WASHINGTON — U.S. Customs and Border Protection is claiming “drug trafficking organizations” are using the George Floyd protests as a facade for criminal activity, prompting law enforcement to respond with nonlethal weapons, like rubber bullets and pepper spray, according to an official-use-only agency document obtained by Yahoo News.
The June 2 document created by CBP, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, provides law enforcement agencies with intelligence updates on the protests. It details intelligence gaps and surveils social media for possible threats. While it acknowledges a majority of the protests are “peaceful,” CBP says that “due to nefarious actors and drug trafficking organizations using these protests as façades, there have been incidents where law enforcement (LE) officials have needed to respond with nonlethal and escalated force — incidents including the use of pepper spray, riot shields, and rubber bullets.”
Though there have been multiple reports of looters taking advantage of the protests, law enforcement officials do not appear to have made any public statements claiming the protests are linked to drug trafficking. On the contrary, a government memo obtained by BuzzFeed News showed that the Drug Enforcement Administration recently sought authority to assist with law enforcement efforts related to the protests. That memo, however, says that illegal activity associated with the demonstrations “are largely not drug-related.”
The CBP document obtained by Yahoo News comes amid the controversial deployment of uniformed Border Patrol police to Washington, D.C., to assist with law enforcement’s response to the protests. The Border Patrol has joined a number of other law enforcement agencies, including the DEA, to police the nation’s capital in recent days.
Nate Snyder, who served in the Obama administration as a Department of Homeland Security counterterrorism official, said the government could be overreaching to justify the recent deployment of DEA officers in Washington.
“The assertion of nefarious actors and drug trafficker involvement is not cited and has no sourcing and is overly vague,” he said. “It also has me deeply concerned that this could validate further law enforcement and perhaps counterterrorism authorities and apparatus to deal with non-imminent and nonspecific threats.”
The CBP did not respond to a request for comment.
The past week has seen unrest in cities across the nation following the police killing of George Floyd, an African-American man. His death has sparked a series of peaceful protests and demonstrations, but also looting and violence. In a number of cases, the police have been accused of using excessive force against peaceful protesters engaged in civil disobedience.
While CBP claims that nonlethal and lethal force has been used because of “nefarious actors,” the June 2 report calls Tuesday afternoon’s protest in front of the White House, which was cleared by police using incendiary devices, “mostly peaceful.” The document notes that after that protest, President Trump “walked to St. John's Episcopal Church and gave an impromptu press conference before returning to the White House.”
The document omits mention of protesters being forcibly cleared just prior to President Trump’s appearance at the church.
Despite its assertion about drug traffickers, the CBP notes that it has “intelligence gaps” about criminal activity around the protests, including who has been instigating violence.
The document appears to suggest the CBP believes there could be foreign governments or domestic terrorists influencing the protests. “What is the level of state-sponsored influence?” the documents asks. “To what extent are domestic terrorist organizations involved with the protests?”
The deployment of CPB police to Washington, D.C., earlier this week to assist with law enforcement dealing with ongoing protests was met with a critical response, even by the agency’s own assessment. “The use of the #CBP and @CBP handles continue to trend with [sic] in a negative manner towards CBP,” the June 2 document states.
Many of the negative comments were posted in response to acting Commissioner Mark Morgan tweeting on Tuesday a picture of uniformed border police standing inside the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in downtown Washington. “CBP personnel have deployed to the National Capital Region to assist law enforcement partners,” “These ‘protests’ have devolved into chaos & acts of domestic terrorism by groups of radicals & agitators. @CBP is answering the call and will work to keep DC safe.”
The document says CBP analyzed social media and found Twitter accounts making threats against the agency’s officers as a result of the post.
After looking into the social media posts, however, “no credible threats have been identified,” it concludes.