The Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General on Tuesday released the results of its probe into a 2020 report by the department’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis about Russian interference in the presidential campaign, revealing that DHS "did not adequately follow its internal processes."
Entitled "DHS Actions Related to an I&A Intelligence Product Deviated from Standard Procedures," the report stated that a top Trump administration official delayed and changed an intelligence product about the upcoming 2020 presidential election, which created the perception that it was done to aid the re-election efforts of Donald Trump, Defense One reported.
"The acting secretary participated in the review process multiple times despite lacking any formal role in reviewing the product, resulting in the delay of its dissemination on at least one occasion," the document said. "The delays and deviation from [the Office of Intelligence and Analysis] standard process and requirements put [the office] at risk of creating a perception of politicization."
Analysts with DHS’s Cyber Mission Center had started drafting a report in April 2020 titled "Russia Likely to Denigrate Health of US Candidates to Influence 2020 Electoral Dynamics." Its purpose was to inform state and local governments, and the analysts adhered to the drafting and editing policies of the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, according to the IG.
However, when reviewing the report at a meeting three months later in July, acting Secretary Chad Wolf (who is referred to by his title but not named in the document) decided that DHS should hold the report because it would embarrass the president, according to a whistleblower complaint included in the IG report.
The report was delayed for months, and a Cyber Mission Center official added a "tone box" that said Beijing and Tehran were attempting to derail Trump’s re-election, according to Defense One.
When DHS investigators asked why the material outside of the original scope of the report was added, the official did not give a good answer.
"He told us it was a feature intended to draw a contrast between the actions of Russia and those of Iran and China, but also described the tone box as a ‘blunting feature’ meant to balance the product," the IG report said. "When asked whether intelligence products require balancing, he said the addition of the tone box was not politicization, yet also said it showed [the Office of Intelligence and Analysis] political savviness, as the state and local customers of their products tended to be political."
The Office of Intelligence and Analysis’ analytic ombudsman reviewed the July and September versions of the intelligence product and found problems with both, especially the latter.
"The piece seems to almost avoid the main message that is made explicit in the key judgment — that Russian influence actors are targeting the Democratic candidates in 2020," the ombudsman wrote.
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