The Latest Targets Of DHS Surveillance Are Journalists Who Published Leaked Documents

from the can't-secure-a-homeland-without-breaking-a-few-amendments dept

Is there anything the DHS can’t turn into a debacle while pretending to secure the homeland? It would appear it’s impossible for America’s least essential security agency to move forward without stepping in something.

As protests in Portland neared the 60-day mark, the DHS was tasked with protecting federal property like courthouses and… um… statues. ICE, CBP, Federal Protective Services, and US Marshals all arrived in Portland ready to go to war with people exercising their First Amendment rights. You only have one chance to make a first impression, and the unidentified officers from unknown agencies throwing protesters into unmarked vehicles was one hell of a first impression.

The federal agencies went to war, firing tear gas and projectiles at protesters, rioters, journalists, and legal observers. It made no difference to the DHS which was which. But it did make a difference to a federal judge, who issued a temporary restraining order forbidding federal officers from attacking, gassing, assaulting, or arresting journalists and observers who were just trying to do their jobs.

The federal officers immediately violated the restraining order. Or, more accurately, they never stopped doing the stuff that earned them the restraining order in the first place. Apparently, the DHS feels it hasn’t violated First Amendment rights hard enough. The latest black eye for the DHS is more targeting of journalists, this time with surveillance.

The Department of Homeland Security has compiled “intelligence reports” about the work of American journalists covering protests in Portland, Ore., in what current and former officials called an alarming use of a government system meant to share information about suspected terrorists and violent actors.

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.

Ironically, one of the leaks involved discussions of other leaks. An internal memo leaked to Benjamin Wittes, who runs the Lawfare blog, complains about earlier leaks.

Here’s an excerpt from the leaked memo about leaked memos.

[T]he ongoing leaks related to our work in Portland remain of great to concern as it distracts from our mission and creates opportunities for others to exploit this information for their own benefit. This is wrong and we must make every effort to protect our information and prevent our work from being manipulated in any way.

Not sure what this official thinks journalists are “exploiting” and “manipulating.” One of the leaked documents published by Lawfare gave DHS components permission to engage in domestic surveillance on behalf of statues and monuments. There doesn’t appear to be any spin here.

It appears the DHS will stop doing this thing it supposedly only just started doing just this one time, allegedly without the knowledge of the guy acting like he’s running the place. An angry statement was issued after the [acting] boss was just right now informed about these things.

“Upon learning about the practice, Acting Secretary Wolf directed the DHS Intelligence & Analysis Directorate to immediately discontinue collecting information involving members of the press,” a department spokesman said in a statement. “In no way does the Acting Secretary condone this practice and he has immediately ordered an inquiry into the matter. 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.”

But see the ongoing violations of the restraining order that was supposed to force federal officers to “uphold the principles of professionalism” and “respect civil rights and liberties.” See also the DHS’s arguments in court, where it claimed protecting the government’s stuff was more important than protecting citizens’ rights.

The Federal Defendants intend to keep dispersing journalists and legal observers. See ECF 67 at 20 (arguing that allowing journalists and legal observers to remain “is not a practicable option”). The actions by the federal agents described by Plaintiffs are part of a pattern of officially sanctioned conduct. The Federal Defendants argue that such conduct is necessary to protect federal property.

This is why I’m not falling for Acting Director Chad Wolf’s “I’m shocked, SHOCKED to discover there is disrespect for civil liberties in my agency” shtick. That and all the other times the federal government — including agencies under the DHS’s roof — have engaged in domestic surveillance targeting journalists. And it wasn’t just open source intel gathered from publicly available sites. It was also journalists’ communications.

A senior Department of Homeland Security official told a Senate committee earlier this month that the department had not collected, exploited or analyzed information from the electronic devices or accounts of protesters in Portland, Ore.

But an internal DHS document obtained by The Washington Post shows the department did have access to protesters’ electronic messages and that their conversations were written up in an “intelligence report” that was disseminated to federal law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, as well as state and local governments.

This all looks very bad. But under this administration, harming journalists and/or curtailing their rights is probably fine. The President thinks most of them are “fake news” purveyors. Trump also believes most protesters are anarchists and “antifa.” The DHS is under considerable pressure to make the Commander-in-Chief’s conspiratorial dreams come true.

