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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.