This report has been updated with new information gleaned from the cache of documents.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) closely monitored the Occupy Wall Street movement, providing agency officials with threat assessments, regular updates about protests taking place throughout the country, responding to internal requests for intelligence on the group and mining Twitter and other social media for information about Occupy’s activities, according to hundreds of pages of internal documents DHS released to Truthout in response to our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
Eric Neuschaefer, a DHS FOIA program specialist, said the agency expects to release a second set of OWS-related documents to Truthout, the first news organization to file a FOIA request with DHS for OWS records, sometime in mid-April. He added that DHS will release files on a “rolling” basis once they are processed and cleared by DHS component offices.
While the nearly 400 pages of documents DHS released to Truthout Wednesday do not contain any smoking-guns showing that 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, the materials provide deep insight into the agency’s interest in OWS and also highlight fears that DHS’s actions may have been unconstitutional.
“There is attached to this email a threat bulletin being disseminated by the Office of Emergency Management in Pittsburgh in which it discusses the threat posed by the Occupy Pittsburgh campaign and the hackers’ group: Anonymous,” states an October 7, 2011 email written by an intelligence official whose name was redacted. “Both myself and [redacted]…are somewhat concerned that several items contained in this Intel Bulletin might be advocating surveillance and other countermeasures to be employed against activities protected under the 1st Amendment. Would either one or both of you be able to see what could be developed from this document that [redacted] could take back to the Intel staff that produced this so that in the future they have a greater awareness of how to develop intelligence assessments that don’t undermine Constitutionally protected speech and assembly rights?”
DHS’s early monitoring of OWS also included the preparation and distribution of an intelligence report on the movement. The report was cited in an email distributed internally by the Domestic Security Alliance Council (DSAC), an intelligence sharing partnership between the FBI, DHS and the private sector. That report advised DHS officials to pay close attention to any threats associated with the growth of the Occupy movement. But the document, referred to as an intelligence “product,” was apparently unauthorized and quickly scrubbed from the agency’s internal intelligence sharing database because of concerns that it rose to the level of unconstitutional surveillance, according to internal emails.
“How Would We Describe Our Activities?”
The documents also show how DHS spokespeople struggled over how to respond to media inquries about whether the agency played a hands-on role in suppressing the Occupy movement a month or so after it was launched. Indeed, when queried by reporters in mid-November about the agency’s role, DHS spokesman Matthew Chandler sent an email to DHS official Robert Davis inquiring about the agency’s “relationship with cities dealing with ‘occupy protestors.'”
“[H]ow would we describe our activities?” Chandler asked.
Davis told Chandler DHS is “treating all ‘Occupy’ demonstrations as peaceful.”
“We are working with [General Services Administration, the agency that approves permits for protests on federal property] and each city government to ensure that all parties concerned are safe and secure,” Davis said in an email reply to Chandler. DHS has held “standard coordination calls and face-to-face meetings with our partners to ensure that the proper resources are available for operations such as street closures, etc.”
Chandler was then advised to provide reporters with certain information on background only, meaning that it could be used but not attributed to DHS.
In response to one such query from the Huffington Post, Chandler told reporter Sean McCormack, on background, November 18, 2011 that Federal Protective Services (FPS) “has only been involved in one instance in removing protestors, in Portland, OR.”
“FPS was assisting Portland Police Bureau at the federally-owned Terry Schrunk Plaza where FPS arrested several people,” Chandler wrote after receiving guidance on the preparation of an official statement from senior DHS officials.
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.
In a November 16, 2011 email to nearly a dozen DHS officials, Kris Cline, deputy director for operations of FPS, was asked to elaborate on the incident in Portland. He replied by stating, “[On] November 1, 2011 at approximately 4:30 a.m. FPS and Portland Police Bureau officers moved into Terry Shrunk [sic] Park in downtown Portland to evict a number of ‘Occupy Portland’ protesters who had set up tents in the federal park.”
“Approximately 12 tents had been set up and about 20 protesters were present,” Cline wrote to DHS officials after the agency received an inquiry from CBS News about its role in the crackdowns and dismantling of encampments. “FPS personnel ordered the protesters to depart since overnight camping is not allowed in the park and about half of the people present complied and departed. 10 protesters refused to leave and were arrested for failure to comply with the lawful order of a Federal police officer.” [emphasis in document.]
FPS “inspectors” were also “on site at an October 30, 2011 Occupy demonstration at Ilus W. Davis Park in Kansas City, Missouri, according to a “Spot Report” email written that day by a DHS official stationed at the agency’s Battle Creek MegaCenter in Michigan. Additionally, an October 5, 2011 “Spot Report” email FPS spokesman Rob Winchester forwarded to DHS spokesman Chris Ortman from the Philadelphia MegaCenter noted that a protest was taking place in New York City at Foley Square and states that besides the New York Police Department (NYPD), [redacted] “are also present,” indicating the possibility of federal law enforcement on the scene.
Read More: Homeland Security: The Occupy Files
Chandler added in his email to the Huffington Post that DHS “is not actively coordinating with local law enforcement agencies and/or city governments concerning the evictions of Occupy encampments writ large.”
McCormack used DHS’s statement, minus the background points, and attributed to Chandler in a report he published last November refuting a news story by an Examiner.com journalist, who claimed to have received information from unnamed sources within the federal government confirming DHS played a role in the Occupy crackdown.
Truthout cited DHS’s statement to the Huffington Post in a report we published last November and noted the agency’s response was “carefully worded.”
DHS disseminated identical statements and background information to numerous other journalists who sought comment from the agency about whether it played a role in the dismantling of Occupy encampments, the documents show.
One DHS official told Chandler to emphasize one of the background bullet points pertaining to the Portland incident, in which FPS arrested protesters, and “make it clear how rare the federal involvement is.”
