- The Department of Homeland Security reportedly compiled “intelligence reports” on journalists covering the ongoing protests in Portland, a practice traditionally reserved for collecting information on suspected terrorists and violent actors, The Washington Post reported on Thursday.
- The department’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis distributed three Open Source Intelligence Reports, which included tweets from Mike Baker, a reporter for The New York Times, and Benjamin Wittes, the editor-in-chief of the blog Lawfare.
- The reports, obtained by The Post, detailed the number of likes and retweets each post received and listed that both reporters had “published leaked, unclassified documents about DHS operations in Portland,” The Post reported.
- Former general counsels of the department said creating dossiers on unclassified internal leaks was “bizarre,” so far as calling the decision “incredibly dumb.”
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The Department of Homeland Security reportedly created and disseminated “intelligence reports” on journalists covering the Black Lives Matter protests in Portland, Oregon, The Washington Post reported Thursday.
The practice is traditionally reserved for compiling information on suspected terrorists and violent actors, according to The Post report.
The DHS’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis compiled and distributed three Open Source Intelligence Reports, which included tweets from Mike Baker, a reporter for The New York Times, and Benjamin Wittes, the editor-in-chief of the blog Lawfare.
The reports, obtained by The Post, also detailed the number of likes and retweets each post received and listed that both reporters had “published leaked, unclassified documents about DHS operations in Portland,” The Post reported.
On July 26, Wittes tweeted a photo of an internal memo from the head of the department’s Intelligence and Analysis office citing the reason behind escalating violence in Portland from “Violent Opportunists” (VO) to Antifa.”
Internal memo from head of DHS I&A formally changing the blame for Portland violence from "Violent Opportunists" (VO) to Antifa.
FIR=field intelligence report
OSIR=open source intelligence report pic.twitter.com/xmQRrRfj5r
— Benjamin Wittes (@benjaminwittes) July 26, 2020
Wittes also posted screenshots of another internal memo condemning department information leaks to journalists.
“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,” according to the memo, for which Wittes did not disclose the author.
Internal memo from DHS I&A complaining about leaks to @lawfareblog and @shaneharris (neither by name) and insisting intel activity in Portland is all legal and appropriate. Withholding name of author for privacy reasons. pic.twitter.com/8s1d6QNM3e
— Benjamin Wittes (@benjaminwittes) July 25, 2020
Baker, the other journalist, co-authored an article earlier this week reporting that the federal agents sent to Portland had a shaky understanding as to why there were deployed in the first place, citing an internal DHS memo.
He tweeted an image of the unclassified memo that said the department had “low confidence in our assessment” of the roots of the protests.
The DHS memo came as federal agents were engaging with protesters in Portland. The memo described a history of violence in the city but said it had “low confidence” in its assessment of an enduring threat there.
“We lack insight into the motives for the most recent attacks.” pic.twitter.com/BmESeWICeb
— Mike Baker (@ByMikeBaker) July 28, 2020
Wittes tweetedThursday that “it does not trouble” him that his tweets were shared internally, as they were “innocuous enough.”
“What is troubling about this story is that I&A shared my tweets *as intelligence reporting,* that is, an intelligence arm of the government filed a report on a citizen for activity at the heart of journalism: revealing newsworthy information about government to the public,” Wittes wrote in a follow-up post.
John Sandweg, who formerly served as the acting general counsel at the DHS, said compiling intelligence reports on journalists “has no operational value whatsoever,” calling the decision “incredibly dumb.”
“This will just damage the intelligence office’s reputation,” Sandweg told The Post.
Steve Bunnell, who served as the department’s general counsel under the Obama administration, echoed the sentiment, noting that the intelligence reports on internal leaks have “nothing to do with DHS’s original mission.”
“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,” Bunnell told The Post.
The DHS told The Post in a statement that the intelligence reports were “produced under pre-established classified intelligence reporting requirements that are developed through a rigorous process to include legal and Intelligence oversight guidelines.”