The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Military spy agencies did not monitor protesters, Pentagon official says

Two people embrace along H Street NW near the White House and Lafayette Square on Tuesday.
Two people embrace along H Street NW near the White House and Lafayette Square on Tuesday. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

The nation’s military spy agencies did not monitor or furnish information to federal law enforcement on Americans taking part in recent nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd, the Pentagon’s top intelligence official said.

In a letter Thursday to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the undersecretary of defense for intelligence and security, Joseph D. Kernan, said he was not asked by anyone in the administration or the Defense Department to “undertake any unlawful or inappropriate intelligence activities that could violate civil liberties” in association with the protests.

Nor has he asked any agency do so, he said.

Further, the directors of the Defense Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency “have all personally assured me they have not received or made any such requests,” he said.

Kernan’s assurance came in reply to a letter this week from Schiff, who was concerned about the prospect in the wake of President Trump’s threat to mobilize the military to enforce order at the protests and the use of the National Guard and several federal law enforcement agencies to disperse largely peaceful protesters gathered by Lafayette Square in front of the White House.

Schiff wants to know whether military agencies spied on protesters

“It is essential that the American people have trust and confidence in the legitimacy of their military and intelligence community and our obligation to protect the rights of all Americans,” Kernan said.

What he and some military intelligence agencies have done, he said, is to share “situational reports” generated by the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and other federal and state law enforcement organizations and “deemed reasonably necessary to protect [military] personnel from harm,” he said. But the spy agencies did not contribute to the reports, he said.