Dear FBI: Show Your Work

While we’ve been celebrating with our families, the Partnership for Civil Justice and the NYT have been reading through a set of documents showing the nationwide surveillance of Occupy Wall Street.

The documents and the FBI’s defense of them exposes several long term claims by the FBI to be false. First, that their domestic mapping program, the Domain Management Program, is not inappropriate surveillance directed at domestic politics.

An October 2011 memo from the bureau’s Jacksonville, Fla., field office was titled Domain Program Management Domestic Terrorist.

The memo said agents discussed “past and upcoming meetings” of the movement, and its spread. It said agents should contact Occupy Wall Street activists to ascertain whether people who attended their events had “violent tendencies.”

Domain Management also gets directed at Muslims and Latinos in the name of preparing to investigate terrorism and drugs. If it weren’t already clear this is about domestic spying, the inclusion of Occupy should now make that clear.

Then there’s FBI’s claim that it can’t investigate solely on the basis of speech or religion.

“The F.B.I. recognizes the rights of individuals and groups to engage in constitutionally protected activity,” said the spokesman, Paul Bresson. “While the F.B.I. is obligated to thoroughly investigate any serious allegations involving threats of violence, we do not open investigations based solely on First Amendment activity. In fact, the Department of Justice and the F.B.I.’s own internal guidelines on domestic operations strictly forbid that.”

Bresson overstates this, of course. The Domestic Investigation and Operations Guide prohibits opening an investigation solely on the basis of First Amendment activity. But it permits using such activity as part of the predicate for an investigation.

Which is why I find the FBI’s redactions so interesting.

Even the first pages of the actual documents show how FBI repeatedly acknowledged that Occupy “does not openly condone the use of violence.” But then it notes that Occupy trained for civil disobedience and its response, and from that the FBI concludes “that violence and/or illegal activity is expected by event organizers.” The FBI ascribes the violence that organizers correctly expected from cops to the organizers themselves, and used the intent to engage in civil disobedience as the means to use First Amendment activity as a predicate for investigation.

More interesting, on page 2, the FBI claims that Occupy’s website, “suggested that protestors bring ‘billy clubs and taser guns.'”

Well, that doesn’t sound like the Occupy I know (not to mention most Occupy adherents would have a tough time getting a taser gun). Luckily, the FBI included handy-dandy endnotes to show from what public sources (here, Occupy’s own website) they drew these observations.

But FBI redacted all these endnotes as a b(7)(E) exemption, which allows FBI to hide techniques used in law enforcement investigations.

These are–at least according to the claims in the document–public websites (and would have to be to be permissible under preliminary investigation rules). And yet, the FBI refuses to tell us on which public websites these claimed suggestions were made.

Probably, because that would show that FBI is using the timeworn “investigation techniques” of “drawing illogical conclusions from public claims” and “just making shit up” to invent the reason to use First Amendment activities as the predicate for an investigation.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

11 replies
  1. lefty665 says:

    Don’t let the technological razzle dazzle of web surfing for cause blind you.

    It looks like the old intelligence community saw that “Not much of anybody over there could find a place to piss without a paid informant” is still true. From the heads of FBI’s securities fraud and white collar crime units today: “We had people who were telling us things, but we didn’t have anybody who was in a conspiracy that was going to tell on what the others did,” he said.

    Long long ago in the anti-war movement we often found that the most radical advocates of violence were FBI affiliated. That advocacy was then used to justify lots more infiltration and suppression of exercising the right to assemble and the obligation to petition government to help it see the error of its ways.

    What’s better than “just making shit up”? It is paying someone else to make it up, then using that to open further investigations. Doesn’t look like things have changed much. But ya gotta admire them boys for hanging 10 on a browser, dontcha?

  2. joanneleon says:

    This is just bizarre, but probably typical.

    The FBI ascribes the violence that organizers correctly expected from cops to the organizers themselves, and used the intent to engage in civil disobedience as the means to use First Amendment activity as a predicate for investigation.

    I find the statements about how they do not open investigations for first amendment activities to be a blatant lie. The Quaker group in Florida comes to mind.

    I spent a lot of time on Occupy activities and the only violence or domestic terrorism that I saw came from the NYPD.

