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DHS stops compiling intel reports on journalists covering Portland protests

DHS stops compiling intel reports on journalists covering Portland protests
© ANKUR DHOLAKIA/AFP via Getty Images

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said Friday it will stop compiling intelligence reports on journalists covering protests in Portland, Ore., and open an internal investigation into the practice.

The announcement comes after reports surfaced Friday that DHS created intelligence reports on a pair of journalists who it claimed reported on leaked, unclassified information, sparking criticism that the agency was violating the reporters’ First Amendment rights.

“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,” said DHS spokesperson Alexei Woltornist.

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“The Acting Secretary 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,” Woltornist added. 

The statement comes as DHS plays damage control over the news of the intelligence reports on the journalists, which included images of tweets from the journalists and detailed information about the post. Known as Open Source Intelligence Reports, the documents were created by DHS's Office of Intelligence and Analysis.

Among the group’s primary responsibilities are providing information to state, local and federal law enforcement agencies on national security threats.

One of the leaked memos said that DHS agents on the ground in Portland have relied on financial intelligence and "baseball cards" of arrested protesters to better assess the situation, adopting a tactic that has historically been used by the U.S. intelligence community as background information on suspected terrorists.

The news of the reports sparked backlash on Capitol Hill, with Democrats sending a letter to acting under secretary of Homeland Security for Intelligence and Analysis Brian Murphy saying they’ve “grown increasingly concerned about the role and operations of the Department of Homeland Security, and the Office of Intelligence and Analysis.”

Federal officers have been in Portland since late June as demonstrators continue to protest against systemic racism and police brutality following the death of George Floyd at the end of May. 

Agents will start leaving the city, but more than 130 will reportedly stay there to act as a “quick reaction force.”