How National Surveillance of Journalists and Citizens Became Standard US Government Practice

Journalists work near the United States Capitol a day after supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump stormed it in Washington, DC, the United States on January 7, 2021. Photo: Xinhua

Under the Trump administration, the Counter Network Division, a special unit within the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency, used government databases designed to track terrorists to investigate 20 journalists based in the United States, Yahoo News revealed on Saturday.

CBP is the largest federal law enforcement agency in the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The explosive revelation angered US news agencies, with AP editor-in-chief Julie Pace urging DHS secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to explain why the agency released the name of an AP journalist in its databases. In its statement, CBP said the agency “does not investigate individuals without a legitimate and legal basis to do so.” However, according to AP, “this appears to be an example of journalists being targeted just for doing their job, which is a violation of the First Amendment.”

Are US Federal Probes Turning into Paranoia?

“The Department of Homeland Security has pretty well summarized America’s drift towards authoritarianism since its inception in the aftermath of September 11,” said Daniel Lazare, journalist, author and freelance writer.

Lazarus mocks the recently revealed operation, led by Jeffrey Rambo of the Counter Network division in 2017 and dubbed “Operation Whistle Pig”, adding that “the details of the case are less interesting than the general trend, which is towards a growing paranoia. “To illustrate his point, the freelance reporter refers to the FBI’s Operation Crossfire Hurricane over the alleged Trump-Russia collusion which turned out to be what CNN described as a” big burger of nothing”.

He also cites attempts by the US intelligence community and the mainstream media to describe the New York Post’s allegations about Hunter Biden as “Russian disinformation.” Lazarus also advances what he calls futile efforts by the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives select committee to investigate the Jan.6 attack in order to distract public attention from the question of “whether informants from the FBI or the CIA helped to stimulate the insurgency”.

“While DHS has promised to quash its sleuths when it comes to PA, I have a feeling the paranoia will only take new forms as it continues to metastasize,” he said. ‘writer. “The problem can only get worse.”

Why U.S. Federal Agencies Hunt Freelance Journalists

“Operation Whistle Pig” is just one of many surveillance efforts by US federal agencies against journalists, noted former senior Defense Department analyst Karen Kwiatkowski.

“Use national technical means to track journalists, access their metadata to determine and identify their anonymous or protected sources, and use national law enforcement capacities to monitor, pressure and prosecute journalists to reveal their sources were for more than just the previous administration, “Kwiatkowski said, referring to similar operations under the Obama administration.

In particular, the veteran DoD analyst refers to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist James Risen, who was persecuted under the Obama administration for his refusal to reveal confidential sources. In February 2015, Risen called the Obama administration “the greatest enemy of press freedom”. Additionally, the Obama cabinet and subsequent US administrations have targeted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to seek his extradition to the United States.

Earlier this year, a scandal erupted over allegations of espionage by Fox News host Tucker Carlson. In June, the reporter claimed, citing an anonymous whistleblower in the US government, that the National Security Agency (NSA) was monitoring his electronic communications and planned to release them to the press to take his show off the air for ” political reasons. “

“This is an increasingly common practice for US administrations,” suggests Kwiatkowski. “However, in the case of US citizens, without permission from the FISA Court, this type of surveillance and targeting remains illegal and unconstitutional.”

While the US government typically justifies its conduct on “national security” issues, in reality, according to the Pentagon veteran, it protects “government security” by hunting down those who leak factual information that US leaders find “embarrassing. “.

She refers to ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s revelation regarding the National Security Agency’s global spy programs; Chelsea Manning’s exhibit on the Pentagon’s war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, and WikiLeaks bombs, including Vault 7, which detailed CIA hacking techniques and cyber tools.

“Avoiding political embarrassment and controlling a certain political narrative is, for most people in Washington DC, more important and more compelling than national security,” she said.

While mainstream journalism in the United States “is quite moderate and normally serves to promote government discourse on any subject, whether it be health, national security, or science and technology,” there are Alternative media sources that sometimes manage to gain audience and traction, she suggested. .

Ironically, according to Kwiatkowski, US government agencies monitor dissenting news sources and independent journalists similar to Washington’s Cold War-era rivals, whom US leaders berated for their own lack of press freedom.

How U.S. Government Agencies Monitor Americans

However, it is not just journalists who are being watched by US government agencies, as a FISA compliance review drafted in November 2020 and declassified on April 26, 2021 found that the FBI used the NSA’s huge electronic treasures to warrantless searches for information on US citizens, despite having previously been censored by a court for such activities.

In May 2021, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden sounded the alarm bells about what he described as the Pentagon’s warrantless spying on American citizens. The DoD allegedly used various software tools that used location data collected from common applications installed on people’s phones. Wyden’s investigation also “confirmed the warrant-free purchase of Americans’ whereabouts data by the Internal Revenue Service, Customs and Border Protection, Drug Enforcement Administration and Defense Intelligence Agency,” the letter said. senator addressed to Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III.

The same month, CNN reported that the Biden administration was considering using private companies to monitor “suspected national terrorists” online under the pretext that DHS and FBI are limited in how they can monitor citizens online. without warrant. An anonymous source familiar with the matter told the broadcaster that outside entities hired by federal authorities would be able to “legally” infiltrate private groups to gather vast amounts of information.

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