House panel investigating DHS intelligence activities during Portland protests

The House Intelligence Committee has launched an investigation into intelligence activities conducted by the Department of Homeland Security during recent protests around the country, including in Portland, Oregon.

In a letter to acting Secretary Chad Wolf and Office of Intelligence and Analysis acting under secretary Horace Jen, the panel’s Democratic chairman Rep. Adam Schiff specifically cites concerns related to the “monitoring of peaceful protesters” as well as “creating and disseminating intelligence reports about journalists and protesters.”

Schiff’s announcement comes after the Department of Homeland Security official who oversaw the intelligence division at the department would be reassigned after it was revealed his office had gathered intelligence reports on two US journalists, according to a source familiar with the matter.

“Let me be clear: the reporting regarding the monitoring of peaceful protesters, creating and disseminating intelligence reports about journalists and protesters, and potential exploitation of electronic devices is deeply troubling,” the California Democrat wrote.

Brian Murphy, who served as the acting under secretary for the DHS intelligence office, was summoned to Wolf’s office Friday night, as speculation grew that he would be moved out of his role, according to another source familiar.

The collection and dissemination of information on journalists was carried out by lower level officials acting on broad guidance, the same source told CNN, adding that Murphy was not fully aware until after the fact.

The Washington Post was first to report on Saturday that Murphy had been removed from his job.

On Thursday, the Post also reported that DHS had sent Open Source Intelligence Reports to federal law enforcement agencies summarizing tweets sent by two journalists — New York Times reporter Mike Baker and Benjamin Wittes, the editor-in-chief of the blog Lawfare — who had published leaked unclassified government documents while covering the unrest in Portland, Oregon.

Wolf, who has led the department in an acting capacity since last November, sought to distance himself from the incident.

“In no way does the Acting Secretary condone this practice, and he has immediately ordered an inquiry into the matter,” the DHS spokesperson said in a statement earlier this week.

On Friday, Wolf issued an internal memo directing the intelligence branch to cease collecting information involving journalists and ordered a review of the incident.

The department “will no longer identify US members of the media in our intelligence products,” he wrote in a memo obtained by CNN, adding that he is ordering an “immediate review of the circumstances surrounding the collection and dissemination of intelligence on US members of the press.”

The department’s inspector general is also investigating the incident, according to an official familiar with the matter.

Senate discussing ‘anarchist violence’

Meanwhile, the Republican-led Senate announced it will hold a hearing Tuesday focused on “protecting speech by stopping anarchist violence.”

The witnesses include, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, as well as Trump administration officials, Texas US Attorney Erin Neely Cox and Ken Cuccinelli, the Department of Homeland Security senior official performing the duties of the deputy secretary.

Cuccinelli has defended federal authorities’ behavior in Portland, recently telling CNN, “We have to protect ourselves, meaning the the facilities we are responsible for and our officers.”

The committee will also hear from conservative journalist Andrew Ngo, who last summer was caught amid violence in Portland that he blamed on Antifa protesters.