    This whole thing about how the feds were coordinating activities against Occupy disgusts me. And I remember when people talked about how it was happening and were attacked viciously by the “Obama can do no wrong” fierce defenders for even suggesting that Obama’s Homeland Security and federal law enforcement were involved with it. I particularly remember an article by Naomi Wolf about Homeland security involvement getting many responses by several called progressive bloggers, tearing her apart. Meanwhile, Homeland Security had closed off the block of the first precinct where she and another person were supposed to be taken after being arrested for being on a sidewalk. But when she wrote about it, several articles popped up on some progressive blogs (not Marcy, of course) attacking Wolf, calling her a conspiracy theorist, etc. and the same articles were then linked on other progressive blogs and used as a basis for more attacks. So who are these people anyway? Who are these bloggers? Now, a year later, are they going to go back and apologize to all of the writers and commenters who they attacked and smeared as conspiracy theorists?

  3. Peterr says:

    Brings to mind Seth Rosenfeld’s FDL Book Salon chat about his book “Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power.”

    From the set-up post by Todd Gitlin:

    the story Rosenfeld tells so lucidly and at such necessary length should not be considered “ancient history,” a quarry for the antiquarian delectation of specialists and veterans. It points to something even more vast and unexplored: presumed troves of evidence concerning the surveillance of hundreds of thousands, or millions, of American citizens by government agencies, unrelated to any legitimate law enforcement purposes, and sequestered from public view for decades. In particular, Rosenfeld’s account raises the question of what else the FBI, and the CIA, and military intelligence knew about who was doing what in the ‘60s and ‘70s; and when they knew it; and who else they told.

    There is plenty of talk about government transparency. But transparency gets encrusted over time. If we are interested in buried truth, it is a matter of urgency to get busy. To put it bluntly, those who were surveilled, infiltrated, and manipulated are passing away. So are those who conducted the surveillance, the infiltration, and manipulation. To make matters worse, the newspapers that fed Seth Rosenfeld during his years of dogged industry have cut to the bone.

    Is this “ancient history”? Events of those years still cloud American politics. (See: Ayers, Bill.) Conventional wisdom about the past is alive—one may say festering — in the present. Rosenfeld convincingly shows that a picture of the student left of those years that fails to take government operations into account is askew. I write this as one who has long doubted that so-called intelligence operations can, by themselves, explain America’s political fortunes or even the demise of the New Left. I still doubt it. But this is one reason why we need journalists and historians: to unearth what is buried; to doubt our doubt. It’s past time for an onslaught of pro bono legal and journalistic work. Rosenfeld points the way.

    As does Marcy.

    More than a few commenters noted a similar approach by the FBI to Occupy, and the redactions mentioned here seem to be clear evidence that “transparency” is a nice word with little meaning at the FBI.

  4. Show Us Your Papers says:

    Glenn Greenwald with powerful comment on this horrifying and sickening display of Police State abuse and surveillance:

    Documents just obtained from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund reveal, as the New York Times put it, that “the [FBI] used counterterrorism agents to investigate the Occupy Wall Street movement, including its communications and planning” and in general show “how deeply involved federal law-enforcement authorities were in monitoring the activities of the movement.” The heavily redacted documents reveal numerous instances of the FBI collaborating with local police forces and private corporations to monitor and anticipate the acts of the protest movement.

    As obviously disturbing as it is, none of this should be surprising. Virtually every seized power justified over the last decade in the name of “terrorism” has been applied to a wide range of domestic dissent. The most significant civil liberties trend of the last decade, in my view, is the importation of War on Terror tactics onto US soil, applied to US citizens – from the sprawling Surveillance State and powers of indefinite detention to the para-militarization of domestic police forces and the rapidly emerging fleet of drones now being deployed in countless ways. The true purpose of this endless expansion of state power in the name of “terrorism” is control over anticipated domestic protest and unrest.

    It should be anything but surprising that the FBI – drowning in counter-terrorism money, power and other resources – will apply the term “terrorism” to any group it dislikes and wants to control and suppress (thus ushering in all of the powers institutionalized against “terrorists”). Those who supported (or acquiesced to) this expansion of unaccountable government power because they assumed it would only be used against Those Muslims not only embraced a morally warped premise (I care about injustices only if they directly affect me), but also a factually false one, since abuses of power always – always – expand beyond their original application.

  5. P J Evans says:

    The FBI seems to make up a lot of the ‘evidence’ they claim to have.
    Remind me again why they’re considered to be law enforcement?

  6. pdaly says:

    I like the FBI’s typo at the end, “uncalssified”, especially after practicing that word in every sentence before it.

