(Editor’s Note: This article is derived from research and writing conducted by Beau Hodai, published by DBA Press and the Center for Media and Democracy in the report “Dissent or Terror: How the Nation’s Counter Terrorism Apparatus, in Partnership with Corporate America, Turned on Occupy Wall Street.”)
OVER THE LAST FEW YEARS, the Department of Homeland Security and local law enforcement officers have engaged in widespread domestic spying on Occupy Wall Street activists, among others, on the shaky premise that these activists pose a terrorist threat. Often, Homeland Security and other law enforcement agencies have coordinated with the private sector, working on behalf of, or in cooperation with, Wall Street firms and other companies the protesters have criticized.
Thousands of public documents recently obtained by DBA Press and the Center for Media and Democracy add new evidence to an increasingly powerful case that law enforcement has been overstepping its bounds. The documents, obtained through state and federal open records searches and Freedom of Information Act requests, demonstrate that law enforcement agencies may be attempting to criminalize thousands of American citizens for simply voicing their disapproval of corporate dominance over our economic and political system.
The anti-terrorist apparatus that the U.S. government established after 9/11 has now been turned against law-abiding citizens exercising their First Amendment rights. This apparatus consists not only of advanced surveillance technologies but also of “fusion centers” in state after state that coordinate the efforts of law enforcement up and down the line and collaborate with leading members of the private sector. Often, the work they do in the name of national security advances the interests of some of the largest corporations in America rather than focusing on protecting the United States from actual threats or attacks, such as the one at the Boston Marathon on April 15.
“The government has built a giant domestic surveillance apparatus in the name of homeland security that has been unleashed on ordinary Americans expressing concern about the undue influence of corporations on our democracy,” says Lisa Graves, the executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy and the former senior legislative strategist on national security for the ACLU. “Millions and millions of our tax dollars are being squandered violating the rights of innocent Americans who dare to dissent about legal policies and who have zero connection to any violent crime intended to cause terror.”
The documents reveal many instances of such misdirected work by law enforcement around the country. The picture they paint of law enforcement in the Phoenix area is a case in point. The police departments there, working with a statewide fusion center and heavily financed by the Department of Homeland Security, devoted tremendous resources to tracking and infiltrating Occupy Phoenix and other activist groups.
In October 2011, Jamie Dimon, the president and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, was coming to town. A giant on Wall Street, Dimon heads the largest bank in the country, which played a pivotal and disreputable role in the collapse of the U.S. economy in 2008. Dimon was holding an event with thousands of his employees at Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, in downtown Phoenix. Four days before the meeting, JPMorgan Chase’s regional security manager, Dan Grady, called detective Jennifer O’Neill of the Homeland Defense Bureau of the Phoenix Police Department and told her of the impending event. The two of them were primarily concerned that activists who had recently formed the group Occupy Phoenix might try to disrupt the event—or otherwise inconvenience Dimon.
O’Neill made it her job to monitor possible “terrorist” activity by Occupy Phoenix connected with Dimon’s visit.
The monitoring of social media for JPMorgan Chase is just a glimpse into the widespread snooping on Occupy activists that Arizona law enforcement engaged in, often on behalf of the private sector.
O’Neill serves as the coordinator of the “Community Liaison Program” of the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center, which is the state’s fusion center. That center consists of representatives from the Phoenix, Mesa, and Tempe police departments’ homeland defense units; the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office; the Arizona Department of Public Safety Intelligence Unit; the FBI Arizona Joint Terrorism Task Force; Arizona Infragard, an FBI-business alliance; and Homeland Security. The fusion center received $30,000 in funding from Homeland Security in 2012 for “advertising” its work, and expanding private sector participation in it.
O’Neill often shares intelligence from this center with the security chiefs at banks and other corporations. The stated purpose of the liaison program is to prevent terrorist activity, to identify terrorist threats, protect critical infrastructure, and “create an awareness of localized security issues, challenges, and business interdependencies.” But records indicate that it was often used as an advance warning system to alert corporations and banks of impending Occupy Phoenix protests.
