Latest Batch of DHS Occupy Documents Contains New Details About Monitoring of Protest Movement
Jason Leopold, Yana Kunichoff and Mike Ludwig, Truthout | Report
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released another batch of documents Thursday morning in response to Truthout's wide-ranging Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request pertaining to the agency's role in monitoring the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protest movement.
The heavily redacted documents total 335 pages (28 pages were released in full) and shows that DHS, fusion centers the agency works closely with, and other federal law enforcement agencies under DHS's control received and disseminated numerous internal intelligence reports and threat bulletins about OWS's activities. The letter DHS sent to this reporter detailing the exemptions the agency applied in justifying the redactions can be read here.
Truthout was the first news organization to file a FOIA request with DHS for OWS-related documents. In March, the agency released to Truthout nearly 400 pages of redacted documents that showed DHS officials (and in several cases, the Secret Service) closely monitored the eight-month old Occupy movement, gathered intelligence on the group and had disseminated internal threat assessments on OWS--actions which one DHS official characterized as possibly unconstitutional, according to the documents.
The new batch of records show additional warnings leveled by DHS officials about unconstitutional surveillance pertaining to internal activities aimed at monitoring the protest group's movements. The documents DHS previously released to Truthout did not contain smoking guns proving DHS worked with local law enforcement and local government officials "in any wholesale manner," as noted by one DHS official, on the coordinated crackdown of Occupy encampments throughout the country last October.
However, DHS and its sub-agencies, such as Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE), spent a considerable amount of time monitoring the protest movement, apparently, without any justification, according to the new documents.
For example, according to the documents, ICE sent a "special agent" on New Years Day to assist law enforcement authorities, if necessary, during an international meeting between members of Occupy Buffalo and Occupy Toronto and other regional Occupies on the famous Rainbow Bridge, where tourists can walk to each side of the Niagara Falls, according to a "significant incident report" issued by ICE.
The special agent's name was redacted, but that individual worked with ICE's Homeland Security Investigations unit, which investigates serious border crimes, such as human and drug smuggling. About 30 people showed up for the meeting, which remained peaceful and did not interrupt any border patrol procedures. ICE issued similar "significant incident reports" on actions at ports in Oakland and Portland and an rally in El Paso, Texas.
On November 11, 2011 a "watch officer" issued an email to dozens of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other DHS employees alerting them to be aware of a November 18 Occupy DC event called "occupy the evening commute," where protesters were expected to engage commuters in the DC subway near the Occupy camp to tell them about the Occupy movement. The "watch officer," who's name was redacted from the document, works for FEMA's National Watch Center, which appears to spend a bulk of its time keeping an eye out for extreme weather, earthquakes and other natural disasters.
Moreover, ICE spokespeople disseminated an email advising that Occupy Atlanta would be heading towards the Stewart Detention Center, a privately run federal immigration prison in Stewart, Georgia, for a planned action.
"Just a head's up that local OPA/ERO tn ATL received word that a few bus loads of 'Occupy Atlanta' protestors will be taking their show on the road and heading down to Stewart for an 'Occupy Stewart' demonstration at some point tomorrow," says a November 17, 2011 email written by Gillian M. Christensen, an ICE public affairs officer, that was sent to ICE press secretary Barbara Gonzalez among other ICE media representatives.
Other emails show that the decision to enforce curfews or evict Occupy protesters has been issued from different federal agencies and there is confusion among local law enforcement agencies as to which federal agency is responsible for giving these orders.
Indeed, on November 1, 2011 Portland protesters were removed from the federal Terry Shrunk Plaza by Federal Protective Services (FPS) and the Portland Police Bureau. But less than a week later it was unclear whether FPS or the General Services Administration (GSA), the agency that approves permits for protests on federal property, would be handling arrests. FPS is part of DHS. It is a "federal law enforcement agency [that] provides integrated security and law enforcement services to federally owned and leased buildings, facilities, properties and other assets," DHS's website says.
On November 6, 2011 Occupy protesters chained themselves to a 50-gallon drum at the plaza. An email from DHS spokesman Chris Ortman says that reporters from an unnamed agency "are asking if FPS will be arresting folks as they did last week." The Portland Police Department is also "telling reporters it's FPS' decision," the email states.
