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A senior Border Patrol official, who directs a key intelligence-gathering center, on Thursday circulated an inflammatory opinion article that blasted ProPublica’s reporting on a secret Facebook group for current and former agents and described the news organization as a threat to the agency and its members.
A link to the article, which specifically castigates ProPublica reporter A.C. Thompson for his articles about the degrading posts in the group, was sent in an email to top intelligence officials at the agency’s headquarters in Washington and to field offices across the country. Sources said other supervisors then shared it widely with agents under their command.
The article was widely distributed by Michael E. Powell, director of the Customs and Border Protection’s Northern Border Coordination Center, and comes as the heads of the Department of Homeland Security, the CPB, which it oversees, and the Border Patrol have publicly condemned the Facebook posts and launched investigations into the group.
And the article raises questions about whether internally, agency officials may be having different reactions to the public exposure of anti-migrant and misogynistic posts by some of its agents. On Friday, The Intercept reported that Border Patrol head Carla Provost appeared to have once been a member of the group. She has not commented.
A Border Patrol spokesman responded angrily Friday to questions about the significance of a senior intelligence official circulating such an article.
“I’m not going to comment on a third party opinion piece simply because you disagree with it,” said Matthew Leas, a Border Patrol spokesman. “The author isn’t even a CBP employee. Last time I checked, agency responses typically come from the agency…”
Powell did not respond to questions about the email.
The article was published on a website called Law Enforcement Today, and was written by a woman named Dawn Perlmutter, who describes herself as an expert on “symbols, symbolic methodologies, atypical homicide and ritualistic crimes.”
It alleges that ProPublica’s reporting about the secret Facebook group, which was known as “I’m 10-15,” was part of an “anti-police information operation” that was “calculated to incite hatred against CBP, ICE and DHS officers, provide party-line propaganda for the media and ignite protests to further political agendas.” And it claimed that Thompson, who broke the story about the Facebook group, “essentially doxed CBP officers,” when he published the posts.
“Thompson’s byline says he covers hate crimes and racial extremism, when in fact, he perpetuates it,” the piece reads. “His irresponsible reporting incites police hatred and endangers officers’ lives under the guise of social justice.”
One agent who received the piece was troubled that an official in charge of an intelligence unit would send it out under his Border Patrol email, and worried that it could undermine trust in the unit’s work.
“We need effective intel units that have garnered the trust of agents, the community, and elected officials,” said the agent, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution. “Distributing partisan opinion pieces under the guise of intelligence, undermines the credibility of our intelligence department and raises doubt about the intelligence we distribute.”
“Revealing hateful posts circulated to 9,500 people on Facebook hardly constitutes doxing,” said Richard Tofel, the president of ProPublica. “ProPublica seeks to hold public officials to account, including making sure the Border Patrol lives up to the standards of decency that every American law enforcement agency pledges to live by.”
The article’s distribution came as the House Committee on Oversight and Reform held a hearing Friday on recent reports about appalling conditions inside Border Patrol detention facilities and the disturbing Facebook posts revealed in ProPublica and The Intercept’s reporting. Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Democrat, had requested that Kevin McAleenan, the acting chief of the Department of Homeland Security testify at the hearing. But McAleenan did not attend.
Instead, the hearing devolved into a fierce partisan debate with Democratic legislators accusing the Republicans of “manufacturing” the crisis at the border for political gain and Republicans admonishing Democrats for “vilifying” border patrol agents.