The Secret Service asked Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for a Black Hawk helicopter and surveillance aircraft in response to protests outside the White House, according to documents obtained by American Oversight, a government watchdog group.
Kimberly Cheatle, assistant director for the Secret Service's Office of Protective Operations, wrote to CBP acting commissioner Mark Morgan asking for assistance in a June 5 letter, obtained by American Oversight and first reported by The Washington Post. Cheatle requested surveillance aircraft to monitor protesters outside the White House and a Black Hawk helicopter that could be used to rapidly deploy a "fast rope" tactical team if needed.
The request came a week after violent clashes between large crowds of Black Lives Matter protesters and federal and local law enforcement near the White House, which led the Secret Service to rush President Donald Trump to an underground bunker.
"Due to the significant and unprecedented events occurring in the National Capital Region, the U.S. Secret Service is requesting the support from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations," Cheatle wrote. "CBP's participation in the operational security plan is vital."
The Post reported that the Secret Service later decided that the helicopter wouldn't be needed, but CBP did provide the agency with live footage from a surveillance plane monitoring protests in D.C.
The letter further documents the federal response to widespread protests and unrest throughout the country following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May. Multiple federal agencies deployed surveillance aircraft to monitor protests and riots. CBP deployed a surveillance drone over Minneapolis. The FBI flew aircraft equipped with infrared and electro-optical cameras—and possibly equipment known as 'dirtboxes,' which can collect cell phone location data—over Washington, D.C., and Las Vegas.
Reason's Elizabeth Nolan Brown was on the ground when a National Guard helicopter hovered dangerously low over protesters in D.C. as a "show of force." The D.C. National Guard is now investigating the incident.
Austin Evers, American Oversight's executive director, told the Post that the letter is "further evidence that the Trump administration sees First Amendment activities as a siege and our fellow citizens as combatants."
The Secret Service has suffered several embarrassing White House breaches over the past decade, and it was caught off guard by the intensity of the protests. However, the Trump administration's response to the George Floyd protests—using anonymous federal law enforcement officers, snatching protesters off the street in unmarked vans, and using spy planes—has also showed the militarization and mission creep at the Department of Homeland Security, and why there were legitimate concerns over creating DHS in the first place.