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US House panel investigates DHS office over crackdown

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agents deployed to crackdown on pro-justice protesters in Portland, Oregon, July 5, 2020. (AP photo)

The US Congress has launched an investigation into the activities of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) over its involvement in the crackdown on anti-racism protesters across the country triggered by the police killing of George Floyd.

The House Intelligence Committee on Monday launched the investigation into the DHS crackdown on protesters following reports of misuse and abuse of power by DHS. 

"The reporting regarding the monitoring of peaceful protesters, creating and disseminating intelligence reports about journalists and protesters, and potential exploitation of electronic devices is deeply troubling," the US House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff wrote in a letter to acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) acting Undersecretary Horace Jen. 

In his letter, Schiff said he wanted information on DHS's intelligence activities and detailed intelligence reporting documents that informed a recommendation by the then-chief of the DHS intelligence operation on July 25 requesting that DHS reports on anarchist-related Portland protesters refer to them as "Violent Antifa Anarchists Inspired."

The official who wrote the memo, acting DHS intelligence chief Brian Murphy, was subsequently transferred to a different job over the weekend.

In his letter, Schiff also requested that Jen, Murphy and several other DHS officials, including intelligence officials, give interviews to the House Intelligence Committee this month.

"The Committee is therefore initiating, pursuant to its unique oversight and legislative authority, an investigation of I&A’s activities in Portland and in support of the Department’s response to protests nationwide,” Schiff wrote.

Schiff noted that while the I&A initially cooperated and provided some documents and briefings to the panel, their cooperation has "since decreased significantly."

Schiff also said that the information provided and additional public reporting has only "heightened our alarm."

US House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff speaks at a press briefing on June 30, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Photo by AFP)

He said he would consider “all options necessary to obtain compliance—including compulsory process”, if the DHS did not produce the witnesses and documents he had requested. 

He added that reports that a top intelligence official, who has since been reassigned, was seeking to change the contents of intelligence reports, had also been a source of alarm. 

City officials and local residents were opposed to the deployment of DHS agents, saying their deployment would make matters worse.

Since May, mostly peaceful demonstrators have been protesting against institutionalized racial discrimination and police brutality.

The demonstrations, which were triggered by the brutal police killing of Floyd, have responded to using brutal police force to crackdown on pro-justice protesters.

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