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Around 20 DHS intelligence reports recalled in the wake of Portland controversy

Posted September 22, 2020 6:38 p.m. EDT

— Around 20 Department of Homeland Security open source intelligence reports were recalled in the aftermath of revelations this summer that the department had potentially collected and disseminated intelligence on US journalists, according to a department official familiar with the review.

The intelligence reports, which had already been shared with state and local officials, were pulled back because they didn't meet the department's requirements, the official said. Although the nature of the reports is unclear, it speaks to the recent turmoil inside the department's intelligence division.

The recalls come in the wake of a shakeup at the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis, stemming from a July report that the department compiled "intelligence reports" about the work of two US journalists covering protests in Portland, Oregon.

After that report, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf directed the intelligence branch to cease collecting information involving US members of the media and ordered a review of the incident. The move was in response to a Washington Post report that DHS disseminated three Open Source Intelligence Reports summarizing tweets written by the two journalists.

Wolf later told lawmakers that there were three instances of information being distributed as part of the DHS "Open Source Reporting Program" that identified members of the press.

The intelligence office was also ordered to review its procedures related to the collection of identifiable information of American journalists at the time.

Around the same time, Brian Murphy, who oversaw the DHS intelligence division for several months, was reassigned. Wolf installed Joseph Maher, DHS' principal deputy general counsel, to lead in the intelligence division after Murphy was pushed out.

Under Maher's watch, a review found that a number of recent reports should not have been released, the DHS official said.

DHS' spokesperson for the Intelligence and Analysis office told CNN: "I&A regularly reviews the intelligence we disseminate to ensure it meets our intelligence standards and authorities. As is standard practice, we do not comment on specific intelligence reporting."

The spokesperson added: "We continue to produce intelligence reports on all threats to the Homeland with a constant commitment to doing so with increased timeliness, quality, and quantity."

Whistleblower report

Earlier this month, Murphy filed a whistleblower report that called into question the motivation behind his reassignment.

He alleged that top DHS political appointees repeatedly instructed career officials to modify intelligence assessments to suit President Donald Trump's agenda by downplaying Russia's efforts to interfere in the US and the threat posed by White supremacists.

Murphy claimed that Wolf instructed DHS officials earlier this year to "cease providing intelligence assessments on the threat of Russian interference" and, instead, focus their efforts on gathering information related to activities being carried out by China and Iran.

Murphy's attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the recalls.

Last month, Reps. Max Rose of New York and House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi introduced legislation to increase oversight of the intelligence division. The bill would require DHS intelligence products to be vetted by the department's office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties -- legislation prompted by changes made to the department's intelligence review process by Ken Cuccinelli, the senior official performing the duties of the deputy secretary.

"Despite their best clean-up efforts after getting caught, it was no accident that the Department of Homeland Security published intelligence reports on journalists," said Rose in a statement at the time.

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