Officials who are familiar with the reports, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly discuss them, said they are consistent with the department’s aggressive tactics in Portland, and in particular the work of the Intelligence and Analysis Office, which they worried is exceeding the boundaries of its authority in an effort to crack down on “antifa” protesters to please President Trump.

All of this is troubling. If it’s leak investigations, the DHS needs to keep that in-house and stop violating the Constitution. If the agency is fishing for (nonexistent) evidence of anarchists embedded in local newspapers, it’s even more problematic.

The DHS was asked to rein in protests in Portland — something the President blames on the city and state’s “liberal” leadership. The DHS has failed to do anything but make itself — and everyone involved with its response — look worse. And every new move it makes only causes more reputational damage. The DHS needs to leave Portland before it hurts itself again.

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Comments on “The Latest Targets Of DHS Surveillance Are Journalists Who Published Leaked Documents”

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Samuel Abram (profile) says:

The Executive branch violating the law

Considering the president has been acquitted of impeachment and republicans would walk barefoot over glass and lava for him, methinks that the president is unobstructed until we actually vote his ass out of office or the republicans out of office either (or the democrats who refuse to impeach him or find him guilty, for that matter).

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: The Executive branch violating the law

In my addled perception of how things work this is likely because no one ‘has standing’ to question the Patriot Act simply because of the ‘Catch 22’ fact that if one did have standing they would be considered a terrorist. "That’s Some Catch, That Catch-22. It’s The Best There Is."

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: The Executive branch violating the law

In my addled perception of how things work this is likely because no one ‘has standing’ to question the Patriot Act simply because of the ‘Catch 22’ fact that if one did have standing they would be considered a terrorist.

Not necessarily "terrorists". The first people who received National Security Letters were told they couldn’t talk to anyone, even a lawyer, about them. Now they let people talk to lawyers, but the government often fights to keep evidence from them, and the courts accept that. Sometimes a lawyer with security clearance can get access, but can’t discuss the content with their client; anyone representing themselves would be more screwed than usual.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The Executive branch violating the law

" the president has been acquitted of impeachment"

I remember a three ring circus where two bit ass clowns danced and entertained the audience but that was not a real trial. In a real trial the prosecution presents evidence and witnesses while the defense addresses said evidence and has witnesses also … there was no such trial in the senate.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: The Executive branch violating the law

"…methinks that the president is unobstructed until we actually vote his ass out of office or the republicans out of office either (or the democrats who refuse to impeach him or find him guilty, for that matter)."

You are assuming that;

1) There is an election.
2) Said election, if it takes place, successfully ends with the college of electors not choosing to go with Trump.
3) If said electors choose to vote Trump out, Trump actually chooses to leave.
4) If Trump chooses to not leave, enough of the US military is not all in favor of retaining the current POTUS.

I’d add a 5th as well – that, assuming Biden ends up POTUS that doesn’t just pave the way for something far worse than Trump 3 or 4 presidencies down the line. Because the US now just needs a persistent financial crisis to be right where Germany was at in 1930.

jilocasin (profile) says:

Re: Re: The Executive branch violating the law

I think you can be fairly certain that:

1) there will be an election. (see congress and states), otherwise when his term ends, Nancy Pelosi would be president.

2) that would be the best result, but the republicans could also loose control of the senate effectively removing him from office for any of the vast number of impeachable offenses.

3) whether or not Trump chooses to leave is completely immaterial. On Jan. 20, 2021 at 12:00 EST Trump is not longer the president. He’s just an old self centered trespasser in the white house. Anyone from the Marine contingent, to the secret service, to capitol police will forcibly remove him and his family from the building.

4) See #3 above. What you are proposing is a coup d’état. The active duty military won’t even support his attempts to attack protesters (hence the need for the DHS, ICE, prison guard, and whom ever else they can round up to staff their cammo clad thugs), Do you really think that they would go against their oath to:

…support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic;…

Any order from the president that goes against the constitution would be an illegal order placing the president firmly in the category enemies, domestic.
Our servicemen and women have infinitely more integrity the either the current president or those republican enablers in the senate.

As for #5, hopefully the US will have learned a very hard and painful lesson about electing narcissistic despot wannabees. One that isn’t soon forgotten.

