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Constitution in Crisis

January 2013, Vol. 12, No. 1


In this issue:

Washington greets the New Year by assaulting your rights:

BORDC News

Grassroots News

  • Patriot Award: Andrew Bashi
  • Mourn an Internet hero and take action in his honor
  • Grassroots Updates
    • Alameda County, CA: Coalitions mobilize to challenge local surveillance drones, immigration enforcement
    • Los Angeles, CA: Broad protests on 11th anniversary of Guantanamo challenge torture and detention under NDAA, while Stop LAPD Spying Coalition continues to mobilize
    • Dallas, TX: Advocates host press conference and demonstration to creatively challenge detention, torture, NDAA
    • Fayetteville, AR: Communities come together to address anti-immigrant profiling
    • Chicago, IL: Coalition rallies first to challenge mass incarceration, and again to confront detention under NDAA and torture
    • Washington, DC: Activists mobilize against torture at the release of Zero Dark Thirty
    • New York, NY: Coalition presses towards victory on racial profiling as federal judge blocks NYPD profiling in the Bronx
    • New Britain, CT: Coalitions address anti-immigrant profiling, military detention without trial

Law and Policy

New Resources and Opportunities


Washington greets the New Year by assaulting your rights

Congress and White House extend domestic military detention powers in NDAA

On January 2nd of this year, President Obama signed the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act) of 2013 into law, without any provisions to restore due process in the face of surviving sections of the 2012 NDAA that continue to threaten indefinite domestic military detention.  While President Obama strongly criticized the bill that reached his desk, his criticism focused on congressional restrictions on the military’s authority to transfer Guantanamo detainees who had been cleared for release.  As with prior laws that assault the Constitution, however, he ultimately signed the bill into law.

Bill of Rights Defense Committe Executive Director Shahid Buttar said of President Obama's veto threat:

It’s the second time that the president has promised to veto a piece of a very controversial national security legislation only to sign it. He has a habit of promising resistance to national security initiatives that he ultimately ends up supporting and enabling.

While President Obama claims to oppose indefinite detention, his administration has enabled it.  He has pledged  to shut down Guantanamo, but that campaign promise did not stop him from signing the bill. Worse, it is deeply disturbing that his signing statement voiced no opposition to military detention on American soil.

Witness Against Torture: Approaching the U.S. CapitolThe administration’s signing statement noted that “Several provisions in this bill also raise constitutional concerns,” and goes on to list several specific sections, including those that restrict the authority of federal courts to try individuals accused of terrorist acts, or of the executive branch to transfer to foreign countries Guantanamo detainees who have been cleared for release.  The domestic military detention powers left over from the 2012 NDAA, however, are conspicuously absent.  And the President’s silence is deafening.

Congress’ record has been similarly abysmal. Even the weak Feinstein amendment that overwhelmingly passed the Senate was removed entirely from the final version of the 2013 NDAA that President Obama signed after the congressional conference committee reconciled differences between the House and Senate versions.

More meaningful amendments by Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Mark Udall (D-UT) were rejected, reflecting the constitutional ignorance of many Senators.

In the wake of the sad January 11th anniversary of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, President Obama and Congress have made it clear that civil liberties will remain in the shadows unless a grassroots movement forces a course change in the bipartisan consensus in Washington favoring the executive branch over We the People of the United States. 

Fortunately, at least 15 local governments, in addition to four states, have passed resolutions opposing the domestic military detention provisions of the NDAA. The local coalitions that have secured these resolutions continue to gather momentum and build a national voice to restore the Bill of Rights.  Find a local campaign to join today, or contact us for help starting one in your town!

Congress and White House extend pervasive domestic surveillance powers in FISA

On December 30th, President Obama signed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act (FAA), extending the National Security Agency's (NSA) program of unconstitutional warrantless wiretapping for another five years.  FISA is essentially a codification of the illegal domestic spying program begun in secret under the Bush administration.

wiretapping without a warrant ...In a rare bipartisan moment, the bill sailed through the Senate 73-23 on December 28th, after Senators rejected several proposed amendments that would have shed a modicum of light on the program or protected the privacy of Americans. Four Senators attempted to amend FISA to provide relatively meager protections for privacy and transparency, but all of their amendments were roundly rejected. 

