The proposed bill, summarized in a conference report this week by the House Armed Services Committee, would specifically require federal officers and members of the armed forces and National Guard dispatched to assist federal authorities in response to civil disturbances to visibly display their name or other unique identifier, such as a badge number, on their uniform, as well as the name of their agency.
The bill includes an exception for federal agents working in an undercover capacity.
The fate of the NDAA in its current form remains unclear. On Tuesday, President Donald Trump threatened to veto the legislation unless Congress removes legal protections for social media companies as part of the bill, setting up a showdown with Congress over legislation that would also give troops a raise and set defense policy.
The controversy surrounding anonymous, tactically equipped federal officers in public came to light during demonstrations across the country earlier this year as hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.
In the nation’s capital and cities across the country, federal and state forces were deployed to provide security as some demonstrations turned violent with rioters attacking law enforcement and buildings.
In some instances, including outside the White House, heavily armed people were seen blocking protesters, but had no apparent insignias or markings on their uniforms to identify them as federal forces.
Following the uproar over the use of unidentified federal agents to quell civil unrest, Attorney General William Barr defended the practice.
CNN has reached out to the Justice Department for comment on the new draft legislation that will require officers to identify themselves.
Inflaming already tense situations at demonstrations
Another flashpoint this year occurred in Portland, Oregon, as federal agents were sent into the city by the Trump administration to quell weeks of nightly rioting targeting a downtown federal courthouse.
In one viral video posted online, tactical officers were seen arresting a man and taking him away in an unmarked van. While the individuals wore police insignias, they refused to answer questions from bystanders about what they were doing as they took the man into custody, adding to the already tense relationship between some demonstrators and law enforcement in the city.
The officers were later identified as agents from US Customs and Border Protection. In a statement, the agency said the individual seen in the video was suspected of “assaults against federal agents or destruction of federal property,” and that they moved the individual to a safer location for questioning after they saw “a large and violent mob move towards” them. CNN could not independently verify what happened before or after the video was recorded.
Acting CBP commissioner Mark Morgan defended his officers not displaying names on their uniforms.
Concerns about mistaken identity
But critics of the use of anonymous officers slammed the practice and equated such actions to those done in authoritarian states.
Security experts also raised concerns about whether unidentified federal officers could be mistaken for armed militia members, who often dress up in military-like clothing and have been seen at various demonstrations across the country.
CNN’s Ryan Browne, Steve Almasy, Amir Vera, and Konstantin Toropin contributed to this report.