of secondary inspections, CBP can search “pocket litter,” documents, and cellphones. The April 2012 presentation promises a “full cell dump, including #s, text messages, pictures, etc.” at certain airports.
Everything is passed on to the Joint Terrorism Task Force, which then starts the uglier work of pushing certain travelers into becoming informants, using both carrots, sticks and, in some cases, visits to their homes. Immigration revocation threats are common. So is the promise of benefits. But in both cases, the FBI -- working with CBP info -- is using motivations it can't actually offer or revoke.
When potential informants are not U.S. citizens, they may be particularly vulnerable to pressure from the FBI. Indeed, the bureau is counting on people thinking that FBI involvement in immigration decisions is normal, the documents indicate. In reality, FBI agents are expressly forbidden from promising immigration benefits to potential informants or threatening deportation.
The agency apparently believes deceiving foreign citizens during the recruitment process causes zero damage.
“If subject is deemed ‘recruitable,’” the slides state, then a “series of overt interviews set into motion.” If the person is “not recruitable,” then “NO HARM. Subject believes that the interview is part of the immigration process.”
This is why these recruitment efforts work. The FBI is counting on the ignorance of visiting travelers to help it turn visitors into informants. A suspicionless detention in which several invasive questions are asked is considered to be "no harm," and the FBI will just move on to the next suggestion from CBP. And even if they think this might have been out of the ordinary, what are they going to do? Complain to another person in uniform and hope that the implied threats of deportation are bogus?