The department appears to have inconsistent standards of caution for its intelligence briefings. Intelligence officers wrote that they had “high confidence” in their assessment of Russian election interference, yet its publication was blocked. But on July 16, the department’s intelligence office broadly disseminated a bulletin on “anarchist extremists” committing violence in the Pacific Northwest, although in that case, officials admitted they had “low confidence” in their historical assessment.
“This is the latest in a series of actions that politically appointed department leaders have taken to politicize the operations of the department and skew the intelligence analysis that so many law enforcement officers across the country count on to keep Americans safe,” Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi and the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, wrote to Mr. Wolf on Wednesday.
Mr. Thompson asked the inspector general for the department to review the matter.
The department’s leaders and its intelligence office have already attracted criticism for appearing to shape decisions around the political whims of the White House, such as actions at the U.S.-Mexican border and the deployment of tactical teams to Portland and Washington, D.C., against the wishes of local governments.
One of the core missions of the Department of Homeland Security is to share information on the latest developments in national security threats with state and local law enforcement agencies. The department often does this by distributing bulletins to information-sharing “fusion centers” throughout the United States. The breakdown in communication among government agencies was identified as one of the areas needing improvement after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Those attacks prompted the creation of the Homeland Security Department.
But the Office of Intelligence and Analysis has struggled to earn a reputation for credibility, which other federal intelligence agencies have. Episodes over the past few weeks have not helped, former Homeland Security officials said.
Intelligence officials did not intervene to stop publication of the memo that mentioned journalists covering the unrest in Portland. In fact, Mr. Wolf learned of that bulletin only when The Washington Post revealed the report, which partly targeted The New York Times’s publishing of an intelligence analysis indicating that the Homeland Security Department had little understanding of the situation in Portland. The department on Wednesday did not answer questions about an update to Mr. Murphy’s status.
David Lapan, a former Homeland Security spokesman under the Trump administration, said senior officials with the department did not review each document issued by the intelligence office, although the acting secretary occasionally flagged topics of importance and scrutiny.