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Report: Government Kept Tabs On Journalists, 'Instigators'

March 7, 2019 1:39 p.m.

GUEST: Tom Jones, executive investigative producer, NBC 7

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Lawyers activists and journalists targeted for investigation by Homeland Security are named in documents leaked to NBC 7 investigates more than 50 people identified by photograph occupation date of birth and country are on the list along with information about whether they have been interviewed by border officials. Some on the list have had alerts placed on their passports. The leaked documents seems to confirm the suspicions of border reporters and refugee workers that they've been under increased scrutiny and observation by authorities. Joining me by Skype is Tom Jones executive investigative producer at NBC 7. And Tom welcome to the program.

Thank you for having me. How did NBC 7 investigates obtained this document.

So we had been speaking with a source a homeland security source who had discovered this operation. I guess you could call it under way and he had you know really big concerns because the agencies involved he told us you know these are criminal investigation agencies they're not intelligence agencies and what the documents show is that they're gathering intelligence on these individuals and that it appears they're gathering intelligence based on their profession in some cases which is what he said abuse of the border search authority which agencies are involved in putting together this secret database from what we know according to the source Customs and Border Protection Immigration Customs Enforcement ICE U.S. Border Patrol and some agents from the San Diego sector of the FBI.

Can you give us a further description of the kind of information this database contains.

Right. So for all of the individuals that are listed in it they at least have their photo their name their date of birth and then their role tied to the migrant caravan and some of those roles include instigators or organizers and these are roles that are assigned to them by the agencies. But some of the. And another thing is that you know a lot of the photos come from DMV photos passport photos but there are some photos that we've confirmed came from the individuals social media accounts Facebook in particular. So they're at least in there for secondary screening saying we want to do a secondary screening on these these individuals.

Some of the individuals have dossiers created on them and the source shared with us one of those dossiers on an attorney and that included a lot more detailed information including the attorneys mother's name the car she drives as well as her work and travel history.

Now NBC 7 has chosen to blur out most of the photographs on when you post the doc this document on your website. Did you speak with any of the people included on this list. Did any of them give you permission to use their photographs.

Yes. And we made the decision to blur their photos and names until we've spoken to them and gotten permission to show them. But we've spoken to 20 people out of the 59 on the list and we're still continuing to speak to those you know try and find out the rest of the individuals on here make contact with them. You know we made this choice to blur and for those out there who think they may have been on the list they can email us and we'll get back to them within the next few days to check if they're there on the list.

What was the explanation you got from CPB about why they're tracking these individuals so it was interesting when we reached out a week ago.

They sent us a statement that basically you know went into detail on how this was to protect national security and that you know this was tied to criminal investigations or border violence. But then yesterday when our network colleagues reached out to CBP they gave them a different statement and they said this is specifically tied to border violence. And from November. What's interesting though about that is that at least for the journalists we've spoken to say they weren't there for that border violence and when they were pulled in the secondary screening they weren't asked about border violence.

So if that was the goal of putting these individuals on here in El so you take witness statements from if you're conducting a criminal investigation you would want to ask them about the incident but at least for the journalist tell me that you know they were never asked about it.

The ACLU has really released a statement. And in it it calls the compilation of this secret database an outrageous violation of the First Amendment. What did your source tell you about why he or she wanted to give you this information.

I mean they were just very concerned that this was an abuse of power and that you know again kind of like I said before they're not an intelligence agency. They shouldn't be gathering intelligence and they shouldn't be flagging individuals passports. I mean we know of at least two journalists and an attorney who are denied entry into Mexico after these alerts were placed and that's already having a chilling effect. I mean we've spoken to other attorneys who say well we're we're not. You know this is before a story came out who said well I'm not crossing the border because I'm worried of having the alert placed on me.

So yeah I think it's I think it it's it's really alarming. And once again where can people go if they want to actually see this document that you've obtained if you go to our Web site NBC seven dot com and search secret database. It should pop up.

I've been speaking with Tom Jones executive investigative producer at NBC 7. Tom thank you very much. Thank you for having me.