After The Post published an online story Thursday evening detailing the department’s practices, internal security secretary Chad Wolf ordered the intelligence office to stop gathering information on journalists and announced an investigation. on the matter.
“As soon as he learned of the practice, Secretary Agent Wolf ordered the DHS Intelligence and Analysis Directorate to immediately stop gathering information involving members of the press,” a department spokesman said in a statement. “The Acting Secretary does not in any way put an end to this practice and he immediately ordered an investigation into the matter. The Acting Secretary is committed to ensuring that all DHS staff adhere to the principles of professionalism, impartiality and respect for civil rights and civil liberties, in particular as regards the exercise of First Amendment rights. “
Some of the DHS leak documents that journalists sent and wrote about revealed flaws in the department̵7;s understanding of the nature of the protests in Portland, as well as about techniques that intelligence analysts used . A memo from the department’s top intelligence officer, which was tweeted by Lawfare’s editor, says staff rely on “FINTEL,” an acronym for financial intelligence, as well as on protesters ’intelligence baseball cards. arrested for trying to understand their motivations and plans. Historically, military and intelligence officers have used these papers for biographical dossiers of suspected terrorists, including those aimed at lethal drone attacks.
DHS intelligence reports, which are unclassified, are traditionally used for sharing departmental analysis with federal law enforcement agencies, state and local officials, and some foreign governments. They are not intended to disseminate information about U.S. citizens who have no connection to terrorists or other violent actors and who are involved in an activity protected by the First Amendment, current and former officials said.
“This has no operational value,” said John Sandweg, who previously served as the department’s attorney general.
“This will only damage the reputation of the intelligence office,” said Sandweg, who called the decision to report to reporters “incredibly stupid.”
Officials familiar with the reports, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss them, said they were consistent with the department’s aggressive tactics in Portland, and in particular the work of the Intelligence Office. and the Analysis, who are worried about overstepping the bounds of its authority in an effort to renounce “antifa” Protestants to please President Trump. He and other senior administration officials have used this “anti-fascist” label to describe people in Portland and other cities protesting police violence, as well as others who vandalized statues and monuments to Confederate officials who they consider it racist.
The reports reflect the information office’s concerns about internal information leaks.
“Widely disseminating an intelligence report, including to several state and local law enforcement agencies, about a DHS leak to a reporter strikes me as strange,” said Steve Bunnell, who served as the attorney. general of the department for three years in the Obama administration. If department officials were concerned about unauthorized disclosure, they should refer the matter to the inspector general or handle it internally, he said.
Dissemination of information about internal leaks of this nature through intelligence reports “has nothing to do with the original DHS mission,” Bunnell said.
The Office of Intelligence and Analysis has for years been the joke among larger and more established agencies such as the CIA and FBI, which resemble a team of junior varsity athletes. The DHS office produces reports that are largely based on unclassified, often public sources of information that current and former officials have said are of limited use.
During operations in Portland, the office sought to expand its range. Earlier this month, DHS staff were authorized to gather information about protesters threatening to damage or destroy public monuments and statues, regardless of whether they are on federal property, a significant expansion of authorities that have historically been used to protect Landmarks from terrorist attacks, Earlier officials said.
Intelligence reports on journalists say they are “provided for intelligence and lead purposes” and that “they were deemed necessary for the intended recipient to understand, assess or act on the information provided.”
One of the journalists, Times reporter Mike Baker, wrote an article on July 28 that revealed a DHS internal note indicating that camouflaged federal agents sent to stop the unrest in Portland did not understand the nature of the the protests they were facing.
The DHS note described the conflict as connected to a history of years of violence against government personnel and facilities in the Pacific Northwest by “anarchist extremists.” But he acknowledged that “we have low confidence in our assessment” when it comes to understanding the current protests in Oregon’s largest city.
“We have a lack of knowledge about the motivations for the most recent attacks,” the memo said.
Baker included an image of that portion of the memorandum in a Twitter thread that was also linked to the Times article. The DHS intelligence report included that tweet and stated that Baker had posted “an internal product of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).”
A spokesman for the Times declined to comment.
The other journalist, Benjamin Wittes, a senior partner at the Brookings Institution and the editor-in-chief of Lawfare, had also posted several internal documents in his Twitter feed, including, on 24 July, a memorandum amounting to department staff not to give information to reporters.
“The continuing leakage related to our work in Portland remains a major concern as it alienates our mission and creates opportunities for others to exploit this information for their own benefit,” the unsigned memorandum states.
The note was written in response to reporting in Lawfare and The Washington Post days earlier about the new guide to gathering information about people who threatened monuments and statues. The note defended the authority of the information office and said its work had “informed our analysis of the environment of a lasting threat. [in Portland] and thwarted an attempted violent attack. “
Wittes told The Post that he does not object to the department expressing concerns about leaks and that if officials sent a link to his tweet in a message to employees, he would not object.
“It’s not sharing my tweet that is troubling. It’s building this as an intelligence report on a disturbing American person,” Wittes said.
If the department was willing to document public statements this way, what would stop DHS from “making a public record dossier on me?” Wittes asked.
“I am considering my legal options and will have more to say about this at a later date,” he added.
In a subsequent tweet that was also the subject of an intelligence report, Wittes sent an internal note from Brian Murphy, the DHS undersecretary acting for information and analysis and a former FBI agent, announcing that officers were changing the terminology used for individuals attacking federal facilities. . The decision, Murphy wrote, was based in part on the Open Source Intelligence Reports that officials reviewed about the protesters.
“We can no longer say that this violent situation is opportunistic,” wrote Murphy, who added that intelligence “by a large majority” led officials to believe that the attackers were driven by “anarchist” and “antifa” ideologies. violent “.
Murphy’s conclusions cut against previous DHS memoranda, reported by the Times, said the department did not have enough information to know if Portland protesters were connected to anti-government groups that had a history of operation in the region.
Nick Miroff contributed to this report.