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: The Executive branch violating the law

2) that would be the best result, but the republicans could also loose control of the senate effectively removing him from office for any of the vast number of impeachable offenses.

No, a simple majority in the Senate cannot remove the president from office; it requires a 2/3 majority.

And it’s very unlikely that Democrats will win even a simple majority in the Senate without also winning the presidency.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: The Executive branch violating the law

In this, the best of all possible worlds, my dear Tartúffe…

The problem is that the US army is very solidly pro-trump and anti-democrat on many levels today. If you are telling me that soldiers and ranking officers are sworn to defend the US from threats within and without then I must tell you that so are those guys in the DHS currently playing the "Gestapo" card.

"What you are proposing is a coup d’état."

Yup.

"Do you really think that they would go against their oath to:"

I think that today the protection of that oath is looking flimsier by the minute, given that the narrative which has been successfully pitched to the armed forces is a view where the "domestic" threat is the democratic party, liberals, and leftists.

"Our servicemen and women have infinitely more integrity the either the current president or those republican enablers in the senate."

I sincerely hope that isn’t just wishful thinking. There have been two significant cullings of senior officers in the military – one under GWB and one under Trump. Those who valued their oath of office more than their office have largely left already.

"…hopefully the US will have learned a very hard and painful lesson about electing narcissistic despot wannabees. One that isn’t soon forgotten."

Unfortunately with the electorate system you have now (first past the post) you are stuck with a tweo-party system where one party is motivated to widen it’s tent to include everyone and the other equally motivated to exclude as many as possible, and will thus produce primary-winning candidates who are either Hindenburg-lite nonentities like Biden or extremists completely governed by the cornerstones of god, guns and bigotry.

"I think you can be fairly certain that:"

No, the main issue I’m having is that it’s no longer "certain". Only "likely". Those are not the odds I think anyone wants to see.
And what has me more than just a bit worried is that there are already dozens of cases of events under Trump which most americans would have said were "impossible, this is the US!" a dozen years ago. And every time it’s turned out to be quite possible indeed.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re: The Executive branch violating the law

1) There is an election.

All this "he’s going to cancel the election" talk is a distraction. It’s fantasy that distracts from the very real threat of voter disenfranchisement.

Stop worrying about fantasy threats and worry about the real threats: cutting Post Office funding in a year where an extraordinary number of people will be voting by mail; harrassing, intimidating, and possibly even illegally detaining voters in blue districts of swing states; plus the standard voter disenfranchisement tactics of purging ethnic-sounding names from the voter rolls and not opening enough polling places in minority neighborhoods.

There’s a serious threat here. It’s not that the election is going to be canceled; it’s that it’s going to be rigged. That’s how it works in dictatorships. Russia and North Korea don’t cancel elections; they rig them.

2) Said election, if it takes place, successfully ends with the college of electors not choosing to go with Trump.

Yes, that is assumed. Specifically, the phrase "we actually vote his ass out of office" implies that we actually vote his ass out of office.

3) If said electors choose to vote Trump out, Trump actually chooses to leave.

This is another overblown distraction. Trump is a coward. He can talk tough about how he won’t leave office, but how loyal do you think the White House staff really is to him? Do you really think there’s anyone in the Secret Service who’s going to stick their neck out for him? Say Biden wins in November. Trump’s term ends January 20. Biden instructs the staff to disconnect the cable TV, change the wifi password, and quit bringing Trump food. How long do you really think he’ll last?

4) If Trump chooses to not leave, enough of the US military is not all in favor of retaining the current POTUS.

Trump is still popular among the rank and file, but I don’t see much evidence that the top brass is loyal to him personally. They’ll do what he says as long as he’s commander-in-chief, because that’s their job. But he’s spent enough time insulting and belittling them that it’s hard to see them staging a coup just because they love him so damn much.

There are some serious threats to this election, but they’re subtler than a military coup or suspension of elections. Much as real trials are a lot more boring than Law & Order, real election meddling does not resemble the third act of a political thriller. It looks like a break-in at a hotel, or a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling stopping a recount in Florida.

I’m not saying Trump won’t steal the election; I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying that people need to stop being paranoid that a big obvious coup is going to occur and start being paranoid about mundane details like post office funding and polling locations.