Yet Andrew Lluberes, DHS’s director of communications for the Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A), added, according to another internal email, that the agency could not say whether fusion centers or other DHS divisions coordinated with local law enforcement and/or local government officials on a coordinated crackdown of Occupy encampments and protests.
On its website, I&A says its mission is supported by “four strategic goals”:
- Promote Understanding of Threats Through Intelligence Analysis
- Collect Information and Intelligence Pertinent to Homeland Security
- Share Information Necessary for Action
- Manage Intelligence for the Homeland Security Enterprise
However, with regard to OWS, I&A “scrupulously avoided any connection with the Occupy movement/protests/dismantlings,” Lluberes wrote in a November 16, 2011 email. “We cannot speak for any individual fusion center or other departmental component, but we issued no product to our customers and held no conf calls with our field [intelligence offices] on the subject.”
Fusion centers are located throughout the country and “serve as primary focal points within the state and local environment for the receipt, analysis, gathering, and sharing of threat-related information among federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial (SLTT) partners,” according to a fact sheet on DHS’s website.
Secret Service Reports
There are also several documents identified as “Prism Demonstrations Abstract” from the US Secret Service’s Intelligence Division describing OWS activities last September 17, 2011 when the group staged its first protest, and in November following a protest that took place in New York City during an appearance at Goldman Sachs headquarters by former President George W. Bush.
“On 11/02/2011, one hundred (100) individuals associated with ‘Occupy Wall Street’ demonstrated at a [Former President of the United States] George W. Bush site in New York City,” states the November 3, 2011 Secret Service report. “The demonstrators were peaceful and protested corporate interests in US government. It should be noted demonstrators spread word of Bush’s presence at the site via Twitter. There was some media attention to the protest and use of Twitter by demonstrators.”
Another Secret Service report, which described Occupy’s first week of activities, noted, “this record was subject of FOIA request.”
In addition to OWS documents, Truthout also sought internal DHS documents related to “US Day of Rage,” a movement that preceded OWS. US Day of Rage coordinated a day of protests on Wall Street last September against the use of corporate money in US elections. DHS turned over documents that show the agency monitored US Day of Rage’s activities prior to last September’s protest.
First Official Release of OWS Documents
This is the first official release of government documents related to OWS since the launch of the movement last year. In our FOIA request filed with DHS last October, we requested:
“All records, including emails, memoranda, letters, audio/video, transcripts, reports, including Threat Assessments, related to the protest movement known as “Occupy Wall Street.'”
A DHS FOIA officer asked Truthout if we could narrow “the scope of [our FOIA] request to include responsive records from senior DHS officials only” due to numerous requests for OWS documents the agency received, which had “overwhelmed” DHS staff.
Narrowing the scope of our request, the DHS officer said, would speed up the response time. We agreed. However, Truthout has since filed a separate FOIA request for all OWS-related documents from DHS field offices as well as a separate FOIA request for DHS’s “processing notes” to determine how the agency’s FOIA analysts handled our records request.
In a letter to Truthout, James Holzer, the director of DHS’s Disclosure and FOIA Operations, said “a search for documents responsive to your [FOIA] request produced a total of 408 pages.”
“I have determined that 58 pages of the records are releasable in their entirety, 340 pages are partially releasable, and 10 pages are withheld in full” under certain FOIA exemptions, Holzer wrote.
Those exemptions include (read the letter DHS sent to Truthout for a full description of exemptions cited):
Exemption 7 – Protects records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes the release of which could reasonably be expected:
7(C) – to constitute an unwarranted invasion of the personal privacy of a third party/parties (in some instances by revealing an investigative interest in them).
7(E) – would disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions.
Example of information the Department of Homeland Security may withhold using 7(E): Law enforcement manuals, records pertaining to Watch Lists.
In preparing these documents for release, DHS worked with, among other divisions, its Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL), according to that component’s 2012 FOIA logs, which identifies requests for OWS documents this reporter filed. CRCL, whose officials prepared guidelines on how internal requests for information on Occupy should be handled, according to the documents Truthout received, cited two exemptions to justify the withholding of certain information in response to our FOIA request.
Exemption 5 – Protects the integrity of the deliberative or policy-making processes within the agency by exempting from mandatory disclosure opinion, conclusions, and recommendations included within inter-agency or intra-agency memoranda or letters.
Example of information the Department of Homeland Security may withhold using 5: Draft documents and recommendations or other documents that reflect the personal opinion of the author rather than official agency position.
Exemption 6 – Protects information that would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy of the individuals involved.
Example of information the Department of Homeland Security may withhold using 6: Social Security Numbers, home addresses and telephone numbers, certain identifying information regarding Department employees.
FBI Denies Truthout’s Appeal for OWS Documents
Meanwhile, the FBI maintains it still cannot locate any OWS records responsive to a FOIA request Truthout filed with the agency last October, despite the fact that DHS documents released to Truthout show some intelligence sharing between the two agencies.
As Truthout previously reported, the FBI responded to our FOIA request two weeks after we filed it 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, which 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 affirmed the FBI’s position that the agency could not locate responsive records on OWS.
“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 tha tthe FBI’s action was correct and that it conducted an adequate, reasonable search for responsive records.”
Truthout has since filed a separate FOIA request with the FBI for processing notes to determine how the agency handled our FOIA request for OWS documents. Furthermore, we also requested a copy of the administrative file from OIP related to the denial of our appeal.
OWS Records Also Sought From NYPD
Finally, on January 29, Truthout filed, under New York’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), a wide-ranging 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). The most violent crackdowns on OWS have taken place in New York City.
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.”
DHS Reponse to Truthout FOIA Request: Cover Letter (US Day of Rage)