Capitol Police examines backgrounds, social media feeds of some who meet with lawmakers

“Whatever they think that sounds like for security, it sounds dangerously close — if not already over the line — to spying on members of Congress, their staff, their constituents and their supporters,” mentioned Armstrong, a former prison protection lawyer.

“Anybody involved with implementing this without making it known to the actual members of Congress should resign or be fired immediately,” he added. “And I’m not big on calling for resignations.”

Several Capitol Police intelligence analysts have already raised considerations in regards to the observe to the division’s inspector normal, in accordance with one of the folks who spoke for this story.

The Capitol Police, in a press release, defended the observe of looking for public details about folks assembly with lawmakers and mentioned the division coordinates the work with members’ workplaces.

“The more public information we have, the better we can understand what kind and how much security is necessary,” the assertion mentioned.

Major modifications within the Capitol Police intelligence unit began in fall of 2020, when the division introduced on former Department of Homeland Security official Julie Farnam to assist run its intelligence unit, which is housed in its Intelligence and Interagency Coordination Division. In the weeks earlier than the Jan. 6 Capitol assault, Farnam made a bunch of modifications to inner intelligence protocols that “caused internal confusion” and “scrambled the priorities” of the unit’s analysts, in accordance with CNN.

Then, within the months after the riot, Farnam modified one other key course of in a manner that hasn’t been beforehand reported.

For years, analysts within the division’s intelligence division have put collectively paperwork referred to as Congressional Event Assessments. That course of entails the House and Senate Sergeants at Arms, Congress’ chambers’ inner logistical and safety leaders, sharing data with Capitol Police on lawmakers’ plans for conferences and occasions away from the Capitol.

Intelligence division analysts then use that data to evaluate bodily security dangers to these occasions — issues akin to giant, deliberate protests, parades, concert events or different occasions that may draw crowds. Analysts repeatedly crammed out an ordinary template with that evaluation.

But after the Capitol assault, Farnam modified the template. According to a replica that POLITICO reviewed, she directed analysts to look intently on the folks assembly privately and publicly with members. A Capitol Police spokesperson mentioned the template POLITICO reviewed was not the newest model.

In addition to fundamental details about the occasion, the revised template reviewed by POLITICO requested analysts to explain “the backgrounds of the participants (other than [Members of Congress]) and attendees, if known.”

The template additionally instructed intelligence analysts to take a look at social media feeds associated to occasion attendees: “In searching social media outlets, is there anything that may impact the event itself or any of the participants (both [Members of Congress] and other known attendees)?”

And it instructed Capitol Police analysts to seek for details about lawmakers’ opponents and their opponents’ supporters: “List and search all political opponents to see if they or their followers intend to attend or disrupt the event.”

In one other doc reviewed by POLITICO, one Capitol Police official famous that Farnam directed analysts to run “background checks” on folks whom lawmakers deliberate to meet, together with donors and associates. When employees had been listed as attending these conferences, Capitol Police intelligence analysts additionally bought requested to verify the social media accounts of the staffers.

Analysts had been additionally directed to probe the possession of buildings the place members of Congress held their conferences.

“Is there a foreign interest or ownership in the event location?” the revised template learn. “Are there any permanent delegations or missions in the immediate area of the event?”

Beyond international possession, analysts had been directed to offer extra details about the buildings the place members of Congress held conferences. The intelligence division management requested analysts to seek for details about what number of rooms had been in these buildings, what facilities had been obtainable, and even their final transforming.

Analysts additionally had been tasked with sifting by tax and actual property information to search out out who owned the properties that lawmakers visited. For instance, the unit scrutinized a gathering that Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) held with donors in a non-public dwelling. Analysts eyed the home-owner’s and attendees’ social media accounts, and regarded for any international contacts they’d.

“These reports are incredibly disturbing,” Scott spokesperson McKinley Lewis mentioned in a press release. “It is unthinkable that any government entity would conduct secret investigations to build political dossiers on private Americans. The American people deserve to know what Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi knew and directed, and when. Senator Scott believes the Senate Rules Committee should immediately investigate.”

Lewis added that their workplace had no data of the extent of scrutiny that Capitol Police analysts had been conducting concerning the senator’s occasions.

The unit has additionally scrutinized a number of donors who have met with House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.). A spokesperson for Scalise mentioned the congressman was unaware of the scrutiny these conferences acquired.

A spokesperson for the House Administration Committee, which has jurisdiction over chamber safety issues and is chaired by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), declined to remark.

As a normal observe, Farnam directed analysts to seek for any details about occasion attendees, together with donors and employees, “that would cast a member in a negative light,” in accordance with one individual acquainted with the workings of the division’s intelligence workplace. This included looking for details about mayors, Hill employees, and state legislators.

‘Just like journalists, we do research’

The Capitol Police, in a press release, described the observe of looking for public details about folks assembly with lawmakers as half of the division’s mission.

“It is our duty to protect Members of Congress wherever they are,” the assertion mentioned. “Just like journalists, we do research with public information.”

A Capitol Police official mentioned that its intelligence analysts look into every individual listed as attending an occasion. The official mentioned that lawmakers ask for intelligence assessments, by the House or Senate Sergeants at Arms’ workplaces, in addition to coordination with native regulation enforcement, for particular occasions they plan to attend. Lawmakers then present names of attendees to the Sergeant at Arms, who shares these names with Capitol Police, this official defined.

Nonetheless, the responses from Armstrong, Scalise, and Scott point out that lawmakers who present data to the division might not be conscious of the scope of the evaluation performed on their associates.

The intelligence workplace’s coverage shift got here within the wake of a violent riot that sparked a reckoning over congressional safety, together with on how Capitol Police gathers intelligence on threats going through members. The division official famous that the Capitol Police’s inspector normal has urged the Department to do extra to guard lawmakers and to emulate the Secret Service, which conducts checks of its personal on the backgrounds of these who meet the president.

Civil liberties consultants warned that the Capitol Police’s up to date observe raises the prospect of First Amendment violations.

Rachel Levinson-Waldman, deputy director of the Liberty and National Security Program on the nonprofit Brennan Center for Justice, mentioned the observe is “of questionable legality” and is “a recipe for creating dossiers on people.”

She added that federal regulation protects in opposition to “collecting and keeping of data about people without a specified and authorized purpose.”

Patrick Toomey, a senior employees lawyer with the ACLU’s National Security Project, mentioned the Capitol Police unit’s observe raises considerations in regards to the constitutional rights of folks who meet with lawmakers.

“When police set out to monitor people’s social media activity without any reason to believe they have engaged in criminal activity, it raises First Amendment concerns,” he mentioned. “Those concerns are especially strong here, where individuals are coming under scrutiny simply because they are exercising their right to petition members of Congress.”

And privateness worries climb too, he mentioned, when “this monitoring may mean that people’s protected speech is retained in police files indefinitely.”

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