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Built from 22 agencies with disparate missions, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) routinely gathers intelligence to guide its strategic and operational activities. But in the two decades since its inception, scores of incidents have undermined the legitimacy of its intelligence programs.Congress and the department's own general counsel and inspector general, among others, have shown that DHS intelligence officers abused their counterterrorism authorities to suppress racial justice protests after the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer. In support of the Trump administration's goals to undermine the Black Lives Matter movement and spin an election-season story of anarchy, DHS sent intelligence officers to Portland, Oregon, to surveil protestors, create dossiers on dissidents, and enable U.S. Border Patrol special forces to whisk demonstrators away in unmarked vehicles. DHS's Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) also surveilled prominent national security journalists and issued intelligence reports on their tweets. This political targeting was enabled by expansive intelligence authorities and a lack of meaningful checks on discretion.The time has come to rethink DHS intelligence operations and build safeguards that permit the department to provide its leadership with the information it needs while protecting civil rights and civil liberties. This report charts a course for doing so. It focuses initially on I&A, explaining how the office has veered from its counterterrorism mission into tracking social and political movements, often distributing shoddy information and analysis. It then turns to other parts of DHS's intelligence infrastructure, highlighting significant operations run by CBP and ICE as well as situational awareness initiatives, which have often targeted Americans exercising their First Amendment rights. Finally, it explains why the departmental oversight bodies created by Congress to protect civil rights and liberties consistently fail to prevent intelligence abuses at DHS.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has a problem with discriminatory profiling. Too often, it relies on religious, ethnic, or racial stereotypes in carrying out its expansive counterterrorism mandate, as well as its other functions. DHS agents question Muslim travelers about their religious views when they enter the United States and single out Latino communities for detention and deportation. They detain Americans at the border simply based on their country of birth. Officers charged with identifying potentially risky travelers by looking for suspicious behaviors have said that the scientifically discredited program they used amounted to a back door for racial profiling. The administration has disavowed anti-extremism programs that wrongly assumed that Muslims are predisposed to terrorism, and yet DHS continues to fund similar initiatives.DHS must strengthen its nondiscrimination rules, ensure that those rules cover all its activities, and develop effective accountability mechanisms. Building on our recommendations in A Course Correction for Homeland Security: Curbing Counterterrorism Abuses, this report proposes a model policy that would close current gaps. The secretary of homeland security has the authority to adopt such a policy and should waste no time in doing so.
In the wake of 9/11, Congress established a new cabinet agency with a singular mission: to keep the country safe from terrorism. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) brought together 22 agencies with disparate functions under one roof. Two decades on, it struggles to carry out its work effectively and equitably.With the Homeland Security Act of 2002, Congress tasked the new department with keeping the country safe from terrorist attacks. DHS carved out a role for itself in two main areas: partnerships with state, local, tribal, and territorial authorities and screening of travelers and immigrants.Section I of this report identifies the agency's counterterrorism collaborations with state and local authorities and private firms. These programs have routinely surveilled American Muslims, traumatizing entire communities and casting them as hotbeds of terrorism. DHS agents have deployed these very tools against protestors, activists, and journalists.Section II turns to travel and immigration screening programs. DHS has accumulated vast stores of information about people who travel into, out of, and over the United States. The Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), among other DHS components, use this data to draw inferences about them, document their movements, and subject them to warrantless searches and interrogations. Agents do all of this without suspicion of potential wrongdoing. Unsurprisingly, reports of religious or ethnic profiling are common.Section III analyzes DHS's oversight infrastructure. Three primary offices — the Privacy Office, the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL), and the Office of Inspector General (OIG) — have curbed some of the department's transgressions. But they have allowed many other civil rights and civil liberties violations to continue.Finally, this report identifies five avenues for reform: stronger safeguards against profiling; better protections for privacy and free expression; rigorous evaluations of program efficacy; meaningful transparency about data holdings and the implications DHS programs have for civil rights and civil liberties; and more robust internal oversight. Forthcoming Brennan Center reports will delve into these recommendations in greater detail.