Newly released documents show that the ATF, an agency that is supposed to investigate crimes related to alcohol, tobacco, firearms and explosives — including a unit tasked with monitoring terrorist activities and organized crime — devoted resources and taxpayer money to spying and compiling information on the peaceful Occupy protest movement.
The U.S. Marshals Service — which is responsible for fugitive operations, prisoner transport, witness and officer protection, and the management of illegally acquired assets — distributed a list of “Known Anarchists and Protestors” compiled and maintained by the Louisiana State Police and State Fusion Center. The list was circulated in August 2011, a full month before the Occupy movement settled its first New York City encampment.
Previous disclosures by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) exposed the FBI's conduct against the Occupy movement and School of the Americas Watch demonstrating the unbridled abuse of counter-terrorism powers to target peaceful dissent in recent years.
These just-released documents, obtained by the PCJF through the Freedom of Information Act, provide a further window into the extent of unconstitutional and obsessive surveillance by federal and local law enforcement and intelligence agencies on First Amendment-protected activity.
These documents were obtained as part of the PCJF’s ongoing multi-year investigation exposing federal and local law enforcement surveillance and disruption of the social justice movement in the United States. The PCJF has made the documents public and searchable, along with previous releases, above on this page and on its website www.BigBrotherAmerica.org.
It is clear that the “threat” posed by Occupy was a political threat rather than a violent one. And the political threat itself was enough to throw U.S. domestic law enforcement and intelligence operations into high gear, regardless of the fact that the Occupy movement’s activities were constitutionally protected.
In this newest set of exposed documents, ATF agents and officials in Louisiana reported that “requests for information” on Occupy seeking any evidence of violence were addressed to 70 State Fusion Centers, as well ATF Intelligence Research Specialists nationwide. “No violence” was what was reported in responses from across the country.
Forced to acknowledge “the overwhelming negative responses” to their queries about violence, the New Orleans ATF Field Intelligence Group nonetheless manufactured “several scenarios where escalation to violence could occur.” Two of these three “scenarios” involved Occupy gatherings being the victim of attacks from either “foreign terrorists” or “lone wolf targeting.” The other was that Occupy would itself be infiltrated by “violent homegrown groups.”
PCJF Executive Director Mara Verheyden-Hilliard stated: “These documents demonstrate again that federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies target social justice movements’ First Amendment-protected activities because they pose a political threat, not a violent one.”
Verheyden-Hilliard continued: “At a moment when once again the country is debating expanding the authority of the FBI to gain massive surveillance powers — this time through breaking encryption — it is important to recognize that federal law enforcement, including the FBI, have been exposed for abusing their counter-terrorism authority and funding as a matter of operational routine to target free speech activities and dissent.”
Previous disclosures of documents, obtained by the PCJF from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, revealed a nationally coordinated surveillance and crackdown operation involving federal and local law enforcement targeting the Occupy Wall Street movement. These agencies spent thousands of agent hours with broad “counter-terrorism” authority and funding to track the movement, plans and communications of a peaceful movement demanding economic justice and an end to corporate control of politics.
In short, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security treated organizing against income inequality and the corporate domination of America as potential criminal and terrorist activity. The documents also exposed the fact that these federal agencies were functioning as a de facto intelligence arm of Wall Street and Corporate America.
The new documents also reveal that the ATF agreed to provide and implement a covert closed-circuit surveillance camera system in Oakland at the request of the Oakland Police Department in order to engage in “Occupy CCTV Surveillance.” The surveillance footage was to feed into a federal ATF server that the OPD could log into.
In 2015, the ATF admitted setting up surveillance cameras on the streets of Seattle (unrelated to protest) without informing the local city council. So just how widespread and unchecked are the ATF's domestic surveillance operations in American cities?
The newly released documents show that the New Orleans and Oakland offices were hardly alone. In Philadelphia, ATF agents circulated the detailed hour-by-hour schedule of an Occupy gathering, showing no evidence of threats to the safety of officers or the public, and concluded that there is “no indication that acts of violence will occur.” One would think this would be sufficient to call off the investigation and surveillance, but instead they recommended to “take appropriate precautions as some of these groups have demonstrated violence in the past.” None of “these groups” are named.
Showing how “counter-terrorism” policing really works — where everyone is assumed to be a potential threat — the Philadelphia report cited so-called "intelligence gaps" about “planned threats towards government facilities and banking institutions.”
PCJF Legal Director Carl Messineo stated: “Under the logic of the Surveillance State, law enforcement agencies routinely invent or exaggerate threats from protest movements claiming that free speech gatherings are automatically potential sites of violence. Violating key principles of the First and Fourth Amendments, the absence of criminal activity does not relieve a protest movement from suspiciousness — it is merely an 'intelligence gap' that requires further surveillance.”
Despite the repeated disclosures of fundamental unconstitutional activity from law enforcement agencies and the broad misuse of “counter-terrorism” authority to spy on peaceful protest movements, the Obama administration and Congress have taken no steps to restrict political surveillance or control the sprawling and unchecked DHS Fusion Centers. A generation ago the Church Committee revealed the FBI's COINTELPRO operations, leading to restrictions on government surveillance and disruption actions, but these have been watered down through successive administrations ever since.
The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund is joining with other civil liberties advocates around the country to demand that Congress hold investigative hearings and impose restrictions that eliminate these agencies' abuse and misuse of their funding and stated purposes, including of counter-terrorism authorities, to target peaceful political movements.
We must fight to defend democracy and the right to dissent. We can and must act together to demand an end to law enforcement and intelligence agencies’ rampant abuse and conduct that stands in contempt of the Constitution and Bill or Rights.
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