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I Spy An Occupy: Obama’s DHS Surveils Legit Protesters

Remember the Occupy Movement? Since last November, when the NYPD closed the Zuccotti Park encampment in downtown Manhattan –the Movement’s birthplace and symbolic nexus—Occupy’s relevance has seriously dwindled, at least as measured by coverage in the mainstream media. We’re told that this erosion is due to Occupy’s own shortcomings—an inevitable outcome of its disjointed message and decentralized leadership.

While that may be the media’s take, the U.S. Government seems to have a different view.

If recent documents obtained by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) are any indication, the Occupy Movement continues to be monitored and curtailed in a nationwide, federally-orchestrated campaign, spearheaded by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

In response to repeated Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by the Fund, made on behalf of filmmaker Michael Moore and the National Lawyers Guild, the DHS released a revealing set of documents in April.  But the latest batch, made public on May 3rd, exposes the scale of the government’s “attention” to Occupy as never before.

The documents, many of which are partially blacked-out emails, demonstrate a surprising degree of coordination between the DHS’s National Operations Center (NOC) and local authorities in the monitoring of the Occupy movement. Cities implicated in this wide-scale snooping operation include New York, Oakland, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Denver, Boston, Portland, Detroit, El Paso, Houston, Dallas, Seattle, San Diego, and Los Angeles.

Interest in the Occupy protesters was not limited to DHS and local law enforcement authorities.  The most recently released correspondence contains Occupy-related missives between the DHS and agencies at all levels of government, including the Mayor of Portland, regional NOC “fusion centers,” the General Services Administration (GSA), the Pentagon’s USNORTHCOM (Northern Command), and the White House. Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Executive Director of the PCJF, contends that the variety and reach of the organizations involved point to the existence of a larger, more pervasive domestic surveillance network than previously suspected.

These documents show not only intense government monitoring and coordination in response to the Occupy Movement, but reveal a glimpse into the interior of a vast, tentacled, national intelligence and domestic spying network that the U.S. government operates against its own people. These heavily redacted documents don’t tell the full story. They are likely only a subset of responsive materials and the PCJF continues to fight for a complete release. They scratch the surface of a mass intelligence network including Fusion Centers, saturated with ‘anti-terrorism’ funding, that mobilizes thousands of local and federal officers and agents to investigate and monitor the social justice movement.

 (justiceonline.org)

As alarmist as Verheyden-Hilliard’s charge may sound, especially given the limited, bowdlerized nature of the source material, the texts made available contain disturbing evidence of insistent federal surveillance. In particular, the role of the “Fusion Centers,” a series of 72 federally-funded information hubs run by the NOC, raises questions about the government’s expansive definition of “Homeland Security.”

Created in the wake of 9/11, the Fusion Centers were founded to expedite the sharing of information among state and local law enforcement and the federal government, to monitor localized terrorist threats, and to sidestep the regulations and legislation preventing the CIA and the military from carrying out domestic surveillance (namely, the CIA ban on domestic spying and the Posse Comitatus Act).

Is nonviolent, albeit obstructive, citizen dissent truly an issue of national security? The DHS, for its part, is aware of the contentiousness of civilian monitoring. That’s why, in a White House-approved statement to CBS News included in the dossier, DHS Press Secretary Matthew Chandler asserts that

Any decisions on how to handle specifics (sic) situations are dealt with by local authorities in that location. . . DHS is not actively coordinating with local law enforcement agencies and/or city governments concerning the evictions of Occupy encampments writ large.

However, as a reading of the documents unmistakably demonstrates, this expedient PR nugget is far from the truth. In example after example, from its seeking of  “public health and safety” grounds from the City of Portland for Occupy’s ejection from Terry Schrunk Plaza, to its facilitation of information sharing between the police departments of Chicago and Boston (following a 1500-person Occupy protest in Chicago), the DHS’s active ”coordinating” with local authorities is readily apparent. Other communiqués are even more explicit in revealing a national focus, such as the DHS’s preemptive coordination with the Pentagon about a port closure in Oakland, and its collection of identity and contact information of Occupy protesters arrested at a Bank of America in Dallas.

Those Pesky Amendments

The right to public assembly is a central component of the First Amendment. The Fourth Amendment is supposed to protect Americans from warrantless searches—with the definition of “search” expanded in 1967 to include electronic surveillance, following the Supreme Court’s ruling in Katz v. United States. Assuming the Occupy protesters refrain from violence—and the vast majority do, in accord with a stated tenet of the Occupy movement—the movement’s existence is constitutionally protected, or should be.

The DHS’s monitoring, documenting, and undermining of protesters may in fact violate the First Amendment. In a recent piece for Dissent Magazine, sociologist James B. Rule explains the fundamental importance of a movement like Occupy in the American political landscape.

This surveillance campaign against Occupy is bad news for American democracy. Occupy represents an authentic, utterly home-grown, grassroots movement. Taken as a whole, it is neither terrorist nor conspiratorial. Indeed, it is hard to think of another movement so cumbersomely public in its deliberations and processes. Occupy is noisy, disorderly, insubordinate, and often inconvenient for all concerned—statements that could equally well apply to democracy in general. But it should never be targeted as a threat to the well-being of the country—quite the contrary.

Accordingly, Rule calls for the White House to rein in the ever-expanding surveillance activity of the DHS—which he contends is motivated by its own funding interests, and which prioritizes security at the expense of civil liberties.

The resource-rich Department of Homeland Security and its allies no doubt see in the rise of the movement another opportunity to justify their own claims for public legitimacy. We can be sure that many in these agencies view any noisy dissent as tantamount to a threat to national security.

