Report: FOIA'd FBI documents point to secret, nationwide Occupy surveillance

Update: I missed this NYT front-section story on the PCJF's document trove, published on Christmas Eve. The tl;dr: The FBI used counterterrorism agents to investigate Occupy Wall Street, "including its communications and planning," according to newly disclosed (and highly redacted) agency records. It's the best analysis I've seen, and mea culpa for having not seen it before this post was published.


Violent crackdowns on Occupy Wall Street in cities around the US may have been coordinated between local law enforcement, the federal government, and banks, even before protests began, according to a trove of documents requested by The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) under the Freedom of Information Act.

According to the PCJF, the 112 pages of documents show the government communicated throughout the crackdown effort with financial institutions through the Domestic Security Alliance Council, an entity created by the FBI in 2005 that "enhances communications and promotes the timely and bidirectional effective exchange of information keeping the nation's critical infrastructure safe, secure and resilient."

The documents add to an increasing pile of evidence that the government treated OWS as a kind of domestic terrorist threat, and engaged in widespread surveillance and counter-intelligence gathering in an attempt to quell the popular movement.

According to the PCJF's analysis of the documents, they reveal "that from its inception, the FBI treated the Occupy movement as a potential criminal and terrorist threat even though the agency acknowledges in documents that organizers explicitly called for peaceful protest and did 'not condone the use of violence' at occupy protests."

"FBI offices and agents around the country were in high gear conducting surveillance against the movement even as early as August 2011, a month prior to the establishment of the OWS encampment in Zuccotti Park and other Occupy actions around the country."

Read them yourself. There's an awful lot of redaction, and as others have noted, thin proof to back up claims others have made that they prove "assassination of OWS leaders by sniper fire" was planned by the DHS. During the OWS heyday, there was widespread speculation that DHS directly coordinated crackdown efforts, fueled in part by a statement from Oakland mayor Jean Quan.

“The documents are heavily redacted, and it is clear from the production that the FBI is withholding far more material," PCFJ attorney Heather Benno says. “We are filing an appeal challenging this response and demanding full disclosure to the public of the records of this operation.”

I realize it's New Year's Day, and that the documents are heavily redacted—so, there's a lot missing. The PCJF's analysis of what the documents mean is certainly open to debate. But it doesn't say much good about the mainstream US press that this story was broken by a small nonprofit, then amplified in a Guardian op-ed by Naomi Wolf (which I would argue contains distortions and misinterpretation), and a few blogs and websites, including this one. Correction: Nope, NYT covered it on Christmas Eve, when I and everyone else was unplugged from news. Mea culpa.

All the more reason, IMO, to support organizations like Freedom of the Press Foundation that fuel nonprofit transparency efforts, so more ignored stories like this one see sunlight.

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