Chad Wolf, former acting secretary of Homeland Security for the Trump Administration, delayed the dissemination of a crucial intelligence report on Russia’s intervention in the 2020 elections by demanding changes, creating the perception that the report was politicized, according to a new report by Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) watchdog.
In its redacted report — titled “DHS Actions Related to an I&A Intelligence Product Deviated from Standard Procedures” — the DHS Office of Inspector General underscored the department’s failure to follow “its internal processes and comply with applicable intelligence community policy standards and requirements when editing and disseminating an Office of Intelligence and Analysis [I&A] intelligence product regarding Russian interference in the 2020 US presidential election.”
At issue was Wolf’s unorthodox decision to interfere in the report, which raised “objectivity concerns,” according to the OIG report. The acting secretary’s politically-charged effort appeared to have been intended to aid then-President Trump’s bid for reelection, the OIG’s office inferred in the report.
"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 DHS inspector general report stated. "The delays and deviation from I & A (the DHS’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis) standard process and requirements put [them] at risk of creating a perception of politicization."
“This resulted in a delay in the dissemination of an intelligence product intended to inform stakeholders about foreign influence efforts relating to the 2020 U.S. Presidential election,” the OIG report added.
This intelligence product was a report that analysts in the Cyber Mission Center (CYMC) of the DHS began drafting in April 2020 to warn officials at the local and state levels of a significant rise in covert and overt efforts by “Russian malign influence actors” to spread unsubstantiated claims about then-Candidate Joe Biden’s mental health after Super Tuesday, to erode voters’ confidence in the democratic candidate for president.
However, before the release of the Russian report, the former DHS analyst for intelligence and analysis, Brian Murphy, filed a whistleblower complaint alleging that Wolf, his predecessor Kirstjen Nielsen, and deputy secretary Ken Cuccinelli had interfered in the report.
Murphy alleged that, in May 2020, Wolf had asked him “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,” according to the Guardian.
The analyst — who, according to the OIG report, “believed foreign efforts questioning a candidate's health were worth exploring” — also said that Wolf had in July 2020 ordered him to delay the intelligence report because “it made the president look bad,” but Murphy refused to comply.
In his whistleblower complaint, Murphy said that obeying Wolf’s directives would have “put the country in substantial and specific danger."
"Russian disinformation was something [DHS leadership] didn't want to report on," Murphy told CBS News in October 2021. "It mattered. It had a material impact on life and safety of how the events unfolded during 2018 and forward," he added.
A representative for the DHS denied Murphy’s claims at the time.
I&A planned to circulate the intelligence report on July 9, 2020, but delays postponed its release until September 8. Even then, according to news media reporting, the I&A didn’t use its traditional channels to distribute the intelligence, delaying the report’s full publication yet again until October 15.
The OIG report found that, after months of delay, analysts included additional text in the intelligence report about efforts by China and Iran to amplify phantom narratives questioning then-President Trump’s mental capacity.
When pressed on its decision to include a “tone box” (the additional information) in the intelligence report, the DHS contradicted itself, reports CBS news.
"[The CYMNC Manager] 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. When asked whether intelligence products require balancing, he said the addition of the tone box was not politicization, yet also said it showed I & A's political savviness, as the state and local customers of their products tended to be political," the OIG report said.
Wolf now leads a far-right, pro-Trump thinktank, America First Policy Institute. In a statement to NBC News, he said the DHS watchdog “did not find any credible evidence that I directed anyone to change the substance of the report because it ‘made President Trump look bad.’”
However, the Inspector General’s office disputed Wolf’s claim on page 11 of its report, saying, “Based on our interviews with relevant officials, as well as our document review, it is clear the acting secretary asked the acting USIA [under secretary for intelligence and analysis] to hold the product from its pending release.”
The watchdog added that Wolf and others named in its report had denied the claims.