Thursday, April 4, 2013
DHS has been spying on peaceful activists & demonstrations for years.
Government documents obtained by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) through its FOIA records requests reveal that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), an agency created after the September 11 attacks under the rubric of combating terrorism, conducts daily monitoring of peaceful, lawful protests as a matter of policy.
Functioning as a secret political police force against people participating in lawful, peaceful free speech activity, the heavily redacted documents show that the DHS “Threat Management Division” directed Regional Intelligence Analysts to provide a “Daily Intelligence Briefing” that includes a category of reporting on “Peaceful Activist Demonstrations” along with “Domestic Terrorist Activity.” (p. 68)
The PCJF has obtained thousands of pages of documents pursuant to its Freedom of Information Act demands and made them available for public viewing. The newly obtained documents show coordination and intelligence monitoring by the DHS, the FBI, the NYPD and other law enforcement agencies of “Occupy-type” protests.
The documents show the routine use of Fusion Centers for intelligence gathering on peaceful demonstrations as well as the use of DHS’ “Mega Centers” for collection of surveillance information on demonstrations.
One document also shows the DHS engaging in what appears to be “off the books” intelligence gathering as one DHS agent writes in response to a request for information on the Occupy movement in New England, “This meeting should be finishing up soon and I'll have access to a non-DHS computer that will allow me to do more looking.” (p. 6)
The first trove of FBI documents obtained by the PCJF in December 2012 exposed that the FBI treated the Occupy movement, even before the first tent went up in lower Manhattan, as a potential criminal and terrorist threat in spite of the fact that the FBI acknowledged that the OWS organizers explicitly called for peaceful protests.
The release and PCJF analysis of the documents in December received significant media attention.
The new documents reveal DHS surveillance of protests in Asheville, NC; Tampa; Ft. Lauderdale; Jacksonville; Lansing, MI; Denver; Kansas City; Los Angeles; Boston; Dallas; Houston; Minneapolis; Miami; Jersey City; Phoenix; Lincoln, Nebraska; Chicago; Salt Lake City; Detroit and others.
In preparation for planned protests in New York City on October 15, 2011, the DHS documents show coordination between federal and local authorities to use New York City’s permitting scheme to frustrate, obstruct or stop free speech activities.
In the case of the New York City protest, the documents reveal how even the most elementary exercise for conducting a lawful protest activity was the subject of information sharing and cooperation between federal and local law enforcement agencies. This was the case when the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement sought a permit for a march with the purpose, as the DHS states, “to recognize the African slaves used to build Wall Street.” DHS reports on how the NYPD denied the sound permit for the planned activity and how the permit application was “kicked back and forth by the City, GSA and NPS. …” (p. 35)
As the federal and local governments and law enforcement agencies engaged in a concerted, coordinated crackdown to evict Occupy protests from public spaces in the last months of 2011, DHS officials shared and coordinated strategies. For instance, the DHS District Commander in Detroit directly communicated with a law enforcement official who was “tasked with coming up with an exit strategy for us." After writing that he had heard in the news that encampments were "broken up in California and Georgia," the DHS District Commander continued, "What is the plan for the Occupy Detroit group in Grand Circus Park? I have been reporting daily and sending it up.” (p. 115)
The documents show a Department of Homeland Security that appears obsessed with the question of whether any and all protests that are being surveilled receive media attention and coverage. Reporting within the DHS on media coverage of First Amendment protected activities, even in the smallest places, appears to be a routine part of DHS intelligence reports. None of the documents explain why media coverage of peaceful demonstrations is of interest to law enforcement or concerns “homeland security” in any way.
“This production of documents, like the FBI documents that the PCJF received in December 2012, is a window into the nationwide scope of DHS and FBI surveillance, monitoring, and reporting on peaceful protestors organizing with the Occupy movement. Taken together, the two sets of documents paint a disturbing picture of federal law enforcement agencies using their vast power in a systematic effort to surveil and disrupt peaceful demonstrations. The federal agencies’ actions were not because Occupy represented a 'terrorist threat' or a 'criminal threat' but rather because it posed a significant grassroots political challenge to the status quo,” stated Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Executive Director of the PCJF.
“The documents are heavily redacted and represent, a fraction of what the government possesses. But these documents show that federal and local law enforcement agencies, in concert with the biggest banks on Wall Street and elsewhere in the country, conducted a massive spying program and a large-scale disruption operation against the Occupy movement.” stated Carl Messineo, Legal Director of the PCJF.
You can read the DHS-OWS documents by clicking on the link below, they've been uploaded in searchable format for public viewing.
Grand Jury fails to hold accountable aggressive police, indicts Peaceful Streets activists:
Austin, TX - On New Year’s Day 2012, Oborski observed a car that was being driven without its headlights on West 6th street in downtown Austin, and pulled the car over at the 7-11 on N. Lamar and W. 10th Street. While Oborski was conducting a field sobriety test behind the vehicle, Norma Pizana who was a passenger in the vehicle, yelled from the passenger seat to the driver that the driver did not have to submit to a sobriety test. Oborski walked up to the car, leaned in and told Pizana not to “interfere” with his investigation, and then returned to the driver to continue the field sobriety test. However, according to the Penal Code, speech is not sufficient to “interfere” with an investigation, and Pizana was never charged with such a crime. After Pizana was told to stop attempting to communicate with the driver of the vehicle, APD Officer Robert Snider arrived on the scene and began to speak to Pizana.