[snip]

Nobody who cares about democracy wants to live in a world where simply engaging in vociferous protest qualifies any citizen to have his or her identity and life details archived by state security agencies. Specific, overt threats of civil disobedience or other law-breaking should be dealt with on a piecemeal basis—not by attempting to monitor everyone who might be moved to such actions, all the time. Meanwhile, the White House should issue clear directives that identification and tracking of lawful protesters will play no further role in any government response to this populist moment.

Optimistic as it may be, Rule’s appeal to the White House is a problematic one, given the ubiquitous influence of the DHS revealed by these documents. If the White House-approved press release is any indication, the Oval Office, while not directly authorizing the DHS’s initiatives, is certainly turning a blind eye to the Department’s focus on the Occupy movement as a potential terrorist threat. Federal surveillance of citizens in the Bush years, most visible in the NSA warrantless wiretapping controversy, has apparently not ceased with Obama’s inauguration.

Which raises the question: Does Obama, as he claims, “stand with the 99 percent,” or with those who cannot stand them?

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  • Marty Heyman

    I recommend Tim Weiner’s “Enemies: A History of the FBI” for a little historical perspective. The FBI ahd, presumably, the CIA have been at this for DECADES. Surveillance technology improves along with social media (civil communications) technology. It’s probably a centuries old cat and mouse game. Eek Eek it’s a cat/mouse!?

  • A. Benway

    Bear with me here – when I say that I do not see “occupy x” as a movement.  It’s a re-emergence of a well- suppressed social phenomenon – one with several nuanced traditions and names – but generally I’ll call it “mummering”. An exploration of this history may be found in “The Battle for Christmas” – odd, but there you are…  The idea is that in situations where there’s gross disparity in wealth, great poverty juxtaposed to wealth, the establishments of wealth, even the houses,  get periodically occupied and, further, that the unwilling hosts must provide high quality food and drink to their guests – or else. Or else. There are trick or treat aspects…in the history.

    See? You never heard of this, even though it was universally known even a mere 100 years ago…you probably think it’s new.

    Obviously their Lordships are not going to provide even ritual food and drink. Obviously they have chosen “or else” and, in the glorious traditions of wall street, they have chosen to preempt that response with violence of several sorts. They probably never heard of it before either.

    Taking things a step further, some might say, one might be inclined to speculate – will the mummerers disband? No, not unless the social conditions and flow stops creating mummering. Will they be scattered? Obviously. Will the violence employed against them provide an example that some will take up. Alas, yes, if history shall be our guide. But less than violence is boycott, sullen work-to-rule “cooperation”, and sabotage. Reasonable historians would expect these things. And they’ll expect mummering to pop up in the military; along with fragging, some might say.
     
    In this way the feeble protest of mummering gains energy and social power and, fed by the moral decay and violence aimed at mummerers and the people in general, their Lordships are creating the movement they so fear.

    • Russ Baker

       And remember the saying, also from the Brits, “Mum’s the Word”

      • A. Benway

         Simply a reasonable view from an amateur historian, not any kind of advocate. It might be argued that if Wall Street and the client-class were smart, they’d put up tents for the protests and cater pizza with beer. That’s the tradition.  Meeting people with violence is precisely the wrong thing to do, from the point of view of the ruling class. It’s sad to see presumably smart people do such stupid things! Of course, they say that there are those among the ruling class who see violence as a universal nostrum – and some even go so far as to say that the violence aimed at “occupy x” is designed to create a violent reaction. QED

  • jimmmmmy

    When it comes to the American security  state , think the worst and you’ll probably have it right.

  • Jwobble

    Uh sorry. but truth out got these documents from a foia first and reported it 3 weeks ago. Where have you been?

  • planckbrandt

    You wrote yourself about the security breaches in the White House that threaten Obama. Who do you expect him to stand with? They have him surrounded. Re-focus the conversation away from individual blame to system. The system is broken and all our energy should be directed at it. Blaming individuals is exactly where they want us to stay. Shifting the conversation to individual blame from system is how they avoid our collective gaze.

    FECA, Buckley vs Valeo, and any number of national security acts are the ones we should be detailing here. Obama is right where the others have been since the coup!

    Whenever that was we’ll have to figure out. Certainly by 1963. You’ve even said 1954 in Guatemala is where they figured out what they could get away with. And, it has been smooth sailin’ ever since. The system and all the law acts and institutions that make it are what we must focus on. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1630511468 Betty Eyer

      YUP.  This is nothing new, nor is should it be focused on one President.   

    • https://sites.google.com/site/themattprather Matt Prather

      Some people would argue that Obama is a willing accomplice, a collaborator with the secret power structure, a smiling BS artist, and an actor playing a role for the public eye who has no intentions of helping the common people in any country — be that country Libya, Kenya, or the United States.

      I myself am one of those people, but you don’t have to agree with us to understand this point:

      There is a subset of protesters, activists, and voters who think that Obama is worthy of their political support. They even entreat others to vote for Obama. They think he is on the side of the people, that he is a genuine “progressive” liberal who supports the same vision of a liberal, wise, and compassionate society that they support. But his deeds consistently belie his rhetoric.

      I will bookmark / index this article as one among many to give to the poor deluded souls who still buy into Obama’s phony message of a functioning “democracy” that responds to the people’s will and believe that he will work to make the country a better place for them.

      I will also index it under “police state”, “fascism”, and “technocratic tyranny” — which is an issue that is bigger than any one man, as you very accurately articulated.

  • Major Martin

    Nice graphic. I really wished they’d called it ‘The Department of Fatherland Security,’ though.

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  • Thebruster

    k

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/WJZGSQN26S55FWVULWTG52SGOY Iron Jam

       y

  • Thebruster

    Awesome! What a good read

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