Memo shows Homeland Security restricting the flow of “election-related” information prior to 1/6
The revelations not only add to growing concerns about intelligence gathering, but also raise questions about a key member of the Insurrection Investigation Committee and his previous role in determining how threat intelligence obtained from public sources was passed on to law enforcement agencies the attack on the Capitol was passed on.
This committee has a broad mandate, including examining why the authorities were so surprised by the violence in the Capitol – especially considering that law enforcement officials were aware but chose not to spot a significant number of warning signs in the US respond to social media, and elsewhere in public spaces.
In a memo dated Oct. 30, 2020, Maher informed DHS officials that all open source intelligence reports on election-related threats must be approved by DHS leadership and legal counsel before publication, according to documents provided by the CNN became Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
“Given the very real concern about the apparent failure to disseminate information in advance of the 6th Insurrection,” said Noah Bookbinder, president of the CREW watchdog group. “The January 6 select committee should consider these issues.”
Maher did not respond to a request for comment. The special committee has defended Maher in response to criticism of his handling of intelligence information related to domestic extremists while at the DHS. But when asked about the October memo, a bipartisan body spokesman Tim Mulvey told CNN that Maher is being withdrawn from “any special committee matters that deal with DHS” given his previous work at DHS and committee policy.
“All select committee members are required to identify areas where there may be a potential personal or organizational conflict of interest, and management is taking positive steps to review such conflicts. Any employee who suspects or ascertains an actual conflict, or the appearance of a conflict, will be exposed and withdrawn from such matters, “he said in a statement.
Maher’s October memo also reveals new details on how the DHS balanced free speech and the increasingly violent rhetoric surrounding last year’s presidential election.
Maher noted that there was likely to be an increase in open source intelligence reports on these topics and that he did not impose any limits on how the information could be collected. But he said such reports would have to be “pre-checked”.
“We anticipate that the time before, including and immediately after the November 3rd presidential election could lead to physical violence, rioting and other election-related threats,” Maher wrote.
“At the same time, we recognize that this mission room has sensitivities and complexities that are not always expected or that are not suitable for forward-looking guidance,” he added. “Civil unrest and election or voter-related issues often invoke activities by US individuals and the First Amendment that are protected by the First Amendment.”
As a result, Maher created “additional levels of verification before intelligence reports of election-related unrest could be sent to other parts of the government,” said Bookbinder.
Since the Special Committee’s announcement of his recruitment earlier this year, critics have wondered how Maher can objectively help investigate failures in disseminating information on election threats and domestic extremists, given that they have occurred under his leadership.
While the October memo provides one of the first concrete examples of how Maher changed department policy in his previous role at DHS, the concrete effects of this shift remain unclear.
Failures in the exchange of information
Law enforcement officials who testified about the security flaws around January 6, along with other agencies, pointed fingers at the DHS as they described the information-sharing breakdowns that occurred prior to the attack.
In February, former US Capitol Police chief Steven Sund claimed that the FBI, US Secret Service, Department of Homeland Security and DC Metropolitan Police Department did not expect violence that day, although he said it was sensible Relying on This Information Since Earlier Pro-Trump rallies were similarly rated and were not violent.
“The entire intelligence community seems to have missed this,” he wrote.
On January 3, an assessment of the upcoming protests found that “they are expected to be similar to the previous Million MAGA March rallies in November and December 2020, which attracted tens of thousands of attendees,” Sund wrote in his letter to the House spokeswoman, Nancy Pelosi. . The assessment indicated that the far-right Proud Boys and the far-left Antifa group were expected at the Capitol on January 6 and “may have a tendency to become violent”.
A day later, the US Capitol Police’s daily intelligence report rated the risk of violence in these events as either “remote” or “unlikely,” according to Sund’s letter. The report from that day stated that “the Secretary of Homeland Security has currently not issued an increased or imminent warning”.
CNN previously reported that on Jan.
A bipartisan Senate report, the security flaws around the 6th of Congress. “
“An I&A officer told committees that he’d be ‘before the 6th” In briefings with the committees, I&A officials highlighted the difficulty of spotting credible threats from online Bravdo and constitutional speech, which affects their collecting skills restricts. “
In March, Maher’s successor, DHS intelligence chief Melissa Smislova, admitted that “more had been done” to understand the threat of violence prior to the attack on the US Capitol, citing “relevant information” that the were evaluated in the previous weeks.
Maher’s role on the committee
This breakdown is within the scope of the select committee’s investigation.
Earlier this month, the committee called on DHS to “hand over any documents and notices relating to rules, regulations, procedures or guidelines that restrict monitoring or reporting related to protected activities under the First Amendment”.
It also called for “all documents and communications relating to the review, collection or dissemination of evidence from social media in the 6 months leading up to January 6, 2021 in relation to events that occurred on January 6, 2021”.
Although it remains unclear whether the October memo was included in the first set of documents the DHS presented to the committee last week, its relevance to the investigation has raised questions about Maher’s role on the panel’s team as he is on behalf of the DHS Arm was in charge of secret services for several months until the end of January.
“Maher was in charge. So how can he be a member of the committee investigating whether I&A has failed at his job?” asked Mark Zaid, an attorney who represents DHS whistleblower Brian Murphy, who held the same role at DHS through summer 2020. Regardless, Murphy has claimed that Maher was among the officers taking revenge on him, which resulted in his demotion.
A source close to the special committee’s investigation also told CNN that Maher’s attitude had resulted in “bad looks” and that his previous role with DHS during the investigation could lead to issues of conflict of interest.
DHS secret service under surveillance
Maher, who was the DHS’s principal assistant general counsel at the time, was appointed last summer to lead the intelligence office amid controversy over the First Amendment and a management reorganization.
When the division dispatched personnel to Portland, Oregon to help with the sometimes violent protests for racial justice and police accountability, a report was released detailing how the Office of Intelligence and Analysis provided intelligence reports on the work of two U.S. Journalists who had compiled the protests.
The reveal sparked a public backlash and Murphy’s dismissal. Following this report, incumbent Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf also ordered the secret service to stop collecting information about US media and ordered a review of the incident. Wolf later informed lawmakers that three cases of information had been disseminated as part of the DHS ‘Open Source Reporting Program, which identified press representatives.
Murphy later filed a whistleblower complaint alleging that senior Homeland Security officials repeatedly directed career officials to adjust intelligence ratings to President Donald Trump’s agenda by downplaying the white racist threat, as CNN first reported last year .
The special committee defended Maher in response to criticism of his handling of intelligence related information related to domestic extremists during the DHS, but declined to comment on the whistleblower retaliation allegations made by Murphy and noted that a general investigation by the inspector was in progress in this case is still in progress.
“The special committee has no reason to believe that Mr. Maher is the focus of this investigation and it would be inappropriate for the special committee to comment on an ongoing IG review,” the committee spokesman told CNN. “Mr. Maher believes that any allegations that link him are completely unfounded, that he is in no way taking revenge on anyone.”
CNN’s Geneva Sands contributed to this report.