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The Wonderful American World of Informers and Agents Provocateurs

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Posted on Jun 28, 2013
Svadlifari (CC BY-ND 2.0)

By Todd Gitlin, TomDispatch

(Page 3)

Nationally, in 2011, the FBI and DHS were, in the words of Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, “treating protests against the corporate and banking structure of America as potential criminal and terrorist activity.”  Last December using FOIA, PCJF obtained 112 pages of documents (heavily redacted) revealing a good deal of evidence for what might otherwise seem like an outlandish charge: that federal authorities were, in Verheyden-Hilliard’s words, “functioning as a de facto intelligence arm of Wall Street and Corporate America.”  Consider these examples from PCJF’s summary of federal agencies working directly not only with local authorities but on behalf of the private sector:

• “As early as August 19, 2011, the FBI in New York was meeting with the New York Stock Exchange to discuss the Occupy Wall Street protests that wouldn’t start for another month. By September, prior to the start of the OWS, the FBI was notifying businesses that they might be the focus of an OWS protest.”

• “The FBI in Albany and the Syracuse Joint Terrorism Task Force disseminated information to… [22] campus police officials… A representative of the State University of New York at Oswego contacted the FBI for information on the OWS protests and reported to the FBI on the SUNY-Oswego Occupy encampment made up of students and professors.”

• An entity called the Domestic Security Alliance Council (DSAC), “a strategic partnership between the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the private sector,” sent around information regarding Occupy protests at West Coast ports [on Nov. 2, 2011] to “raise awareness concerning this type of criminal activity.” The DSAC report contained “a ‘handling notice’ that the information is ‘meant for use primarily within the corporate security community. Such messages shall not be released in either written or oral form to the media, the general public or other personnel…’ Naval Criminal Investigative Services (NCIS) reported to DSAC on the relationship between OWS and organized labor.”

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• DSAC gave tips to its corporate clients on “civil unrest,” which it defined as running the gamut from “small, organized rallies to large-scale demonstrations and rioting.” It advised corporate employees to dress conservatively, avoid political discussions and “avoid all large gatherings related to civil issues. Even seemingly peaceful rallies can spur violent activity or be met with resistance by security forces.”

• The FBI in Anchorage, Jacksonville, Tampa, Richmond, Memphis, Milwaukee, and Birmingham also gathered information and briefed local officials on wholly peaceful Occupy activities.

• In Jackson, Mississippi, FBI agents “attended a meeting with the Bank Security Group in Biloxi, MS with multiple private banks and the Biloxi Police Department, in which they discussed an announced protest for ‘National Bad Bank Sit-In-Day’ on December 7, 2011.”  Also in Jackson, “the Joint Terrorism Task Force issued a ‘Counterterrorism Preparedness’ alert” that, despite heavy redactions, notes the need to ‘document…the Occupy Wall Street Movement.’”

Sometimes, “intelligence” moves in the opposite direction—from private corporations to public agencies.  Among the collectors of such “intelligence” are entities that, like the various intelligence and law enforcement outfits, do not make distinctions between terrorists and nonviolent protesters.  Consider TransCanada, the corporation that plans to build the 1,179 mile Keystone-XL tar sands pipeline across the U. S. and in the process realize its “vision to become the leading energy infrastructure company in North America.“ The anti-pipeline group Bold Nebraska filed a successful Freedom of Information Act request with the Nebraska State Patrol and so was able to put TransCanada’s briefing slideshow up online.

So it can be documented in living color that the company lectured federal agents and local police to look into the use of “anti-terrorism statutes” against peaceful anti-Keystone activists.  TransCanada showed slides that cited as sinister the “attendance” of Bold Nebraska members at public events, noting “Suspicious Vehicles/Photography.” TransCanada alerted the authorities that Nebraska protesters were guilty of “aggressive/abusive behavior,” citing a local anti-pipeline group that, they said, committed a “slap on the shoulder” at the Merrick County Board Meeting (possessor of said shoulder unspecified).  They fingered nonviolent activists by name and photo, paying them the tribute of calling them “‘Professionals’ & Organized.” Native News Network pointed out that “although TransCanada’s presentation to authorities contains information about property destruction, sabotage, and booby traps, police in Texas and Oklahoma have never alleged, accused, or charged Tar Sands Blockade activists of any such behaviors.”

Centers for Fusion, Diffusion, and Confusion

After September 11, 2001, government agencies at all levels, suddenly eager to break down information barriers and connect the sort of dots that had gone massively unconnected before the al-Qaida attacks, used Department of Homeland Security funds to start “fusion centers.”  These are supposed to coordinate anti-terrorist intelligence gathering and analysis.  They are also supposed to “fuse” intelligence reports from federal, state, and local authorities, as well as private companies that conduct intelligence operations.  According to the ACLU, at least 77 fusion centers currently receive federal funds.

Much is not known about these centers, including just who runs them, by what rules, and which public and private entities are among the fused.  There is nothing public about most of them.  However, some things are known about a few.  Several fusion center reports that have gone public illustrate a remarkably slapdash approach to what constitutes “terrorist danger” and just what kinds of data are considered relevant for law enforcement.  In 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee learned, for instance, that the Tennessee Fusion Center was “highlighting on its website map of ‘Terrorism Events and Other Suspicious Activity’ a recent ACLU-TN letter to school superintendents.  The letter encourages schools to be supportive of all religious beliefs during the holiday season.” (The map is no longer online.)


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