The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency failed to redact a document for at least the second time in less than a month after trying to redact the location of a future "urban warfare" training facility that is expected to include "hyper-realistic" simulations of homes, hotels and commercial buildings in Chicago and Arizona.
On Tuesday, ICE published an acquisition form for the procurement of "hyper-realistic training devices" for a new training facility for its expanding Special Response Team (SRT) program on the Federal Business Opportunities (FBO) website.
The immigration agency had sought to redact the location of the new training facility, but failed to do so properly. The agency, which has made this kind of mistake previously, appears to have a systemic information-security problem.
In this case, Newsweek was able to simply copy and paste the document's contents into a word processor and quickly establish that the facility would be built at the Office of Firearms and Tactical Programs' (OFTP) Tactical Operations Complex (TOC) at Fort Benning, Georgia, a U.S. Army post used to prepare soldiers for combat.
It is unclear why ICE sought to redact the location of the training facility, as it was previously named in a document obtained by Quartz.
In addition to failing to properly redact the location, however, ICE also sought to withhold information that the Army post would be getting an expansion, with up to 50 buildings expected to be added to the site.
"A Blanket Purchase Agreement (BPA) vehicle will be competed among GSA Federal Supply Schedule holders for additional training buildings and interior/exterior outfitting in the first quarter of Fiscal Year 20," ICE states in a portion it did not attempt to redact from the document.
In a following partially redacted line, it states: "OFTP plans to expand the Training Site at Ft. Benning to include up to 50 additional buildings and add additional U.S. city layouts and designs."
Throughout the document, areas that were meant to be withheld were not redacted properly, including signature lines at the bottom of the document. Instead of names, these would-be redacted lines contain what appears to be placeholders, such as "ijunynyhhjhjhjjjjjjj," "hnjumgfrdddfffffff" and "BHMKKOOOOOO."
ICE's new training facility is expected to include,"at a minimum," a "multitude of basic, intermediate and hyper-realistic training devices, a tactical training warehouse, classroom facilities and vehicle assault training area."
Among those training devices will be a "hyper-realistic props/design" that simulates "residential houses, apartments, hotels, government facilities and commercial buildings," along with other training configurations.
ICE is specifically interested in acquiring a "Chicago" style replica, as well as an "Arizona" style replica, with the agency expecting to dedicate a total estimated value of $961,347.75 to the effort.
Hyper-realism, the agency states, is "a critical component to this acquisition as the details provide essential information that must be acknowledged, processed and acted upon to minimize risk to our Special Agents, Deportation Officers and SRT operators during high-risk search and arrest warrants, fugitive operations, undercover operations, hostage rescue, gang operations, etc."
"For example, details like the number of dishes left on the table, toys in the yard, lighting, furniture, etc. all provide clues that allow our agents and officers to infer vital information that directly affects their safety and the potential resolution or outcome in the scenario," it continues. "Learning to process this information quickly to identify whether there are children present, or how many people are currently in the structure is a necessary skill developed in training."
The agency goes on to detail how a Defense Science Board task force "found that the probability of being a causualty (sic) decreases significantly after the first few 'decisive combats'," it adds. "These hyper-realistic devices will allow the teams to have those experiences in real-world conditions without the real-world casualties."
According to the document, ICE is working to continue expanding its Special Response Teams stationed throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico.
New ICE employees had already been expected to receive training at the Maneuver Center of Excellence in Fort Benning, where ICE's Office of Training and Tactical Programs (OTTP) Firearms and Tactics Division "makes its home," according to a May 2017 news release published on ICE's website.
Explaining "what takes place" at Benning, ICE Division Chief Bert Medina said in a statement included in the release that ICE trains "experienced law enforcement personnel in the use of force and existing weapons in application of force."
"In addition, we provide law enforcement instructors [with] the skills and abilities to teach use of force and defensive techniques with and without weapons so they can prepare ICE officers on the front lines of federal law enforcement to perform their duties safely and in accordance with standards," Medina said.
This is not the first incident in which ICE has failed to properly redact a document. Just last month, the agency accidentally revealed the value of a renewed contract with software company Palantir.
As Mother Jones reported on August 20, ICE accidentally exposed that the agreement could be worth some $49 million over a three-year period.
The National Security Agency (NSA) provides a guide on how to properly redact PDF files using Adobe Acrobat Professional X.
"Redaction of information from documents is an ongoing challenge," the NSA states in its guide, adding that it has "released several papers on the topic of redaction and the removal of hidden data in Microsoft Word and PDF files."
It is unclear whether ICE consulted the NSA's guidance before publishing either of the documents.
Shortly after this article was published, ICE removed its incorrectly redacted document from the FBO website.
The following day, ICE republished the document with Fort Benning named as the site where the new training facility will be built.
It also named the company that it plans to purchase its hyper-realistic training devices from as San Diego-based Strategic Operations, Inc., which describes itself on its website as offering "innovative solutions for the challenges our war-fighters face in this increasingly unstable world."
In a statement sent to Newsweek on Thursday, ICE spokesperson Paul Prince asserted that ICE had not needed to redact information in its initial post on the FBO website. He said ICE had only chosen to do so "out of an abundance of caution."
He did not address the fact that the document had been incorrectly redacted, nor did he provide any additional information on the plans for the training site.
Meanwhile, Kevin Waskow, Strategic Operations' vice president of contracts, told Newsweek that the company could not provide any information pertaining to ICE's procurement of its services.
Updated: 14/09/2019 at 2p.m.: This article has been updated to reflect that the location ICE had sought to redact had previously been named in a prior report. It has also been updated with statements from ICE, Strategic Operations.