As the Obama administration faces criticism for the Justice Department’s spying on journalists and the IRS targeting of right-wing organizations, newly released documents show how the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and local police forces partnered with corporations to spy on Occupy protesters in 2011 and 2012. Detailed in thousands of pages of records from counter terrorism and law enforcement agencies, the spying monitored the activists’ online usage and led to infiltration of their meetings. One document shows an undercover officer was dispatched in Arizona to infiltrate activists organizing protests around the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the secretive group that helps corporate America propose and draft legislation for states across the country. We’re joined by Matt Rothschild of The Progressive, who tackles the surveillance in his latest article, "Spying on Occupy Activists: How Cops and Homeland Security Help Wall Street."
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: We end our show with a look at newly revealed documents showing how police partnered with corporations to monitor the Occupy Wall Street movement. DBA Press and the Center for Media and Democracy have obtained thousands of pages of records from counterterrorism and law enforcement agencies that detail how so-called "fusion centers" monitored the Occupy Wall Street movement over the course of 2011 and 2012. These fusion centers are comprised of employees from municipal, county and federal counterterrorism and homeland security entities, as well as local police departments, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.
The documents show how fusion center personnel spied on Occupy protesters, monitored their Facebook accounts, and infiltrated their meetings. One document showed how the Arizona fusion center dispatched an undercover officer to infiltrate activist groups organizing protests around the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, the secretive group that helps corporate America propose and draft legislation for states across the country. The undercover officer apparently worked for the benefit of the private entity ALEC despite being on the public payroll.
AMY GOODMAN: Democracy Now! reached out to the Phoenix Police Department to join us on the show, but they declined our request. Sergeant Trent Crump in the media relations department said in an email, quote, "Occupy Phoenix presented itself with a great deal of civil unrest over a long period of time. We monitored available Intel all the time, as it is used for Intel-driven policing. Intel dictated resources and response tactics to address, mitigate, and manage this ongoing activity which was very fluid and changing day-to-day. This approach ensured that citizens can exercise their civil rights, while we protect the community at the same time," they said.
Well, for more, we go to Matt Rothschild, editor and publisher of The Progressive magazine, wrote the cover story for the June issue of the magazine, "Spying on Occupy Activists: How Cops and Homeland Security Help Wall Street," the piece drawing heavily on the documents obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy and DBA Press. Matt Rothschild is also the author of You Have No Rights: Stories of America in an Age of Repression.
Matt, welcome to Democracy Now! Just lay out what you have found.
MATTHEW ROTHSCHILD: Hey, Amy. Thanks for having me on.
Yeah, I mean, these documents from the Center for Media and Democracy and DBA Press show that law enforcement and Homeland Security have equated protesters, left-wing protesters, as terrorists. They have diverted enormous amounts of resources from counterterrorism efforts to spy on these local protesters, and then they’ve collaborated with the private sector, some of the very institutions—banks—that these protesters were aiming at. And as you read in that statement from the Phoenix Police Department, the effort was to mitigate these protests. I mean, why is law enforcement, why is Homeland Security, in the business of mitigating protests?
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, I want to go to a response that we received from the Phoenix Police Department when we reached them for comment. And they said that they were not treating Occupy protesters as potential terrorists. They said, "[W]e are an all hazards incident management team, we have gathered information at all types of events [such as] Superbowl, World Series, SB 1070 protest etc." So can you say how it is that their monitoring of Occupy protesters differed qualitatively from the other events that the Phoenix Police Department named?
MATTHEW ROTHSCHILD: Sure. Well, they’re using resources from the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center, the Arizona fusion center, and they’re using Homeland Defense personnel in the Phoenix Police Department to track Occupy activists. So, it’s a little disingenuous of them to say they’re not treating these protesters as terrorists when they’re using their own anti-terrorist personnel to spend a lot of time simply tracking these activists. One of the police officers who was on the Homeland Defense Bureau of the Phoenix Police Department said she was primarily spending her time tracking Occupy activists on social media.