O’Neill had good intelligence on Occupy Phoenix, since the police department had sent an undercover cop to attend some of the earliest meetings of the group. The impostor presented himself as a homeless Mexican national named Saul DeLara, and he attended the Occupy Phoenix planning meeting held on October 2 at a local coffee shop. He delivered a detailed report on the activists’ plans to Sergeant Tom Van Dorn of the Phoenix Police Department’s Major Offender Bureau Career Criminal Squad. Meanwhile, the Phoenix Police Department was continually monitoring the group’s Facebook page at the urging of Van Dorn.
The Phoenix Police Department held an “Occupy Arizona Event Planning Meeting” in early October 2011, which was attended by two detectives from the department who also worked as Terrorism Liaison Officers for the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center. The Phoenix Convention Center’s head of security was also invited to the meeting. The department came up with an “incident action plan” to handle protests, which included “mass arrest” teams and the possible formation of a “mobile field force” or “tactical response unit” empowered to use pepper spray and chemical agents.
Detective Christopher “CJ” Wren, one of the Terrorism Liaison Officers, was designated as the “group supervisor” of the incident action plan. He worked with the Phoenix Fire Department as well as the Phoenix Drug Enforcement Bureau, which assigned thirteen undercover vice unit officers to the Occupy Phoenix events.
The Phoenix Police Department was also working closely with the Downtown Phoenix Partnership. That group “exists to strengthen Downtown Phoenix development and to encourage an environment of activity, energy, and vitality,” says its website. Among its board members are executives from such financial institutions as the Alliance Bank of Arizona, the consulting firm Ernst & Young, the huge mining company Freeport-McMoRan, and Republic Media, which owns the state’s largest newspaper, The Arizona Republic, as well as the Phoenix NBC affiliate.
The Phoenix Police Department called this downtown group a “strategic partner” in preparation for Occupy Phoenix events. The police department briefed downtown banks about planned protests and, according to one document, vowed that it would continue to work with them on this issue.
On October 14, about 300 protesters assembled at Civic Space Park in downtown Phoenix and marched peacefully to Chase Tower, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo Plaza. The police made no arrests that day.
On October 15, some 1,000 protesters gathered in Cesar Chavez Plaza, and several hundred of them marched to a nearby park, where police officers began issuing warnings to protesters to disperse at 11 p.m. The police arrested forty-five protesters for refusing to leave the park, and three more at Cesar Chavez Plaza—one for trespassing and two for “creating an unsafe hazard in the street.”
The Phoenix Police Department spent $245,200.08 in taxpayer funds on the policing of Occupy Phoenix between October 14 and October 16, 2011, according to the documents obtained by DBA Press and the Center for Media and Democracy.
But that wasn’t the end of the surveillance. In an October 17 e-mail, the Phoenix Police Department assistant chief in charge of the Homeland Security Division, Tracy Montgomery, asked another officer to “gather intel” from “folks monitoring social media, and any other intel streams and give an update on our potential for ongoing ‘Occupy’ protests this week” and insisted on figuring out a “plan for monitoring these individuals long term.”
The long-term monitoring meant police were watching Occupy Phoenix members’ Facebook conversations and personal social media use well into 2012.
One member of the Phoenix Police Department seemed to do little else during the fall of 2011 and much of 2012 besides keeping tabs on Occupy Phoenix. Brenda Dowhan is with the department’s Homeland Defense Bureau and serves as a Terrorism Liaison All-Hazards intelligence analyst with the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center. Much of her work involved the monitoring of social media sites such as Facebook to track individuals connected to Occupy Phoenix. She distributed the information she gathered to other law enforcement agencies, including the FBI.
“Tracking the activities of Occupy Phoenix is one of my daily responsibilities,” Dowhan wrote in one e-mail to FBI agent Alan McHugh. “My primary role is to look at the social media, websites, and blogs. I just wanted to put it out there so that if you would like me to share with you or you have something to share, we can collaborate.”
During the October 2011 events, she drafted alerts to Downtown Phoenix Partnership Members and advised other business members to contact police if they experienced “problems with demonstrators.”
When a Mesa detective told her that a Mesa city councilmember had said that he had been invited to join a Bank of America protest by members of Occupy Phoenix, Dowhan alerted other officers at the Phoenix Police Department and at the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center.