Senator and Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) submitted an amendment to simply reduce the reauthorization period from five years to three years.  Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) proposed requiring a search warrant for each instance of wiretapping, as long required by the US Constitution.  Senator Jeff Merkely (D-OR) pushed to declassify some opinions of the FISA court to allow public discussion about the types of searches that are currently allowed.  Finally, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), the leading voice on the Intelligence Committee to reign in NSA abuses, attempted to mandate disclosure of the number of times searches were conducted on United States Citizens. He commented:

This is the last opportunity for the next five years for the Congress to exercise a modest measure of real oversight over this intelligence surveillance law. It is not real oversight when the United States Congress cannot get a yes or no answer to the question of whether an estimate currently exists as to whether law abiding Americans have had their phone calls and emails swept up under the FISA law.

Although FISA nominally only authorizes the monitoring of communications where the target is located in a foreign country, the government in fact uses the program to monitor domestic communications en masse. Treatises on the law make clear that the government interprets FISA to allow at least the incidental monitoring of communications where both parties are within the United States:

For example, an authorization targeting ‘al Qaeda’ — which is a non-U.S. person located abroad—could allow the government to wiretap any telephone that it believes will yield information from or about al Qaeda, either because the telephone is registered to a person whom the government believes is affiliated with al Qaeda, or because the government believes that the person communicates with others who are affiliated with al Qaeda, regardless of the location of the telephone.

Architects of the NSA’s program, however, have described a broader reach of the NSA's spying efforts, including the construction of a huge data center in Bluffdale, Utah to capture and record essentially all phone and computer communications. Whistleblowers includingThomas Drake and William Binney have alleged that the NSA’s program essentially knows no limits.

Not only has Congress failed to meaningfully check the executive branch's wholesale violation of your rights, but the courts have also proven ineffective at enforcing the Constitution. Even though every court ever to have reviewed the NSA’s program on the merits has struck it down as unconstitutional, appellate courts have ruled that the program’s secrecy insulates it from judicial review. This fall, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Clapper v. Amnesty Int’l, which could either formally declare the NSA above the law or allow a court challenge to finally move forward.

With our federal institutions continuing to run roughshod over the Bill of Rights, it is more clear than ever that it is up to "we the people" to defend our liberties and privacy.

 

BORDC News

BORDC in the news

With the rise of a new year and our 113th Congress, BORDC continues its mission to inform and mobilize the public around significant civil liberties concerns.  While mainstream news outlets inundated the national consciousness with discussion of the "fiscal cliff," BORDC occupied the airwaves to promote critical (yet largely ignored) issues facing the American people.

On Thursday January 3, Flashpoints (KPFA 94.1FM in the Bay Area) featured BORDC Communications Specialist Samantha A. Peetros discussing indefinite detention.  Sections 1021 and 1022 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2012 could allow the US military to detain anyone in US territory for essentially any reason, without proof of crime.  Leary of the national security establishment's broad definition of "terrorism", and vague standards for activities that could be used as a basis for indefinite military detention, a group of journalists and activists initiated Hedges v. Obamato challenge the NDAA's detention clauses as unconstitutional. As Peetros, observed, however, the NDAA's detention powers are:

[N]ot just limited to journalists...not just limited to activists. It applies to all of us. ...It’s so broad and it can be applied in almost any circumstance that the government wants....And unfortunately, so far, attempts to constrain that have been eliminated in Congress.

Although the power to indefinitely detain Americans is disturbing, the greatest hope for freedom lies in the American people. Peetros suggests that preserving our rights requires "raising awareness [and] encouraging education", because without a persistent, collective voice, "this [issue] will disappear again and people will forget we are letting Congress erode our civil rights".

Also on Thursday, Samantha appeared on Syndicated News to challenge the extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).  Initially enacted to prevent domestic spying, FISA was re-written in 2008 to authorize the clandestine activity that Congress then intended to prohibit.

On Friday January 4, BORDC Legal Fellow Michael Figura extended the discussion of FISA on Radio Islam. Figura explained:

...every time the courts have examined this on the merits, they said it's unconstitutional.  But the problem is the government has claimed secret privilege... what they've said is: because the program is secret, you can't prove you're being spied on, and you can't have your day in court.