    It would have been harder to spot if the rest of the text had been released from censorship.

  7. Dawn Lyons says:

    Documents just obtained from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund reveal, as the New York Times put it, that “the [FBI] used counterterrorism agents to investigate the Occupy Wall Street movement, including its communications and planning” and in general show “how deeply involved federal law-enforcement authorities were in monitoring the activities of the movement.” The heavily redacted documents reveal numerous instances of the FBI collaborating with local police forces and private corporations to monitor and anticipate the acts of the protest movement.

    Well, truth to tell, I am seriously more worried by the ‘private corporations’ part than the “federal law-enforcement authorities… (and) local police forces” bit. Although both are totally terrifyling, actually. Any idea who these ‘private corporations’ might be?

  8. thatvisionthing says:

    @lefty665: I remember this comment on Naked Capitalism during the Republican Convention:

    dale pues says:
    August 26, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    In 1972 a friend in Miami wrote me a letter asking me to come down for an anti-war protest at the Republican Nat’l Conv. We camped in the park even though my friend lived in a comfortable house in the Grove. It was the scene, you see. Jane Fonda, Daniel Elsburg, Allen Ginsberg were all there stirring the pot. We circulated beneath the palms and flashed the peace sign at each other. The big day came to flank and follow the paper mache B-52 right down to the convention center. My friend and I were lazy to leave our tent so we brought up the rear. But, as we were rolling up our stuff into a ball, a CBS news van and four city buses pulled into the park. From the buses poured columns of grown men, mostly cubanos by their accents, dressed in hippy costumes and donning hilarious wigs. They also carried sticks and many wore lumpy nap sacks. No more than an hour into the protest and the police began shooting tear gas and the busloads of disguised protesters began to throw rocks and to beat on cars with their sticks. The real protesters ran away but the fake ones stayed to battle the police into the night while CBS filmed it all.

  9. thatvisionthing says:

    Also youtube on Kent State rotc bldg fire set by police costumed as hippies:
    MY Personal testimony ROTC Burning May 2 1970 Kent State

    …We were walking this way up the sidewalk here when we saw two individuals here heading this way from the fire, and we could see the fire was going. Both of them were in the typical “hippie” protester garb of the day, one sort of a brunette, one redhead, coming this way, you know, with the Army jackets and the whole thing. Now I’m expecting my stepdad to go off on these guys, because of what’s been going on this weekend, but as we walk by, I notice these two guys look at us like (startled) uh oh, like they’re almost afraid of us, which was weird, and I thought it was because my stepdad was going to say something. And he didn’t say anything as we walked around. My mom commented that she was glad he didn’t say nothing and start anything. And he goes, “Oh those guys are with the police force. I know them.” And I went… okay. And I couldn’t quite put it together because, you know, they were all disheveled and the full hippie look, you know, lots of hair. So we proceed on up here. We walk over to where the ROTC building is. By now it is fully engulfed in flames. The fire trucks pull up, Guardsmen on the trucks, they get the thing off, they unwheel the hoses. We’re over by one of the fire trucks, standing watching. When they turned it on, somebody’s cut the hoses, I don’t remember seeing who did it, but all I remember is getting wet. So we left. Walked back home.

    Now the next morning, May 3rd, we drive over to the same area to review in the daytime the damage to the ROTC building. At this time we also park at our friend’s house, whcih is walking distance down the street from the campus, and I spot the people that are our friends that’s with the Kent police. So I go over and ask, “What happened?” And I guess because they’re used to me, I’m still a 15-year-old kid, you know, they babysat me, whatever, he tells me. According to him, and I’m gonna sort of paraphrase here, it was a long time ago, the students, I think he called them the idiot hippies, couldn’t even start a fire. So what they had to do is they had to send in their own people dressed as protesters in there to start the fire. Because they got a call that they wanted that building to burn down. And that they were to hold back, everybody has to hold back – because you have to remember, Kent’s a small town and the police officers and everybody can see what’s going on on the campus, it’s not a big place and it sits in the valley, And everybody was to hold back until they were sure the building was burning good. The two people we saw leaving were the ones that partially helped set the fire along with a third person who was on a motorcycle, and they hung around long enough to make sure the building was going to burn completely down, and then they left. The police themselves were told to hold back from the crowd until the building was definitely engulfed in flames, and then to come in.

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