I’d add a 5th as well – that, assuming Biden ends up POTUS that doesn’t just pave the way for something far worse than Trump 3 or 4 presidencies down the line. Because the US now just needs a persistent financial crisis to be right where Germany was at in 1930.

I’d say that’s a very real concern but I’m not sure what it has to do with the statement you’re responding to, which was "methinks that the president is unobstructed until we actually vote his ass out of office or the republicans out of office either."

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: The Executive branch violating the law

Points well taken.

As for the fifth addition, it was my personal concern that whether Trump gets voted out or not isn’t really relevant for the close future – in the end, as repugnant and inept as he is as head of state he’s also simply a symptom of a broken system.

Getting rid of Trump is, by now, just taking two aspirin to get rid of the short-term pain.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
jilocasin (profile) says:

Re: The Executive branch violating the law

Not quite. This president was not acquitted of impeachment, he was in fact impeached. There’s nothing he nor the republican party can do about it at this point.

What happened was that the senate, held a farcical trial, one in which many of the impartial republican senators had not only already made of their mind not to remove him from office, but bragged about it on national television, before it even started. They didn’t even bother to call for witnesses.

So Trump is now and will always remain an impeached president. Unfortunately for the constitution and the country the republicans in the senate (with the notable exception of Mitt Romney) decided to break the oath they swore to be impartial jurors. The result; 150,000 (and counting) American dead, protests across the country, unidentified jack booted thugs trampling over our constitutional rights, and a slow slide into fascism and despotism.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Thad (profile) says:

Re: The Executive branch violating the law

Considering the president has been acquitted of impeachment and republicans would walk barefoot over glass and lava for him

I think you’ve misunderstood the Republicans’ loyalty to the president. They’re willing to back him no matter what he does, and suffer humiliation for him, but not actually sacrifice anything. If he loses in November, the vast majority of them will swear they never liked him in the first place.

until we actually vote his ass out of office or the republicans out of office either (or the democrats who refuse to impeach him or find him guilty, for that matter).

There aren’t many of those. Tulsi Gabbard isn’t running for another term, and Jeff Van Drew switched parties. That leaves only Collin Peterson (MN-7). There’s also Jared Golden (ME-2) who voted for impeachment on one count but against it on the other.

Every other Democrat in the House voted to impeach, and every Democrat voted to convict.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Gotta keep the Dear Leader happy after all

and in particular the work of the Intelligence and Analysis Office, which they worried is exceeding the boundaries of its authority in an effort to crack down on “antifa” protesters to please President Trump.

It’s so very reassuring that the DHS apparently puts ‘keeping Trump happy, no matter what that involves’ as a higher priority than ‘protecting the public’ and ‘respecting and following the constitution’.

David says:

You need to watch more Fox News

When you just watch CNN (for example), at some point of time you’ll find that their poll numbers don’t make a lot of sense: if people were basing their voting decisions on the news you read there, Trump should be polling more like 5% rather than 40%. So venture over to Fox News and skim through the headlines. For at least a month or so, their main headlines and themes and videos are about the U.S. being a lawless war zone, with images of rioting and violence. There is a number of other articles and headlines banking on partly absurd fearmongering about the "radical left", but buzzwords go only so far.

The real emotional appeal is in the message of rioting.

Short of any other obvious options, Trump needs to keep those images coming. If egregious misbehavior of the DHS is what it takes to make people riot, this is what they have to provide.

The resulting news will be split, with the egregious misbehavior occupying the radical leftist fake news who put facts before virtue, and the riots featuring in the righteous media.

If you want to have less of a task in merging those cherry-picked news streams, you might want to look at BBC or other reputed foreign media. Because in the U.S., no-one will give you the full story anymore, so you are tasked with balancing the separated ingredients yourself.

In the mean time, thousand people are dying per day from COVID-19. And that is expected to continue or accelerate, partly because federal and local government cannot be bothered taking enough of an initiative to actually be effective.

And you see headlines like "Haven’t we suffered enough, Dr. Fauci?" that seem to protest that some government health officials keep saying which actions and non-actions will lead to which consequences.

I have no idea, even assuming a change of current government, what it would take to remerge the diverging streams of information supplying the U.S. populace such that their decision-making expressed in votes, while weighted by their different choices and goals, is at least based on the same facts.

