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DHS Put Together 'Intelligence Reports' of Journalists Who Leaked Portland Documents

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DHS Put Together 'Intelligence Reports' of Journalists Who Leaked Portland Documents

2020-07-31 16:33:03

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Chad Wolf (Image source: Public source)

It's been discovered that the Department of Homeland Security has put together "intelligence reports" about the work of journalists who covered the protests in Portland, Oregon. It's being seen as an abuse of a government system that was created to share information about terrorists and other violent threats.

Throughout the past week, the DHS's Office of Intelligence and Analysis has distributed three Open Source Intelligence Reports to federal law enforcement agencies and others. These summarized tweets were written by a New York Times reporter and the Lawfare blog editor-in-chief. The reports showed that they had published leaked, unclassified documents about DHS operations in Portland. The Washington Post obtained copies of the reports that include written descriptions and images of the tweets as well as the instances they had been liked or retweeted.

After the Post published a story Thursday evening about DHS collecting these reports, acting Homeland Security secretary Chad Wolf "directed the DHS Intelligence & Analysis Directorate to immediately discontinue collecting information involving members of the press," said a department spokesman in a statement.

"In no way does the acting secretary condone this practice, and he has immediately ordered an inquiry into the matter. The acting secretary is committed to ensuring that all DHS personnel uphold the principles of professionalism, impartiality, and respect for civil rights and civil liberties, particularly as it relates to the exercise of First Amendment rights."

Some of the leaked documents that the journalists had posted and written about showed the limitations of the department's understanding of the nature of the protests, as well as techniques intelligence analysts have used.

The Lawfare editor tweeted a memo by the department's top intelligence official that says personnel relied on FINTEL "baseball cards" of the arrested protesters. "FINTEL" is a shortened form of financial intelligence, as well as finished intelligence. The cards were relied on with the hope of understanding the arrested protesters' motivations and plans. Military and intelligence officials use these cards for dossiers of suspected terrorists.

DHS intelligence reports are unclassified and typically used for sharing analysis with federal law enforcement, state and local officials, and certain foreign governments. Their purpose is not for sharing information about American citizens with no known connections to terrorists or other violent people who are exercising their First Amendment rights, said current and former officials.

"This has no operational value whatsoever," said John Sandweg, a previous acting general counsel to the department. "This will just damage the intelligence office's reputation." He called the efforts with the journalists "incredibly dumb."

Officials familiar with the reports said they're consistent with the aggressive tactics of the Intelligence and Analysis Office in Portland. They worried the office is overstretching the boundaries of its authority to handle "Antifa" protesters for Donald Trump.

"To broadly disseminate an intelligence report, including to numerous state and local law enforcement agencies, about a DHS leak to a reporter, strikes me as bizarre," said Steve Bunnell. He was previously the department's general counsel during the Obama administration.

Bunnell said if officials were concerned about unauthorized disclosures, they should have reported it to the inspector general. He added that disseminating these reports "has nothing to do with DHS's original mission."

Earlier this month, DHS personnel were authorized to collect information on protesters who were threatening to damage or destroy statues and memorials, whether or not they were on federal property. This was expanding the department's reach significantly.

The intelligence reports on the journalists have been described as "provided for intelligence and lead purposes" and have "been deemed necessary for the intended recipient to understand, assess, or act on the information provided."

Times reporter Mike Baker, one of the journalists involved, co-authored a July 28 article that included an internal DHS memo that indicated the federal agents that were sent to handle the Portland protests didn't understand the nature of their mission.

 The DHS memo said the Portland conflict is connected to a long history of violence against government employees and facilities in the Pacific Northwest by "anarchist extremists." It acknowledged, "we have low confidence in our assessment" regarding the current protests. "We lack insight into the motives for the most recent attacks," read the memo.

In a Twitter post that linked to the Times article, Baker included an image of that portion of the memo. The intelligence report included the tweet and said Baker had posted "a leaked Department of Homeland Security (DHS) internal product."

Benjamin Wittes, the Lawfare editor-in-chief, is also a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. He posted multiple internal documents to his Twitter account. On July 24, he posted a memo that warned department employees not to give any information to reporters.

"The ongoing leaks related to our work in Portland remain of great concern as it distracts from our mission and creates opportunities for others to exploit this information for their own benefit," reads the unsigned memo.

The memo defended the intelligence office's authority. It reported that its work "informed our analysis on the enduring threat environment [in Portland] and disrupted attempted violent attacks."

"It's not the sharing of my tweet that's disturbing," said Wittes. "It's the construction of it as an intelligence report on a U.S. person that's disturbing." He added that if the department was willing to document public statements this way, who would prevent it from "making a public record dossier on me"?

"I'm considering my legal options and will have more to say about this at a later date," added Wittes.

In a later tweet, Wittes posted an internal memo from DHS acting undersecretary for intelligence and analysis Brian Murphy, who is also a former FBI agent. This memo announced that officials were changing the terminology that is used for individuals who attack federal facilities. Murphy wrote that the decision was based in part on the Open Source Intelligence Reports.

"We can't say any longer that this violent situation is opportunistic," Murphy wrote. He described that intelligence "overwhelmingly" led officials to believe the Portland attackers were driven by "anarchist" and "violent Antifa" ideologies. 

This contradicted the earlier DHS memo that the Times published that said the department didn't have enough information to know whether the protesters had anti-government connections.

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