A NBC7 San Diego Investigates report released Wednesday said they obtained documents showing that during the incident of the caravan of the estimated 5000 Central American migrants coming to America seeking asylum late last year the U.S. Government “created a secret database of activists, journalists, and social media influencers tied to the migrant caravan and in some cases, placed alerts on their passports.”
The documents, which came from a source out of Homeland Security under condition of anonymity, show that an application of intelligence gathering “under the umbrella “Operation Secure Line,”” was conducted, operated and used by “agents in Customs and Border (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the U.S. Border Patrol, Homeland Security Investigations and some agents from the San Diego sector of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI)” as well as in coordination with and use and operation by the Mexican Government.
One document shows an emblazoned seal with both the American and Mexican flags with “ILU-OASSIS-OMEGA” on a banner below it. The HLS source told NBC7 “the seal indicated that the documents are a product of the International Liaison Unit (ILU), which coordinates intelligence between Mexico and the United States.”
Below the emblazoned seal reads: “San Diego Sector Foreign Operations Branch; Migrant Caravan FY-2019; Suspected Organizers, Coordinators, Instigators, and Media.”
To view the documents, see NBC7 here.
As the migrant caravan reached the San Ysidro Port of Entry in south San Diego County, so did journalists, attorneys, and advocates who were there to work and witness the events unfolding.
But in the months that followed, journalists who covered the caravan, as well as those who offered assistance to caravan members, said they felt they had become targets of intense inspections and scrutiny by border officials.
One photojournalist said she was pulled into secondary inspections three times and asked questions about who she saw and photographed in Tijuana shelters. Another photojournalist said she spent 13 hours detained by Mexican authorities when she tried to cross the border into Mexico City. Eventually, she was denied entry into Mexico and sent back to the U.S.
These American photojournalists and attorneys said they suspected the U.S. government was monitoring them closely but until now, they couldn’t prove it.NBC7
The obtained documents show a portion of the database listing nearly 50 people including U.S. citizens, seven who were U.S. journalists and one an attorney.
Ariana Drehsler, a freelance photojournalist who has been covering the news of the caravans for BuzzFeed News and United Press International said she estimates she’s crossed at the San Ysidro border dozens of times, but that on December 30th she was pulled into a secondary check by two plainclothes border agents and questioned for over an hour, at one point asking her if she “rented or owned her home.”
Drehsler was questioned two more times in early January by the same plainclothes agents and was told that an alert was placed on her passport and that when traveling she should “plan accordingly.” When asked why, she was told by the agents “they had no idea.”
One freelance photojournalist, US citizen Kitra Cahana – an award-winning documentary photographer “whose work has been featured in National Geographic magazine, The New York Times and the CBC out of Canada” – was detained by Mexican authorities for 13 hours before being denied entrance to Mexico and was made to return to the United States.
In late December, Cahana said, Mexican border agents photographed her’s and several other journalists’ passport photos. Then, in mid-January, Cahana was flagged out of US Customs pre-cleared flight out of Montreal to Mexico for a secondary check and detained while agents questioned her about her work. In her Detroit layover she was flagged and questioned again.
After arriving in Mexico, Cahana’s passport was flagged again.
But when she arrived in Mexico, her passport was flagged again. Cahana said she brought this to a Mexican official and was taken into a back room with another group of detained individuals.
There, Cahana said her phone was taken away and she couldn’t leave the room. When she needed to use the restroom, an agent escorted her.
“I wasn’t allowed to be in communication with anyone, I wasn’t allowed to contact my embassy,” Cahana said. “It was very confusing because my Spanish is quite limited and no one there really spoke English.”
Cahana said the whole ordeal lasted 13 hours and in the end, she was denied entry into Mexico. She had to wait until a plane arrived that could take her back to Detroit, where her flight originated.
Since then, Cahana said she tried one more time to cross the border into Mexico.
“I was trying to cross into Mexico through Guatemala to continue my work covering the caravan and then I was denied again,” Cahana said.
Since confirming her personal date to NBC7, Cahana has said she has contacted the Committee to Protect Journalists (TNB link) “and the ACLU as far as the alert placed on her passport, preventing her access to Mexico.”
The database, the source said, contains dossiers with personal information of people “who officials think should be targeted for screening at the border” and “labeled as organizers, instigators or their roles were ‘unknown’.”
For each person, the documents show their photo, often from their passport but in some cases from their social media accounts, along with their personal information. That information includes the person’s date of birth, their “country of commencement,” and their alleged role tied to the migrant caravan. The information also includes whether officials placed an alert on the person’s passport.
Some individuals have a colored “X” over their photo, indicating whether they were arrested, interviewed, or had their visa or SENTRI pass revoked by officials.
““We are a criminal investigation agency, we’re not an intelligence agency,” the Homeland Security source told NBC 7 Investigates. “We can’t create dossiers on people and they’re creating dossiers. This is an abuse of the Border Search Authority.””
According to CNN, “The Department of Homeland Security inspector general’s office has launched an investigation into the “policies and practices” of Customs and Border Protection, the agency said Thursday in response to a report that the federal government tracked activists, journalists and others related to the migrant caravan that gathered in Tijuana late last year.”
After sending the documents to the agencies involved asking them to confirm the information previous to NBC7 releasing their report, no response was receiving except from CBP only to deny they had ‘created dossiers,” but on Thursday CBP decided to release a full statement.
CBP acknowledged on Thursday that it identified people who may have had information related to two separate border incidents in the region, but said that “efforts to gather this type of information are a standard law enforcement practice.”
“CBP does not target journalists for inspection based on their occupation or their reporting. CBP has policies in place that prohibit discrimination against arriving travelers and has specific provisions regarding encounters with journalists,” said agency spokesman Andrew Meehan.CNN
Now lawmakers have written a letter requesting answers from CPB Commissioner Kevin McAleenan about the report.
In a letter to CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson and Rep. Kathleen Rice, chairwoman of the subcommittee on Border Security, Facilitation, and Operations, requested answers about the report.
“The appearance that CBP is targeting journalists, lawyers, and advocates, and particularly those who work on immigration matters or report on border and immigration issues, raises questions about possible misuse of CBP’s border search authority and requires oversight to ensure the protection of Americans’ legal and constitutional rights,” they wrote.
The ACLU issued a statement Wednesday denouncing the targeting of US citizens, journalists and activists, saying in part, “This is an outrageous violation of the First Amendment. The government cannot use the pretext of the border to target activists critical of its policies, lawyers providing legal representation, or journalists simply doing their jobs,” adding that they are “exploring all options in response.”
For further reading of the Trump administration most recent targeting of journalists see TheNewsBlender‘s Report: State Department rescinded award for journalist for criticism of Trump.
For full content and context read the original reporting from NBC7 News Investigations report: Source: Leaked Documents Show the U.S. Government Tracking Journalists and Immigration Advocates Through a Secret Database
Watchdog investigating CBP amid report the agency targeted journalists, activists; CNN