DHS Doing 'Intelligence Reports' On Journalists, Like In Real, Live Police State!
The Washington Post broke some news last night about the latest Department of Homeland Security fuckery in Portland, reporting that DHS's "intelligence" branch collected copies of tweets and newspaper articles by two US journalists. They then sent reports to federal law enforcement agencies warning the journos had posted copies of leaked, unclassified internal DHS documents about the DHS compiling intelligence reports on protesters in Portland.
Which makes for a nice circular abuse of intelligence resources, we suppose, but the problem, as the Post points out, is that the reports make use of a "government system meant to share information about suspected terrorists and violent actors." For all Donald Trump's prating on about the press being enemies of the people, reporters are definitely not. (But by all means, buy the shirt!)
The Post summarizes the operation thusly:
Over the past week, the department's Office of Intelligence and Analysis has disseminated three Open Source Intelligence Reports to federal law enforcement agencies and others, summarizing tweets written by two journalists — a reporter for the New York Times and the editor in chief of the blog Lawfare — and noting they had published leaked, unclassified documents about DHS operations in Portland. The intelligence reports, obtained by The Washington Post, include written descriptions and images of the tweets and the number of times they had been liked or retweeted by others.
Pretty dangerous stuff that our brave federal soldiercops need to know about, to be sure. The entire story is simultaneously farcical and disturbing. Here's a government agency treating tweets and newspaper articles as if they were national security matters. It's as absurd as the FBI monitoring John Lennon, "a former member of the Beatles singing group," to see if he was a subversive. It's also chilling, for the very same reasons: You don't use spy tools on people who are simply doing First Amendment stuff. Or rather you're not supposed to.
In an update, the Post notes that after the story broke last night, (Acting) DHS Secretary Chad Wolf seems to have realized just how stupid and banana-republic-y it all looked; Wolf ordered DHS's pretend spies to knock it off, and opened an "investigation" into the embarrassing fuck-tussle. In a statement, a DHS spokesperson said
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.
Remember, the reporters had been reporting on another iffy DHS intelligence operation, in which DHS collected publicly available information on protesters it suspected of possibly planning to damage monuments or statues, whether they were on federal property or not, as part of Donald Trump's mission to save America's statues from Antifa. Which sure lends an interesting spin to the statement's insistence that Wolf "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."
So no more spying on journos, but yeah, we're going to keep snooping on protesters, who do need to be treated as potential terrorists.
The Post points out that the leaked documents posted by the journos "revealed shortcomings in the department's understanding of the nature of the protests in Portland, as well as techniques that intelligence analysts have used." For instance,
A memo by the department's top intelligence official, which was tweeted by the editor of Lawfare, says personnel relied on "FINTEL," an acronym for financial intelligence, as well as finished intelligence "Baseball cards" of arrested protesters to try to understand their motivations and plans. Historically, military and intelligence officials have used such cards for biographical dossiers of suspected terrorists, including those targeted in lethal drone strikes.
Well sure, but since "Antifa" is a terrorist group, according to Donald Trump, it only makes sense American protesters need similar treatment. Warm up the Predator drones!
And again, the intelligence reports on the two reporters — Lawfare editor Benjamin Wittes and New York Times reporter Mike Baker — aren't supposed to be used for American citizens who aren't doing terrorism.
"This has no operational value whatsoever," said John Sandweg, who previously served as the department's acting general counsel.
"This will just damage the intelligence office's reputation," Sandweg said, calling the decision to report on journalists "incredibly dumb."
Well sure, but since the administration believes Portland is being burned to the ground every night, you can't be too careful. Besides, it's not likely that the reputation of DHS at this point could get any lower.
In fact, it appears Wittes and Baker may have been targeted because the leaked materials they separately reported on made DHS look like a bunch of dipshits who had little understanding of the Portland protests. A DHS memo Baker wrote about, for instance, claimed the protests were part of a longstanding campaign against the government by "anarchist extremists," but it also
acknowledged that "we have low confidence in our assessment" when it comes to understanding the current protests in Oregon's largest city.
"We lack insight into the motives for the most recent attacks," the memo said.
Wittes's offense involved tweeting images of leaked DHS memos telling employees not to talk to reporters. And damn right, it's pretty wonderful that the intelligence report on Wittes was then leaked to other reporters. Wittes told the Post he's not worried that his tweets were circulated, but he is bothered that they were compiled as an "intelligence report," because what's to keep DHS from keeping dossiers on Americans doing journalism? He said he's looking at his legal options.
For our money (a buck and a quarter), the best paragraph in the story is this assessment of the DHS intelligence branch's reputation even prior to this latest fuckup:
The Intelligence and Analysis Office has for years been the butt of jokes among larger, more established agencies like the CIA and the FBI, who liken it to 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.
Gosh, guess that's a totally unearned reputation for bush-league spyfuckery.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.