Watchdog says federal anti-terror unit investigated journalists

According to a federal watchdog, a special Customs and Border Protection unit used government databases intended to track terrorists to instead investigate upwards of 20 U.S.-based journalists. The list of journalists included a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter from the Associated Press.

The unit, called the Counter Network Division, also searched records of congressional staffers and even possibly members of Congress, as reported by Yahoo News.

But an agent, Jeffrey Rambo, who admitted to running checks on journalists in 2017, told federal investigators that the practice is standard. “When a name comes across your desk you run it through every system you have access to, that’s just status quo, that’s what everyone does,” he said. 

The Associated Press was able to obtain a redacted copy of a report over 500 pages by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general that included the same statement with the speaker’s name blacked out.

“We are deeply concerned about this apparent abuse of power. This appears to be an example of journalists being targeted for simply doing their jobs, which is a violation of the First Amendment,” said Lauren Easton, AP’s director of media relations.

While Rambo’s and the CBP unit’s use of the databases was more extensive than previously thought, which the inspector general noted could have brought on criminal charges, Rambo said he has been unfairly portrayed by the news over the issue.

“What none of these articles identify me as, is a law enforcement officer who was cleared of wrongdoing, who actually had a true purpose to be doing what I was doing,” he commented, “and CBP refuses to acknowledge that, refuses to admit that, refuses to make that wrong right.”

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