Shed Light on DHS!

Friday, October 25, 2013 - 02:51 PM

As we've discussed here and here on OTM, the Department of Homeland Security has been unresponsive to journalists' questions about policies related to the rights and treatments of American citizens at airports and border ports of entry into the U.S. As former Congressman Lee Hamilton told Brooke, the best way to get answers from DHS is for constituents to put pressure on their elected representatives. And now you can use the tool below to do just that!


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Comments [25]

Devin from NYC

What kind of map is this? Would love to know the program used to create something like this!

Mar. 24 2014 09:22 AM

I agree with many of the comments here already:

- the calling tool needs to be refined, so that people with cell phones who no longer live in their area codes aren't connected with the wrong representatives. Maybe have users type in a zip code? This is how does it, and they ought to know.

- I have low hopes for focussing on Congress alone. Can OTM research some additional offices and people who might be swayed by calls and emails from citizens on this subject? Are there any such options for ordinary citizens?

Mar. 10 2014 11:00 AM
Texasnole from Penscola, Florida

When I worked in an Executive Branch agency we had a protocol for responding to inquiries by members of Congress. Even their seniority and committee assignment figured into the response time demanded by the protocol. Granted, the lion's share of the queries had to do with the interface between the agency--and perhaps one of its employees--and a member of the public regarding entitlements of one sort or another. How is that so different from the query here?

Mar. 09 2014 05:09 PM

Why don't we get the NTEU (National Treasury Employees Union) in on this? The collective bargaining representative of the Customs and Border Patrol agents.

I like the idea of holding the wrong-doing CBP agents accountable. Of course, the first line of defense for those agents won't be in Congress. It will be at the level of their union representatives.

Mar. 09 2014 05:05 PM
MFan from NYC

I am also curious about the effectiveness of this exercise in targeting congress. As the first comment pointed out, these are entirely executive branch issues. DHS is an executive agency. The CBP is under the DHS. The pressure needs to be directed towards those who may affect change, and congress is not very empowered in what it may accomplish here. Hearings are, naturally, ineffective. Perhaps instead direct your inquiries to the Obama administration.

Mar. 09 2014 04:45 PM

I'm curious why anyone thinks that Congress is the right pressure point for this issue.

CBP is an executive branch agency. Why is pressure not being placed squarely on President Obama, Vice President Biden and the members of their cabinet?

What is Congress supposed to do? Subpoena records? They've been trying to do that with the IRS scandal, and the Benghazi attack, and all they have gotten from the White House is stonewalling.

How is it that you have gotten two full shows out of this story, and yet never once attempted to lay the matter on the White House's doorstep?

Mar. 09 2014 03:26 PM
Casey from Texas

A few errors in this story make me wonder if there are other mistakes in the reporting. Border Patrol Agents do not work at ports of entry; Customs Officers do.

Neither Border Patrol Agents nor Customs Officers wear tan uniforms and neither agency uses a nine millimeter pistol.

What exactly is the standard of research for On The Media?

Mar. 09 2014 12:54 PM
Maureen from Miami

Congress has and is continuously holding investigations and hearings on the actions of DHS and in particular, CBP (which, by the way stands for Customs and Border Protection, not Border Patrol). So far, nothing meaningful has emerged from any of these Congressional activities.

When CBP was created in 2003 by the merger of three separate and distinct entities (U.S. Customs Service, Immigration and Naturalization Service and Agriculture Inspection)from three different Departments (Treasury, Justice and Agriculture) it was doomed from the start. The flawed thinking at that time was that there were three agencies doing identical and duplicative border enforcement work. That could not have been more wrong and furthest from the truth. Morale crashed, budgets ballooned and accountability of and by management officials became a thing of the past. Productivity, knowledge and service to the public decreased, while waste, cronyism and incompetence increased.

There are too many in the ranks of CBP's senior and upper management who seem to operate in a glass bubble, caring only about image and status and do not support or show a willingness to reign in, hold responsible, discipline or remove arrogant, troublesome and rogue agents, officers and supervisors.

Complaints and letters are probably received by members of Congress on a daily basis and nothing changes in CBP. Until truly honest, hard and unpopular action and decisions are made by the Legislative and Executive Branches, don't expect things to get any better or improve.

Mar. 08 2014 04:02 PM
Landis from SF Bay Area, CA

I really appreciate your coverage of this. I called my congressman's office (George Miller) and expressed my concerns. Asked that your questions and a couple of my own be forwarded on to the congressman. I hope I'll get a reply. Unfortunately he's retiring this year so I don't know how much he'll be able to do or interested in doing.

I think you may also want to add another area to your investigation and that is what has been going on with CBP and stops of private aircraft flying within the US. Stories have been coming out about stops of pilots flying small personal aircraft from one state to another and being met with overwhelming armed response by people in SWAT gear who tear apart their aircraft in search of drugs with absolutely no evidence other than a "suspicious flight" - i.e. a flight leaving California, Colorado, or Washington and headed east. Apparently any one who flies a small plane is now a drug runner.

AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association) has been working to get more information from DHS on this unbelievable over reach - some information can be found here:

Some more stories about these stops have been reported by the Atlantic's James Fallows:

Thank you so much for your dogged interest in this. Please keep up the good work.

Mar. 06 2014 12:06 PM
John Gregory Richardson

CBP Internal Affairs (IA) is infected with incompetence and corruption to the point of appearing to be an incestuous cult of personality overseen by an Assistant Commissioner James Tomsheck (just Google his name). Even now, there are two CBP IA leaders (male/female, subordinate/supervisor) who have been involved in an extra-marital affair--an activity that would cost other employees their jobs! During a recent business meeting, Tomsheck announced these two IA leaders are now an out-in-the open couple! This is only the latest of questionable activity involving Tomsheck, which dates back to the start of his tenure in 2006. A report of investigation by the DHS Privacy Office into an information-sharing program operated under Tomsheck's leadership. The report, by DHS Chief Privacy Officer Mary Ellen Callahan, is dated 18 July 2012 and documents gross violations of DHS privacy policy by Tomsheck in connection with a pilot program whereby CBP IA shared personal information on CBP employees with the FBI. The project “came to be known as the SAR Exploitation Initiative Pilot (SAREX Pilot or Pilot).” CBP IA provided personal information on over 3,000 employees to the FBI. Callahan’s investigation “revealed a lack of oversight by CBP IA leadership to ensure that DHS policies governing the sharing of [personally identifiable information] ” and “found an apparent blatant disregard for concerns raised by the [Office of Inspector General] and CBP IA staff who questioned the legal authority for, and privacy implications of, the Pilot.” Callahan also notes, among other things: "…During my meeting with the Assistant Commissioner [James F. Tomsheck] on April 26, 2012, the Assistant Commissioner seemed to believe that CBP IA’s mission exempts it from following applicable privacy law and DHS privacy policy. I believe this attitude is likely to result in a culture of non-compliance in CBP IA. On May 10, 2012, the Assistant Commissioner told me that CBP IA is already engaging in such activities outside the Pilot. It is critical, therefore, that steps be taken now to ensure that any current or future sharing of PII by CBP IA complies with applicable law and DHS policy, and that CBP counsel and the CBP Privacy Officer are consulted prior to implementation of any such projects…." Add to this, the November 2013, overtime scandal, fraudulent alteration of IA investigative records to hide evidence of gross incompetence and a two-to-three year backlog of case investigations. All of this is undermining the safety and security of the American people. Also, search YouTube, "Commander John Richardson" to see how Tomsheck forced a Disabled Veteran out of his job.

Mar. 03 2014 04:52 PM
MC from Vermont

I sent a message, including a link to the podcast, to Senator Bernie Sanders through his web site.

Mar. 03 2014 12:20 PM
Joy de la Ren from San Diego

I just heard about your work on sexual assault at the border on NPR. I just thought you'd want to know. I became a citizen in 1980 something. As part of the process (so I was told) I was required to go to some private medical place, I'm thinking in Kearny Mesa in San Diego. I was required to lie on a table feet up in stirrups naked from waist down,(I dont remember waist up) similar to a gyne exam. I've been wondering for abt 30 years why that would be part of either citizenship or green card. I dont'remember which. I am female was abt 35? yrs old at the time, reasonably attractiive, white, jewish, from Canada. Was seeing your naked bottom part of the process for women? Men? in the 80's? Now? why?

thx InventingJoy

PS I couldn't figure out your registration process

Mar. 02 2014 09:12 PM
john brand from escindudi ca

writing as a long time fan of On the Media you guys have screwed this up p. bad imho. Sadly my congressman is Darell Issa and there's no way anyone at his office is going to answer all those questions. I will call his office and mention your show on HS along the border, but I doubt it will do any good. Probably better to bring it up on his website, but still for naught. As long as FBI headquarters is called the Hoover building there is little hope for reform wrt issues like this.

Mar. 02 2014 07:26 PM
Mary from New Jersey

The account of the horrific sexual abuse of Jane Doe by border agents literally made me cry. God bless
the ACLU for taking her case and God bless OTM for their fearless reporting.

Mar. 02 2014 12:03 PM
Lindsay Pearson from New York City

I heard the most horrible account of the sexual abuse of a Jane Doe by DHS agents (?)on the pretext of investigating smuggling. The tale was told by her ACLU attorney, but we did not hear the outcome of the case. Can we have some closure on this ghastly case? Has justice been done? I also believe that the most effective response to such abuse would be to target the perpetrators directly. Name them. Interview them, or try to.

I see that 7 New York representatives have been contacted about the DHS, but zero representatives from many other states. Is On The Media not broadcast in those states? or is the country moving so far to the right, that Americans have no interest in protecting our constitutional rights, besides the right to bear arms?

