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“The horse is out of the barn”: ACLJ Obtains New Records Showing Senior FBI and CBP Officials in Washington Were “Pretty Upset” CBP Issued Press Release on Capture of Two Yemeni Terrorists, Quickly Had It “Taken Down”


Jordan Sekulow

March 20, 2023

8 min read




We just exclusively obtained critical records showing that senior officials, including someone who is now a “principal advisor” to Secretary of Homeland Security Mayorkas, worked through the night to get the press release on the capture of two Yemini terrorists at the U.S. southern border scrubbed, coordinating efforts with unknown senior FBI and Customs and Border Protection officials.

Remember, back in April of 2021, when we told you that the Biden Administration pulled down a press release announcing two Yemeni individuals on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Terrorism Watchlist and No-Fly List had been caught along the border? The announcement even described that agents had found a cellular phone SIM card in their shoes.

The ACLJ just obtained records showing that the FBI and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) leadership in Washington, D.C., were “pretty upset” with the CBP for issuing that release. The records we just secured through our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request lawsuit also show that the local FBI office in San Diego had “cleared” the release. However, the records show that FBI and CBP leadership were going to deal with it. Shockingly, the records reveal that CBP pulled down the release after receiving a demand for a phone call from FBI officials in Washington.

Key Takeaways:

  • According to the newly revealed records obtained by the ACLJ, CBP officials in Washington “let folks know this should never have been released by CBP and it should have been elevated for a determination on releasability.”
  • The records show the FBI demanded a phone call with CBP about the release on the day it was issued.
  • The officials discussed that “it was a mistake to issue” the release and that doing so put “our colleagues at the FBI in a very bad position.”
  • As one CBP official worried, “I just don't want someone to falsely claim again that I am ‘muzzling’ CBP.”
  • Another recommended referring all questions to the FBI to “stop . . .[] us from digging a deeper hole.”
  • The records reveal that the FBI office in San Diego had approved the release, but that FBI and CBP leadership in Washington wanted “a name,” were going to “track that down,” and “address it.”
  • The records show that the press release was intentionally taken down within 24 hours of being issued, confirming the removal was not a glitch or technical error.

We’ve obtained a key exchange between the CBP Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Office of Public Affairs, whose name has been redacted to apparently keep it hidden from us, and Marsha Espinosa, then-Assistant Secretary in CBP’s Office of Public Affairs (but who has now rejoined DHS where she previously worked for President Obama and now serves as “principal advisor to Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on all internal and external communications”).

In this exchange, the CBP brass discusses their displeasure that someone at CBP issued the release and the FBI in San Diego had approved it:

I am being told it was released at the request of BP El Centro Sector after being cleared by the FBI in San Diego. I have let folks know this should never have been released by CBP and it should have been elevated for a determination on releasability.

Please let [redacted] know about the local FBI angle as I am sure she will want to address it.

Going deeper in this email thread reveals that the FBI emailed Espinosa with this: “I need to alert you that our folks at [redacted] are pretty upset that anyone’s watchlist status was discussed.” Note, the FBI was apparently not pretty upset that Biden’s border policies were creating chaos that dangerous international terrorists were exploiting. No, instead, we see that the FBI was going after the rogue CBP officials who dared to expose the truth. And when they learned that the FBI office in San Diego had cleared it, they made plans to “address” it.

Earlier in this thread, we learn that on April 5, 2021, the day before the press release was taken down, someone (name-redacted) in the FBI’s Washington, D.C., office emailed Espinosa and the other name-redacted CBP official and demanded, “Could one of you please call me about the CBP release?”

In a different thread under the subject line “Yemenis at the Border?” the name-redacted CBP official tells Espinosa after 3:00 a.m. on April 6, 2021, “I have made it abundantly clear the release should not have been posted/distributed.” This was the response to Espinosa, who said, “I’m sure whoever pushed for this release will reach out to reporters if it’s taken down. You may want to have a holding statement ready if asked about why it violated policy. I just don’t want someone to falsely claim again that I am ‘muzzling’ CBP.”

At 10:31 p.m. on April 5, 2021, Espinosa tells the name-redacted CBP official that “it was a mistake to issue” the release and doing so put “our colleagues at the FBI in a very bad position”:

This release put our colleagues at the FBI in a very bad position. They frankly cannot answer questions on this – even if CBP refer reporters to them. Please make sure your leadership is tracking and I recommend taking the release down since it was a mistake to issue in the first place.

Five minutes later, the name-redacted person responds, “Understood. Did you see my direct reply that FBI San Diego cleared it? It still should have been elevated and not released.”

Then the hunt begins to find out who released the information. Two minutes later, at 10:37 p.m., Espinosa responds that she wants to find out who “so we can pass that along.” A minute later, the name-redacted person responds, “I did not get a name but will track that down.” And then, at 10:43 p.m. on April 5, 2021, the name-redacted CBP official assures Espinosa that “I have asked to have the release pulled off the newsroom.”

This committed effort to pull down the press release came even after the name-redacted Deputy Assistant Commissioner at CBP warned Espinosa in an email with three to four lines of redacted recipients: “The horse is out of the barn - taking the release down would probably become part of the story.” That email came at 9:27 p.m. on April 5, 2021. It also included a “cleared statement we are using when folks inquire.”

A little earlier that evening, the name-redacted Deputy Assistant Commissioner at CBP also told Espinosa, “The CBP release should not have gone out. I suggest we get back in our lane and refer media inquiries to the FBI, which owns the watch list. It is not a perfect solution but it stops us from digging a deeper hole.” The emails go on to show that these CBP officials in Washington first saw the release and inquiries from the press about it at midday on April 5, 2021.

Other than Marsha Espinosa – who apparently was subsequently promoted to “principal advisor to Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on all internal and external communications” – all names on the records we received have been redacted. Who were these senior officials at CBP and the FBI? There is absolutely no excuse under FOIA for the redaction of these officials’ names. We will be going back to court to demand these redactions be removed. The American people deserve to know who they are.

As soon as the release was taken down, we immediately got involved. While we were thankful these two people were caught by the brave CBP agents on the ground, we were concerned with the news that such people were attempting to cross our border. But then, after the Biden Administration quickly and quietly removed the CBP press release, we became even more concerned. They should be proud that they caught these terrorists. Why were they hiding this?

Remember, too, that this occurred in a period of time when illegal border crossing was setting records.

The ACLJ went to work. We sent a FOIA request to the CBP, as well as Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’ Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Among other topics, we demanded:

Records of communications of officials within the office of Secretary Mayorkas, or his immediate subordinates or assistants, the Deputy Secretary, or the Chief of Staff, as well as the DHS press/information office, leading to or substantively regarding the removal on or around April 6, 2021, of a CBP press release from its website announcing the arrest of two individuals who were named on the FBI terror watchlist.

We persevered against the Biden Administration’s continual resistance, and now we are finally getting the records from the CBP. This batch is just the first interim release in what will likely be quite a few to come.

We will continue to litigate this lawsuit against Biden’s CBP (and DHS and ICE) in federal court. We are already preparing to challenge the excessive redactions in this first batch of records. We will keep you posted on developments as we continue to unearth shady coverups that endanger our security.

Our fight goes on. Stand with us.

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