Antonio Buehler, who was a designated driver that night, pulled into the same 7-11 as he was driving a friend home, in order to refuel the truck he was driving. When he finished fueling up, Buehler and his passenger, Ben Munoz, began to get back into their truck when they heard Pizana scream violently. They turned and saw Snider violently pulling Pizana out of the vehicle, and then throwing her down on the ground. As Pizana continued to cry out in pain, Oborski joined in and they began to apply continued upward pressure on her arms in what is considered a torture move by the U.S. Military and Federal Government. At that moment, Buehler tried to take pictures of what he believed was a violent assault. When Pizana noticed him taking pictures, she begged him to record the incident, and Buehler then began to demand that the cops stop abusing Pizana. Although Pizana was seated in her car, was not a threat to herself or the public, and her driver had not yet been arrested, she was arrested for Public Intoxication, a Class C misdemeanor.
After Snider and Oborski handcuffed Pizana and began escorting her to a squad car, Oborski turned and walked aggressively toward Buehler, got in Buehler’s face, and asked “who do you think you are?” Video shows that Buehler put his arms down by his side, with his palms forward in a non-threatening manner as he took a couple steps back, while Oborski continued to step toward Antonio and into his personal space. Video then shows Oborski violently thrusting his hands into the chest of Buehler a few times, pushing Buehler back until he was trapped between the bed of the truck he had been driving and Officer Oborski. After repeatedly and forcefully pushing Buehler in the chest, while Buehler kept his arms raised with palms facing forward, Oborski then attempted to arrest Buehler.
After Buehler was taken to the BAT Mobile and coerced into blowing into a breathalyzer machine, and being told by the technician that Buehler “broke” the machine by “blowing too hard”, he was then escorted to a transport vehicle where Oborski allegedly told Buehler that “you don’t f*** with police, you f***d with the wrong cop this time and now you’re going to f***ng pay”, after which he was transferred to Travis County Jail where he was charged with Felony Harassment of a Public Official, a 3rd Degree Felony, and Resisting Arrest, a Class A misdemeanor.
When Buehler was released from prison the next day, he was told by Ben Munoz that witnesses were present at the scene of the arrest, although the police prevented the witnesses from sharing their contact information with Munoz. Buehler immediately began to post fliers around the 7-11 location, and use social media to implore witnesses to step forward. Several witnesses did step forward, to include one who took cell phone video of the incident which proves that Oborski lied in his affidavit (Buehler never spit on Oborski; Oborski never wiped his face).
Despite about a half dozen witnesses that stepped forward willing to swear under oath that Pizana did not assault Snider and that Buehler did not spit in Oborski’s face, the cell phone video, the 7-11 surveillance video, audio from both Oborski and Snider, and self-incriminating lies written up in the affidavits of Oborski and Snider, the Austin Police Department and the District Attorney continued to press forward with the charges against Buehler and Pizana. In addition, 11 days after the initial arrests, and after Pizana shared her story of abuse with the media, the Austin Police Department filed two new charges against Pizana for resisting arrest and failure to obey a lawful order.
The Grand Jury did not indict Buehler for either the felony harassment of a public official charge or the resisting arrest charge. Instead they indicted him for failure to obey a lawful order, a Class C misdemeanor punishable by up to a $500 fine. The Grand Jury did not indict Pizana for public intoxication or failure to obey a lawful order. They did, however, indict her for resisting arrest, a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in the Travis County Jail.
The Grand Jury also returned indictments against Antonio Buehler for failure to obey a lawful order, a Class C misdemeanor, for filming police on August 24th, August 26th and September 21st, 2012. Sarah Dickerson was also indicted for failure to obey a lawful order while filming police during the September 21st, 2012 incident.
A City of Austin Municipal Ordinance requires a person to comply with an order of a peace officer and prohibits a person from obstructing or interfering with an officer engaged in his official duties. Violation of this ordinance is a Class C misdemeanor punishable by up to a $500 fine. However, there was no evidence that either Buehler or Dickerson ever obstructed or interfered with an officer engaged in his official duties. Further, Austin Police Department policy (p. 106) clearly states that officers are not to “[i]n any way threaten, intimidate or otherwise discourage an individual from recording officer’s enforcement activities”, which is exactly what APD did to Buehler and Dickerson in each one of the instances in which they were charged with “failure to obey a lawful order”.
In all, the Grand Jury met on six occasions and heard from 13 witnesses, including Antonio Buehler and Officer Patrick Oborski, although they did not hear from either Buehler or Dickerson regarding the post-New Year’s Day incidents, nor any of the Peaceful Streets Project volunteers who witnessed those incidents. The felony charges considered by the Grand Jury were tampering with a governmental record by Officer Oborski as well as harassment of a public servant by Antonio Buehler. The Grand Jury also considered whether Officer Oborski committed official oppression. However, the Grand Jury did not consider any charges against Officer Snider, nor did the Grand Jury did consider felony charges of Aggravated Perjury or Aggravated Assault against Oborski or Snider.