Figura's analysis illustrates the treachery of warrantless wiretapping under FISA.  Although state secrecy deters government accountability, Figura encouraged Americans to engage in grassroots organization and "stand up against spying by law enforcement", citing demonstrations in California, Massachusetts, and New York City as effective examples of public protest against the curtailment of civil liberties.

Appearing Wednesday January 2 on Al-Jazeera's Inside Story, BORDC Executive Director Shahid Buttar expounded on FISA.  Noting that "civil liberties are dead for all intents and purposes," he condemned the obscurity of NSA surveillance and its very real impact on Americans' lives.  Buttar observed:

No one knows how much money the NSA squanders to abuse our rights, but it’s budgetary salt on a constitutional wound, and either of those elements of secrecy alone should be enough to disqualify this law, and at least force the executive branch to answer the tough questions.…These are questions that gravely concern the rights -- and the pocketbooks -- of all Americans.

 

Buttar also appeared Wednesday on HuffPoLive the enduring foundation of our essential freedoms, as part of a panel including Georgetown law professor Louis Michael Seidman. Seidman's op-ed in the New York Times, "Let’s Give Up on the Constitution," argued that "Our obsession with the Constitution has saddled us with a dysfunctional political system, kept us from debating the merits of divisive issues and inflamed our public discourse." Buttar suggested that the Constitution is hardly an "obsession," and has instead been widely disregarded by administrations and congressional leaders from both parties bent on expanding executive power.

Common Dreams recently higlighted our recent work surrounding the yet-to-be-released 6,000 page bi-partisan Senate report on torture and the 11th anniversary of Guantanamo Bay. The article, “'Injustice and Illegality' Continue as Guantanamo Enters Year 12“ address the disregard for the rule of law and human rights at Guantanamo, citing many civil liberties and civil rights groups. BORDC’s Shahid Buttar is quoted saying:

January 11 offers a sad reminder of our country's flagrant disregard for justice -- not only for Guantanamo detainees, but also for 300 million Americans subjected to separate systems of law here within the US. Our country loudly claims to be the land of the free, yet conducts pervasive domestic surveillance and imprisons more people than any other country on the planet. Meanwhile, torturers have escaped even mere investigation, and even draw lifetime paychecks on the federal bench! Justice, national security (which suffered due to torture), and the law all require prosecuting US human rights abuses to make sure they never happen again. With the NDAA offering our military the power to detain anyone without proof of crime, every American has a personal stake in this struggle.

In addition to supporting mobilizations in several cities to mark the 11th anniversary of the Guantánamo Bay detention center, we also launched an online petition calling on officials to to release to the public a 6,000 page bipartisan Senate report condemning torture.

For a comprehensive view of BORDC’s latest news coverage, and to find out how to reach staff for comment, and more, view our online press resources.

Raise your voice to demand the truth about US torture

Last month, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted to approve a 6,000 page report on torture based on a three year investigation that reviewed over 6 million pages of documents from the CIA and other intelligence agencies. While the bipartisan Senate report is sharply critical of torture, however, it remains secret.

Raise your voice today to let the facts speak for themselves.  And visit BORDC’s People's Blog for the Constitution for further information and analysis.

The secrecy of the Senate report is especially dangerous due to surrounding events. On January 11, the 11th anniversary of Guantanamo Bay's opening, the film Zero Dark Thirty premiered across the country claiming to be a "journalistic film" based on "first hand accounts of actual events."  The film includes several depictions of prisoners being tortured in order to obtain information on the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden.

Senators with knowledge of classified intelligence information, however, have explained that torture did not generate useful intelligence, and ultimately undermined US national security and cost American lives. While the Senate report could advance the debate by letting the facts speak for themselves, however, it will not become public unless the White House declassifies the Senate’s extensive investigation

BORDC’s online petition calls on the President to declassify the report and enable its release to the public and the press, as required by his repeated pledges to promote transparency:

We urge you to immediately declassify the report and enable its unredacted release to the public and the press.

Your pledge to promote transparency requires no less. So do domestic and international law, which impose an affirmative obligation to investigate all credible reports of torture and pursue prosecution of all culprits, whatever their position or rank. So far, your administration has dramatically failed that responsibility, choosing political expediency over the rule of law.

In your second term, your administration could address this failure by supporting efforts to promote transparency and accountability, starting by declassifying the Senate Intelligence Committee's report in order to enable its vital release to the public.