But, Ortman said, "GSA controls the permits and has asked FPS not to enforce the curfew at the park and the prohibition on overnight encampments."
At the same time, Ortman's email says that FPS is waiting for direction from DHS on whether they should initiate arrests.
"I've spoken to the FPS CRD on the ground and he says they are standing down and following GSA's request to only intervene if there is a threat to public safety until they here otherwise from DHS," Ortman wrote.
Another email shows the White House approved talking points for DHS in which the agency denied to reporters that it had participated in a coordinated crackdown on Occupy encampments last year.
"Any decisions on how to handle specifics situations are dealt with by local authorities in that location," states a November 16, 2011 email, which contained an on-the-record comment DHS spokesman Matthew Chandler said was apparently approved by the White House and later provided to CBS News. "If a protest area is located on Federal property and has been deemed unsanitary or unsafe by the General Services Administration (GSA) or city officials, and they make a decision to evacuate participants, the Federal Protective Service (FPS) will work with those officials to develop a plan to ensure the security and safety of everyone involved."
OWS Documents Sought From Other Law Enforcement Agencies
In January, Truthout also filed, under New York’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), a request for OWS documents, including video, audio, photographs, emails, and threat assessments, with the New York Police Department (NYPD) and its Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF). In a February 13 letter sent to Truthout, Lt. Richard Mantellino, a records access officer in NYPD’s legal bureau, said, "Before a determination can be rendered, further review is necessary to assess the potential applicability of exemptions set forth in FOIL, and whether the records can be located."
NYPD would not say when the department expects to complete its "review."
Last October, Truthout also filed a FOIA request with the FBI for OWS-related documents. But the bureau responded to our FOIA request by stating the agency was "unable to identify main file records responsive to the FOIA."
We immediately appealed the decision to the Justice Department’s Office of Information Policy (OIP) and requested the FBI conduct a broader search for documents given that a report published last October by Gawker noted that Jordan T. Lloyd, a member of the FBI’s cybersecurity team in New York, received dozens of emails about Occupy Wall Street and that Loyd responded to at least one of the messages. On February 7, Justice Department attorney Sean R. O’Neill, denied our appeal and said the FBI conducted an "adequate" search.
"After carefully considering your appeal, I am affirming the FBI’s action on your request," O’Neill wrote in a letter to Truthout. "I have determined that the FBI’s action was correct and that it conducted an adequate, reasonable search for responsive records."
But documents DHS released Thursday show that the FBI's Strategic Information & Operations (SIOC) division had notified all of its field offices about a plan by Occupy protesters to shut down West Coast ports on December 12, 2011. The December 6, 2011 email was sent out by a "senior watch offier" from DHS's National Operations Center. It is addressed to "All."
"FBI SIOC advised us that they are also sharing this information with their field offices tonight," the email says. "The FBI does not currently intend to release a bulletin but they did say that this would be discussed further in the morning."
SIOC "was created in 1989 to monitor all major events held in conjunction with the inauguration of President George H.W. Bush. It replaced an ad hoc emergency operations center that was created for specific crisis situations," according to a fact sheet posted on the FBI's website.
The FBI's discussion of the ports shutdown took place about a month after we filed our FOIA request with the bureau, which sought documents covering the August through October 31 timeframe. We've filed another FOIA request with FBI seeking documents from November 1, 2011 through the present.
Truthout also filed a separate FOIA request with the FBI for "processing notes" to determine how the agency handled our initial FOIA request for OWS documents. Furthermore, we also requested a copy of the administrative file from OIP related to the denial of our appeal.
Last week, the FBI sent the processing notes--two pages, including a search slip--which were heavily redacted and fails to provide any additional insight into the integrity of the search for responsive records by the bureau.
This article is a Truthout original.
Jason Leopold is lead investigative reporter of Truthout. He is the author of the Los Angeles Times bestseller, News Junkie, a memoir. Visit jasonleopold.com for a preview. Follow Jason on Twitter: @JasonLeopold.
Mike Ludwig is a Truthout reporter.