U.S. News

Border agency knew of troubling Facebook posts in 2016: acting secretary

FILE PHOTO: A U.S. Customs and Border Protection patch is seen on the arm of a U.S. Border Patrol agent in Mission, Texas, U.S., July 1, 2019. REUTERS/Loren Elliott/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials knew in 2016 about a private Facebook group where border agents posted racist and misogynistic comments, acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan said on Sunday.

McAleenan said on ABC’s “This Week” that he had been told about an allegation in 2016 “that was investigated, followed up on, and that discipline was meted out on an agent that made an offensive post on that website.”

The Customs and Border Protection (CBP) service came under fire over the issue last Monday, when the nonprofit news site ProPublica reported that offensive content had been posted on a private Facebook group for current and former CPB officers.

Posts included jokes about the deaths of migrants and sexually explicit comments referring to U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the news outlet said.

McAleenan said the Facebook page was a private site run by a group of individuals in their off-duty hours and not under CBP control. He said DHS did put out a social media policy encouraging border agents to maintain standards and a code of conduct on social media.

When the latest Facebook posts emerged, he said he directed an immediate investigation. “It had already been reported to our inspector general. They were already looking into it,” he told ABC.

Several agents have been placed on administrative duties and cease and desist letters have been sent to more, McAleenan said. “This investigation is continuing, and the agents will be held accountable if they are CBP employees who did inappropriate things,” he said. “I don’t think it’s reflective of the men and women we have.”

On Friday, the chairman the House of Representatives’ Homeland Security Committee asked an internal watchdog to investigate whether top officials at DHS and CBP knew about the Facebook group.

“Such vile and threatening behavior from agents of the United States government is entirely unacceptable” and “should be grounds for immediate dismissal,” U.S. Representative Bennie Thompson said in a letter to the DHS’s acting inspector general.

Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Lisa Shumaker