Homeland Security agencies prepare for civil unrest amid heightened tensions nationwide

Two of the Department of Homeland Security's immigration enforcement agencies are preparing for the possibility of more civil unrest amid a contentious elect...

Posted: Oct 26, 2020 2:14 PM

Two of the Department of Homeland Security's immigration enforcement agencies are preparing for the possibility of more civil unrest amid a contentious election, according to officials, part of a concerted effort by federal and local authorities to prepare for large-scale protests.

The Trump administration's deployment of federal officers to US cities came under scrutiny this summer and drew accusations of DHS becoming politicized as Trump administration officials claimed local politicians of not doing enough to control protests.

Officials in cities such as Portland, Oregon, and Washington, DC, meanwhile, argued the increased federal presence was fueling protests, rather than de-escalating the situation. They, and protestors also criticized federal officers for not having clearly distinct badges, leading the US Attorney for the Oregon District to request an investigation.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement is putting personnel on standby in the run up to next week's election, according to a senior ICE official, while Customs and Border Protection has been regularly training personnel -- an extension of the deployments this summer, an agency official said.

"We have teams ready to go as needed," said Ken Cuccinelli, the senior official performing the duties of the Homeland Security deputy secretary, but pointed out that "we don't have any specific intelligence that suggests any particular threat of violence."

CNN previously reported that since January, more than five dozen meetings have taken place in an effort to prepare various agencies for all likely scenarios, according to a senior administration official, and nearly 100 meetings in the past year, two other law enforcement officials said.

Those meetings have included the White House National Security Council, the Office of Personnel Management, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the various intelligence agencies and the military, the official said. This level of contingency planning is standard practice ahead of a national election, the official said.

ICE and CBP have tactical law enforcement teams that can be deployed to augment other law enforcement if needed.

In a "volatile time it is standard practice" to say, "let's run the hoops -- what it would take, name 'this location' and what kind of force, how many people, what would it cost and how long would it take to get there," a CBP official told CNN.

According to the senior ICE official, personnel will be deployed if needed to help protect federal buildings, which would free up state and local officials if there are riots or crowd control issues.

Preparations are similar to the Portland deployments when officers assisted Federal Protective Service -- an agency that also falls under DHS and is charged in part with protecting federal facilities.

While CBP is charged with enforcing the nation's borders, the agency regularly assists law enforcement, like after Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Laura. CBP's legacy agencies also assisted local partners during the 1992 Rodney King protests.

The agency also recently prepared for the possibility that it would be called to provide personnel when the charges in the Breonna Taylor case were announced, an official said, but CBP personnel weren't needed in the end.

The agency is "on standby all the time," said another CBP official, citing "the size and frequency of what we are seeing." "Training has been focused on de-escalation tactics, constitutional rights and crowd control," the official added.

In the event that Trump secures reelection outright, federal and city officials told CNN that large-scale demonstrations are expected in major Democratic-majority cities across the country, especially in New York City and Washington, DC. Should Biden win outright, those same officials do not expect the same large-scale protests but are preparing for them nonetheless. Agencies are also preparing for the possibility that there is no clear winner come November 4.

This summer, after consecutive protests in Portland, federal officials, including CBP and ICE officers, were deployed to the city to help protect federal property and personnel. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf attributed the move to violence directed at federal property and personnel.

Ahead of the July 4th weekend, Homeland Security officials also deployed across the country to protect federal monuments. "Rapid deployment teams" were sent to cities, including Seattle and Portland, while regional teams were pre-positioned with the intent to be available anywhere in the US within hours.

As of now, though, Cuccinelli told CNN that there isn't intelligence "of anything brewing that appears to be violent" related to the upcoming election, but cautioned that it can change quickly.

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