Downplay the white supremacist threat. Hype up rhetoric about anti-fascists and other “left-wing” groups stoking violence.
That’s what the Department of Homeland Security’s leadership ordered one of its top intelligence officials to do, according to a complaint from that staffer, Brian Murphy, released Tuesday.
In a filing with the Department’s Inspector General, Murphy, until recently a top official in the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis, alleges he was recently demoted for his repeated refusals to cook the books on DHS intelligence, particularly that which did not favor the Trump administration. Murphy, who alleges unfair retaliation, claims he was pressured to downplay threats posed by white supremacists and Russian election interference, and instead told to inflate fears around immigrants, anarchists, anti-fascists, China, and Iran.
In October 2018, for example, then-DHS Deputy Chief of Staff Miles Taylor and DHS Counselor Kristen Marquadt allegedly pressured Murphy into distorting information on immigrants, so that it “supported the policy argument that large numbers of [known or suspected terrorists] were entering the United States through the southwest border.”
Murphy says he declined to manipulate the data, and that he and a supervisor agreed that doing so would constitute a felony. Nevertheless, he claims, immigration data was distorted on multiple occasions, including oral testimony then-DHS head Kirstjen Nielsen gave to Congress, in which she claimed 3,755 known or suspected terrorists had crossed the southern border.
In a meeting with Nielsen and then-DHS Chief of Staff Chad Wolf, Murphy offered documentation showing that no more than three people of that description had crossed the border. Even those descriptions might have been inappropriate, Murphy added, since they simply shared the “name or phone number of a person who was known to be in contact with a terrorist. At that point, Mr. Murphy was removed from the meeting by Mr. Wolf.”
(In a brief interview with The Daily Beast, Taylor said,“the allegation is false. The real reason the Department of Homeland Security issued a fact cheat clarifying the number of terrorists crossing the southern border was because senior DHS leadership was worried that the White House was misstating the numbers of terrorists crossing the southern border, so we wanted to clarify the numbers and provide more accurate information to the public.”)
In May 2020, Murphy claims, Wolf—by then the acting DHS Secretary—ordered him to stop giving reports on the threat of Russian interference in the U.S., and instead focus on potential interference by China and Iran.
“Mr. Wolf stated that these instructions specifically originated from White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien,” Murphy alleges.
(The Daily Beast previously reported that O’Brien told his staff not to engage with Congress and other outsiders on the election security issue. In a statement provided after the publication of this story, White House spokesperson Sarah Matthews said, “Ambassador O’Brien has never sought to dictate the Intelligence Community’s focus on threats to the integrity of our elections or on any other topic; any contrary suggestion by a disgruntled former employee, who he has never met or heard of, is false and defamatory. Rather, Ambassador O’Brien has consistently and publicly advocated for a holistic focus on all threats to our elections–whether from Russia, Iran, China, or any other malign actor.”)
Murphy alleges that Wolf ordered him again in July to stop investigating Russian interference. “Mr. Wolf stated to Mr. Murphy the intelligence notification should be ‘held’ because it ‘made the President look bad,’” the whistleblower report reads. When Murphy again declined, Wolf allegedly made moves to exclude him from future meetings on the subject.
Concurrently, the DHS was compiling a Homeland Threat Assessment [HTA], which listed Russian interference and white supremacy as two chief concerns. Murphy claims acting DHS Secretary Ken Cuccinelli told him to downplay those two sections and specifically to “modify the section on White Supremacy in a manner that made the threat appear less severe, as well as include information on the prominence of violent ‘left-wing’ groups."
(Another former DHS official recently told The Daily Beast that she was “advised by senior officials in the White House” not to even use the terms “domestic terrorism or white supremacy,” which were considered to be “trigger words” for Trump.)
Murphy’s supervisor allegedly told him Wolf and Cuccinelli wanted to withhold publication of the HTA because they worried how it “would reflect upon President Trump.”
The pressure to identify leftist groups as a threat appears to have mounted as racial justice protests swept the country and President Donald Trump increasingly demonized the left in public and in campaign literature.
“Mr. Murphy was instructed by Mr. Wolf and/or Mr. Cuccinelli to modify intelligence assessments to ensure they matched up with the public comments by President Trump on the subject of ANTIFA and ‘anarchist’ groups,” Murphy’s complaint reads.
Murphy claims he was specifically asked to alter the report to include incidents in Portland, Oregon, which have attracted Trump and Wolf’s particular interest over left-wing protests.
The DHS and Department of Justice have taken special interest in identifying anarchists and anti-fascists as threats, even if the actual criminal cases stemming from this year’s protests show a minimal footprint from people with those political affiliations. Nevertheless, the DHS in July issued a list of supposed anarchist violence in Portland, much of which amounted to graffiti incidents. Wolf has recently appeared on Fox News suggesting the U.S. treat anti-fascists and Black Lives Matter protesters like terrorists, possibly using racketeering or conspiracy law against them (legal experts say the move would constitute a massive legal stretch).
Trump himself has tweeted repeatedly about anarchists and anti-fascists, threatening to designate the latter as a terrorist organization. (Such a designation would also strain legal feasibility, although a recently leaked DHS memo suggested the groundwork for falsely designating the broad anti-fascist movement as a foreign terror organization, based on a handful of anti-fascists who fought ISIS in the Kurdish separatist area of Rojava.)
Although Murphy claims to have been demoted for his refusal, his complaint alleges ongoing tampering with intelligence in his old department.
"On September 3, 2020, Mr. Murphy learned the new draft was provided to Mr. Wolf, who had ordered the HTA to be redesigned with the policy office completing the revisions,” his complaint reads. “It is Mr. Murphy’s assessment that the final version of the HTA will more closely resemble a policy document with references to ANTIFA and ‘anarchist’ groups than an intelligence document as originally formulated by DHS I&A."
Murphy served as principal deputy under secretary in the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis from March 2018 until July 31, 2020, when he claims he was “retaliatorily demoted to the role of Assistant to the Deputy Under Secretary for the DHS Management Division.”
The demotion came the day after acting DHS head Chad Wolf allegedly told Murphy that “the removal and reassignment of Mr. Murphy would be politically good for Mr. Wolf, who wanted to be officially nominated as the DHS Secretary,” according to Murphy’s complaint. Wolf has not been formally nominated for the role, and Congress’s independent Government Accountability Office recently found that he is ineligible to act in his current capacity.