Is ICE Now Aided By ‘Enhanced’ Spy Powers?

Canary. Photo by 4028mdk09.

ICYMI, readers are reminded about this March 8 Canary report, Trump Administration Created Secret Database of Dossiers Targeting US Citizens & Journalists at Border.

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.

Now reports are saying the Trump administration’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) which houses ICE “has quietly grown closer to as least one of America’s intelligence agencies.”

“According to a letter from a top American intelligence official” that was reviewed by The Daily Beast, a change involving collection methods “which came behind closed doors and without fanfare” has left civil liberty advocates with acute concerns.

The revelation came in a letter that David Glawe, DHS’ undersecretary for intelligence and analysis, wrote to Congress late last year. This letter, the contents of which have not been previously reported, sheds new light on ICE’s relationship with the 17 U.S. government organizations that collect and analyze intelligence, known collectively as the Intelligence Community or IC. But the letter also raises a host of questions.

Glawe wrote the letter in response to an inquiry that Reps. Michael McCaul and Bennie Thompson—then the chairman and ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security—sent to then-DHS Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen on Sept. 28, 2018. In McCaul and Thompson’s letter, which The Daily Beast also reviewed, the members asked about the aspirations of ICE and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials to join the Intelligence Community (The Daily Beast was the first to report about those aspirations). Their letter asked how the potential change might benefit national security.

Glawe’s response, dated Nov. 13, 2018, said he and Nielsen had vetoed ICE and CBP’s plans to join the Intelligence Community.

“The Secretary of Homeland Security and I agree that this is not the right time to pursue potential IC membership for CBP and ICE,” he wrote.

Glawe then set about making it a priority of reorganizing the Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) which is a part of the DHS and also is a member of the US Intelligence Community (IC), “frustrating some career officials.”

In a move that former intelligence officials have said are “especially problematic,” as part of Glawe’s and DHS reorganization was to disband Domestic Terror Intelligence Unit, “the group of intelligence analysts who focused on domestic terrorism” and a unit of the I&A.

[M]ultiple sources in DHS have told The Daily Beast the change concerns them. And members of Congress have said they share those fears.

In the letter, Glawe wrote that cooperation between I&A and ICE has grown. He made this revelation in a wordy, vague paragraph laden with intel jargon:

“As a result of this realignment, as well as our ongoing efforts to integrate DHS field and functional intelligence activities into a fully synchronized and cohesive enterprise; I&A is providing improved and enhanced intelligence capabilities to DHS components, including ICE and CBP, as well as the interagency. These capabilities include collection, reporting, and analysis to support a DHS enterprise that fuses intelligence into operational functions, disciplines, and activities to inform actions that neutralize threats to the homeland. The cumulative impact of these efforts are more focused and integrated intelligence capabilities and products which meet customer requirements.”

Read literally—as these letters should be—Glawe’s letter says ICE has received “enhanced intelligence capabilities,” including collection. “Collection” refers to the process of gathering information and intelligence. Some collection methods generate acute concern among civil liberties advocates. Perhaps the most notable in recent memory was the NSA’s bulk collection of information about Americans’ communications with each other. The IC reduced its use of one of those programs, authorized under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, after Edward Snowden exposed it. Another surveillance authorization—known as 702, for a section in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—lets the NSA hoover up Americans’ personal email communication. Congress reauthorized it last year, after a contentious debate that Trump himself almost torpedoed. 

According to Project on Government Oversight lawyer Jake Laperruque – who’s primary focus is on privacy and surveillance issues – Glawe’s letter raises many questions about certain key phrases, such as “fuses intelligence into operational functions” and “activities to inform actions,” saying that sounds like a “type of information sharing arrangement going on,”

“If information is coming from PATRIOT Act Sec. 215 or FISA Section 702, that would be a huge controversy,” Laperruque said.

ACLU’s National Security Project‘s senior staff attorney Patrick Toomey said, “The public should know far more about any ‘improved and enhanced’ intelligence capabilities DHS has developed,” adding that it if the DHS is collecting and analyzing sensitive information that “it is vital the public understands the kinds” of information they are gathering – “including whether ICE is relying on any expanded spying or data-mining capabilities for domestic immigration enforcement.”

The Daily Beast emailed a few questions to the top DHS spokespersons several days before publication: What kind of enhanced capabilities does ICE now have? Is ICE collecting publicly available information, private information, or both? Does any of the collection involve scanning people’s social media accounts?

DHS did not respond to DB’s questions, nor to multiple follow-up emails.

“Public brawls, fights, and firings have drawn more attention than ever to DHS. But the quiet changes it doesn’t talk about may be among the department’s most enduring.”

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