(Headline USA) The Associated Press sought answers Monday from the Department of Homeland Security on its use of sensitive government databases for tracking international terrorists to investigate as many as 20 American journalists, including one of its own reporters.
In a letter to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, AP Executive Editor Julie Pace urged the agency to explain why the name of Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Martha Mendoza was run through the databases and identified as a potential confidential informant, as detailed in a report by Homeland Security’s inspector general.
“This is a flagrant example of a federal agency using its power to examine the contacts of journalists,” Pace wrote. “While the actions detailed in the inspector general’s report occurred under a previous administration, the practices were described as routine.”
The push appeared to be related to an incident during the Trump administration, although it is unclear whether DHS continued the practice this year under the current Biden administration.
It comes amid growing alarm over Biden’s attempts to coerce already egregiously biased members of the mainstream media into writing more favorable coverage, while also weaponizing the Justice Department to raid and monitor conservative journalims outfits like Project Veritas.
No respectable model of salvaging democratic norms would include badgering journalists to write only positive stories about the most powerful person in the world. https://t.co/a59pQN8q6s
— Ryan Lizza (@RyanLizza) December 5, 2021
But many in the media remain more than happy to lay cover for the administration and encourage its harrassment of conservative media—ironically undermining their own faux outrage over Trump’s efforts to rein in hostile and disruptive journalists.
The DHS investigation of U.S. journalists, as well as congressional staff and perhaps members of Congress, was first reported by Yahoo News and AP on Saturday.
It represents the latest apparent example of an agency created in the wake of the 9/11 attacks using its vast capabilities to target American citizens.
Such concerns were widely ignored in the George W. Bush and Barack Obama years until Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing reports to Glenn Greenwald exposed the unfathomable efforts at domestic surveillance.
Moreover, during the Obama administration, federal investigators secretly seized phone records for some reporters and editors at the AP. Those seizures involved office and home lines as well as cellphones.
But Democrats largely withheld criticism until the July 2020 race riots, when DHS deployed poorly or unidentified agents in military-style uniforms to sweep people off the streets of Portland, Oregon, and hustle them into unmarked cars during protests outside the federal courthouse in the city.
This latest revelation prompted Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. to call on DHS to immediately turn over the inspector general report to Congress.
“If multiple government agencies were aware of this conduct and took no action to stop it, there needs to be serious consequences for every official involved, and DHS and the Justice Department must explain what actions they are taking to prevent this unacceptable conduct in the future,” said Wyden.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, the Mississippi Democrat who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, said, “If true, this abuse of government surveillance powers to target journalists, elected officials and their staff is deeply disturbing.”
CBP said in a statement over the weekend that its vetting and investigative practices are “strictly governed” and that the agency doesn’t investigate without a legitimate and legal basis to do so.
Mayorkas and DHS had no immediate response to the letter from Pace, which called for “assurances that these improper practices and apparent abuse of power will not continue going forward.”
That would be in line with recent order from Attorney General Merrick Garland prohibiting the seizing of records of journalists in leak investigations. But Garland’s actions in the recent harassment and raid on Project Veritas undermine any claims that he is equally committed to upholding press confidentiality rights regardless of political ideology.
The DHS inspector general report that revealed the most recent disclosure of investigations of journalists also stemmed from a Trump-era leak investigation.
The IG was looking into the actions of Jeffrey Rambo, a Border Patrol agent who was on temporary duty with a Customs and Border Protection unit in the Washington D.C. area in 2017 when he accessed government travel records as part of a leak investigation involving reporter Ali Watkins, who was with Politico at the time and now writes for The New York Times.
The inspector general opened its investigation after media reports exposed Rambo and his investigation of Watkins.
In the course of its investigation, the IG learned from Rambo that he had routinely run checks on journalists and others, including congressional staff, while working at the CBP unit, the Counter Network Division.
Rambo told investigators that he queried its databases about Mendoza before trying to establish a relationship with her because of her expertise in writing about forced labor, an area of concern for CBP because it enforces import restrictions. The AP reporter is a known expert on the subject who won her second her second Pulitzer Prize in 2016 as part of a team that reported on slave labor in the fishing industry in Southeast Asia.
The AP, in a separate statement from the Pace letter, also sought an explanation for the use of the databases to investigate Mendoza and other journalists.
“We are deeply concerned about this apparent abuse of power,” the AP said. “This appears to be an example of journalists being targeted for simply doing their jobs, which is a violation of the First Amendment.”
The inspector general referred its findings to a federal prosecutor for possible charges of misusing government databases and lying to investigators, but the Justice Department declined to prosecute Rambo and two other Homeland Security employees.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press