Simply allowing the press and the public to read the bipartisan Senate report would expose the film’s potentially misleading narrative.

Raise your voice against torture and demand transparency from your leaders. Next, share the petition to help your friends & neighbors add their voice to the chorus.

Legal Fellow Nadia Kayalli speaks in Seattle, WA

On January 19th, BORDC Legal Fellow Nadia Kayyali will be the keynote speaker  at a forum on racial profiling focusing on the Secure Communities Initiative (S-Comm), which is the leading edge of an FBI-ICE collaboration to create a trackable biometric identification scheme for all Americans, including citizens.

The forum will be an interactive half-day of public education, discussion, and movement building. Nadia will be joined by a panel of local public figures including State Representative Luis Moscoso and King County Councilmember Larry Gossett. They will discuss proposed solutions to protect privacy and public safety, including the Washington State Trust Act. The event will be hosted at University Unitarian Church, 6556 35th Avenue NE, Seattle, WA 98115 from 9:00am-1:30pm. Please RSVP to sdenison@yahoo.com.

Read the latest news & analysis from the People’s Blog for the Constitution

Have you read BORDC’s blog lately? The People’s Blog for the Constitution has attracted a growing audience that has tripled over the past year. Featuring news & analysis beyond the headlines on a daily basis, it offers a great way to stay up to date and informed.

Highlights from the past month include:

 

Grassroots News

Patriot Award: Andrew Bashi

Andrew BashiEvery month, BORDC honors an individual who has made an outstanding contribution in his or her community to the movement to restore civil liberties and the rule of law. This month, the Patriot Award goes to Andrew Bashi from Chicago, IL for his extraordinary and committed activism and organizing.

Bashi works on a variety of projects, at both the local and national levels. His work with CCDBR focuses on local organizing to end police abuse and surveillance. He is working on a program delivering impromptu “know your rights” workshops to grassroots communities in various Chicago neighborhoods to raise awareness about racial profiling and police abuse. He has also developed an after-school program called "Acting Free," in which students learn about the Bill of Rights and perform a play based on what they learned.

Bashi’s work with DDF involves developing systems to alert activists and the general public about threats to their civil liberties. To do this, he is developing a new website for the organization, publishing a monthly newsletter, and producing a forthcoming podcast to highlight news, legislation, and inspiring figures building the civil liberties movement.

This prolific activist’s passion stems largely from the strong influence of his parents, galvanized by current events. Bashi’s parents, who immigrated to the US from Iraq, have experienced war and life under an authoritarian regime. Over the decade since the September 11th attacks, Bashi has observed the US government claim increasingly vast powers, violating the rights of even its citizens. He notes, “I thought things could have been different after September 11th… It could have been an avenue for peace, but it has just been used to create repression.” 

Bashi knows the importance of basic rights to any political or social movement, and is committed to ensuring that dissent remains viable. Bashi explains that we need to “get off the defensive and start getting offensive” in advocating to restore constitutional rights. BORDC is proud to stand alongside Andrew Bashi in Chicago, and thankful for his invaluable work advancing the movement around the country.

Mourn an Internet hero and take action in his honor

aaron-swartz-largeOn January 11, our country lost a luminary in the suicide of Aaron Swartz, a brilliant young man who, according to BORDC's Shahid Buttar, "did more for the world in his 26 years than most people do in a lifetime."

Swartz's work included helping co-founding Demand Progress (an allied advocacy group with which BORDC has frequently worked), helping to co-found Reddit, developing the RSS protocol, and championing the principles of open access to information.

He was prosecuted, simply for downloading academic journals to enhance public access to them, by the same US Attorney's office that established the criminality of translating documents the US government does not like.

Swartz's family appropriately blames the federal prosecutors, who placed their careers before the public interest. That, in turn, sparked a remarkably public response not by the US attorney, but by her spouse, described by a former federal prosecutor as reflecting "a complete and utter lack of judgment."

In the wake of Aaron's tragic death, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has launched an online petition to fix the draconian computer crime law that exposed Aaron to 13 felony counts of hacking and wire fraud for a victimless crime actually committed in the public interest.  As EFF's Marcia Hoffman (who also serves on BORDC's advisory board) writes:

The government should never have thrown the book at Aaron for accessing MIT's network and downloading scholarly research. However, some extremely problematic elements of the law made it possible.  We can trace some of those issues to the U.S. criminal justice system as an institution...But Aaron's tragedy also shines a spotlight on a couple profound flaws of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act in particular....

