UPDATE 1-U.S. official orders end to information gathering on journalists

31 Jul 2020 / 22:13 H.

    (Adds comments from agency head)

    July 31 (Reuters) - The head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has ordered the agency to stop collecting information on American journalists covering protests in Portland, Oregon, after a media report on the practice, a spokesman said.

    The Washington Post on Thursday reported that the department compiled "intelligence reports" on journalists using a government system meant to share information about suspected terrorists and violent actors.

    Upon learning of the activity, Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf directed the agency's Intelligence & Analysis Directorate to stop collecting information involving members of the press, a DHS spokesman said late on Thursday.

    "In no way does the acting secretary condone this practice and he has immediately ordered an enquiry into the matter," the spokesman said in a statement.

    The DHS unit shared intelligence reports on journalists from the New York Times and the blog Lawfare, noting they had published leaked unclassified documents about DHS operations in Portland, the newspaper reported.

    Wolf's order came as Portland had its first night in weeks without tear gas after state police took over from federal agents guarding a courthouse that has been the focal point of violence between protesters and officers.

    The agents withdrew under a deal between Oregon's governor and U.S. officials to end a deployment that sparked a standoff between Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic mayors over the use of federal officers in their cities.

    A few hundred people demonstrated outside the federal courthouse until around 2 a.m. when they left of their own accord, according to a Reuters reporter.

    Oregon State Police said around 100 of its officers took over security at the courthouse. In an interview with Fox News, Wolf said the federal withdrawal had worked "fairly well" after 60 days in which 240 DHS officers were injured in Portland clashes.

    DHS agents remain on standby in the city and National Guard troops could be sent in should state police be overrun, Wolf said after Trump threatened such action on Thursday. (Reporting by Deborah Bloom, Andrew Hay and Lisa Lambert; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Dan Grebler)

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