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DHS official is removed from his job

A Department of Homeland Security official has been reassigned after his unit compiled three ‘intelligence reports’ about journalists and protesters in Portland. 

The Washington Post reports that Brian Murphy, the acting undersecretary for intelligence and analysis, was moved to a different position in the department. 

Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf made the decision on Friday, a source told the publication.

Murphy’s transfer comes after series of shocking revelations about his department published in the Washington Post.

On Thursday, it was revealed that the Intelligence & Analysis Office, or I&A, at the DHS compiled Open Source Intelligence Reports regarding two journalists. 

The journalists, who were covering the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests in Oregon, had published leaked department documents.

The journalists were identified as Mike Baker of the New York Times and Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and editor-in-chief of the blog Lawfare.  

Some officials were concerned by those reports because they indicated that a government system that connects several law enforcement agencies  was spreading information about citizens not connected to terrorists or violent criminals.

The leaked documents reportedly discussed the DHS’s lapses in understanding protests in Portland, as well as techniques used by intelligence analysts.

In a story co-authored by Baker for The Times, the leaked information said that the camouflaged federal agents sent to quell unrest in Portland did not fully understand the nature of the demonstrations. 

Wittes had shared photos of internal DHS documents on his Twitter feed, including one that urged personnel to not disclose information to the press, and another that involved Murphy. 

An internal memo from Murphy reportedly announced that officials were changing the terminology they used to refer to citizens attacking federal buildings.

‘We can’t say any longer that this violent situation is opportunistic,’ Murphy wrote.

He added that intelligence ‘overwhelmingly’ led officials to consider those individuals to be driven by ‘anarchist’ and ‘violent antifa’ ideologies.  

A memo by the department’s top intelligence official said personnel used ‘FINTEL, an acronym that means financial intelligence and finished intelligence, ‘baseball cards’ of arrested demonstrators to understand the movement’s plans, the Post  reports. 

Intelligence and military officials have used the ‘baseball cards’  for biographical dossiers for potential terrorists in the past.

‘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, who was the department’s general counsel for three years under President Obama.

Bunnell added that if DHS officials were really concerned about the leaked documents, they should notify the inspector general or handle the matter internally.

Chad Wolf, the acting DHS Secretary, ordered the Intelligence & Analysis Office to cease collecting information on reporters after the Post story was published. 

Wolf said in a statement: ‘Upon learning about the practice, Acting Secretary Wolf directed the DHS Intelligence & Analysis Directorate to immediately discontinue collecting information involving members of the press.

‘In no way does the Acting Secretary condone this practice and he has immediately ordered an inquiry into the matter.’

Murphy reportedly told Senate committee staffers that the Intelligence & Analysis Office did not collect, analyze or exploit the information on electronic devices belonging to protesters. 

But a report for WaPo claimed that DHS reviewed Portland protesters’ communications.  

Democratic Senators on Friday sent a letter to Murphy asking him to confirm that was true. 

The letter contained a list of 25 questions, as well as signatures from Senators Kamala Harris, Dianne Feinstein, Ron Wyden, Angus S. King, Michael F. Bennet and Vice Chairman Mark R. Warner.

The department reportedly had access to protesters’ electronic messages, some of which were reportedly included in an intelligence report and shared to several federal law enforcement agencies. 

A DHS Open Source Intelligence Report reportedly showed that the Intelligence & Analysis Office analyzed conversations held on the messaging app, Telegram.

Discussions reportedly included how to avoid law enforcement and which directions to take during marches. 

The messages did not show protesters making plans to attack or harass federal agents that have descended onto Portland.

Instead, they reportedly focused on how to avoid conflicts that could lead to detainment.

 ‘We went down the side street and it seemed to deter them from following us, they retreated,’ one protester wrote, according to the Post. 

Some current officials have said that Murphy has tried to expand the operational efforts of the intelligence office – but may have been stepping over authorized boundaries to do so.

Murphy’s unit publishes reports mostly based on unclassified or public sources, unlike agencies like the FBI and CIA.

Murphy allegedly tried to model his unit after the larger agencies, but earned criticism and scrutiny from some. 

One source said the information collected about journalists was what may have led to his reassignment.

Some officials have also reportedly been troubled that Murphy might be misapplying the unit’s authority. 

The journalists’ intelligence reports seemed to justify the compiling the information because of a requirement to assemble intelligence about cybersecurity threats.

It’s unclear how the journalists’ tweets classified as cybersecurity. 

And some officials reportedly believe Murphy’s attempt to broaden the terminology used for violent individuals in Portland may have been to gain favor with the Trump administration.

But Murphy’s claim that violent protesters were linked to radical antifa ideologies was weakened by a previous DHS report that said there was not enough evidence to determine that.        

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