WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is stalling its response to congressional committee requests for details on how the department is surveilling protests at federal buildings in Portland, Oregon, and elsewhere, three Capitol Hill sources said.
Both the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee and its Democratic-controlled House of Representatives counterpart have asked for copies of anything related to anti-racism and anti-police violence protests generated by the department’s Intelligence and Analysis unit, known as I&A, the sources said.
The House intelligence committee chair, Representative Adam Schiff, last week asked acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf to turn over by last Friday “unredacted copies of all documents, communications or other materials ... regarding any Department intelligence activities undertaken, requested or planned” related to recent and ongoing protests.
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials did not respond to detailed requests for comment sent on Monday and Tuesday.
The United States has seen nationwide, largely peaceful protests since the death of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police in May. Protests in cities, including Portland, have at times erupted into arson and violence, and federal officers sent into Portland have repeatedly clashed with crowds targeting the federal courthouse there.
Top Democrats on several Senate subcommittees in June had asked the department and other agencies, including the Justice and Defense departments, for details on forces deployed to police protests.
The DHS I&A office has turned over what one official described as some intelligence related to the protests to the intelligence committees, but the three sources said they believe the department is withholding other relevant documents which Democratic committee leaders have been pressing for.
“We have not received satisfactory responses,” said a Senate Democratic aide, speaking on condition of anonymity because the aide was not authorized to speak with the news media.
“We’ve received only some materials and an initial briefing, and we expect additional documents, briefings and full compliance from I&A,” a House intelligence committee official said.
Last weekend, Brookings Institution senior fellow Benjamin Wittes published a DHS internal memo in which Brian Murphy, head of the DHS I&A office, said that the department should start using the term “Violent Antifa Anarchists Inspired” to describe Portland protesters rather than “violent opportunists.”
DHS officials did not respond to questions about the reported memo’s authenticity.
That echoes language Republican President Donald Trump has used to justify the deployment of additional federal agents to Portland, moves that some critics contend amount to using federal law enforcement resources to advance a political agenda as he seeks re-election in November.
Murphy’s reported words were harshly criticized by Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, who tweeted on Sunday: “Donald Trump sent his jackbooted goons into my hometown to attack peaceful protesters. Now DHS and the Intelligence Community are twisting the story to support Trump’s campaign talking points. This is creeping authoritarianism.”
Reporting By Mark Hosenball; editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis