For years, the Department of Homeland Security has run a virtually unknown program gathering domestic intelligence, one of many revelations in a wide-ranging tranche of internal documents. Those documents show that a significant number of employees in DHS’s intelligence office have raised concerns that the work they are doing could be illegal, Politico reports. Under the domestic-intelligence program, officials are allowed to seek interviews with most people in the U.S., including those held in immigrant detention centers, local jails, and federal prison. DHS’s intelligence professionals must say they’re conducting intelligence interviews that participation of interviewees is voluntary. The fact that they’re allowed to go directly to incarcerated people — circumventing their lawyers — raises important civil liberties concerns, say legal experts. That element of the program, which has been in place for years, was paused last year because of internal concerns.
DHS’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis, which runs the program, uses it to gather information about threats to the U.S., including transnational drug trafficking and organized crime. The fact that its low-profile office is collecting intelligence by questioning people in the U.S. is virtually unknown .The inner workings of the “Overt Human Intelligence Collection Program” are described in a tranche of internal documents from the Office of Intelligence and Analysis. Those documents and additional interviews revealed widespread internal concerns about legally questionable tactics and political pressure. The documents show that people working there fear punishment if they speak out about mismanagement and abuses. Carrie Bachner, formerly the career senior legislative adviser to the DHS under secretary for intelligence, said the fact that the agency is directly questioning Americans as part of a domestic-intelligence program is deeply concerning, given the history of scandals related to past domestic-intelligence programs by the FBI.