Acting DHS Chief Says He Ended Journalist-Tracking Program Over Leaked Documents About Portland Unrest

The head of the Department of Homeland Security said he immediately terminated a program that monitored journalists who had published leaked DHS documents after The Washington Post ran a July 30 story uncovering the controversial practice.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf responded to the Post's report which uncovered Open Source Intelligence Reports which were disseminated among federal agencies. The reports summarized tweets by journalists who were reporting on the ongoing Portland, Oregon protests and revealed the agency had compiled intelligence "baseball cards" about protesters—a law enforcement tactic typically associated with terrorist investigations.

Speaking with Axios Monday, Wolf detailed how he read the Post story and then ordered DHS to cease the tracking of journalists who had published leaked but unclassified documents about the Portland protests.

"I got on the phone that night trying to understand what it is—not every story is accurate. So I wanted to understand the facts from my -- from the staff. ... As I dug more and more into it, I saw little to no intelligence value of what was being done. So that that evening I stopped that program, turned it over to the [Inspector General], and then we're moving forward," Wolf told Axios in an interview which aired on HBO Monday.

The leaked documents showed federal law enforcement agencies were passing around intelligence about a New York Times reporter and the editor-in-chief of the blog Lawfare. Wolf defended what he says was the initial intention of the program—to track individuals who were potential threats to federal agents or federal buildings.

The Trump administration and several federal agencies, including Customs and Border Protection, were criticized last month after it was alleged federal agents were over-stepping their boundaries in trying to protect federal buildings in Portland. Peaceful protests, as well as violent rioting behavior, have persisted in Portland for over two months, ignited by the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Wolf said the agency is still actively "identifying [some protesters] who time and time again are targeting or using violent activities to target law enforcement or DHS facilities." He insisted DHS, or any federal agency, should not be "associating media and tracking certain media types of journalists. That is not what we do."

Wolf said he was "not happy" about finding out federal agents were engaged in the practice of tracking information obtained and published by journalists. He described how the DHS' "open source program" became too broad when it began including information about "certain journalists or media types."

Newsweek reached out to Homeland Security offices in Washington as well as Customs and Border Protection Tuesday afternoon but did not receive replies in time for publication.

dhs chief chad wolf portland
The head of the Department of Homeland Security said he immediately terminated a program that monitored journalists who had published leaked DHS documents after the Washington Post ran a July 30 story uncovering the controversial practice. POOL/Getty Images