A bombshell report just revealed a previously secretive domestic intelligence collection program quietly operated for many years within a division of the Department of Homeland Security, Breitbart reported.
Known as the "Overt Human Intelligence Collection Program," it ostensibly allowed government agents to interview virtually any American citizen -- including those incarcerated in jails and prisons, as well as migrants in detention facilities -- without a lawyer being present.
That, obviously, raises serious civil liberties concerns, and according to the report, prompted substantial blowback and questions from the agents tasked with performing the legally dubious interviews.
Politico published a lengthy and detailed report Monday, based on a review of obtained internal documents, about the "Overt Human Intelligence Collection Program," or OHIC, that is run by the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis.
"DHS’s intelligence professionals have to say they’re conducting intelligence interviews, and they have to tell the people they seek to interview that their participation is voluntary," the outlet noted. "But the fact that they’re allowed to go directly to incarcerated people -- circumventing their lawyers -- raises important civil liberties concerns, according to legal experts."
The program was supposedly meant to collect and analyze information about things like cyberattacks, organized crime, terrorism, and transnational drug trafficking, among other things, but according to internal complaints, the program was described as "shady" and "corrupt" and politicized by both sides and highly dubious in terms of its legality and morality, and employees feared they would be retaliated against for speaking out as whistleblowers.
As such, Politico reported that the OHIC program was at least partially paused last year due to internal complaints, and an official told the outlet that certain reforms and more "guardrails" were being implemented.
Left-leaning Salon took note of the Politico report and particularly highlighted the legitimate civil liberties concerns with respect to the interviews of incarcerated individuals without lawyers present, which were supposedly voluntary and not coerced but nevertheless were viewed by the interviewees as being mandatory and coercive in light of their pending legal issues.
"DHS should not be questioning people in immigration or criminal detention for ‘human intelligence’ purposes without far stronger safeguards for their rights," Patrick Toomey, a top executive at the American Civil Liberties Union, told Politico. "While this questioning is purportedly voluntary, DHS’s policy ignores the coercive environment these individuals are held in. It fails to ensure that individuals have a lawyer present, and it does nothing to prevent the government from using a person’s words against them in court."
As for the purported politicization of the program to go after partisan opponents, a former DHS attorney who is now a counsel for the New York University Law School's Brennan Center for Justice, Spencer Reynolds, lamented that such an outcome was likely inevitable for such a domestic intelligence gathering program.
"In recent years, the office’s political leadership -- Democrat and Republican -- has pushed I&A to take a more and more expansive view of its mandate, putting officers in the position of surveilling Americans’ views and associations protected by the U.S. Constitution," Reynolds said in an email.
"There’s a tendency to use the office’s power to paint political opponents -- be they left-wing demonstrators or QAnon truthers -- as extremists and dangerous," he added. "This has had a disastrous impact on morale -- most people don’t join the Intelligence Community to monitor their fellow Americans’ political, religious, and social beliefs. At the same time, leadership has sidelined I&A’s oversight offices, leaving employees with little recourse."
Carrie Bachner, who formerly served as a legislative liaison between Capitol Hill and DHS from 2006 to 2010, told Politico of the OHIC program, "I don’t know any counsel in their right mind that would sign off on that, and any member of Congress that would say, 'That’s OK.'"
"If these people are out there interviewing folks that still have constitutional privileges, without their lawyer present, that’s immoral," she added.