Customs and Border Protection Spied on Americans: What You Need To Know

September 24, 2021Joshua Skovlund
customs and border protection

US Customs and Border Protection agents man a US-Mexico checkpoint near Tucson, Arizona, June 17, 2020. Photo courtesy of US Customs and Border Protection/Flickr.

US Customs and Border Protection spied on American citizens, blocked their international travel, and compromised their personal information to foreign agents, according to a scathing report that Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General released Thursday, Sept. 23.

Customs and Border Protection placed electronic notifications on agency computers — termed “lookouts” — on an unknown number of Americans to mine what they knew about an annual so-called caravan of Central Americans moving up the spine of Mexico to enter the United States, the federal watchdog reported.

The OIG determined that the lookouts led to excessive searches of journalists, attorneys, and other citizens whom agents suspected of supporting the migrant movements in 2018 and 2019.

Investigators ruled that officials, mostly in the Emergency Operations Center, had “legitimate reasons” to use lookouts to help them estimate the size of the caravan and its movements and to detect any criminal activity within the group. 

But the OIG also found that Customs and Border Protection might not have followed the policies and procedures guiding the use of such electronic snooping. 

That led to Americans being stopped, searched, and questioned too often, to the point that citizens felt harassed or intimidated.

“Many CBP officials were unaware of CBP’s policy related to placing lookouts and therefore may have inadvertently placed lookouts on these U.S. citizens, which did not fully comply with the policy,” the report reads. “Additionally, CBP officials did not remove lookouts promptly once they were no longer necessary.”

According to NBC 7, seven American journalists, an American attorney, and several more American citizens were labeled as caravan organizers, instigators, or “unknown.” 

Once targeted, the Americans faced multiple secondary searches along the border with Mexico, with agents repeatedly inquiring about the caravan, sometimes for several hours.

Because of Customs and Border Protection alerts on their passports, officers and agents unlawfully denied another 14 American citizens entry to Mexico, according to the OIG.

Customs and Border Protection officials also “improperly shared the names and sensitive information of Americans” with Mexican authorities throughout what the agency dubbed “Operation Secure Line,” investigators wrote.

What Customs and Border Protection terms “inadmissible aliens,” some seeking asylum, being processed by federal officers at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, Nov. 23, 2018. The agency altered this photo to protect sensitive information. US Customs and Border Protection photo by Mani Albrecht.

Customs and Border Protection officials told Coffee or Die Magazine late Thursday that they were still formulating a written response to the report.

It remained unclear whether any of the agency’s personnel would be disciplined in the wake of the probe.

Read Next: Fugitive Pleads Guilty After Ramming Car Into Federal Agent

Joshua Skovlund
Joshua Skovlund

Joshua Skovlund is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die. He covered the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France, multinational military exercises in Germany, and civil unrest during the 2020 riots in Minneapolis. Born and raised in small-town South Dakota, he grew up playing football and soccer before serving as a forward observer in the US Army. After leaving the service, he worked as a personal trainer while earning his paramedic license. After five years as in paramedicine, he transitioned to a career in multimedia journalism. Joshua is married with two children.

More from Coffee or Die Magazine
Coffee Or Die Photo
From the Team Room to Team Room Design: An Operator’s Creative Journey

BRCC partners with Team Room Design for an exclusive T-shirt release!

Coffee Or Die Photo
Get Your Viking On: The Exclusive 30 Sec Out BRCC Shirt Club Design

Thirty Seconds Out has partnered with BRCC for an exclusive shirt design invoking the God of Winter.

Grizzly Forge BRCC shirt
Limited Edition: Grizzly Forge Blades on an Awesome BRCC Shirt

Lucas O'Hara of Grizzly Forge has teamed up with BRCC for a badass, exclusive Shirt Club T-shirt design featuring his most popular knife and tiomahawk.

BRCC Limited Edition Josh Raulerson Blackbeard Skull Shirt
From Naval Service to Creative Canvas: BRCC Veteran Artist Josh Raulerson

Coffee or Die sits down with one of the graphic designers behind Black Rifle Coffee's signature look and vibe.

Medal of Honor is held up.
Biden Will Award Medal of Honor to Army Helicopter Pilot Who Rescued Soldiers in Vietnam Firefight

Biden will award the Medal of Honor to a Vietnam War Army helicopter pilot who risked his life to save a reconnaissance team from almost certain death.

dear jack mandaville
Dear Jack: Which Historic Battle Would You Want To Witness?

Ever wonder how much Jack Mandaville would f*ck sh*t up if he went back in time? The American Revolution didn't even see him coming.

west point time capsule
West Point Time Capsule Yields Centuries-Old Coins

A nearly 200-year-old West Point time capsule that at first appeared to yield little more than dust contains hidden treasure, the US Military Academy said.

  • About Us
  • Privacy Policy
  • Careers
Contact Us
Contact Us
© 2024 Coffee or Die Magazine. All Rights Reserved