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.
- Document type
- North America / United States
- Copyright 2023 by Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. All rights reserved.
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