Thank you, Institute of Terrorism Research and Response (ITRR), for reminding us how many bad-ass, dedicated and creative groups we count as allies in our efforts to create a more just world!
Our friends at MoveON.org, the Ruckus Society, Immokalee Workers, the new SDS, Jobs with Justice, the Brandywine Peace Community, ANSWER, PETA, Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty, MOVE, The Yes Men, Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, Climate Ground Zero, the Rainforest Action Network, pro-Palestinian Groups, Puerto Rican nationalists, prisoners’ rights organizations, citizen conservation groups and immigration activists opposing Arizona’s crazy attempts to criminalize all noncitizens should know – Pennsylvania has been monitoring you.
Just over a month ago, ProPublica broke the story that Pennsylvania’s Office of Homeland Security contracted with the ITRR, a private, Israeli-based company, to assess terrorist threats impacting law enforcement priorities in Pennsylvania.
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For almost a year, ITRR provided bi-weekly intelligence briefings to Pennsylvania Homeland Security, which focused in equal part on “jihadist” communications and trainings throughout the world and also social justice organizing and protests across the country.
Pennsylvania Homeland Security, in turn, distributed this information to 800 federal, local and state law enforcement agencies, along with “relevant stakeholders” like local businesses. Information provided included the political views and movement building strategies of hundreds of law-abiding groups and individuals.
The targets of ITRR are not just Pennsylvania groups, but also a veritable who’s who of left and liberal groups, including MoveON.org, the Ruckus Society, Immokalee Workers, the new SDS, Jobs with Justice, the Brandywine Peace Community, ANSWER, PETA, Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty, MOVE, The Yes Men, Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, Climate Ground Zero, the Rainforest Action Network, pro-Palestinian Groups, Puerto Rican nationalists, prisoners’ rights organizations, citizen conservation groups and immigration activists opposing Arizona’s crazy attempts to criminalize all noncitizens.
In the scandal that followed, Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell disavowed ITRR’s focus on First Amendment protected activity and promised to end the contract. Pennsylvania State Homeland Security Director Ed Powers resigned. And in response to significant public pressure, OHS published the hundred-odd intelligence bulletins produced by ITRR over the last year on its web site. These bulletins are posted on the home page of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency. As lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), many of these groups are longtime friends and allies.
Indeed, even our organization, CCR, itself gets a mention, as “Pennsylvania Actionable Intelligence Bulletin No. 106” includes a lengthy discussion of an ALF press release reminding activists that: “Nobody Talks, Everybody Walks,” and suggesting as further reading CCR’s know-your-rights pamphlet, “If an Agent Knocks.”
CCR is succinctly described as “a veteran legal advocacy organization devoted to a plethora of radical causes.” Well said!
But we shouldn’t joke too much.
While ITRR frequently acknowledges that the groups whose first amendment actions it has so closely monitored have no history of violence or illegality, over and over they warn law enforcement of the risk of violence and property destruction that accompanies protest.
Bulletin No. 6, for example, provides the details of an anti-war protest at Lockheed Martin. “TAM-C analysis have found no indication that this protest will be disorderly” ITRR reports, but “Lockheed Martin is an [sic] key commercial-resource … The possibility exists that the high-profile nature of the target will attract radical protestors from the ranks of local Communist and/or Anarchist movements.” Similarly, a Lancaster protest against the desecration of Native American graves appears to be a “peaceful protest designed to conform to legal norms” but, “ITRR analysts note the small, but present, risk that the above-mentioned issue may be taken up by more radical elements, potentially including anarchists or lone-wolf Native American rights supporters.”
If there is one central theme to be taken from the bulletins, it is this: dangerous anarchists are everywhere and even the most peaceful protest may turn violent.
ITRR provides not just dates and times, but “strategic analysis.” For example, the November 20, 2009, Bulletin includes a lengthy and detailed account entitled “the Return of Campus Activism.” Students everywhere are organizing against increases in tuition, we are told. Protests like one at UC Davis, which included placards stating, “Education only for the rich” are not “spontaneous,” but rather are “part of an international Anarchist movement that has been coordinated through Internet postings.” If “student are coordinating their activities” ITRR ominously concludes, “it behooves law enforcement personnel from both the campus environment and civil authorities … to start working on their coordinated responses.”
Another exceptionally creepy bulletin includes a segment entitled “West Chester Activists Hope to ‘Build Momentum,'” recounting an anti-war activist group’s attempts to mobilize people to attend anti-war demonstrations in DC. ITRR recounts, “thus far, the group has: lectured to college students, taken part in a protest organized by the West Chester University branch of Students for a Democratic Society in opposition to the troop surge in Afghanistan … and some members have helped put out a radical newsletter.” Don’t worry: “ITRR is monitoring anti-war activist communications for additional planning related to Pennsylvania assets.”
The extent of the “monitoring” here is far from clear. Much of ITRR’s information clearly comes from organizations’ own web sites and press materials, but the bulletins are laced with more sinister references to “intercepted internal communications.”
And not just groups are named, there are some references to individuals too, including an inexplicably detailed bio and discussion of the political views of the newly hired executive director of Rainforest Action Network.
The Bulletins are so outrageous as to be almost comical, but the upshot is not funny.
This is not an isolated incident. While ITRR claims to have no other governmental contracts, it seems clear that they generally perform just this type of surveillance and monitoring of protest groups for corporations who fear the impact of speech and organizing on their bottom lines. This explains the constant rants regarding the potential dangerousness of animal rights and environmental activists: when successful, such groups force corporations to internalize the harm they cause to the environment and to the communities who stand in their way.
And yes, this contract may end shortly, but what has happened to the hundreds of bulletins already distributed to law enforcement across the country?
There is a direct negative effect of consistently teaching law enforcement that protesters pose national security risks, which has real effects on policing and on enforcement respect for lawful protest.
Since 9/11 we have seen increased hurdles to dissent in the US. Every protest now not only brings out local cops, but also is a potential terrorist event monitored by Joint Terrorism Task Force personnel. These folks do not have any real terrorists to monitor, so they are going after First Amendment protected activities of freedom to assemble and freedom of speech.
For an example, we need look no further than the Office of the Inspector General report released last month, detailing what happens when an FBI agent has a slow day. It is titled “A Review of the FBI’s Investigations of Certain Domestic Advocacy Groups,” Office of the Inspector General, Sept. 2010. Available online. Apparently the FBI has so little work to do, they occasionally tell new agents something like “you might as well go watch the crowd at a protest and hey, while you are there, be sure to photograph any folks who look Middle-Eastern.” It is also noteworthy that this report only discusses FBI surveillance which people outside the FBI have documented.
Reflect as well, on the recent series of FBI raids and grand jury subpoenas issued to over a dozen anti-war and anti-imperialism activists. Going to Palestine or Colombia for a solidarity trip and protesting at the RNC? Well, our country has FBI agents and Joint Terrorism Task Force people to investigate you.
Our advice to you: take a look at the bulletins for yourself. If you or your group is named, make a stink about it. Find out if your local law enforcement offices have received the information and demand they destroy it. And remember, at least you’re in good company.