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Sources: Official out over protest reports

by SHANE HARRIS THE WASHINGTON POST | August 2, 2020 at 4:08 a.m.

WASHINGTON -- A senior Department of Homeland Security official whose office compiled "intelligence reports" about journalists and protesters in Portland, Ore., has been removed from his job, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Brian Murphy, the acting undersecretary for intelligence and analysis, was reassigned to a new position elsewhere in the department, the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a personnel matter.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf made the decision Friday, one person said.

Murphy's removal follows revelations in The Washington Post that the Intelligence and Analysis Office at the Homeland Security Department compiled Open Source Intelligence Reports about the work of two journalists who had published leaked department documents. In a separate intelligence report, the office also analyzed the communications of protesters in Portland.

Wolf ordered the office to stop collecting information on journalists after The Post article was published Thursday.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Saturday that he was concerned Murphy "may have provided incomplete and potentially misleading information to Committee staff" during a recent briefing about the office's activities in Portland. After news reports, including in The Post, that the Homeland Security Department had expanded some of its authorities to monitor protesters, the committee had demanded documents and information.

"We will be expanding our oversight even further in the coming days," Schiff said in a statement.

Murphy had previously told staff members on the Senate Intelligence Committee that his office did not collect, analyze or exploit information on the electronic devices or accounts of protesters. On Friday, Democratic senators sent Murphy a letter asking him to confirm that was true.

Murphy is a former FBI agent who worked on the bureau's efforts to combat radicalization.

Some current officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly, said Murphy has earned a reputation at the department for trying to expand the operations of the intelligence office. Although it is technically an element of the broader intelligence community, the office publishes reports largely based on unclassified or public sources and is not designed to engage in clandestine operations like the FBI or the CIA.

Murphy tried to fashion the office into more of an operational player, akin to those larger agencies, and drew scrutiny and criticism internally over his efforts, some officials said. One noted that the intelligence office's collection of information involving journalists was effectively the last straw that led to his ouster.

Officials said they have also worried Murphy was misapplying the authorities of the office.

For example, the intelligence reports about the journalists' work appeared to justify collecting the information under a standing requirement for intelligence about cybersecurity threats. It was unclear how tweets by journalists constituted a threat to cybersecurity, which the department usually interprets as hackers trying to disable critical infrastructure or break into classified computers.

Recently, Murphy tried to broaden the definition of violent protesters in Portland, in a way that some officials felt was intended to curry favor with the White House.

In an internal memo, Murphy announced that the label "violent opportunists," which his office had used to describe people who were attacking law enforcement personnel and property, would be changed to "violent antifa anarchists inspired."

Murphy argued that the violent protesters were not merely taking advantage of a moment but had "overwhelmingly" been linked to radical ideologies "driving individuals toward violence."

That conclusion was undercut by an earlier Homeland Security Department analysis that found there was not enough information about the Portland protesters for the department to know how they might be connected to anti-fascist or anarchist groups and what precisely was motivating them.


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