The department "secretly maintains a domestic intelligence program that allows agency officials to interview willing Americans without their lawyers present, raising civil liberties concerns," according to Breitbart News, which cited Politico.
The report said that the secret program is called the "Overt Human Intelligence Collection Program," and it allows them to interview Americans in prison and jail, as well as illegal immigrants at immigrant detention centers, according to Politico, which added:
Under the domestic-intelligence program, officials are allowed to seek interviews with just about anyone in the United States. That includes people held in immigrant detention centers, local jails, and federal prison. DHS’s intelligence professionals have to say they’re conducting intelligence interviews, and they have to tell the people they seek to interview that their participation is voluntary. But the fact that they’re allowed to go directly to incarcerated people — circumventing their lawyers — raises important civil liberties concerns, according to legal experts.
The program, run by DHS's Office of Intelligence and Analysis, has been in place for years, but a specific element was paused in 2021 due to internal concerns. The program is used to gather information on threats to the U.S., such as transnational drug trafficking and organized crime, but its methods of collecting intelligence are largely unknown to the public, Politico noted further.
According to a review of internal documents by the outlet, the program has been described as having questionable legal tactics and political pressure. The documents also reveal widespread internal concerns and the fear of punishment for speaking out about potential mismanagement and abuse.
Based on the report, an anonymous employee mentioned in the internal documents reportedly described the program's office as "shady" and "runs like a corrupt government." Another document reportedly revealed that employees had concerns about the program's activities, which raised several red flags, and they wanted the program to cover the cost of legal liability insurance.
Carrie Bachner, a former DHS undersecretary for intelligence, told Politico that if the Overt Human Intelligence Collection Program indeed exists to question Americans, it is immoral.
“I don’t know any counsel in their right mind that would sign off on that, or any member of Congress that would say, ‘That’s OK,’” Bachner said. “If these people are out there interviewing folks that still have constitutional privileges, without their lawyer present, that’s immoral.”
“What do they do with that information they collect, and is it legal?” Bachner questioned. “Where do they store that information?”
“ Those documents also reveal that a significant number of employees in DHS’s intelligence office have raised concerns that the work they are doing could be illegal.” https://t.co/Jq6a2lsWHf via @politico
— Jonathan Swan (@jonathanvswan) March 6, 2023
The report raised disputes about how U.S. law applied to the program's interactions with American citizens. Many employees were concerned about the legality of the program, and the documents obtained by Politico suggested that there were serious issues with oversight, management, and accountability within the program, Politico noted.
Around 2012, then-NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that his agency was spying on the electronic communications of all Americans, completely in violation of the agency's mandate. Nothing ever happened; no one was punished, no one was charged, and, certainly, no one went to jail.
That's why spying on Americans continues to this day, and is increasing across a myriad of federal agencies.