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Border Patrol Agents Track and Spy on U.S. Journalists and Unidentified Members of Congress

by Douglas Ankney

The Associated Press (“AP”) confirmed a Yahoo News report revealing that in 2017, Department of Homeland Security’s (“DHS”) Customs and Border Patrol (“CBP”) unit identified as the Counter Network Division used government databases designed for tracking terrorists to investigate as many as 20 U.S.-based journalists, congressional staffers, Ariana Huffington, and unidentified members of Congress. According to the AP, DHS’s Inspector General referred three department employees to the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) for possible criminal charges in October 2020. The DOJ declined to prosecute.

One of those accused of misusing government databases and then lying to investigators to cover it up was Jeffrey Rambo. But Rambo argues that the reason he was not charged with a crime is that his actions were standard practice. One of the journalists Rambo investigated was Ali Watkins, a reporter currently with the New York Times. Rambo admitted to using federal resources to “look into” Watkins’ relationship with former Senate Intelligence Committee staffer James Wolfe. (Wolfe was later fired and convicted of lying to the FBI about his contact with the media.) Rambo said, “When a name comes across your desk, you run it through every system you have access to, that’s just the status quo, that’s what everyone does.” He added, “All of the things that led up to my interest in Ali Watkins were standard practice of what we do and what we did and probably what’s still done to this day.”

Rambo claimed that his unit had free reign to investigate Americans based on general directives to address what he referred to as “problem sets” raised by the White House.

Senator Ron Wyden (D) of Oregon has called for the DHS’s Inspector General to turn the report over to Congress. Wyden said, “[i]f 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.”  


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