Newly released Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) files prove that federal agencies within the United States government colluded with the private sector to spy on the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement even before the first demonstration was held in New York City’s Zuccotti Park.
“These documents show that the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are treating protests against the corporate and banking structure of America as potential criminal and terrorist activity,” stated Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Executive Director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF). “These documents also show these federal agencies functioning as a de facto intelligence arm of Wall Street and Corporate America.”
In the fall of 2011, PCJF filed Freedom of Information Act demands with various federal and local law enforcement agencies to determine if there was a concerted effort to crackdown on the OWS movement. After stonewalling for more than a year, the FBI finally surrendered a public version of their internal communications on the weekend before Christmas, 2012.
“The documents are heavily redacted, and it is clear from the production that the FBI is withholding far more material,” says PCJF staff attorney Heather Benno. “We are filing an appeal challenging this response and demanding full disclosure to the public of the records of this operation.”
The documents identify a department within the FBI, known as the Domestic Security Alliance Council (DSAC), as being directly involved in coordinating the intelligence gathering activities against the OWS movement.
On their website, DSAC describes itself as “a strategic partnership between the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the private sector.” It’s Leadership Board boasts nearly 30 representatives from various corporations and is chaired by Grant Ashley, Vice President of pharmaceutical giant Merck and Company. Other participants include Walmart, Bank of America, Coca Cola, Time Warner, General Electric, Fed Ex, Citigroup and dozens more.
According to their 2005 mission statement, “DSAC advances elements of the FBI and DHS missions’ in preventing, deterring, and investigating criminal and terrorism acts, particularly those effecting interstate commerce, while advancing the ability of the U.S. private sector to protect its employees, assets and proprietary information.”
Files show that DSAC circulated a memo on December 9, 2011 to warn its corporate clients that OWS protestors planned to shut down shipping ports in eight West Coast cities. Although the report acknowledges that similar demonstrations held in the past were relatively peaceful, it goes on to surmise that future protests could turn ugly. “Civil unrest can range from small, organized rallies to large-scale demonstrations and rioting,” the report says. “Even seemingly peaceful rallies can spur violent activity or be met with resistance by security forces. Bystanders may be arrested or harmed by security forces using water cannons, tear gas or other measures to control crowds.”
Other documents reveal how federal agencies hyped the threat posed by the OWS movement in the weeks leading up to the first demonstration in New York City. For instance, on August 19, 2011, FBI agents met with members of the New York Stock Exchange to share information about the planned protests. Then, in the days that followed, the FBI canvassed several businesses warning them that they may be targets of OWS protests.
Documents also show that once the protests spread to other U.S. cities, the FBI and DHS shared intelligence information on OWS with campus police, fusion centers and other local law enforcement agencies throughout the nation.
Banking institutions were also heavily involved in the intelligence gathering activities. According to PCJF, “The Federal Reserve in Richmond appears to have had personnel surveilling OWS planning. They were in contact with the FBI in Richmond to ‘pass on information regarding the movement known as occupy Wall Street.’ There were repeated communications ‘to pass on updates of the events and decisions made during the small rallies and the following information received from the Capital Police Intelligence Unit through JTTF (Joint Terrorism Task Force).’”
Similarly, the FBI’s branch office in Denver, Colorado met with members of its Bank Fraud Working Group—a coalition of private financial institutions and local law enforcement—to brief them on OWS activities in November 2011.
Although there is plenty of fear mongering focused on the OWS movement, the only real tangible threat of violence contained in the FBI documents are against the protestors themselves. One particular FBI document claims that “an identified” individual “planned to gather intelligence against the leaders of the protest groups and obtain photographs then formulate a plan to kill the leadership via suppressed sniper rifles.”
It is unclear if the FBI followed up on this potential act of violence, or if they even bothered to alert OWS participants of the threat. What is clear is that federal agencies are far more concerned with protecting the criminality of the nation’s corporate elite than they are an American’s constitutional right to speak out against it.