Former Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf changed and delayed an intelligence report detailing Russian interference in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, according to a new review by the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) top watchdog.
The decision to deviate from DHS standard review procedures "rais[ed] objectivity concerns," according to the report, and led to the perception that unorthodox interference by a top DHS official was intended to help Donald Trump's reelection bid.The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) at DHS, through its Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A), released the redacted results of its investigation into Russian interference in the election — "DHS Actions Related to an I&A Intelligence Product Deviated from Standard Procedures" — on Tuesday.
Tuesday's report found that, after months of delay, analysts inserted a "tone box" – a highlighted section of text – detailing efforts by Chinese and Iranian influence actors to amplify unsubstantiated narratives questioning the mental health of former President Donald Trump.
When watchdog investigators probed the CYMC manager on why the additional material – outside the scope of the initial report – was added, the DHS officials contradicted themselves.
"He 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 reads.
The analytic ombudsman from I & A flagged serious concerns with the September version of the intelligence product, noting in his review that "problems with the piece undermine the original message and give the perception of a lack of objectivity or an attempt at political influence."
That assessment also suggested the addition of Iran and China "[seem] to almost avoid the main message that is made explicit in the key judgment — that Russian influence actors are targeting the Democratic candidates in 2020… The tone box on Iran/China seemingly unrelated to the main message are all areas that could be seen as 'being political,' whether intentional or not," the assessment read.
DHS' top watchdog determined that DHS deviated from its own internal requirements for editing and disseminating the report to state and local partners.
"Since January 2021, the [Office of Intelligence and Analysis] has renewed its commitment to continually assess the policies, guidelines and processes that govern the review and dissemination of its finished intelligence products, including to identity and implement and necessary improvements," wrote John Cohen, senior official performing the duties of the under secretary for the office, to Joseph Cuffari, DHS inspector general, in a memo responding to the report.
Cohen has since left his role, which is currently being filled by Melissa Smislova. President Biden's nominee to lead the office, Kenneth Wainstein, is awaiting Senate confirmation.
"This troubling report raises concerns over the prior Administration's inappropriate interference in the review and clearance process for an intelligence product," a DHS spokesperson said in a statement to CBS News. "Under the Biden-Harris Administration and the leadership of Secretary Mayorkas, the Department of Homeland Security is focused on ensuring the safety and security of communities across our country, while conducting our work with integrity and in ways that protect privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties. Since January 2021, DHS has renewed its commitment to providing accurate, timely, and actionable information and intelligence, free from politicization and bias, to the public and our partners across every level of government, in the private sector, and local communities."
Describing its methodology, the DHS watchdog wrote that Wolf requested an interview in writing rather than orally or in-person. According to the report, DHS Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli "did not provide any responses despite agreeing to do so."
Wolf resigned his post in January 2021, after the Government Accountability Office and several federal judges deemed that he had served illegally, a judgment that he disputes.
Chad Wolf, the former acting secretary of Homeland Security in the Trump administration, is launching a consulting firm to provide companies, NGOs and government agencies with advice on homeland and national security matters.
The new firm is called Wolf Global Advisors, and Wolf is launching it with three former other senior Trump DHS officials: former acting chief of staff Scott Erickson, former deputy chief of staff Tyler Houlton and legislative affairs director Beth Spivey.
“During my time at DHS, I came to know and came to realize that a number of organizations, whether they’re companies or non-profits really struggle with assessing risk and security issues facing their respective organizations,” Wolf said in an interview. “Others want to better understand the department, whether they’re regulated by the department, or perhaps they have technology or services to help the department better fulfill their mission.”
Wolf said he already has a few clients signed up, but declined to name them unless one of the principals at the firm has to register as a lobbyist for them. He said he could potentially work with foreign governments as well, but won’t do any work that would require him or his firm to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act at this time.