Over a dozen Consumer Financial Protection Bureau employees have downloaded encrypted messaging applications on government-issued phones and are potentially violating federal law, according to documents obtained by the Cause of Action Institute and provided exclusively to the Daily Caller News Foundation.
This demonstrates a culture of secrecy within some segments of the agency’s staff under President Donald Trump.
The Cause of Action Institute (CoA), a nonprofit dedicated to government transparency, received the documents in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request following a December New York Times article describing a cohort of agency employees who are conspiring to undermine acting director and Trump appointee Mick Mulvaney’s agenda. The individuals call themselves “Dumbledore’s Army,” named after a group of fictional wizards in the children’s series “Harry Potter.”
The different apps include popular ephemeral messaging app Snapchat and encrypted messaging apps Signal, WhatsApp along with others.
The Federal Records Act requires federal agencies to preserve the records of anything that relates to a government employee’s duties. An amendment was added in Nov. 2014 that defines all “electronic messages” as official records covered by the law.
If Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) employees are using third-party applications to avoid having their conduct or day-to-day work recorded, this would potentially violate federal law.
The FOIA request asked for any efforts by CFPB to recover, investigate the use of, or archive any messages sent on these applications from employees as well as any actual messages sent or received on any of these applications. In the agency’s response to CoA, the agency claimed it could not locate any of these records.
Emails retrieved through the FOIA request show CFPB employees exchanging random Harry Potter characters to one another with no context. It’s unclear whether these employees are the same ones referenced in the original Times article. Another email shows employees from the “Matters Most” team discussing the FOIA request with other Harry Potter references bizarrely included throughout.
One email, however, does show some CFPB managers in a positive light. When an assistant regional director sent two of his managers the Times article, he appears upset by the reporting and replies with the following:
“Thanks for the heads up Andrew. Interesting article. I would hope no one on our team is quietly resisting leadership that all 4 ADs are following.”
Rogue employees at federal agencies using encrypted messaging apps has been an ongoing issue under the Trump administration. The Daily Caller News Foundation reported on a CoA lawsuit filed in November against the Environmental Protection Agency for records related to staff members’ use of Signal.
“We now know that a small group of career EPA employees used Signal to avoid transparency,” CoA counsel Ryan Mulvey told TheDCNF at the time.
“These employees’ work-related communications—including their messages concerning any proposed efforts to thwart the new Administration’s political appointees from carrying out the President’s policy agenda—should have been preserved for disclosure to the public,” Mulvey said. “Records released by the EPA, however, prove that this preservation never took place.”
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