Politics

US intelligence analyst makes whistleblower complaint

US intelligence analyst complaint
A US intelligence analyst has made a whistleblower complaint, which includes claims that instructions came from the White House to modify intelligence assessments. Source: Gregory Varnum (via Wikimedia Commons)
A US intelligence analyst has made a whistleblower complaint against allleging he was pressured to modify his work to fit political agendas

By Tom Kingsbury | Political Editor

A United States (US) intelligence analyst for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has made a whistleblower complaint making allegations that include pressure by senior members of staff to manipulate his intelligence reports to suit the White House’s policy agenda.

The whistleblower, Brian Murphy, complained of “a repeated pattern of abuse of authority”, and “attempted censorship of intelligence analysis”.

Murphy claims he was told to cease providing intelligence assessments on the threat of Russian electoral interference and to instead report more on electoral interference activities by China and Iran.

He also says he was given instructions to manipulate intelligence assessments, including on white supremacist groups, migrant terrorist threats and the group known as ANTIFA.

The complaint claims it is “abundantly clear” that as a result of his refusal to follow these instructions, which Murphy said were illegal, he was reassigned in what constituted a “de facto demotion”.


Who is Brian Murphy?

From March 2018 to July 31 2020, Brian Murphy was the Principal Deputy Under Secretary in the DHS’ office of Intelligence and Analyst.

In this position he was responsible for all intelligence activities in the DHS, and the “principal advisor” to the Secretary for Homeland Security and the Director of National Security.

Murphy had more than two decades of public service experience prior to joining the DHS and is currently pursuing a doctorate with a focus on the US executive’s responsibility in combating Russian disinformation efforts within the US.

His attorneys wrote:

“Mr. Murphy is, put simply, a dedicated public servant who has had a laudable career prior to the recent events that have led to the submission of this package to the OIG [Office of the Inspector General, which handled the complaint]. Prior to his current circumstances, he had never had so much as a negative fitness report in his professional career with the U.S. Government.”


Russian influence

Murphy’s complaint alleges throughout his time working for the DHS “a repeated pattern of abuse of authority, attempted censorship of intelligence analysis and improper administration of an intelligence programme related to Russian efforts to influence and undermine United States interests.”

In May this year, Murphy says he was instructed by the current acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf to “cease providing intelligence assessments on the threat of Russian interference in the United States, and instead start reporting on interference activities by China and Iran.”

He said that Wolf “stated they [the instructions] specifically originated from White House National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien.”

Murphy refused to follow these instructions, as complying with them “would put the country in substantial and specific danger.”

In July, the complaint alleges, Murphy was told an intelligence document he worked on should be “held” as it “made the President look bad”. Murphy objected, arguing it “improper to hold a vetted intelligence product for reasons for political embarrassment.”

Wolf took steps to exclude Murphy from relevant meetings on the subject in response, according to the complaint.

In late 2018 Murphy’s boss, David Glawe, testified before Congress. Afterwards, he told Murphy that he had been challenged by Republican members of the committee on his confirmation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

A few days later, Glawe was called to the White House and – according to the complaint – was warned by then DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen that “President Trump had demanded Mr. Glawe be fired”, but that he had been convinced to hold off.

After the White House meeting, Glawe told Murphy he was “on his own when it came to election interference assessments”, though he would continue to support him on other matters.

A number of other complaints by Murphy regarding Russian influence are noted to have been made, though the details are classified.

The complaint comes as news broke that Russian, Chinese and Iraninan-based hacking groups had attempted to interfere in the US election.


“Censor” and “deflect” regarding the border wall

Contained too in Murphy’s complaint are details suggesting pressure to manipulate intelligence regarding the threat posed by immigration on the US’ southwest border with Mexico.

One area of intelligence Murphy handled was the threat of known or suspected terrorists (KSTs). In October 2018, the complaint states that Murphy was instructed “to ensure the intelligence assessments he produced for Secretary Nielsen’s review supported the policy argument that large numbers of KSTs were entering the United States through the southwest border.”

Murphy says he declined to “censor or manipulate” intelligence information, but that when Murphy submitted intelligence information for Secretary Nielsen, Glawe would be contacted with the aim of having the data reinterpreted to “fit the White House’s narrative.”

On December 20 2018, Secretary Nielsen made testimony that “constituted a knowing and deliberate submission of false material information”, the complaint alleges.

The alleged false information given was an inflated number of KSTs crossing the southwest border of the US. In a subsequent meeting, Murphy told Nielsen that the actual number “consisted of no more than three individuals, not 3,755 individuals as she had previously attested to in her testimony”.

At the meeting, Wolf and (then) Deputy Chief of Staff Miles Taylor advised Secretary Nielsen to “claim the details were classified” and to “deflect” from addressing the “significant discrepancy”.

Murphy advised against this, adding that the few ‘known’ KSTs simply had a name or number of a person known to be in contact with a terrorist. “At that point,” Murphy says, he was “removed from the meeting by Mr. Wolf.”

Murphy learned that on “more than one occasion” around this time, “termination of employment” was being sought against him, including, the complaint says, by Taylor and Wolf, as well as two other officials.

Secretary Nielsen resigned a month after the second testimony to Congress, after it was reported that President Trump was displeased with Nielsen, thinking she was not tough enough on immigration.


Domestic threats

In March this year, Murphy said his team produced a Homeland Threat Assessment (HTA). Shortly after its distribution began, his boss was told further distribution was prohibited. The reason given was due to concerns “regarding how the HTA would reflect upon President Trump.”

Two sections were of particular concern – one on Russian influence in the US, and the other on white supremacy.

Murphy was told he “needed to specifically modify the section on White Supremacy in a manner that made the threat appear less severe, as well as include information on a prominence of violent “left-wing” groups.”

He was also instructed to modify his intelligence assessments to make sure they “matched up” with President Trump’s comments on ANTIFA and anarchist groups.

He says he declined to modify his assessments “based upon political rhetoric” and responded that he would “only report accurate intelligence information”.

Shortly after this, Murphy was “reassigned” to the Management Division of the DHS, a move that the coplaint says constitutes “a de facto demotion”.


“deep state” accusations

In a meeting on conditions in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, Deputy DHS Secretary Kenneth Cuccinelli told Murphy and his boss that he “wanted changes” to the information given on the countries, “outlining high levels of corruption, violence, and poor economic conditions”.

He also accused unknown “deep state intelligence analysts” of compiling the information to “undermine” President Trump’s policy objectives in central America, the complaint alleges.

Murphy says he responded that the assessments were consistent with those that had been made for several years, but Cuccinelli ordered the ‘deep state’ individuals to be identified, and to “either fire or reassign them immediately.”

Murphy and Glawe, the other attendants, agreed the instructions were illegal and constituted an abuse of authority, and that they would not act on them.


The reaction

The White House and DHS have both denied the allegations. A DHS spokesperson stated: “We flatly deny that there is any truth to the merits of Mr Murphy’s claim.”

Adam Schiff, Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, which first released the complaint, said:

We will get to the bottom of this, expose any and all misconduct or corruption to the American people, and put to a stop to the politicisation of intelligence.”

Follow @gairrhyddpol for all of the latest updates from the world of politics.

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