The Commerce Department’s ‘rogue, unaccountable, police force’
Another day, another federal agency exposed spying on the American people for reasons that make not a bit of sense. This time the culprit is the otherwise staid, boring, and generally overlooked Department of Commerce.
It turns out the agency that oversees both weather forecasting and the census has something called the “Investigations and Threat Management Service.” This obscure entity decided it needed to start gathering information on people for reasons no one can fathom:
The Investigations and Threat Management Service (ITMS) covertly searched employees’ offices at night, ran broad keyword searches of their emails trying to surface signs of foreign influence and scoured Americans’ social media for critical comments about the census, according to documents and interviews with five former investigators.
The office “has been allowed to operate far outside the bounds of federal law enforcement norms and has created an environment of paranoia and retaliation at the Department,” John Costello, a former deputy assistant secretary of intelligence and security at Commerce in the Trump administration, said in a statement for this story.
The Biden administration shut down the spy operation earlier this year. Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker has been investigating the ITMS. What he’s discovered is the stuff of bad Hollywood thrillers:
More than a dozen whistleblowers have given closed-door statements, among them former investigators who allege that the office routinely overstepped its legal limits and has operated without meaningful oversight from within Commerce since the mid-2000s.
In a fact sheet released Monday summarizing preliminary findings of the review, Wicker said the unit improperly gathered information on foreign visitors and U.S. citizens. Wicker said “the ITMS has mutated into a rogue, unaccountable, police force without a clear mission.” An official report, he wrote, will be released in the coming months.
That report ought to make for hair raising reading – and should prompt Congress to get on its oversight pants and do something about this office. Like abolishing it. And then making sure there are no others like it lurking in other federal agencies.