It’s Official: Feds Have Been Extensively Surveilling Black Lives Matter Activists Since Ferguson

by bobswern –

black lives matter manhattan

File this under: “Tell me something I didn’t already know.” But, it sure sucks to get this glaring confirmation from The Intercept on Friday afternoon…


Exclusive: Feds Regularly Monitored Black Lives Matter Since Ferguson  George Joseph:
The Intercept
July 24 2015, 11:50 a.m.
The Department of Homeland Security has been monitoring the Black Lives Matter movement since anti-police protests erupted in Ferguson, Missouri last summer, according to hundreds of documents obtained by The Intercept through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The documents, released by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Operations Coordination, indicate that the department frequently collects information, including location data, on Black Lives Matter activities from public social media accounts, including on Facebook, Twitter, and Vine, even for events expected to be peaceful. The reports confirm social media surveillance of the protest movement and ostensibly related events in the cities of Ferguson, Baltimore, Washington, DC, and New York.

They also show the department watching over gatherings that seem benign and even mundane. For example, DHS circulated information on a nationwide series of silent vigils and a DHS-funded agency planned to monitor a funk music parade and a walk to end breast cancer in the nation’s capital.

The tracking of domestic protest groups and peaceful gatherings raises questions over whether DHS is chilling the exercise of First Amendment rights, and over whether the department, created in large part to combat terrorism, has allowed its mission to creep beyond the bounds of useful security activities as its annual budget has grown beyond $60 billion.

The surveillance cataloged in the DHS documents goes back to August of last year, when protests and riots broke out in Ferguson the day after the shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. According to two August 11th, 2014 reports, a DHS FEMA “WatchOps officer” used information from Twitter and Vine to monitor the riots and reproduced a map, originally created by a Reddit user, of conflict zones…

Reddit user’s map of conflict zones in Ferguson, Missouri protests in August 2014, as utilized in Dept. of Homeland Security surveillance efforts (and documents) of online activity of protestors there. (Source: Department of Homeland Security [DHS] via The Intercept, July 24th, 2015)

And, it didn’t stop there.

The article continues on to note surveillance details at the following events and related items gathered (regarding same) from the FOIA release–

•    “…A few days after rioting and protests there, a DHS email forwarded another message reporting on the “National Moment of Silence,” nationwide silent vigils planned in response to the shooting…”

•    …“An April 2015 FEMA memo also shows that the DHS appears to have gathered information on anti-police-brutality protests in Philadelphia “organized by members of the Philly Coalition for Real Justice” and in New York on May Day at “Foley Square, start time 1700…”

Of course, as the article references response from the Department of Homeland Security, as DHS claims they’re just doing their job and protecting the public (“protecting” whom from whom, exactly?) while obtaining “situational awareness” of these events—which, in and of itself, is a farce and merely code words for intensive surveillance.

Center for Constitutional Rights legal director Baher Azmy provides clarity, arguing…

…“providing situational awareness” is just another word for surveillance and that creating this body of knowledge about perfectly legal events is a problem in and of itself. “What they call situational awareness is Orwellian speak for watching and intimidation,” said Azmy. “Over time there’s a serious harm to the associational rights of the protesters and it’s an effective way to chill protest movements. The average person would be less likely to go to a Black Lives Matter protest if the government is monitoring social media, Facebook, and their movements.”Although Lee says in his email that the department “does not provide resources to monitor any specific planned or spontaneous protest, rally or public gathering,” some of the documents show that the DHS has produced minute-by-minute reports on protesters’ movements in demonstrations…

Other events heavily-surveilled by the DHS per the Office of Operations Coordination, as uncovered by The Intercept’s FOIA request are extensively described in 40 pages of documentation (see HERE “archive 1” and HERE “archive 2”).The event list includes surveillance details about…

“…detailing live updates and Google Maps images of Black Lives Matter protestors’ movements during an April 29th protest in Washington, DC…

And, of course, the narrative within federal law enforcement included generalizations/comparisons to government surveillance of the Occupy Wall Street movement. And, as The Intercept reminds us: “…it was revealed in 2012 that the DHS was monitoring Occupy Wall Street.”

Maurice Mitchell, “…an organizer with Blackbird, a group that helps support activism against police violence in communities across the country,” is quoted also quoted in the pirce: “It is concerning that the government would be diverting resources towards surveilling citizens who are assembling and expressing their First Amendment rights…The fact that our government is doing this — I can only assume to disrupt us — is pretty alarming… Directly after 9/11, people said, ‘if you’re not doing anything wrong you have nothing to worry about.’ Well, now we’re fighting back against police brutality and extrajudicial killings, yet they are using this supposedly anti-terrorist infrastructure against us…”

According to the article, many “innocuous events” were also targeted and extensively surveilled (by the government’s Information Collection and Coordination Center), including…

• the annual DC Funk Parade, on May, 02, 2015 in Washington, DC;

• a community parade in Congress Heights; and…

• the Avon 39-Walk to End Breast Cancer.

Details of DHS’s “response to riots and militant protests in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray” are also covered in this piece, including an acknowledgement within the FOIA documents that elaborates upon on the agency’s “…response to riots and militant protests in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray…”

It’s noted within the article that the Governor of Maryland’s Operations Center and the Mayor’s Emergency Operations Center, as well as the DHS’s Federal Protective Service and the agency’s Office of Infrastructure Protection “…worked in ‘close coordination with State and Local partners to monitor the situation’ in Baltimore and helped ‘prepare for a large demonstration’…”

Quotes from Brendan McQuade, “a visiting assistant professor at DePaul University who researches the DHS’s intelligence-gathering fusion centers,” and Raven Rakia, “a journalist who investigates state surveillance and policing,” comprise most of the closing commentary in this article…

McQuade…

…believes that the DHS and its affiliated counterterror organizations monitor Black Lives Matter to such a exacting degree because the terrorist threats they were created to stop are exceedingly remote. “Fusion centers were set up for counterterrorism, but it became ‘all crimes, all threats, all hazards’ because terrorism isn’t a real threat. You are four times more likely to be struck by lighting than killed by a terrorist,” says McQuade. “Even at their moment of emergence it was clear that counterterrorism wasn’t going to be enough.”…

Rakia…

“… the DHS’ decision to monitor Black Lives Matter is hardly surprising, given the federal government’s well documented history of spying on and suppressing black social movements and groups like the Black Panthers. ‘There’s a long history of the federal agencies, especially the FBI, seeing black resistance organizations as a threat to national security,’ says Rakia.”…

In the final paragraph of the story, Intercept reporter George Joseph speculates that he’s just scratching the surface of the extent of the obviously-massive government surveillance of black activists in America, today.  “Over the last few years, small bits of evidence have trickled out indicating that other counterterror intelligence organizations like the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force and state police intelligence groups have been involved in monitoring and apprehending Black Lives Matter activists.”

 

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

 

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