(MintPress) – Since last fall, Occupy protesters have drawn the undivided attention of police departments around the country. From coast to coast – Oakland and Portland, OR to Boston and New York – arrests, tear gas and militarized forces have become a relatively common sight at demonstrations. And it’s becoming evidently clear that it’s not a coincidence that so many of the protest/police clashes look the same and use similar tactics and weaponry. New documents released by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) suggest that police forces around the nation have orchestrated via “fusion centers” to disrupt and quash Occupy protests by sharing what other departments have used successfully against the groups.
The documents were obtained via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request made by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF), a group dedicated to the defense of civil rights, for documentary filmmaker Michael Moore. Though the documents are blacked out in some areas, the 335 pages are a revealing glimpse into the dialogue between local police departments and the DHS. E-mails allude to monitoring and information sharing about Occupy groups nationwide.
“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 US government operates against its own people,” PCJF Executive Director Mara Verheyden-Hilliard said in a release.
The DHS is shown in the e-mails as having a large role in the coordination of law enforcement present at Occupy events, even obtaining information that allowed police to show up before protesters even arrived. In one incident, the DHS worked with authorities in Portland, OR to encourage Portland police to obtain evidence that the Occupy movement in the city was creating health and safety risks with the hopes of evicting them from the plaza of which they protested and slept.
In another instance, a “Significant Incident Report” filed by the DHS detailed every move by Occupy members in New York and Canada during an Occupy meeting in Niagara Falls, New York. The Occupy groups planned for a January 1, 2012 rally, but the surveillance of the group allowed for authorities to host a meeting days before the rally on December 29.
“The event concluded at approximately 1337 hours with no impact to Port operations,” an entry in the report read. “The returning ‘Occupy’ members were processed through [Customs and Border Protection] CBP inspection without incident.”
The DHS has also been in contact with the White House in order to create public statements that deny involvement of the DHS in any coordination with local authorities in regards to the Occupy movement. The White House approved statements such as:
“Any decisions on how to handle specifics situations are dealt with by local authorities in that location,” an e-mail containing the statement said. “If a protest area is located on Federal property and has been deemed unsanitary or unsafe by the General Services Administration (GSA) or city officials, and they make a decision to evacuate participants – the Federal Protective Service (FPS) will work with those officials to develop a plan to ensure the security and safety of everyone involved.”
In many of the instances released in the FOIA request, however, federal authorities worked with local forces Verheyden-Hilliard said in her statement that these e-mails only touched on the widespread surveillance of Occupy groups and the coordination between the DHS and local policing authorities.
“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,” Verheyden-Hilliard said. “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.”
In 2007, to further anti-terrorism measures, fusion centers were created on local, state and federal levels as an intelligence-sharing institution. A PBS “Frontline” documentary says there are 72 fusion centers in the United States that were created by the DHS. The centers function as aggregators of large swaths of information obtained by local, state and federal government entities and, in some cases, those in the private sector.
Information funneled to the centers is then analyzed and made available for authorities, much like how police were tipped off to the Niagara Falls Occupy protests, allowing for police to prepare for the demonstrations ahead of time.
Under the cloak of anti-terrorism measures, fusion centers rely on surveillance of groups or people that it may be suspicious of for terroristic activity. Critics, however, say the centers allow for and normalize racial and ethnic profiling and violate civil rights with their use of surveillance. One instance in 2009 saw the Virginia Terrorism Threat Assessment – a collection of fusion center data – suggest that certain colleges in the state with high minority populations were potential hubs for terrorist activity. The report also denoted “hacktivism” as a domestic terror threat.
David Rittgers of the CATO Institute said fusion centers follow a “long line” of “reports labeling broad swaths of the public as a threat to national security. The North Texas Fusion System labeled Muslim lobbyists as a potential threat; a DHS analyst in Wisconsin thought both pro- and anti-abortion activists were worrisome; a Pennsylvania homeland security contractor watched environmental activists, Tea Party groups, and a Second Amendment rally …”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has come out against the practices of some fusion centers around the country, saying centers encourage widespread data gathering, whether the data is relevant or not. The organization also says the legal gray areas treaded on by fusion centers creates too much secrecy and doesn’t allow for public oversight because of the lack of transparency.
“Since no two fusion centers are alike, it is difficult to make generalized statements about them,” the ACLU wrote in its 2007 report on fusion centers. “Clearly not all fusion centers are engaging in improper intelligence activities and not all fusion center operations raise civil liberties or privacy concerns. But some do, and the lack of a proper legal framework to regulate their activities is troublesome.”
Political and protest groups have been watched by authorities for years. An Associated Press (AP) investigation recently uncovered practices by the New York Police Department (NYPD) that involved spying on liberal political organizations to quantify and keep track of protests around the country. The NYPD said the spying was a necessary tool in order to stay a step ahead of protesters, but the ACLU said the authorities monitored and harassed peaceful groups “for doing little more than peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights.”
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