Former acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf has amended and delayed an intelligence report detailing Russian interference in the 2020 US presidential election, according to a new review by the Security Department’s top watchdog. domestic (DHS).
The decision to deviate from standard DHS review procedures “raises[ed] concern for objectivity”, according to The reportand led to the perception that unorthodox interference by a senior DHS official was aimed at helping Donald Trump’s re-election bid.
The DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG), through its Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A), has released the redacted results of its investigation into Russian election interference – “DHS actions related to I&A intelligence product deviated from standard procedures” – Tuesday.
“We found that DHS did not adequately follow its internal processes and did not comply with [intelligence community] policy standards and requirements when editing and disseminating an I&A intelligence product regarding Russian interference in the 2020 U.S. presidential election,” the DHS OIG report states in part.
“The Acting Secretary participated in the review process on several occasions despite the lack of any formal role in the review of the product, which delayed its release on at least one occasion,” the report continued. Inspector General of DHS. “Delays and deviations from standard I&A process and requirements put [them] at the risk of creating a perception of politicization”.
DHS Cyber Mission Center (CYMC) analysts began drafting the original intelligence product titled “Russia Likely to Disparage the Health of U.S. Candidates to Influence 2020 Election Dynamics” in April 2020, for warn state and local governments of a noticeable rise in the Russian state. media efforts to question then-President Joe Biden’s sanity after Super Tuesday.
The DHS analyst who first raised the concern “believed that foreign efforts to question a candidate’s health were worth exploring because they could impact voters’ willingness to vote for that candidate. candidate and began drafting the product,” the OIG report said. “In its original form, the product was approximately two pages long and included information relating to a ‘current Democratic presidential candidate’ and Russian activities aimed at influencing the 2020 US presidential election.”
In a July 8, 2020 meeting, Acting Secretary Chad Wolf — who is mentioned by title but never named in Tuesday’s OIG report — determined that the intelligence document should be “held” because it “makes the president look bad,” according to onecomplaint.
The whistleblower, Brian Murphy, who was then deputy principal assistant secretary at I&A, also alleged that Wolf instructed him to redirect future assessments to the interference efforts of China and Iran, and that the instructions in that meaning came from the national security of the White House. Councilor Robert O’Brien. Murphy refused to comply, he said in the complaint, because “to do so would put the country in substantial and specific danger.”
“Russian disinformation was something [DHS leadership] didn’t want to report,” Murphy previously told CBS News, in an October 2021 interview. “It was important. It had a material impact on the life and safety of how events unfolded in 2018 and beyond.”
“Wolf told me that the plan for the administration was to downplay Russian disinformation, which supported the Democrats…and instead, escalate the threat from China,” Murphy continued. “That’s where the real manipulation by the politicians kicked in. The same with Iran. I don’t dismiss China and Iran as threats, especially in the disinformation space, but they differ in scale and goals. Russians are the best. There’s no one who comes close.”
Murphy was then reassigned after reporting that his office had compiled “intelligence reports” on reporters and protesters in Portland.
Tuesday’s report found that after months of delay, analysts had inserted a “tone box” – a highlighted section of text – detailing efforts by Chinese and Iranian influencers to amplify unsubstantiated narratives challenging question the mental health of former President Donald Trump.
When surveillance investigators questioned the CYMC official as to why the additional material — outside the scope of the original report — had been added, DHS officials contradicted themselves.
“He told us it was a feature meant to contrast Russia’s actions with those of Iran and China, but also described the tone box as a ‘blunting feature’ meant to balance When asked if intelligence products require balancing, he said adding the tone box was not politicizing, but also said it showed the political savvy of I & A because state and local customers of their products tended to be political,” the OIG report said.
I&A’s Analytical Ombudsman flagged serious concerns about the September release of the intelligence product, noting in his review that “problems with the article undermine the original message and give the impression of a lack of objectivity or an attempt at political influence”.
This assessment also suggested the addition of Iran and China”[seem] to almost avoid the main message which is made explicit in the key judgment – that Russian influencers are targeting Democratic candidates in 2020… The Iran/China tone box apparently unrelated to the main message are all areas that could be considered “political, whether ‘intentional or not’,” the assessment reads.
DHS’s lead watchdog determined that DHS was deviating from its own internal requirements for editing and disseminating the report to state and local partners.
“Since January 2021, the [Office of Intelligence and Analysis] renewed its commitment to continuously evaluate the policies, guidelines and processes that govern the review and release of its finished intelligence products, including to identify and implement necessary improvements,” wrote John Cohen, senior official serving as undersecretary for the office, to Joseph Cuffari, DHS Inspector General, in a memo in response to the report.
Cohen has since left her role, which is currently filled by Melissa Smislova. President Biden’s nominee for office, Kenneth Wainstein, is awaiting confirmation from the Senate.
“This troubling report raises concerns about the previous administration’s inappropriate interference in the review and clearance process for an intelligence product,” a DHS spokesperson said in a statement to CBS News. . “Under the Biden-Harris administration and the direction of Secretary Mayorkas, the Department of Homeland Security is focused on keeping communities safe and secure across our nation, while conducting our work with integrity and in a way that protects privacy, civil rights and Since January 2021, DHS has renewed its commitment to providing accurate, timely and actionable information and intelligence, free from politicization or bias, to the public and our partners at all levels of government, in the private sector and local communities.
Describing his methodology, the DHS watchdog wrote that Wolf requested an interview in writing rather than orally or in person. According to the report, the senior DHS official serving as Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli “provided no response despite agreeing to do so.”
Wolf resigned from his post in January 2021, after the Government Accountability Office and several federal judges found he had served illegally, a ruling he disputes.
In March 2021, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a report in the 2020 election, Kremlin-backed operatives authorized by President Vladimir Putin attempted to use President Trump’s inner circle and right-wing media to undermine his opponent. The report also concluded that while Iran stepped up its efforts to interfere in the 2020 presidential election, China failed to intervene after determining it was not worth the risk.
The intelligence community found “no indication” that a foreign actor attempted to alter the technical aspects of the voting process, despite making false claims intended to undermine confidence in the election results.