WASHINGTON – The Department of Homeland Security chief was removed from his position after his office compiled reports of protesters and journalists reporting on the Trump administration’s response to riots in Portland, Oregon last month.
Brian Murphy, the acting secretary for intelligence and analysis, was moved to a new position in the department after his office was distributed to law enforcement agencies through open source intelligence reports with journalists’ Twitter posts and found that it leaked published unclassified documents, according to an official familiar with the matter. It was not clear what Mr. Murphy’s new position would look like.
Chad F. Wolf, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, made the decision Friday after ordering the office to end the intelligence exam, the official said. Mr. Wolf has also asked the Home Inspectorate of the Homeland Security Service to investigate any efforts by the Intelligence Department to gather information about protesters or journalists.
The fall followed The Washington Post reported that Mr. Murphy’s office has compiled reports that were partially targeted New York Times publication A intelligence analysis showing that the Department of Homeland Security had little understanding of the situation in Portland when it used teams of tactical agents in disguise to face a crowd of demonstrators.
In addition to summarizing the tweets from a Times reporter, the intelligence reports also included a tweet from Benjamin Wittes, the editor-in-chief of Lawfare, a blog about law and national security that shared an internal memo warning homeland security officers about leaking the Press.
The reports also included a tweet from Mr. Wittes, which included an email from Mr. Murphy requesting intelligence officers to label individuals who attack the Portland federal court as “VIOLENT ANTIFA ANARCHISTS”.
Mr. Murphy’s conclusion about the motivations of the people in Portland came just a few days after intelligence officers published the memo reported by The Times, in which the agency “had little confidence” that the attacks on the federal court reflected a broader threat.
The problem prompted the Senate Intelligence Committee to send a letter to Mr. Murphy questioning the efforts of journalists and demonstrators to gather information. The Department of Homeland Security has received extensive setbacks for the aggressive behavior of the tactical teams in Portland, as well as investigations by the Inspectors General of the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice.
Mr. Murphy, formerly at F.B.I., headed an Office of the Department of Homeland Security, which was tasked with exchanging information about potential national security threats with law enforcement agencies at federal, state, and local levels. Such coordination was one of the reasons for the establishment of the department after the 9/11 attacks.
In 2015 Mr. Murphy joined F.B.I. Headquarters to work on an action known as Countering Violent Extremism (C.V.E.) after serving as a counter-terrorism agent in Chicago. Mr. Murphy was known as an ambitious investigator who was once profiled self-glorifying article about a terrorist case he had worked on. Some former Justice Department officials and officials who were familiar with Mr. Murphy’s work at the time and asked for anonymity to discuss internal discussions in the agencies expressed concern about some C.V.E. Suggestions, his tendency to ignore the rules and not coordinate his activities.
An agent was alarmed at the time that Mr. Murphy wanted to prepare materials for Chicago public schools without the participation of F.B.I. to be disclosed, as evidenced by an internal office document made available to the New York Times. That would have violated F.B.I. Politics according to which such public relations work must be public or open.
Other former officials said that Mr. Murphy wanted to approach trainers, therapists, social workers, and religious leaders in several cities to keep people away from a potentially violent future under the influence of Islamic extremism. This is not a bad idea, the former officials said, but Mr. Murphy internally urged that these community leaders write Memorandums of Understanding with the F.B.I.
In this way, Mr. Murphy could have tracked whether these people were back on the wrong track in the program. This would essentially have the community leaders as weapons of the office, the former F.B.I. and Department of Justice officials said a move that would only have raised concerns in the Muslim community that the office was using public relations to spy on people. Officials eventually scrapped Mr. Murphy’s plan and called it poorly thought out and legally problematic.
A former official said that Mr. Murphy “didn’t have a good sense of what the setback would be.”