National Security

Whistleblower alleges top DHS officials sought to alter intelligence products to fit Trump’s comments

A whistleblower is alleging that top leaders at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have politicized intelligence, with the political appointees pushing him to alter intelligence assessments to match President Trump’s public remarks.

The House Intelligence Committee announced Wednesday that it had received a whistleblower reprisal complaint from Brian Murphy, a career public servant and the former acting under secretary in DHS’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis.

The complaint states that in several protected disclosures over the past two years, Murphy raised concern about “a repeated pattern of abuse of authority, attempted censorship of intelligence analysis and improper administration of an intelligence program related to Russian efforts to influence and undermine United States interests.”

The complaint pointed to the actions of former DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, now-acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf, DHS Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli, Miles Taylor, who served as Nielsen’s chief of staff, and the acting deputy director for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Kash Patel.

Murphy alleges that he was instructed earlier this year to stop providing intelligence assessments about the threat of Russian interference, and to instead focus on the threats of China and Iran. The complaint says Wolf delivered the orders, but that they originated from White House National Security adviser Robert O’Brien. Murphy said he did not comply.

The complaint also alleges that Wolf told Murphy in July that the intelligence notification on Russian disinformation efforts should be “‘held’ because it ‘made the President look bad,'” but Murphy again refused and stated “that it was improper to hold a vetted intelligence product for reasons for political embarrassment.”

The complaint, which was first reported by CNN, alleges that he then faced retaliation.

“In response, Mr. Wolf took steps to exclude Mr. Murphy from relevant future meetings on the subject. The draft product was eventually completed without Mr. Murphy’s involvement and was made public in a leak to the media by unknown individuals,” the complaint reads.

The complaint says the leak made it appear as though the actions of Russia were on par with those of Iran and China, which Murphy found “misleading and inconsistent with the actual intelligence data.”

Murphy says he was also asked by Wolf and Cuccinelli to modify intelligence assessments to make sure they aligned with Trump’s public remarks about antifa and “anarchist” groups, and he again declined to do so. 

Murphy said that in late July, Wolf first raised the idea of reassigning him to the DHS management division, which came amid media scrutiny that Murphy’s office had taken part in illegally gathering intelligence on journalists. The complaint says the reporting on this topic was “significantly flawed,”including reports that contained “completely erroneous assertions.”

“For example, DHS I&A never knowingly or deliberately collected information on journalists, at least as far as Mr. Murphy is aware or ever authorized,” the complaint says. 

Murphy says Wolf dismissed the reports as without merit, but said that moving Murphy to another office would be good for him politically because he wanted to move from the interim DHS chief to the confirmed DHS chief. 

“Mr. Murphy stated that such a reassignment for political gain would constitute an abuse of authority by Mr. Wolf,” according to the complaint.

Ultimately, Murphy says he was reassigned to the role of assistant to the deputy under secretary for the DHS management division, a move he describes as retaliatory demotion.

DHS denied Murphy’s allegations.

“The Department generally does not comment on the specifics of OIG referrals, but we flatly deny that there is any truth to the merits of Mr. Murphy’s claim.  DHS looks forward to the results of any resulting investigation and we expect it will conclude that no retaliatory action was taken against Mr. Murphy,” DHS Spokesperson Alexei Woltornist in a statement.

“As Acting Secretary Wolf outlined in his State of the Homeland Address today, DHS is working to address all threats to the homeland regardless of ideology. The Acting Secretary is focused on thwarting election interference from any foreign powers and attacks from any extremist group,” Woltornist added.

Democrats are now seeking to hear from Murphy, with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) issuing a subpoena for his deposition Sept. 21.

“The whistleblower retaliation complaint filed by former Acting Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis Brian Murphy outlines grave and disturbing allegations that senior White House and Department of Homeland Security officials improperly sought to politicize, manipulate, and censor intelligence in order to benefit President Trump politically,” Schiff said in a statement. “This puts our nation and its security at grave risk.”

The whistleblower complaint has echoes of 2019, when Democrats learned of a whistleblower complaint alleging that President Trump pressured Ukraine leaders to investigate his political foes — allegations that ultimately sparked the impeachment inquiry last year.

Updated at 6:30 p.m.

Tags Adam Schiff Chad Wolf Donald Trump Kirstjen Nielsen
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