 

Grassroots updates

To get involved in any of these efforts, please email the BORDC Organizing Team at organizing@bordc.org. We’re eager to hear from you and help support your activism!

Alameda County, CA: Coalitions mobilize to challenge local surveillance drones, immigration enforcement

Alameda County Against Drones (ACAD) continues to monitor the Alameda County Sheriff’s plans to buy an unmanned aerial surveillance drone. After preparing to mobilize supporters to attend a recent hearing, the coalition learned that the hearing agenda would exclude the drone plans, and is instead preparing for a hearing likely to be scheduled in February or March before the Alameda County Public Protection Committee. ACAD welcomes interested community members and also pursues further mobilization on other privacy issues, including the federal biometric identification schemes implemented under the guise of local support of immigration enforcement.

Los Angeles, CA: Broad protests on 11th anniversary of Guantanamo challenge torture and detention under NDAA, while Stop LAPD Spying Coalition continues to mobilize

Nearly 40 grassroots groups came together on Friday, January 11 to recognize 11 years of human rights violations at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility. BORDC’s George Friday participated along with attendees from Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace, the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, and Amnesty International. They raised a series of demands covered by The ABC and CBS evening news covered the demands of the participants including an end to indefinite solitary confinement in US prisons, accountability for government officials responsible for torture, and repeal of the NDAA’s domestic military detention provisions.

On January 19, the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition will host a community townhall meeting at Chuco’s Justice Center in Inglewood, also including George Friday from BORDC. The coalition has been conducting broad community outreach and public education, as well as a “people’s audit” collecting stories from community members. Last month, on December 13, the coalition mobilized at the Joint Regional Intelligence Center (JRIC), the local fusion center, drawing hundreds of diverse community members to raise concerns about surveillance by local police.  Leaders continue to call out and confront state violence and policy that undermines civil rights.  The coalition hopes to strengthen an intersectional movement.

Dallas, TX: Advocates host press conference and demonstration to creatively challenge detention, torture, NDAA

Dallas NDAA protestFriday, January 11 witnessed mobilization across the Dallas area to challenge torture with impunity and the looming specter of military detention within the US under the NDAA.  After riding the DART mass transit system clad in hooded orange jumpsuits, participants held a press conference and demonstration at NorthPark Centerl, where they held banners reading “Protect civil rights,” “Restore the Bill of Rights,” and “Close Guantanamo” near a statue of famed civil rights organizer Rosa Parks.

State Rep. Lon Burham (D-Ft. Worth), former Executive Director of the Dallas Peace Center, specifically called on President Obama to fulfill his campaign promises to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and restore constitutional rights & liberties.

Fayetteville, AR: Communities come together to address anti-immigrant profiling

After a coalition strategy and planning meeting last October, activists from across Northwest Arkansas began holding community roundtables to hear the experiences of those who live in neighborhoods most affected by anti-immigrant profiling programs including S-Comm and 287(g). In addition to collecting stories from impacted families, coalition partners aimed to conduct education about options to address these practices, and also encourage participation as the coalition expands. Groups including the Northwest Arkansas Workers' Justice Center have hosted two roundtables, with the next set for January 16. 

Chicago, IL: Coalition rallies first to challenge mass incarceration, and again to confront detention under NDAA and torture

Behind BarsChicago rang in the New Year by calling for justice.  On New Year’s Eve, activists congregated outside of the Cook County jail in a noise rally to challenge mass incarceration, call for civil rights for all prisoners and release for all including the NATO5.  Racial disparities within the Cook County prison system, the infamous and longstanding torture of suspects by Commander Jon Burge and the Area 2 command, and the ongoing legacy of police misconduct and profiling, all prompted the group to mobilize. Despite remaining peaceful, the group encountered an aggressive response by authorities, including police violence and reportedly fabricated felony charges.

