May 24, 2012
Remember the Occupy Movement? Since last November, when the NYPD closed the Zuccotti Park encampment in downtown Manhattan –the Movement’s birthplace and symbolic nexus—Occupy’s relevance has seriously dwindled, at least as measured by coverage in the mainstream media. We’re told that this erosion is due to Occupy’s own shortcomings—an inevitable outcome of its disjointed message and decentralized leadership.
While that may be the media’s take, the U.S. Government seems to have a different view.
If recent documents obtained by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) are any indication, the Occupy Movement continues to be monitored and curtailed in a nationwide, federally-orchestrated campaign, spearheaded by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
In response to repeated Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by the Fund, made on behalf of filmmaker Michael Moore and the National Lawyers Guild, the DHS released a revealing set of documents in April. But the latest batch, made public on May 3rd, exposes the scale of the government’s “attention” to Occupy as never before.
The documents, many of which are partially blacked-out emails, demonstrate a surprising degree of coordination between the DHS’s National Operations Center (NOC) and local authorities in the monitoring of the Occupy movement. Cities implicated in this wide-scale snooping operation include New York, Oakland, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Denver, Boston, Portland, Detroit, El Paso, Houston, Dallas, Seattle, San Diego, and Los Angeles.
Interest in the Occupy protesters was not limited to DHS and local law enforcement authorities. The most recently released correspondence contains Occupy-related missives between the DHS and agencies at all levels of government, including the Mayor of Portland, regional NOC “fusion centers,” the General Services Administration (GSA), the Pentagon’s USNORTHCOM (Northern Command), and the White House. Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Executive Director of the PCJF, contends that the variety and reach of the organizations involved point to the existence of a larger, more pervasive domestic surveillance network than previously suspected.
These documents show not only intense government monitoring and coordination in response to the Occupy Movement, but reveal a glimpse into the interior of a vast, tentacled, national intelligence and domestic spying network that the U.S. government operates against its own people. These heavily redacted documents don’t tell the full story. They are likely only a subset of responsive materials and the PCJF continues to fight for a complete release. They scratch the surface of a mass intelligence network including Fusion Centers, saturated with ‘anti-terrorism’ funding, that mobilizes thousands of local and federal officers and agents to investigate and monitor the social justice movement. (justiceonline.org
As alarmist as Verheyden-Hilliard’s charge may sound, especially given the limited, bowdlerized nature of the source material, the texts made available contain disturbing evidence of insistent federal surveillance. In particular, the role of the “Fusion Centers,” a series of 72 federally-funded information hubs run by the NOC, raises questions about the government’s expansive definition of “Homeland Security.”
Created in the wake of 9/11, the Fusion Centers were founded to expedite the sharing of information among state and local law enforcement and the federal government, to monitor localized terrorist threats, and to sidestep the regulations and legislation preventing the CIA and the military from carrying out domestic surveillance (namely, the CIA ban on domestic spying and the Posse Comitatus Act).
Is nonviolent, albeit obstructive, citizen dissent truly an issue of national security? The DHS, for its part, is aware of the contentiousness of civilian monitoring. That’s why, in a White House-approved statement to CBS News included in the dossier, DHS Press Secretary Matthew Chandler asserts that:
“Any decisions on how to handle specifics (sic) situations are dealt with by local authorities in that location. . . DHS is not actively coordinating with local law enforcement agencies and/or city governments concerning the evictions of Occupy encampments writ large.”