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DHS Whisleblower Says He Was Ordered To Highlight Leftist Groups' Threats

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Stop reporting on the threat of Russian interference to the election. Emphasize the threat from China. Downplay the threat from white supremacists, but highlight the threat of antifa and other leftist groups. That is what a Department of Homeland Security official says he was told to do in a whistleblower complaint. NPR national security correspondent Hannah Allam is here to talk about the latest claims of political pressure at the DHS and the implications. Hannah, thanks for being here.

HANNAH ALLAM, BYLINE: Hi there.

MARTIN: So I laid out the broad strokes of this whistleblower complaint, but can you fill in the details for us?

ALLAM: Sure. Until last month, Brian Murphy led the intelligence branch at DHS. And he was reassigned after revelations that the office was compiling reports on protesters and journalists. But now Murphy says the real reason he lost his job is for speaking up about what he portrays as White House attempts to manipulate intelligence to match President Trump's statements. And as you said, he makes claims about Russia and election meddling. But I'm focusing on parts of the complaint where he describes specific attempts to influence intelligence on domestic terrorism threats.

Murphy says his bosses, the top DHS officials, told him in no uncertain terms on several occasions to play down the threat of white supremacists and to play up the threat of antifa and other militant leftists. And he says he was told to do this so that the DHS intelligence assessments would match what Trump says publicly. And publicly, the president frequently and erroneously, we should say, portrays antifa as an equal or even greater threat than the exponentially deadlier extreme right. This is something I've discussed with Seth Jones at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He's got a long background in counterterrorism work. And he and other analysts say the White House assertions of widespread violence from the left are baseless.

SETH JONES: Those comments are generally not coming from the experts within the administration who are at the National Counterterrorism Center, at the FBI counterterrorism division. They're coming from politicians. So it's not a reflection of the data. The far left simply does not present the same threat that the far right does in capabilities, in plots, in attacks or fatalities - none of those.

MARTIN: Nevertheless, this is what Brian Murphy says he was pressured to do - to elevate the threat of the far left. How does he describe this pressure campaign?

ALLAM: Well, in the complaint, he talks about being asked by the top leaders to soften language in a report on white supremacy, to make it, quote, "less severe." And at the same time, he says he was being asked to add more information on the far left. He mentions antifa, anarchists in particular. The White House has dismissed these allegations as false and defamatory. They call Murphy a disgruntled employee. But he is not the first to raise these concerns. We've heard former senior DHS officials saying this - that the far right wasn't taken seriously. We've heard it from researchers who worked closely with the government on policymaking. And, I mean, we hear it ourselves in the markedly different ways the president speaks about attacks where the perpetrator's a right-wing ideologues versus, say, a leftist or a Muslim.

What does take this one up a notch in terms of revelations is that this is an insider alleging that political appointees attempted to manipulate actual intelligence. This is not a press release. This was an assessment of domestic threats to the nation. And so Murphy is asking the department's inspector general to investigate what he calls abuses of authority.

MARTIN: So how did all that affect the white supremacist movement?

ALLAM: Extremism analysts generally say the far right and especially, you know, white nationalists, supremacists have been emboldened under Trump. And so this is one more account saying the administration looked the other way as violent actors got more organized, more violent, better funded. And now we're starting to see some of those groups show up to protest, intimidate and launch attacks that many fear will lead to an escalation before and after the November election.

MARTIN: All right. NPR national security correspondent Hannah Allam. Thank you so much for your reporting, Hannah. We appreciate it.

ALLAM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.