That would likely deflate the incentive for "keep violating people’s rights and we’ll make news of their opposition" strategies that you are seeing here.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Thad (profile) says:

Re: You need to watch more Fox News

Except that approval of Trump’s handling of the protests is currently at 34%. It’s not making him any more popular, though it may be firing up the base.

Trump’s best path to reelection is to make sure his base turns out and to do everything he can to disenfranchise voters who aren’t part of his base.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: One risk now vs constant and ever increasing risks later

Trump’s best path to reelection is to make sure his base turns out and to do everything he can to disenfranchise voters who aren’t part of his base.

By politicizing and downplaying covid for all these months he’s unfortunately got one hell of a headstart on that, as his cultists will likely show no hesitation in in-person voting, to the point that at this point I’m thinking that much like the ongoing protests it might very well be worth the risk for those attempting to vote him out to risk the same, as the alternative of playing it ‘safe’ stands to be much worse than ‘just’ another spike of infections.

David says:

Re: Re: Re: One risk now vs constant and ever increasing risks later

Well, he is decidedly encouraging his base to vote in-person, and is demonising mail voting to the degree where officials may feel they are doing the right thing by letting mail ballots disappear. He has installed one of his minions at the head of the post service, and he has already been successful at delivering normal mail much slower than usual. There is no money earmarked for improving election coverage, and Republican officials are resisting to have ballots counted that arrive late even when postmarked before election day.

So yes, it does appear that the upcoming election is slated to be the most fraudulent election in history. Anything but a landslide will not likely make it through his machinations, and even then, if the result isn’t totally overwhelming, he and his minions will beat the election fraud drum, not accepting the results, and possibly trying to declare a state of emergency instead of passing power.

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 One risk now vs constant and ever increasing risks later

So yes, it does appear that the upcoming election is slated to be the most fraudulent election in history.

I don’t know about the most fraudulent in history, but I do expect the most voter disenfranchisement this country’s seen since the days before the Voting Rights Act.

possibly trying to declare a state of emergency instead of passing power.

This is more fan fiction. Again, there are serious dangers here but they’re a lot more mundane than the third act of a movie.

I think there’s a very real chance Trump steals the election if it’s close, much as Bush did in 2000.

But in the case of a decisive Biden victory, I don’t see any realistic mechanism where he stays in power. There’s only one mechanism in the Constitution that allows a president to stay in power after January 20: getting reelected. He can declare a state of emergency if he likes, but it’ll be about as effective at keeping him in office as it was at building the wall.

Trump doesn’t care about the Constitution, but like I said above, I don’t see a whole lot of evidence that the military brass would back him in a coup.

The rest of what you said, though, spreading FUD, questioning the legitimacy of the election? Oh yeah, he’ll absolutely do that; that’s exactly what he’s already doing with all this ranting about mail-in ballots and his (empty) threat to change the date of the election.

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: One risk now vs constant and ever increasing risks later

But on the other hand, for the Trump supporters who don’t want to vote in person, or aren’t able to, his constant ranting against mail-in voting may hurt him. From today’s Washington Post: As Trump leans into attacks on mail voting, GOP officials confront signs of Republican turnout crisis

David says:

Re: Re: Re:2 One risk now vs constant and ever increasing risks later

But on the other hand, for the Trump supporters who don’t want to vote in person, or aren’t able to, his constant ranting against mail-in voting may hurt him.

It’s not that clear-cut: those states that move to all-mail voting tend to have Democratic majorities in the legislative stemming from a time where Trump did not yet poll as badly as now, so it is unlikely that mail-in ballot sabotage would have been able to swing the state.

But for those who managed staying Republican in the midterms, mail-in ballot sabotage might be able to preserve the upper hand that might otherwise slip.

cROGS says:

re “targeted individuals”

Hmmm. Journalists as “TARGETS”.

I remember getting “gang stalked,” after I was the first to report on the first so-called Somali (manufactured) terrorist, Mohammed Warsame. Oh, sure, I fed stories to ABC and Minnesotas Tom Lyden, but to little avail; the midern police,state had already been mapped.

Other journalists said I had a “Dick Cheney problem,” and sent me to the IT department (they were also at a loss to explain why my accounts were redirected outside their department.)

LOL.

Now, “my problem” is every journalists problem.

Writing on the wall and all that…. 嘿嘿嘿拜拜拜 western “democracy”

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