A Department of Homeland Security domestic intelligence gathering is so concerning that even employees were questioning its legality, Daily Caller reported. One employee called President Joe Biden's DHS "shady" and said it "runs like a corrupt government."
Under the Orwellian-sounding Overt Human Intelligence Collection Program, the DHS has for years conducted voluntary interviews with vulnerable people. They would gather information from migrants held at detention centers and incarcerated prisoners in local and federal jails.
Employees were concerned about whether this was legal but were reluctant to speak out for fear of retribution, Politico reported. A 2021 report from unnamed employees said they thought the government should provide liability insurance given the questionable legality.
The program existed both under Biden and former President Donald Trump. However, civil liberties are outraged that people are being questioned without being advised of their Miranda rights or having an attorney present.
They claim participants were "willing sources who voluntarily share information," according to documents from the program. Volunteers were told that the government would "not exercise any preferential or prejudicial treatment in exchange for the source’s cooperation."
Still, the existence of the program harkens back to other scandals, including one in the FBI. "I don’t know any counsel in their right mind that would sign off on that, and any member of Congress that would say, ‘That’s OK,'" former senior legislative adviser to the DHS undersecretary for intelligence Carrie Bachner said.
"If these people are out there interviewing folks that still have constitutional privileges, without their lawyer present, that’s immoral." The government has been tight-lipped about the program despite its implications but still insists all is above board.
"The true measure of a government organization is its ability to persevere through challenging times, openly acknowledge and learn from those challenges, and move forward in service of the American people," Kenneth Wainstein, DHS undersecretary for intelligence and analysis, said in a statement. "The Office of Intelligence and Analysis has done just that over the past few years ...," he added.
"Together, we will ensure that our work is completely free from politicization, that our workforce feels free to raise all views and concerns, and that we continue to deliver the quality, objective intelligence that is so vital to our homeland security partners." Those promises have done little to quell the fears of government overreach.
Perhaps that's because domestic spying is nothing new for the government and has existed under Republican and Democratic administrations. Arguably the most famous and most controversial program was exposed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, Reason reported.
Snowden revealed how the National Security Agency was gathering intelligence on Americans mostly unprompted. However, nearly 10 years later, the judiciary won't rule on the legality of the program deemed too secret.
On Feb. 21, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a motion for a legal challenge to the "Upstream" surveillance operation brought by Wikimedia Foundation. "Under this program, the NSA systematically searches the contents of internet traffic entering and leaving the United States, including Americans' private emails, messages, and web communications," the organization said.
"The Supreme Court's denial leaves in place a divided ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which dismissed Wikimedia's case based on the government's assertion of the 'state secrets privilege.'" The NSA is apparently free to collect information on electronic messages and communications, including for American citizens, at will and indefinitely.
These types of programs are concerning regardless of who is in the White House. There is a dangerous precedent of spying on American citizens, and there seems to be little accountability for it -- and that's a frightening combination.