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'Deeply disturbing': House Homeland Security chair on report of CBP investigating journalists and elected officials

·Investigative Correspondent
·2 min read
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WASHINGTON — Rep. Bennie Thompson on Monday joined calls for the Department of Homeland Security to provide information about a secretive unit that was investigating journalists, elected officials and other Americans.

On Saturday, Yahoo News revealed that a unit of Customs and Border Protection, known as the Counter Network Division, investigated up to 20 journalists, as well as members of Congress and their staff. The investigations involved conducting database searches on their travel and looking at whether they had any connections to the terrorism watchlist, as well as gathering other personal data.

Bennie Thompson
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson. (Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)

“If true, this abuse of government surveillance powers to target journalists, elected officials and their staff is deeply disturbing,” Thompson, the Democratic chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement. “The United States government has an obligation to protect all citizens’ right to privacy and freedom of speech. There must be accountability and protections in place to ensure that such incidents never occur.”

The division’s work sparked an FBI probe into a journalist and a Senate staffer, which in turn led the DHS inspector general to investigate the CBP officials involved. While the inspector general referred several employees for possible charges, none were prosecuted, and at least two have returned to work at the agency.

The executive editor of the Associated Press, Julie Pace, also wrote Monday to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, asking why one of its reporters was run through government databases by CBP. “This is a flagrant example of a federal agency using its power to examine the contacts of journalists,” Pace wrote in her letter. “While the actions detailed in the inspector general’s report occurred under a previous administration, the practices were described as routine.”

The inspector general report, completed in 2020, does not appear to have ever been turned over to Congress, despite previous requests.

Ron Wyden
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

“The inspector general must provide this report to Congress to enable critical oversight work,” Thompson said, echoing a demand made Sunday by Sen. Ron Wyden, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

“If the allegations in this story are true, Customs and Border Protection has flagrantly abused government surveillance powers to target journalists and elected officials under the flimsiest of pretenses,” Wyden told Yahoo News in his statement.

The DHS and CBP did not respond to requests for comment, including whether Dan White, one of the employees referred for possible prosecution by the inspector general, is still in a supervisory role at the Counter Network Division.

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