Blurring Lines: The expanding use of anti-terrorism measures in domestic law enforcementSaturday, October 20, 2012 at 11:13 am by Ash Kernen
On September 24, the ACLU of Northern California obtained 13 pages of documents detailing the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s surveillance of Occupy protesters leading up to planned direct action at the Oakland docks last December. Contained in the documents was the unsettling admission that the FBI consorted with private corporate security officials before the demonstrations in an effort to mitigate their effectiveness.
The documents represent a small part of what is likely a trove of dossiers created by federal law enforcement officials since the rise of the Occupy movement last fall. But even more troubling to proponents of civil liberties is the two-thirds of the documents that remain classified.
For its part, the FBI denied any “unnecessary intrusions into the lives of law-abiding people” but cited “the interest of national defense or foreign policy” in keeping the remaining documents secret. Exactly why a political protest amounts to a national security threat remains dubious.
Collusion between governmeand agencies and the corporate sector
While scrutiny of domestic political organizations by the FBI is nothing new, the collusion of domestic law enforcement with the private sector, the military, and other government agencies whose missions, on paper at least, are strictly foreign, to suppress civil disobedience is a particularly disturbing trend.
In April, the Associated Press won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the NYPD’s collusion with the Central Intelligence Agency to establish an all-powerful intelligence unit (Intel) within the department aimed at infiltrating the city’s ethic communities. The very same unit was instrumental in gathering ‘intelligence’ on Occupiers at the movement’s symbolic headquarters, Zuchotti Park.
Disturbing techniques to limit dissent
In their efforts to squelch political dissent, government agencies are increasingly relying on questionable tactics and specious justifications to neutralize what it perceives as threats to governmental, and in cases such as above, private interests. These include widespread surveillance, group infiltration, and the use of federal grand juries as tools for political repression.
Above all, the frequent application of the label (potential) ‘terrorist’ or ‘terrorism’ to activist groups and political activity provides the pretext for law enforcement to employ pervasive, intrusive, and often unconstitutional measures.
On October 10, 24-year-old Portland activist Leah Lynn Plante was the last of three Occupy activists sentenced to 18-months in federal prison for her refusal to provide a grand jury testimony regarding fellow activists in the region. Plante was never accused of a crime but was active in the Northwest anarchist scene. During their July 25 raid, 40 agents from the FBI and the Joint Terrorist Task Force held her and her roommates at gunpoint while they seized black clothing, books, artwork and other various literature as “evidence”.
Will Potter, author of Green Is the New Red, has long covered the state persecution of environmental activists and anarchists. He noted in a recent interview the convening of a grand jury is:
especially troubling because grand juries have been used historically against social movements as tools of fishing expeditions, and they’re used to seek out information about people’s politics and their political associations.
Another controverted tactic employed by law enforcement is use of ‘plants’ to catalyze extremist activity. In a process that looks eerily similar to the illegal practice of entrapment, agents rely on informants to seek-out generally impressionable and low-intellect activists and induce them by all manner and means to carry out would-be-violent acts.
Critics argue that by initiating criminal plots, government agencies are manifesting a self-fulfilling prophecy. As Sabrina Rubin Erdely put it, “the best way to capture terrorists is simply to invent them.”
The government has had little-to-no problem overcoming the entrapment defense in garnering convictions against activist accused of conspiracy to commit terrorism. Legally, entrapment is narrowly defined and despite the arguments that it is unjust, is tough to prove. And because juries are often frightened by the magnitude of the allegations, they are often inclined to impose the most stringent punishments available.
In the wake of the increased crackdown on domestic political activity in the past year, there has also been a concerted effort to suppress coverage of injustices committed at the hands of law enforcement officials. According to Reporters Without Borders’ annual Press Freedom Index, from 2011-2012, the United States fell 27 spots to a 47th in the world in journalistic freedom.
Between September 2011 and September 2012, more than 90 journalists have been arrested around the United States while covering protests and civil unrest. Combined with the murky legal status of recording police activity, documenting the infringement of constitutional rights is under mounting pressure.
At a time when the government has declared that anyone, including American citizens, accused of providing material support to terrorists can be deprived of due process, it is more important than ever the American public stand against the conflation of political organizing with terrorism.