Abbott's Texas National Guard set up a secret spy operation and treated the border like it was the war in Iraq: whistleblowers

Abbott's Texas National Guard set up a secret spy operation and treated the border like it was the war in Iraq: whistleblowers
  • Texas National Guardsmen set up a secret spying mission by using WhatsApp to snoop on migrants, a watchdog found.

  • Top brass in Operation Lone Star — a state-run effort to combat illegal immigration — "wanted to pretend it was like Iraq," one servicemember told The Texas Tribune and The Military Times.

  • Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has sent National Guardsmen to the border to stop migrants from crossing into the US.

Texas servicemembers working on Gov. Greg Abbott's Operation Lone Star secretly infiltrated invite-only WhatsApp groups to snoop on migrants and monitor their movements, The Texas Tribune and The Military Times reported — a spying operation that violated rules prohibiting state-run intelligence agencies.

According to Tuesday's joint report in The Tribune and The Military Times, leaders in Operation Lone Star treated it like the army and demanded military-level intelligence from officers who weren't prepared — and likely didn't have the authority — to provide it.

"Everyone [in charge] wanted to pretend it was like Iraq in 2003," one servicemember told The Tribune and The Military Times. "They wanted to do Army stuff, even though this is [legally] not Army stuff."

Insider has reached out to the Texas National Guard for comment.

Operation Lone Star is Texas' state-run operation aimed at stopping illegal immigration and smuggling.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott launched the program in 2021 in response to a historic surge in migrants crossing the US's southern border. The program has come under intense scrutiny in recent months over allegations of inhumane orders and tactics like barriers floating in the Rio Grande River.

Lt. Col. David Tyler, who led the intelligence wing from December 2021 to fall 2022, told the outlets that "all the Generals wanted to know about the next mass migration."

The joint report said officers from the Texas National Guard presented some of their findings from the WhatsApp surveillance operation to federal agents from the Department of Homeland Security for a team-up; the feds immediately turned them down.

One DHS official specifically noted that they were an investigative body and "not an intelligence agency," a whistleblower told The Tribune and The Military Times.

After whistleblowers reported the WhatsApp surveillance, leaders in the Texas National Guard shut down Operation Lone Star's intelligence unit, the report said.

The Texas Military Department's inspector general also investigated the activity and determined it was an unauthorized foreign intelligence operation, the outlets reported.

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