It's a little scary to speak to my representative with a text supplied by someone else, when I am in fact rather ignorant on the subject. I called on Sunday, but his office was closed.

Mar. 02 2014 11:18 AM
Don Miller from New York City

When will "get it" that a call for a "public hearing" is absolutely fruitless. We have all witnessed these shams when the public's representative posture before the television cameras to "get to the bottom of this. . . . ." Oh sure, it's unfair to call all those kettles black, but when will we come to our senses that we need to take direct actions on important issue that affect the lot of us. Using these surrogates any long to do our bidding, it seem to this writer, is useless, in fact, it is just plain dumb.

On The Media please change your focus. Go directly to the perpetrators and put pressure on the stress points, the individuals and administrators that are at the striking points demanding immediate remedies to correct irresponsibility's.

Then you can count me in on the clean-up.

Dec. 13 2013 02:03 PM
Earline M. Reid

I heard about Shed Light on DHS Project on Public Radio this afternoon. It sounded Great. I looked it up here, but was surprised by what I found. It does not look like what I understood from what I'd heard. I see, from reading the comments that I am not the only one who found a discrepancy. On the radio program they spoke of new ideas to make it easier to use. I think I'll wait for implementation of some of those ideas before passing this on to my very politically active friends or using it myself.

Dec. 08 2013 07:51 PM
frances from Manhattan

As one who lived through the McCarthy era and took part in the anti-war protests in the'60s, I need to remind myself that though we prevailed and time has made it look easy, those protests were scary as hell when we were in them and required acts of courage. My mother refused to sign a loyalty oath that H.S. teachers were "asked" to sign during the McCarthy era. Even when I marched to DC with hundreds of thousands of others, I was still afraid because the organizers were mostly radically anti-government groups whose beliefs I didn't espouse. I'm for sure concerned that participating in this OTM event may raise my profile with the DHS. It's just there's no other way to protest loss of freedom than for ordinary folks who are just a little more afraid of where this is leading than they are of what the DHS might or might not do to them on a given Tuesday.

Dec. 08 2013 04:32 PM
Spiro Bolos from Chicago, IL


I am a high school social studies teacher. My English teaching partner and I would like to have our students participate in this project for our unit on civil liberties. We are thinking of embedding your form on our website. Our blog is at and all of our students' blogs are listed in the sidebar on the right.

The problem we are encountering is that your form is a bit misleading. When you state, "First we'll call you, then we'll connect you to their office", the operator asks for the name of your rep. Unfortunately, most students do not know the NAME of their representative. Can you first provide a link or an automated way to generate that information?


Dec. 08 2013 02:51 PM
brahma from boston

I'm a landlord in boston and had a very nice tenant from canada this summer he was a top chef in boston, his employer was sponsoring him. he was legally working here but the ins told him he had to go to the boarder to possess his papers. so he drove to canada to visit his family and posses his papers.. at the boarder they made all kinds of false baseless accusations based on his last name being a muslim name even though he was half native canadian and not a muslim.
they detained him for many hours and told him he could never come back to the USA. and that he could not have a permit to work as a cook (not true) his job and all his house hold belongings were left in my apartment and he had no way of coming back and collecting them.
he asked his brother to drive down with a truck to collect his belongings and he was also banned at the boarder. with no explanation as to why. entirely an arbitrary and incredibly negative experience based on nothing more then a last name.

Dec. 07 2013 02:23 PM

This excludes people who like me have a cell phone but no landline and the cell phone number is from the state they previously resided in. I suspect this applied to many people. Also, why not simply provide the requisite phone number as an option for those who did not wish to give their full phone number to this site? Much as I adore OTM, I am concerned that this insistence on people entering their full phone number will result in telemarketing calls. Finally, I think there is a typo in the text that appears when one clicks on the button above. It should be "we'll" not "will".

Nov. 08 2013 06:46 AM
Faith from Concord, NH

This didn't work out quite as planned! I wasn't really prepared enough to explain my task to a sequence of people to end up in the right place. Instead, I ended up with a mis-heard email address instead of a person to talk to!

Nov. 07 2013 04:56 PM
Kenji from SF Bay Area

Could you guys list the questions you'd like us to ask? I know who my rep is (George Miller), but I'd like to ask the same questions as a lot of other constituents calling other members of the House, so the representatives will hopefully start talking to each other about it. I heard recently from Justin Amash (R-MI) that they actually do that when they hear from a lot of people.

Nov. 06 2013 09:04 PM

all I see below body of text is a large long grey box (as if the are is not being populated with the links. I do see embed, full screen, and credits

Nov. 02 2013 06:56 PM
Geraldine (Gerry) Gould from Fair Lawn, NJ

My concise message to that office spoke of the absurd -- often cruel procedures -- performed at border offices, and requested Pascrell's investigation.

Oct. 31 2013 12:15 PM

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TLDR is a short podcast and blog about the internet by Meredith Haggerty. You can subscribe to the TLDR podcast here. You can follow our blog here. I tweet @manymanywords and @tldr.

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