Coalition leaders will continue their public education efforts at several events throughout January. On January 11, they organized a combined protest against 11 years of Guantánamo and the opening of the film Zero Dark Thirty, challenging military detention under the NDAA alongside the regime of continuing impunity for human rights abuses and torture.  On January 12, diverse allies hosted a prisoner solidarity forum at St. Luke's Lutheran Church of Logan Square featuring prisoners of conscience and others who have endured torture in US prisons, such as the notorious Tamms supermax prison closed at the of 2012. 

Next month, on February 1, the Illinois Coalition Against Torture (ICAT) will hold a panel on Empire, Colonialism, and Torture featuring film producer Oliver Stone. ICAT’s Margaret Power, a former BORDC Patriot Award winner, will moderate a discussion featuring José E. López from the Puerto Rican Cultural Center, Peter Kuznick from American University, and Mr. Stone.

Washington, DC: Activists mobilize against torture at release of Zero Dark Thirty

Fast for Justice: Day 3On Tuesday, January 8, grassroots activists in Washington DC attended the premier of Zero Dark Thirty, prompting coverage in Politico and other publications after their vigil clad in orange jumpsuits. On Friday, January 11, the coalition mobilized again with a march to criticize torture and military detention

The march addressed the 11th anniversary of the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, as well as the domestic military detention provisions of the NDAA and the continuing regime of torture with impunity. Members of the Montgomery County (MD) Civil Rights Coalition also visited local theaters over the weekend to distribute flyers about torture to moviegoers, prompting readers to take action by pressing the White House to declassify the Senate’s torture report and let the facts speak for themselves.

Later this month, on January 21 -- the day of President Obama’s second inauguration, which happens to fall on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and the third anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United -- concerned DC, MD and VA residents will rally in Malcolm X park and march towards the inaugural parade. The event will aim to present several issues, including accountability for constitutional abuses and human rights violations, such as extrajudicial assassination via unmanned aerial drones.

New York, NY: Coalition presses towards victory on racial profiling as federal judge blocks NYPD profiling in the Bronx

Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) continues to build support for the Community Safety Act, a group of proposals to the New York City Council that would force substantial changes to the NYPD's biased policing practices. In particular, the bills would expand the categories of people protected from police profiling, require written or recorded verbal consent for searches without reasonable suspicion, and create an Inspector General’s office to help oversee the NYPD and require offices to actively identify themselves to individuals they stop. The coalition continues to attract new legislative supporters of the bill, and is reportedly nearing a veto-proof majority in the city council.  

Meanwhile, a federal judge halted the NYPD's unconstitutional practice of stopping and frisking people outside of "Trespass Affidavit Program" buildings in the Bronx. This legal victory “marks the first time a court has ruled that a substantial part of the NYPD's stop-and-frisk program is unconstitutional,” according to Chris Dunn from the New York Civil Liberties Union. A larger class action challenge against the NYPD’s biased policing tactics will go to trial in March.

New Britain, CT: Coalitions address anti-immigrant profiling, military detention without trial

Over the last quarter of 2012, a diverse array of groups and individuals have come together to form the Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance (CIRA). Latino, Asian, and African-American communities, as well as interfaith and labor communities, are all represented in the coalition. CIRA engages critical challenges such as the profiling encouraged and facilitated by S-Comm, as well as public education to cultivate community awareness. In the coming weeks, CIRA will continue to build upon its foundations to present a formidable force across Connecticut.

BORDC also supports the Connecticut Coalition against Indefinite Detention, which is following up with attendees of its widely attended December conference to help organize local campaigns on policing issues, in addition to its ongoing statewide campaign opposing domestic military detention under the NDAA. 

Law and Policy

The FBI vs. Occupy

Occupy

It’s no secret that the FBI and local law enforcement have targeted the Occupy movement since its inception in fall 2011, sometimes to the degree of planting informants and manufacturing criminal charges.  However, recently released documents reveal that monitoring by federal law enforcement was even more extensive than imagined.

The heavily redacted documents were the latest release of documents obtained by the  Partnership for Civil Justice through its Freedom of Information Act request to federal and municipal agencies.  They show that, from the beginning:  

the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security [was] treating protests against the corporate and banking structure of America as potential criminal and terrorist activity. These documents also show these federal agencies functioning as a de facto intelligence arm of Wall Street and Corporate America.

