Bad Watchdog

Bad Watchdog

In this award-winning investigative podcast, host Maren Machles explores how accountability failures in Washington D.C. impact the lives of people all over the country, and she showcases the investigators, experts, and activists who work to keep our government working for the people. In the second season, Maren and POGO’s investigative reporters take a look at the Department of Homeland Security. They trace how an agency established to protect the nation from security threats has doubled down on detaining migrants, sometimes in horrifying conditions, while failing to address the more immediate security threat caused by far-right extremism — even within the agency’s own ranks. In the first season, Maren focused on the department’s Office of Inspector General, revealing a shocking pattern of misconduct that resulted in a failure to investigate some of the most troubling events in recent history. In 2024, Bad Watchdog was a silver medalist at the New York Festivals Radio Awards and a nominee for the Ambie Awards' Best Politics or Opinion Podcast. For more, visit Bad Watchdog is a member of the Airwave Media network and a part of The Democracy Group, a network of podcasts that examines what’s broken in our democracy and how we can work together to fix it.


January 16, 2023 2 mins
Government watchdogs don’t normally make the evening news. But when Homeland Security Inspector General Joseph Cuffari failed to alert Congress for months that Secret Service agents deleted text messages after January 6, he was thrust into the national spotlight. And it turns out there was a lot more that he was covering up. In a new six-part podcast, investigators from the Project On Government Oversight explore what happens when ...
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How did a peaceful transfer of power devolve into the first breach of the U.S. Capitol in over two centuries? Deleted Secret Service text messages may hold important answers about what happened on January 6, 2021, but Homeland Security watchdog Joseph Cuffari failed to inform Congress for months they were missing. What’s more, Cuffari refused a request to help recover the text messages, and he halted an internal Secret Service inve...
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January 26, 2023 28 mins
A troubling pattern of ignoring serious misconduct at the Department of Homeland Security begins to emerge. Despite widespread condemnation of law enforcement’s use of tear gas on Black Lives Matter protesters gathered in Lafayette Square in Washington, Homeland Security watchdog Joseph Cuffari declined to investigate the incident. Investigative reporters Nick Schwellenbach and Adam Zagorin walk Maren through Cuffari’s baffling ref...
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February 2, 2023 28 mins
Nick and Adam discover that Cuffari’s office removed damaging findings from an official report about dozens of cases of domestic abuse by Homeland Security law enforcement agents with access to government-issued firearms, and they poke holes in Cuffari’s excuses for refusing to criticize the agencies he’s supposed to hold accountable. Maren circles up with experts to learn about how the Department of Homeland Security became home t...
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February 9, 2023 36 mins
The Homeland Security watchdog tries to bury a report on sexual harassment and misconduct at the agency, but POGO’s investigators expose the plot. Maren talks to former Border Patrol officer and current reform advocate Jenn Budd about her own painful experiences working for the agency. DHS Secretary Mayorkas responds almost immediately to Nick and Adam’s findings, and Congress starts asking questions about Cuffari.  For transcript ...
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February 16, 2023 35 mins
Cuffari’s mismanagement of Homeland Security’s watchdog office has Maren wondering how he ended up with such an important job in the first place. She looks back at his Senate confirmation, alleged ethics violations, and dubious qualifications, and she and Nick talk with Representative Bennie Thompson (D-MS), chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security, about his efforts to hold Cuffari accountable. Nick and Adam detail Cuffar...
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February 23, 2023 32 mins
In the final episode of “Bad Watchdog,” Nick and Adam discover that Cuffari knew about even more missing January 6th text messages from the Trump-era DHS leadership team, and Maren asks the million-dollar question: Why hasn’t this guy been removed from power? Experts weigh reforms to the inspector general system that would improve accountability for bad watchdogs and discuss what may be preventing President Biden from taking action...
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Last week was the first time DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari testified in front of Congress since Bad Watchdog was released. Lawmakers took it as a chance to hold him accountable for some of the decisions he’s made as inspector general, from his delayed notification to Congress about the missing Secret Service text messages to the sexual misconduct and harassment report his office never published. Investigative reporter Nick S...
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We want to share a new podcast with you! Obscured tells stories that unfold largely out of the public eye. Investigative journalists and creators of Obscured Emily Previti and Stephanie Marudas are sharing the latest episode from their series “From Words to Weapons” with Bad Watchdog listeners. Obscured’s sixth episode of “From Words to Weapons” focuses on how county jails treat people with mental health conditions.  Emily and Step...
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June 6, 2024 2 mins
In the wake of 9/11, and in fear of another attack, members of Congress agreed to create a powerful new agency, the Department of Homeland Security. Now, more than 20 years later, the agency has exploded in size. It’s doubled down on detaining immigrants — sometimes in horrifying conditions. This summer, the Project On Government Oversight’s investigative podcast Bad Watchdog returns, with a new season focused on DHS. Host Maren Ma...
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June 20, 2024 30 mins
Host Maren Machles learns more about people’s experiences in ICE detention by talking with formerly detained activist Berto Hernandez and traveling to El Paso, Texas, to hear directly from people who were recently released from ICE facilities. She explores how immigration laws and one anti-terrorism law from the 1990s influenced the current political landscape and helped create the conditions that led to the mass detention of migra...
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June 20, 2024 40 mins
Established in the wake of September 11, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was entrusted with protecting the U.S. from national security threats. Since then, much of the agency’s focus has been on the southern border — with tens of thousands of people held in its detention centers on a daily basis. Host Maren Machles explores how this came to be and delves into what happens to people held in immigration detention centers wi...
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June 27, 2024 29 mins
This episode discusses suicide and recounts an incident in which a homophobic slur was used.  Maren follows the story of Berto Hernandez, who recounts their detainment at ICE’s Adelanto Detention Center and the treatment and conditions they faced inside. But when people in detention are mistreated, where can they turn for help? Experts from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) inv...
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July 4, 2024 37 mins
The Department of Homeland Security is a very large, very powerful federal agency. It’s also extremely secretive. Who monitors the agency and holds it accountable the actions it takes as part of its mission to protect the homeland? In this episode, Maren explains how hard it is just to access information about conditions in DHS detention facilities. She breaks down the ways agencies like DHS withhold information from the public — a...
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July 11, 2024 44 mins
Content note: This episode discusses suicide and sexual violence. After a years-long legal fight from the Department of Homeland Security, a court order finally gave Nick and other investigators access to 33 reports detailing conditions in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities. The documents showed a disturbing pattern of abuse that extended far beyond the gates of Adelanto Detention Center, spreading throu...
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July 18, 2024 49 mins
For the past few episodes, Maren has explored the reality of immigration detention, uplifting the conditions in Department of Homeland Security (DHS) centers where thousands are held under the presumption that they may be threats to national security. In the season finale of Bad Watchdog, we return to where we started, with the DHS’s counterterrorism mission. Maren breaks down the current landscape of terrorism in the United States...
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