AMY GOODMAN: We also asked the Phoenix police if law enforcement is infiltrating Occupy meetings. And he replied, quote, "Infiltrate? No. Attend open meetings? Yes." Democracy Now! also asked Trent Crump if law enforcement tracked Occupy activists online. He replied, "Yes, we gather intel on a number of social media sites regularly." So, what about this? And also, this issue of law enforcement monitoring the protests against ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, when we asked him this, he said, "Yes, public safety." Your response?
MATTHEW ROTHSCHILD: Well, they not only monitored the ALEC protests in late November 2011, but they also sent a face sheet to the security personnel for ALEC, a face sheet of the faces and names and identities of Occupy protesters who have been doing some activism in the Phoenix area, to make the ALEC security personnel aware of who may be coming to their protests. They were also tracking—
AMY GOODMAN: So the police are working with the companies and the organizations.
MATTHEW ROTHSCHILD: Absolutely. Yeah, they were working with security for the American Legislative Exchange Council. They were also letting security know when Jesse Jackson was going to be in town to join an Occupy protest and an ALEC protest. Is that really their job to be passing information on to these private entities?
And then, with some of the bank protests that Occupy Phoenix was planning, they were giving downtown banks all sorts of information. "Give downtown banks everything they need." That was one internal memo from the Phoenix Police Department, when it was a day of protest against these banks and Occupy was urging the bank customers to cut up their credit cards from these banks. And which banks are we talking about? We’re talking about Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Chase—some of the very targets that Occupy had been protesting against. So, the question is: Who are the police department working for? Are they working for citizens? Are they working for the private sector? Are they working for the banks?
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Can you put—Matt Rothschild, can you put this in a wider historical context? Is this kind of surveillance unprecedented in the U.S.? And what accounts for its occurrence during Occupy in the way that you describe?
MATTHEW ROTHSCHILD: Well, unfortunately, it’s not unprecedented. There’s a terrible history of law enforcement and the FBI spying on left-wing activists, going back to the COINTELPRO program of the FBI in the '60s and ’70s, where they infiltrated the Black Panther movement and the American Indian Movement. But interestingly, after those revelations came out, there were guidelines imposed by the Justice Department itself, the so-called Levi guidelines. Edward Levi was the attorney general under the Ford administration who said you can't go spying on and infiltrating activist groups in this country unless there’s a predicate of criminal activity. Well, after 9/11, the Bush administration and Ashcroft, his attorney general, completely destroyed the Levi guidelines and let law enforcement do any kind of infiltration they want, without any necessity for any hint of criminal activity on the part of the activists.
AMY GOODMAN: Matt Rothschild, you’ve called for the resignation of Attorney General Eric Holder. Why?
MATTHEW ROTHSCHILD: Well, for a number of reasons, Amy, first of all, for this scandal about investigating reporters. I think that’s outrageous. We had more than a hundred AP reporters and editors that the Justice Department was gathering information on, and now we have the revelation about the Fox News reporter James Rosen, who was being accused of being a co-conspirator under the Espionage Act of 1917 simply for doing his reporting job. Also, the attorney general has been essentially waging war on whistleblowers under the Espionage Act.
And on top of that, let’s remember, this attorney general, Eric Holder, has been rationalizing the assassination program that the Obama administration has been engaging in, saying that a drone can drop a bomb on a U.S. citizen anywhere in the world, and that U.S. citizen will already have had due process simply because the Obama administration itself or the president or the secretary of defense calls that person a terrorist. Now, that’s not due process, and that’s not what the Justice Department should be doing. Certainly the attorney general, the chief law enforcement officer of this country, should know better than that.
AMY GOODMAN: Matthew Rothschild, isn’t he just carrying out President Obama’s policies?
MATTHEW ROTHSCHILD: Well, he very well might be, and then we have a more serious problem. We have a serious problem at the very top with a president of the United States, again, like George W. Bush, engaging in illegal activity.
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you for being with us. We’re going to do part two of the interview and post it at democracynow.org. Matt Rothschild, editor and publisher of The Progressive magazine, wrote the cover story for the June issue, "Spying on Occupy Activists: How Cops and Homeland Security Help Wall Street."