Tuesday, June 18, 2024

DHS Caught Using Fake Social Media Accounts

‘Undercover operations often require criminal investigators to appear to be engaged in a criminal enterprise and to befriend or become business associates with the targets of their investigation...'

(Ken Silva, Headline USA) A sprawling and possibly illegal Homeland Security program to use fake social media accounts for undercover operations has been revealed by a lawsuit from the non-profit Brennan Center for Justice.

The Brennan Center said Wednesday that it has obtained 35 Social Media Operational Use Templates, which are forms that DHS agencies submit to the department’s privacy office to obtain approval for proposed uses of social media.

Of these, at least 14 allow officers to use accounts that do not “indicate an official DHS affiliation” or are not registered using a DHS email, the organization said. Twelve of these explicitly permit the use of fake accounts, the organization said.

“In addition, we received a template authorizing undercover social media use by ICE’s powerful law enforcement arm, Homeland Security Investigations, which asserts that ‘undercover operations often require’ criminal investigators to ‘appear to be engaged in a criminal enterprise and to befriend or become business associates’ with the targets of their investigation,” the Brennan Center said.

The DHS’s online tactics likely violate the policies of major social media companies, which have restrictions on using fake accounts to impersonate others. For instance, Facebook sent the Los Angeles Police Department a cease-and-desist letter after the Brennan Center exposed the LAPD’s online covert social media program.

“While the legitimacy of such policies may be up to the LAPD, officers must abide by Facebook’s policies when creating accounts on our services,” Facebook attorney Roy Austin told LAPD Chief Michel Moore in November 2021.

“The Police Department should cease all activities on Facebook that involve the use of fake accounts, impersonation of others, and collection of data for surveillance purposes.”

With the DHS, the Brennan Center—which is non-partisan, but leans left—raised particular concern about immigrants being targeted.

But similar tactics have been used to provoke terrorism plots, such as when FBI informants used Facebook accounts to network with militias in 2020 in a supposed conspiracy to kidnap Michigan’s Democrat Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. In that case, the informants used their real names on Facebook, but they were secretly working on behalf of the U.S. government.

While Facebook told the LAPD to stop abusing its platform, the social media company has been silent on the FBI using it to provoke terrorism.

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg has indicated that he was aware of the Whitmer conspiracy, but it’s unclear whether he knows whether the illegal activity on his platform was driven by the FBI.

“Over the last four years in particular, we’ve built closer partnerships with law enforcement and the intelligence community to be able to share those types of signals,” Zuckerberg told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation in October 2020, days after the FBI announced the Whitmer kidnap conspiracy.

“We’re doing more of that, including in the case you mentioned before, around the attempted kidnapping of Governor Whitmer.”

Ken Silva is a staff writer at Headline USA. Follow him at twitter.com/jd_cashless.

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