On November 3, 2011, the Mesa Police Department’s Intelligence and Counter Terrorism Unit issued a bulletin on “Bank Transfer Day,” the nationwide effort by the Occupy movement to get people to withdraw funds from the giant banks. O’Neill contacted Dowhan and asked whether there was “anything downtown banks need to know that would be more beneficial.” Dowhan responded: “Occupy Phoenix just updated their page saying that they will be marching to Wells Fargo, B of A [Bank of America], and Chase Tower. They are supposed to hold a ‘credit card shredding ceremony,’ but we haven’t identified which bank they will be doing that at. We will have to monitor their FB [Facebook].”
To facilitate Dowhan’s work, other Phoenix police officers regularly fed her logs containing the names, addresses, Social Security numbers, physical descriptions, driver’s licenses, and home addresses of citizens arrested, issued citations, or even given warnings by police in connection with Occupy Phoenix.
Dowhan also used facial recognition technology to try to identify individuals believed to be involved with the Occupy group. Dowhan grabbed photographs of activists on Facebook and then ran them through their facial recognition system.
Here is one example of the use of facial recognition. On November 18, 2011, the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center got an anonymous tip about an “Occupy nut” who was allegedly making vague violent threats. “Since I’m aware no crime has technically been committed,” the tipster wrote, “I’ve got an actual crime for you as well: illegal possession/use of marijuana. I’ve seen her smoking it on camera. I will attempt to get a picture in the future.” The tipster proceeded to get a photograph of the activist at her computer.
Dowhan tried to take it from there. “We have a Facebook photo and tried to do facial recognition, but she was wearing glasses,” wrote Dowhan in a December 23 e-mail.
Dowhan didn’t confine herself to Arizona. She compiled a spreadsheet from data supplied by thirty-one fusion centers from around the country of the emerging Occupy movement in fifty cities and twenty-six states. Whatever the excitement this work might generate for a busybody like Dowhan, a summary of that report noted that “the vast majority of the participants have been peaceful, cooperative, and law abiding.”
One citizen who complained about the Phoenix Police Department’s crackdown on Occupy immediately became a subject of inquiry by the department. On December 14, 2011, a concerned citizen by the name of David Mullin wrote an e-mail to the department.
“Dear Sir or Madam,” the e-mail began. “Please consider leaving the Occupy movement alone. They speak for me and I suspect a large portion of America who are upset with corporate greed and the ability to purchase politicians and their votes. We are going to take America back for its citizens, and it would probably be better for your careers not to get in the way. Thanks, David Mullin.”
Mullin was apparently reacting to a police raid on Occupy Phoenix’s small camp in Cesar Chavez Plaza on December 8, when police arrested six activists on charges of violating the city’s “urban camping” ordinance.
Within minutes of sending his e-mail, Mullin caught the attention of the Phoenix Police Department’s assistant chief in charge of the Homeland Security Division, Tracy Montgomery, who wrote in an e-mail: “Interesting e-mail threatening our careers. Anyone know the name?”
That very evening, the department’s Homeland Defense Bureau commander, Geary Brase, told Lieutenant Lawrence Hein to have someone check out the e-mail. That someone was Dowhan.
At 6:51 the next morning, Dowhan e-mailed a link to Mullin’s Facebook page to Hein. One fellow officer sent Dowhan a note of congratulation: “Great work Brenda!”
As she continued her spy work, Dowhan became concerned that she might be detected online and asked her superiors if they could get her a “clean computer,” possibly one with an “anonymizer.”
Meanwhile, Dowhan’s undercover colleague, Saul DeLara, was having a harder time remaining anonymous.
In July 2011, a Phoenix-area activist, Ian Fecke-Stoudt, mentioned that “a creepy guy who looked like he was probably a cop” had been hanging around Conspire, a coffeehouse in downtown Phoenix. (In 2010, it won the title of “Best Hangout for Anarchists, Revolutionaries, and Dreamers” by the Phoenix New Times but has since gone out of business.)
According to Fecke-Stoudt, the man was clean-cut and middle-aged. He introduced himself as “Saul DeLara.” Despite a fit appearance, he claimed to be homeless—and commented frequently on trouble he had had with police during his life on the street. He said he was a native of Juarez, Mexico, but seldom disclosed any other details of his personal life other than to mention that he had ties to anarchists there.