There are several striking features of the documents. First, they show that the FBI and DHS were preparing for Occupy Wall Street several months before it started.  Throughout the documents, the FBI refers to Occupy Wall Street as an “anarchist” event, even though myriad political views were represented at Occupy events and encampments around the country. This tendency to politically profile individuals engaging in First Amendment protected activity represents a recurring problem.

Similarly, Occupy is referred to as a potential domestic terrorist threat, reviewed alongside activities of the Aryan Nation.  One document, which has caused significant controversy, even seems to show that the FBI was aware of (but seemingly uninterested in stopping) a sniper attack plot against individuals perceived as Occupy leaders.

There are also numerous mentions of strategic meetings between various agencies, particularly involving Joint Terrorism Task Forces around the country. In addition to revealing the extent of monitoring and of the collaboration between local and federal law enforcement, the documents also confirm law enforcement partnerships with the private sector, including companies targeted by activists.

Intimidation Tactics (sponsored by the Dept of Homeland Security)A release from the “Domestic Security Alliance Council” is labeled as being for “the corporate security community” yet contained “sensitive information” that shouldn’t be released to the public.  The DSAC document described the Occupy Oakland port takeover and plans to takeover other ports.  It also described the planned coordination between Customs and Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Coast Guard, DHS, and local law enforcement.

Another document about port occupations shows that a port employee attended planning meetings in order to “be a fly on the wall” and report back to his supervisor and the FBI, who make it clear that they can't officially sanction his activity but are happy to have the information.

While these documents paint a chilling picture of suppression of First Amendment activity, buried inside one document is a positive note.  A report about the San Francisco Bay area says:

local law enforcement agencies have limited cooperation with ICE/Homeland Security Investigations due to sanctuary policies enacted by local governments.

This makes it clear that the local policies passed by groups, such as the limitation on JTTF collaborations achieved by the Coalition for a Safe San Francisco, and the suspicious activity reporting limits achieved by the Coalition for a Safe Berkeley, genuinely make a difference when it comes to coordinated suppression of political movements.   

Zero Dark Thirty: Kathryn Bigelow and the Senate keep us in the dark about torture

GuantanamoKathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal's Zero Dark Thirty opens with a title that declares "The following motion picture is based on first hand accounts of actual events." With this title and relentless publicity, Biegwlow has suggested “What we were attempting is almost a journalistic approach to film.’’

At the same time, however, Boal has attempted to shirk being held to a journalistic approach to facts, declaring “It’s a movie, not a documentary.” It's clear from Senators with knowledge of the classified intelligence and Leon Panetta that in fact torture did not produce the information that identified Osama Bin Laden's courier and led to his capture.  However, the information will not become public until the Senate Intelligence Committee declassifies its extensive investigation into the United State's use of torture after September 11th. You can demand the release of the report through BORDC's petition.

Reacting to the swelling controversy set off by the film's reportedly inaccurate depiction of torture prompting a key disclosure leading to the capture of Bin Laden, Bigelow has attempted to set up a straw man.  At the New York Film Critics Awards she said:

I'm standing in a room with people who understand that depiction is not endorsement, and if it was, no artist could portray inhumane practices. No author could write about them. And no filmmaker could ever delve into the knotty subjects of our time.

However, Zero Dark Thirty not only misrepresents the facts surrounding the role of torture in Osama Bin Laden's capture, it also uses film technique to align the audience with the torturers. The film opens with harrowing audio of the 911 calls of those trapped in the World Trade Center, and then immediately cuts to the brutal interrogation of a prisoner at a CIA black site. This juxtaposition portrays the torture program as a reaction the attacks of September 11th. The films' heroine, Maya, a CIA analyst, is present at the interrogation and watches as the prisoner is waterboarded by another CIA interrogator.

Fast for Justice: Day 3During the scene Bigelow employs objective shots (those which don't come from the point of the view of any of the characters) to show the CIA interrogator threatening assaulting and then water boarding the prisoner. Notably however, the audience is never left alone with the prisoner, the camera comes and goes with Maya's visits. Bigelow aligns us with Maya but cutting to a reaction shot showing her face in distress as the prisoner is water boarded. The audience is meant to identify with her unease with the brutal tactics being employed. However, this changes.

