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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The sometimes militarized government response to nationwide protests following the killing of George Floyd has shone a light on the scope of the surveillance and enforcement apparatus that can be mobilized quickly against U.S. civilians.

The state of play: Since the protests began, extraordinary emergency authorities have been granted to the Drug Enforcement Agency to police demonstrators, including through “covert surveillance,” according to a DEA memo leaked to BuzzFeed.

Other agencies: Attorney General Bill Barr has mobilized a dizzying array of federal law enforcement agencies to police demonstrations in Washington and elsewhere.

  • This includes representatives of the “Secret Service, National Guard, Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Park Police ... Border Patrol, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Transportation Security Administration, National Guard, Coast Guard, Federal Protective Service,” according to a Department of Homeland Security memo leaked to Yahoo News.
  • The New York City Police Department has even requested drones from the Coast Guard.

Even U.S. foreign intelligence agencies could be roped into the domestic turmoil.

  • As Jenna McLaughlin, Sean Naylor and I reported at Yahoo News, at a recent “virtual town hall,” employees of the Defense Intelligence Agency, which is primarily focused on military intelligence, raised concerns over word that a Defense Intelligence Agency task force was created to focus on the unrest.
  • According to sources, the DIA director denied any specific domestically focused task force but acknowledged that the agency was looking at any “foreign nexus” to the protests.
  • A DIA spokesperson told Yahoo News that the agency had created “an internal coordination group to respond to increased and appropriate Department requests for information” regarding the unrest.

The bottom line: Revelations of illegal surveillance of protesters and activists during the Vietnam War era created great scandal and upheaval and catalyzed many of today’s most important laws and prohibitions governing domestic intelligence-gathering. Now the test is whether the U.S. government unlearned that lesson in the decades since.

  • What to watch: On Tuesday, 35 House Democrats sent law enforcement agencies a letter demanding an end to protest surveillance.

Go deeper

Updated Oct 1, 2020 - Politics & Policy

The major police reforms enacted since George Floyd's death

Federal officers in Portland, Oregon on July 21. Photo: Nathan Howard/Getty Images

Nationwide Black Lives Matter protests sparked by George Floyd's killing have put new pressure on states and cities to scale back the force that officers can use on civilians.

Why it matters: Police reforms of this scale have not taken place since the inception of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2013, following George Zimmerman's acquittal for shooting Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black teenager.

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Beto plans Texas comeback in governor's race

Former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke speaks during the Georgetown to Austin March for Democracy rally on July 31, 2021 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke is preparing to run for governor of Texas in 2022, with an announcement expected later this year, Texas political operatives tell Axios.

Why it matters: O'Rourke's entry would give Democrats a high-profile candidate with a national fundraising network to challenge Republican Gov. Greg Abbott — and give O’Rourke, a former three-term congressman from El Paso and 2020 presidential candidate and voting rights activist, a path to a political comeback.

Texas doctor says he performed an abortion in violation of state law

Pro-choice protesters march down Congress Avenue and back to the Texas state capitol in Austin, Tx in July 2021. Photo: Erich Schlegel/Getty Images

A Texas doctor disclosed in an op-ed in the Washington Post Saturday that he has performed an abortion in violation of the state's restrictive new abortion law, which effectively bans the procedure after six weeks.

Why it matters: Alan Braid's op-ed is a direct disclosure that will very likely result in legal action, thereby setting it up as a potential test case for how the abortion ban will be litigated, notes the New York Times.