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Homeland Security gathered intelligence on Portland protesters without justification

Homeland Security gathered intelligence on Portland protesters without justification
Oregon senator says report shows Trump administration sought to ‘inflame conflict’

The Department of Homeland Security allegedly conducted illegal searches of protesters’ cell phones and did background checks on arrested individuals without legal justification, a report published last week found.

The report, finalised by the agency’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) in January and provided to news outlets last week by Sen Ron Wyden’s office, details the lack of concern for civil liberties and curtailing of vocalised concerns of protesters’ privacy rights by senior officials at the agency’s Current and Emerging Threats Centre.

Specifically, those senior leaders were reported to have dismissed the concerns of agents who raised issues about the depth and breadth of their intelligence-gathering on protesters, and simply suggested that if officials ordered it, the practice must be legal. The analysts in that department would go on to compile “baseball cards,” referring to short dossiers of information about individuals arrested during the Portland riots in the summer of 2020, including their names and some background information.

Even the collection of names for most were unwarranted, according to the report, which noted that more than a dozen of the reports reviewed by the agency involved individuals who were not accused of any ties to national security threats, federal crimes, or clear missions of the agency.

“Hunches or intuitions are not sufficient bases for collection, and without more information would have been inappropriate,” read the report, first published last week by The Oregonian.

“Regarding American citizens, in the context of mass protests or protection of critical infrastructure, production of an (intelligence background report) requires at least an arrest for a federal crime or more detailed information that the subject poses a considerable threat,” it continued.

Mr Wyden sharply criticised those findings, calling the report as a whole evidence that the Trump administration had sought to inflame, rather than quell, the violence in Portland where left-leaning demonstrators frequently clash with far-right and white nationalist groups.

“This report is 76 pages of stunning incompetence, mismanagement, and abuse of power by the Trump Administration’s Department of Homeland Security, in order to politicise and inflame conflict in Portland,” said the senator.

“Independent investigators confirmed that DHS intelligence officials lacked basic knowledge of their authority, what constituted real threats, and when it was appropriate to investigate Americans who were suspected of no crime at all,” he added.

As recently as August, far right groups descended on the city once again for a rally that ended in a street fight, with gunfire being reported.