The Department of Homeland Security compiled “intelligence reports” about U.S. journalists covering protests in Portland, in what current and former officials call an alarming use of a government system to share information about suspected terrorists and violent actors, reports the Washington Post. Over the past week, the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis has disseminated Open Source Intelligence Reports to federal law enforcement agencies and others, summarizing tweets by two New York Times journalists and the editor in chief of the blog Lawfare and noting they had published leaked, unclassified documents about DHS operations in Portland. The reports include the number of times the tweets were liked or retweeted by others.
Some of the leaked documents the journalists posted and wrote about revealed shortcomings in the department’s understanding of the protests. A memo by the department’s top intelligence official, tweeted by the editor of Lawfare, says personnel relied on “FINTEL,” (financial intelligence), as well as “baseball cards” of arrested protesters to try to understand their motivation and plans. Military and intelligence officials have used such cards for biographical dossiers of suspected terrorists. The DHS intelligence reports, which are unclassified, usually share the department’s analysis with federal law enforcement agencies, state and local officials, and foreign governments. They are not intended to disseminate information about U.S. citizens who have no connection to terrorists or other violent actors and who are engaged in activity protected by the First Amendment. “This has no operational value whatsoever,” said John Sandweg, former DHS acting general counsel. “This will just damage the intelligence office’s reputation,” he said, saying reporting on journalists was “incredibly dumb.” Separately, federal officials are asking that a court order protecting journalists be lifted because some of those engaged in violence are masquerading as members of the press, Politico reports.