In an email written by Homeland Security undersecretary for management Chip Fulghum obtained by BuzzFeed, department-wide employees in the Department of Homeland Security “were warned … not to disclose “nonpublic information” or potentially face criminal, civil, or administrative consequences.”
“As federal employees, we serve the public, and our loyalties must prioritize that purpose above all others. A violation of the public trust might arise, for example, if DHS personnel disclose nonpublic information or use it for their own personal benefit, such as for monetary gain, or for the private gain of others,” wrote Chip Fulghum, deputy under secretary for management.
“[S]uch unauthorized use or disclosure would be considered a misuse of position and, depending on the nature of the information disclosed, could expose the DHS employee to personal criminal, civil, or administrative consequences,” he warned.
Fulghum told staff “nonpublic information” included details “you know or should have known has not been made available to the general public, is designated as confidential and would not be made public even upon a request,” including material that may be withheld in a Freedom of Information Act request and data that DHS may make public at a later time.
Former DHS senior adviser Scott Shuchart said the memo suggests there may have already been “a significant unauthorized disclosure,” adding that “there have been so many leaks throughout the administration … this sounds like there is some leak that is different in kind and that they are trying to make sure it is the last of its kind.”
The email concludes, stating, ““unauthorized use or disclosure” of information does not include protected whistleblower disclosures, which are those communicating evidence of legal violations, gross mismanagement, waste of funds, and other issues. These disclosures, they said, must be made to Congress, the Office of Special Counsel, or to an Inspector General Office.”
A former chief counsel for United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Ur Jaddou told BuzzFeed the email “appeared to be intimidating in nature.”
“It starts with slapping people down, scaring them and then turning around — ‘I know you have whistleblower protections,’ but the average person is not a lawyer and even if they are a lawyer, if they are not in this area of whistleblower protections it is a little unnerving,” she said. “It would make you think twice about doing your duty.”
According to a January BuzzFeed report warned USCIS employees “not to leak information to the media,” and that “one USCIS official said the directive was puzzling. “If they want to stop people from talking to the press, they got to stop being so scandalous.”
Elsewhere on Wednesday, Fulghum sent a letter requesting DHS employees enlist in up to 45-day work shifts to help Customs and Border Protection officials transport “15–50” people per trip to Border Patrol stations or immigration facilities from remote sites, assist with initial medical assessments of juveniles and adults in custody, transport people to hospitals, distribute meals, and keep track of property.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials are in need of physicians and nurses to evaluate and treat those in their custody, Fulghum said, and attorneys to help with immigration litigation. Previous immigration experience, he said, was not necessary as the office would provide the training.