In the following scenes, Maya is present in almost every one, the consistent point of contact for the audience.  She questions the same prisoner and another, obtaining information based on the prisoner's fear that they will be again subjected to torture. She then reviews videotaped interrogations of other prisoners (many of whom are being tortured) and instead of now cringing at the torture, she simply nods her head as the information she wants is given. Finally, in another interrogation, Maya directs a military officer to assault and then waterboard the prisoner she is interrogating.

Initially disturbed at the presence of torture, Maya -- and through her character, the audience -- begins to perceive it as beneficial and even routine. All the while, none of the characters object to torture, though we know that in reality many did so. The only voice in the film declaring opposition to torture is President Obama's.  A few seconds of an interview where he declares that America doesn't torture play on TV in a meeting of CIA analysts, but one simply shakes her head and then they go back to operational planning.

Demand the full picture on torture by signing BORDC's petition to declassify and release the Senate Intelligence Committee's exhaustive, 6,000 page report on torture.

Programs under development to further erode privacy through cybersecurity, domestic drone aircraft

In 2010, the Wall Street Journal reported on the initial phases of a NSA program now known to be called “Perfect Citizen.” Despite its brazenly Orwellian title, the NSA allegedly designed Perfect Citizen to prevent cyberattacks on federal agencies and computer systems that control critical infrastructure.  FOIA documents procured by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) confirm the concern with protecting power grids and other vulnerable systems. Extensive redactions, however, and the NSA’s legacy of self-serving secrecy raises suspicions about the organization charged with defending our nation. 

NSA spokesperson Judith Emmel responded to privacy concerns surrounding Perfect Citizen, assuring that “suggestions that there are illegal or invasive domestic activities associated with this contracted effort are simply not true. We strictly adhere to both the spirit and the letter of U.S. laws and regulations.” 

Considering the NSA’s ongoing warrantless wiretapping program, in the wake of its recent re-extension and previous admissions by senior officials that the NSA has violated the law, Emmel’s claims should be taken with a grain of salt. The NSA admits its sensors will scan for ‘suspicious activity,’ but local police routinely collect intelligence on “suspicious activities” including drawing, taking photographs, or taking notes in public.

The NSA’s relationships with private utilities represent another point of concern for privacy rights.  Although the NSA denies that Perfect Citizen entails a surveillance component, prior collaborations between the NSA and private utilities have eroded Americans’ privacy while remaining cloaked in secrecy. 

A more tangible threat to Americans’ civil liberties lies not in electronic networks, but instead flies silently over our heads.  The Federal Aviation Administration will soon complete regulations for commercializing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), otherwise known as drones. The CIA infamously utilizes armed drones abroad for targeting and killing suspected terrorists, while law enforcement agencies within the US already use drones for investigation and border control

While the proponents of drones suggest useful applications of the technology, such as search-and-rescue missions and recreational photography, the leading edge of the drone aircraft industry remains law enforcement and domestic surveillance, in particular.

The diversity of drone applications, and the predictable proliferation of drones for each of those applications, complicates the task of crafting regulations for their use.  But concerned Americans across the country are forcing the local debate necessary to keep drone surveillance aircraft from coming to a sky near you.

New Resources and Opportunities

Want to spy on your neighbor? The surveillance state comes to a store near you

The next time your family celebrates a birthday, consider a gift for the whole family: a functional aerial surveillance drone.

ARdroneVerizon Wireless has you covered—you can purchase your very own quadro-copter, along with two HD cameras, online. Verizon describes this cutting edge aerial drone, the Parrot AR.Drone 2.0, as:

...at the crossroads where high-end technology meets Icarus [sic] dream. View the earth from high above in high definition. Share your experience online with your friends. With the AR.Drone free app for iPhone®, iPad® and Android™ devices, you will be close to flying like a bird.

That’s right—you can deploy your very own drone at the touch of a button through your smart phone. The AR.Drone touts not one, but two onboard cameras streaming at 720p high definition, enabled to record and upload video directly to YouTube or Picasa. Though this model only has a 165ft range and a 10 minute battery life, its certainly enough to spy on your neighbor and celebrate the military-industrial complex expanding into the consumer market.

 


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Contributors: Samantha A. Peetros, George Friday, Nadia Kayyali, Michael Figura, Emma Roderick, Shahid Buttar, Barbara Haugen, Corina Leu, Alok Bhatt, Annette Mascaluso

Banner Photo Credit: Storm Front by Matthew Johnston

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