Lieberman Asks Homeland Security IG to Reopen Texas Probe Into Abuse of Federal Authority,
First Report Abdicated Key Responsibility

WASHINGTON – Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Thursday asked the Homeland Security Department Inspector General’s office to reopen its probe into the misuse of federal authority in connection with a partisan political brawl in Texas, saying the first effort of the IG’s office “reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the harm done.” Lieberman expressed disappointment in the failure of the IG’s office to get a key fact straight, to fully understand the seriousness of the abuse committed, and to address the issue of clear wrongdoing by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

“To my dismay, this 3-page report reflects an investigation that appears to have been exceedingly narrow in scope and distressingly conclusory in its analysis,” Lieberman wrote in the letter, dated July 10, 2003. In addition, he said, the failure of the IG’s office “to make recommendations to prevent the future misuse of Department resources is an abdication of one of the essential responsibilities of an Inspector General.” On May 15, 2003, Lieberman requested a full investigation of the involvement of the Homeland Security Department’s Air and Marine Interdiction Coordination Center in trying to locate Democratic lawmakers boycotting a vote on a controversial redistricting plan. It was later reported that the Texas DPS – which had sought assistance from the AMICC in tracking a small plane believed to be carrying key Democrats – ordered the destruction of documents relating to the search. On June 16, 2003, the IG’s office publicly released its report effectively exonerating AMICC personnel and omitting any analysis of the role of the Texas DPS. “I am troubled that your investigation has left many questions unanswered about the involvement of DHS and its Air and Marine Interdiction Coordination Center in this partisan political dispute – and failed to garner any information about the Texas Department of Public Safety’s (DPS’s) apparent intentional misuse of DHS resources – and am greatly disappointed that you failed to make any recommendations for preventing such conduct from occurring again or taking action against those who sought to misuse the Department’s authority,” Lieberman wrote. He outlined five areas of concern in the report:

  • A failure to determine critical facts: The report said the call from DPS was “typical” of the 30-40 calls AMICC receives daily, when, in fact, most calls involve tracking planes suspected of being involved in drug running or terrorism and few are related to missing aircraft.
  • A failure to independently verify information: The assertions of all AMICC personnel interviewed by the IG’s office appear to have been taken at face value, with little or no effort to confirm their statements. Further, there was little effort to determine what laws or DHS regulations applied and whether they had been violated.
  • Misapprehension of the wrong committed: The IG’s office concluded that because of the relatively small amount of time spent by AMICC personnel on the Texas DPS request, no misdeeds occurred. “…this reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the harm done in this case,” Lieberman wrote. “The core issue here is not how much time…. (was) spent on this matter, but whether it was appropriate for federal officials to use their access to information, their ability to activate local officials, and the weight of federal resources to try to track down a private plane that was not alleged to be involved in any criminal activity nor was in any distress,” said Lieberman. “That is to say, it is a question of the misuse of federal authority.”
  • A failure to make recommendations to prevent future misuse of DHS resources: The IG’s office “deliberately chose” not to recommend improvements to prevent future misuse, such as procedures to verify callers or the legitimacy of their requests.
  • A failure to propose any remedy for DPS wrongdoing: The Texas DPS not only sought to misuse the Department’s resources, but reportedly destroyed documents and then refused to cooperate in the office of the IG’s investigation. But the IG’s office appeared not to have considered any preventive nor punitive action. “Your inaction leaves DPS free to continue using – and apparently abusing – DHS resources,” Lieberman said.
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