In an October 3 e-mail, Sergeant Van Dorn of the department’s Major Offender Program wrote that “Saul attended the ‘#OccupyPhoenix’ meeting at Conspire on 10/2.” Van Dorn circulated DeLara’s notes of items from the meeting. One item the activists mentioned was “working with police.” They even discussed making “You are one of us signs.” In a November 3 e-mail, Van Dorn wrote: “Saul will be spending today and tomorrow hanging out in the Plaza and with the Anarchists to try and gather additional information.”
DeLara continued to inform on Phoenix activists until November 9, 2011. In his final month, much of his attention was centered on a pending protest against the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). That protest, which occurred on November 30, took place outside the gates of the Westin Kierland Resort and Spa in Scottsdale, where ALEC was holding its States and Nation Policy Summit.
ALEC claims to have 2,000 state lawmakers as members, who meet with representatives from the nation’s leading corporations and conservative think tanks to come up with “model” legislation. It has sparked criticism in recent years for disseminating voter ID bills and especially “Stand Your Ground” legislation, which created a controversy following the 2012 shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.
In Arizona, activists denounced ALEC for promoting the “No More Sanctuary Cities for Illegal Immigrants Act.” The nation’s leading operator of for-profit prisons and immigrant detention facilities—Corrections Corporation of America—was a longstanding member and underwriter of the ALEC Public Safety and Elections Task Force. The second and third largest private prison and detention center operators—the Geo Group and the Management and Training Corporation—also have had ALEC ties.
And so, when law enforcement got wind of the ALEC protest, it sent Saul on a mission.
An e-mail to police higher ups about that meeting stated: “Bosses: Saul attended an organizational meeting for the disrupt ALEC movement last night at [redacted]. The flyers they handed out for upcoming meetings, locations, and planned events can all be found on their website. . . . Members of the Occupy movement are joining in the effort to protest and disrupt at the ALEC conference as well. Information to follow on their FB [Facebook] page soon. . . . Because ALEC helped write/sponsor SB1070, the Hispanic community is joining in on the efforts as well. . . . In addition to the Kierland Resort several other locations are being targeted for disruption and are listed on the above website.”
Members of the Phoenix Police Department met with the head of security for the Westin Kierland at the Arizona fusion center to go over the upcoming ALEC protest. And the Phoenix Police Department came up with a “Face Sheet” about activists involved in the planning for the ALEC protest. Fecke-Stoudt was on it, with his driver’s license photo. So too was Jason Ohdner, a Quaker street medic who was present at the November 9 ALEC protest meeting.
But DeLara’s time as an infiltrator was up. After the meeting, an immigrants’ rights activist approached him and confronted him about his life as a cop. According to the activist, she had worked as a barista at a Phoenix Starbucks years ago that DeLara often patronized. When she confronted him, DeLara denied having ever seen her before and angrily denied being a cop. Nevertheless, word of DeLara’s law enforcement background spread, blowing his cover. While he was at it, though, he rubbed elbows not only with members of Occupy Phoenix and the ALEC protesters but also with faith-based organizations and immigrant and indigenous rights groups.
Here is the response the Phoenix Police Department gave me to questions I asked about DeLara and its tracking of the Occupy movement.
“Occupy presented itself with a great deal of civil unrest over a long period of time," wrote Sergeant Trent Crump in an e-mail to me. “We monitored available Intel during that time, as it is used for Intel-driven policing. Intel dictated resources and response tactics to address, mitigate, and manage the ongoing activity, which was fluid and changing day to day. This approach ensured that citizens could exercise their rights, but with our efforts of protecting the community and their property at the same time. I will not confirm any information about a possible plainclothes or undercover officer of this department.”
The Arizona fusion center’s and the Phoenix Police Department’s obsession with the Occupy movement and the ALEC protest led them to monitor a visit by civil rights leader Jesse Jackson. He was scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the “We Are One” conference on December 2, 2011. It was sponsored by the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the NAACP, the National Council of La Raza, and numerous other labor and civil rights groups.
Phoenix police officers working with the fusion center noted that Jackson got to town early and met with members of Occupy Phoenix on November 30.
“At approximately 2100 hour, Jessie [sic] Jackson and a few staff members arrived at the protest and spoke with demonstrators,” an internal police department e-mail states. “He stayed for a little more than an hour, and a couple of media outlets arrived and filmed the visit.”
