The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) restricted the flow of intelligence related to “election-related threats” before the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, CNN reports.
In an October 2020 memo provided to the news outlet by watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), former DHS intelligence official Joseph Maher informed agency officials that open-source intelligence reports on election-related threats had to be approved by DHS leadership and legal counsel before release.
Maher, who at the time led DHS’ Office of Intelligence and Analysis, appeared to acknowledge increasingly violent language around the 2020 election, but tried to balance free speech with such rhetoric.
“At the same time, we recognize that this mission space carries sensitivities and complexities that are not always anticipated or that do not lend themselves to bright line advance guidance,” Maher wrote in-part, according to CNN.
“Civil unrest and election- or voter-related issues often invoke U.S. Persons and First Amendment-protected activity,” he continued.
In a statement to The Hill, CREW President Noah Bookbinder said the memo “created additional levels of review before intelligence reports about election-related civil unrest could be sent out to other parts of the government.”
“Because of the very real concerns about apparent failures to disseminate and act on intelligence in the leadup to the January 6 insurrection, this memo raises important questions about the intent behind the change, the origins of it, and the effect this policy change had on intelligence dissemination. The January 6 select committee should consider these questions,” Bookbinder said.
Asked about the memo, a DHS spokesperson said the agency has "the imperative to protect the American public from violent extremism, while safeguarding their First Amendment rights."
"We continuously reevaluate training and consult with DHS experts from the offices of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Privacy, and the General Counsel to ensure every initiative is consistent with privacy protections, civil rights and civil liberties, and other applicable laws," the spokesperson said.
Intelligence gathering has been under particular scrutiny as the role of law enforcement agencies gets closely examined following security failures tied to Jan. 6.
A report from the Senate Rules Committee and Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs panel released in early August found that neither DHS nor the FBI issued threat assessments or intelligence bulletins warning of potential violence in the Capitol.
CNN noted that the memo also raises questions about Maher, who was selected to serve on staff for the House committee investigating the events of Jan. 6 last month. The panel is in-part tasked with exploring the security failures leading up to the attack.
In a statement to CNN, a spokesperson for the Jan. 6 panel said that Maher is recused from any matters dealing with DHS.
“All members of the Select Committee staff are required to identify areas where a potential personal or organizational conflict of interest may exist, and staff leadership is taking affirmative steps to screen for such conflicts. Any staff member deemed or determined to have an actual conflict or the appearance of a conflict will disclose and recuse themselves from such matters,” the spokesperson said.
The Hill has reached out to the Jan. 6 panel for comment.
Updated: 8:03 p.m.