Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf told "Axios on HBO" that he ended a program targeting reporters after a story in The Washington Post.

  • "I got on the phone that night trying to understand what it is — not every story is accurate. So I wanted to understand the facts from my from the staff. ... As I dug more and more into it, I saw little to no intelligence value of what was being done. So that that evening I stopped that program, turned it over to the [Inspector General], and then we're moving forward."

Why it matters: The Post reported that DHS was tracking tweets by journalists who'd published leaked, unclassified DHS documents about its operations in Portland.

  • One of those tweets was about the department's use of intelligence "baseball cards" to track protesters, a practice often associated with law enforcement's approach to terrorists.

Wolf defended the "baseball card" approach in the "Axios on HBO" interview — in which law enforcement assembled profiles of certain individuals in the protests.

  • "Well, so we have an open source program in our intelligence and analysis division that is tracking threats to the homeland and not necessarily individuals. Now, one of the instances, I believe that you're referring to, once I became aware that individuals in our Intelligence and Analysis Directorate were putting out information to our fusion centers, which is how we distribute our information to our state and local partners about a leak in the department in identifying certain journalist or media types."
  • With that, I was not happy with that."

"[W]hat we're identifying are individuals time and time again that are that are targeting or using violent activities to target law enforcement or DHS facilities, making sure we know who they are and making sure that we were able to understand what their motives are. That's our job."

  • "That's what we do now separate and apart from that, I guess this is what I was referring to, is then associating media and tracking certain media types of journalists. That is not what we do. "

Go deeper

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Foreign and domestic actors looking to influence the 2020 election are trying to trick real reporters into amplifying fake storylines. This tactic differs from 2016, when bad actors used fake accounts and bots to amplify disinformation to the population directly.

Why it matters: The new strategy, reminiscent of spy operations during the Cold War, is much harder for big tech platforms to police and prevent.

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