The police department’s counter-terrorism officers were concerned that Jackson was also going to join the ALEC protests and participate in an Occupy Phoenix march to the offices of Freeport-McMoRan. (Freeport-McMoRan served as a sponsor for the ALEC State and Nation Policy Summit.)
Jackson did go to those events. When the crowd got to the Freeport-McMoRan building, Jackson said, “We are the people who care about and love this country,” according to the Downtown Devil, a student newspaper of Arizona State University’s Phoenix campus. “March on day after day until there is justice and love and healing in the land.” The march headed to Cesar Chavez Plaza, where Jackson added: “Occupy is a spirit—a spirit of patriotism and democracy. That spirit cannot be jailed or pepper-sprayed.”
The intrusive and ridiculously wasteful anti-terrorism effort in Phoenix is just one snapshot in a huge album of information that DBA Press and the Center for Media and Democracy have uncovered about law enforcement and counterterrorism resources being used to track peaceful protesters. According to the documents, police departments around the country, along with the FBI, were monitoring the Occupy movement.
They also were coordinating their responses. On October 11, 2011, “representatives from thirteen police agencies took part in a telephone conference to address shared concerns” about “the growing protests,” said one e-mail circulating in the Phoenix Police Department. “The conference call ended with the understanding of continued efforts by all agencies involved to work together to come up with effective strategies to address issues that arise from the Occupy Wall Street protests in future days and weeks.”
And the documents reveal that law enforcement, from Homeland Security and the U.S. Capitol Police Office of Intelligence Analysis down to the Phoenix Police Department, monitored activists who opposed the National Defense Authorization Act, which gives the President the right to toss any person into jail and deprive that person of due process.
The documents obtained by DBA Press and the Center for Media and Democracy jibe with other evidence about the role of Homeland Security, the FBI, and local law enforcement in tracking the Occupy movement and other leftwing activism.
An early April release of government documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund shows that Homeland Security included in its daily intelligence briefing a report on “Peaceful Activist Demonstrations.” Their documents note that the FBI treated the Occupy movement as a potential terrorist threat. They show Homeland Security surveillance of protests in Asheville, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Jacksonville, Jersey City, Lincoln, Miami, Minneapolis, Phoenix, and Salt Lake City.
What emerges is a “disturbing picture of federal law enforcement agencies using their vast power in a systematic effort to surveil and disrupt peaceful demonstrations,” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund.
Other bits of the story have come from various news organizations, including WikiLeaks. In February of 2012, it released a Department of Homeland Security document, dated October 2011, that was entitled “Special Coverage: Occupy Wall Street.” The first sentence, in bold, reads: “Mass gatherings associated with public protest movements can have disruptive effects on transportation, commercial, and government services, especially when staged in major metropolitan areas. Large scale demonstrations also carry the potential for violence, presenting a significant challenge for law enforcement.”
It noted “the peaceful nature of the protests,” but warned that “the growing support for the OWS movement has . . . increased the potential for violence.” The document, first reported on by Rolling Stone, concluded that “heightened and continuous situational awareness” was required.
The surveillance of the Occupy movement is part of an alarming pattern of infringement of Americans’ civil liberties since 9/11. Law enforcement agents from campus police all the way up to the National Guard and the Pentagon have gotten into the act, treating lawful political protest as tantamount to terrorism. The creation of Joint Terrorism Task Forces and fusion centers has spawned the widespread sharing of personal information on perfectly innocent demonstrators. The close relationship between these law enforcement groups and the private sector (as well as the FBI-business association Infragard) has blurred their allegiances.
Fusion centers, in particular, have become founts of faulty information. An October 2012 report by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs concluded that “fusion centers forwarded ‘intelligence’ of uneven quality—oftentimes shoddy, rarely timely, sometimes endangering citizens’ civil liberties and Privacy Act protections, occasionally taken from already published public sources, and more often than not unrelated to terrorism.” In fact, in the thirteen-month period that the committee studied fusion centers, it concluded that it “could identify no reporting which uncovered a terrorist threat.”
Matthew Rothschild is editor of The Progressive. Read the full DBA Press/Center for Media and Democracy report on Sourcewatch: http://ows.sourcewatch.org. And read the full report and view the document archive on DBA Press: http://dbapress.com/dissent-or-terror.
Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter