DHS Authorizes Domestic Surveillance to Protect Statues and Monuments

You might not imagine that the U.S. intelligence community would have much stake in local protests over monuments and statues. You’d be wrong.

A document provided to Lawfare on July 19 from the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Intelligence & Analysis (I&A) describes personnel as “collecting and reporting on various activities in the context of elevated threats targeting monuments, memorials, and statues”—and it gives legal guidance concerning the “expanded intelligence activities necessary to mitigate the significant threat to homeland security” posed by such activities.

The document, titled “Job Aid: DHS Office of Intelligence & Analysis (I&A) Activities in Furtherance of Protecting American Monuments, Memorials, Statues, and Combatting Recent Criminal Violence,” is not classified. Its three pages each bear the heading “UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY.” But it clearly indicates that at least parts of the intelligence community are being tasked with monitoring and collecting information on some protest activities.

DHS official Ken Cuccinelli appeared to allude to this activity on CNN, stating of Portland, Ore., “we got intelligence about planned attacks on federal facilities…. If we get the same kind of intelligence in other places about threats to other facilities or officers, we would respond the same way.” But the memo makes clear that the authorized intelligence activity covers significantly more than just planned attacks on federal personnel or facilities. It appears to also include planned vandalism of Confederate (and other historical) monuments and statues, whether federally owned or not. DHS did not respond to a voicemail and email seeking comment by the time of publication. We will add any comments or statements the department may release.

Here, we lay out what this document says and analyze what one can reasonably infer from it about ongoing intelligence collection with respect to the protests and the legal basis for such intelligence activities.

The DHS document offers legal guidance to its analysts regarding what is and is not appropriate collection and reporting with respect to a range of threats, including to monuments and statues, to federal personnel, to federal buildings and facilities, and to federal activities and programs. It is explicitly tied to President Trump’s executive order of June 26, 2020, which declared that, “It is the policy of the United States to prosecute to the fullest extent permitted under Federal law, and as appropriate, any person or any entity that destroys, damages, vandalizes, or desecrates a monument, memorial, or statue within the United States or otherwise vandalizes government property.”

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