US collected information on Oregon protesters, report says


SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Officials with the Trump administration’s U.S. Department of Homeland Security have compiled numerous intelligence files on those arrested for even minor offenses during Black Lives Matter protests in Oregon .

Early drafts of the files even included friends of the subjects along with their interests, but these were later removed and replaced with a note that they would be made available upon request, according to an internal Department of Homeland Security review. .

The records, known to officers as baseball cards, were previously normally compiled on non-US citizens or only on Americans with “a demonstrated terrorist connection,” according to the 76-page report. It was previously published last year, but contains new disclosures based on extensive redactions that were removed by the Biden administration.

Ben Wizner, attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Free Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, said the report indicates that Department of Homeland Security leaders wanted to inflate the risk posed by protesters to Portland. The city has become the epicenter of sometimes violent protests following the killing of black George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. But many of the protesters, including women from an ad hoc “Mums’ Wall” group and military veterans, were peaceful.

“We have a dark history of intelligence agencies collecting files on protesters,” Wizner said over the phone from New York, referring to domestic espionage in the 1960s and 1970s against civil rights activists, Vietnam War protesters and others.

“We have to be especially careful where intelligence-gathering agencies step in to review protest activity and where Americans are exercising their First Amendment rights,” Wizner said.

Protesters who break the law are not immune to investigation, Wizner said, but intelligence agencies must be careful not to create “a chilling environment” for Americans to legally exercise their right to dissent.

The report reveals actions taken by the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis in June and July 2020, when militarized federal agents were deployed to Portland.

When the records, officially known as Operational Background Reports, were compiled, some DHS analysts raised concerns about the legality of collecting information “about protesters arrested for trivial criminal offenses having only little or no connection to domestic terrorism,” the report said. Some employees even refused to participate.

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, obtained the report with most redactions removed and provided it to reporters Thursday. Wyden, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, criticized DHS leaders in the Trump administration for the actions revealed in the document.

“DHS politicians spied on Oregonians for exercising their First Amendment right to protest and justified it with baseless conspiracy theories,” Wyden said.

Brian Murphy, who was then the acting undersecretary of the DHS Intelligence Unit, insisted on calling the violent protesters “Violent Antifa Anarchists Inspired,” even though “damning intelligence regarding the protesters’ motivations or affiliations violence did not exist,” according to the report. .

Top DHS leaders even wanted the department’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis to create files on everyone involved in the Portland protests, but Murphy said the unit could only review those arrested.

Surveillance was also used extensively in other cities during the 2020 protests, with federal agencies sending unmanned drones and military planes to help local law enforcement. But it’s unclear exactly how that surveillance was used: The ACLU filed a federal lawsuit against several government agencies seeking the information late last year, but the case is still pending in the Southern District of New York.

Still, some agencies have acknowledged that surveillance is problematic. An investigation by the Department of the Air Force’s Inspector General, completed in August 2020, found that Air National Guard planes were being used to monitor protests in Minnesota, Arizona, California and Washington, DC without the clear approval of military leaders.

The Inspector General’s investigation found that the surveillance in Phoenix, Arizona, was “particularly concerning” as documentation associated with the theft suggested it was being used to enable law enforcement to quickly deploy into places where they hoped to deter demonstrations or looting.

“There is no scenario in which it is acceptable or permissible to use DoD (Department of Defense) resources to deter demonstrations and protests, assuming they remain lawful,” the report said.

The DHS internal review of Portland also shows that the baseball cards – which were usually one-page summaries – included criminal history, travel history, “disparaging DHS information or intelligence community funds.” and publicly available social media. The draft files also included friends and family of the protesters.

Wyden credited current Undersecretary for Intelligence and Analysis Kenneth Wainstein with reviewing the Trump administration’s “unnecessary redactions” and releasing the unredacted report.


Associated Press reporter Rebecca Boone contributed to this report from Boise, Idaho.

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