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  • FBI informants may be revealed after agency loses court battle (2014)

    • Photographer arrested after 2008 protest wins ruling
    • FBI sought to protect ‘confidential sources’

    The FBI has lost a legal battle to prevent the disclosure of documents that could reveal the identity of two of its covert informants.

    In highly unusual case Laura Sennett, a freelance photojournalist, has won a ruling from a district court that compels the FBI to provide her with documents that shed light on informants use by agents used in their investigation into a protest which resulted in damage to a hotel lobby in Washington.

    The FBI launched its joint terrorism task force investigation days after anarchists protested a World Bank and International Monetary Fund meeting in the capital in April 2008.

    Protesters stormed into the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel around 2.30am, chanting slogans and throwing paint-filled balloons. Most of the criminal damage, including a broken window, was minor, although the hotel said a statue worth more than $200,000 was damaged.

    Sennett had been tipped off about the protest and attended to take photographs. She believed the protesters planned to wake up the IMF delegates by making a commotion, and maintains she had no prior knowledge of their criminal intent. She did not enter the hotel lobby – choosing to photograph events from outside.

    Both of the “confidential sources” cited in the court case were asked by the FBI to review surveillance footage of the protest, in order to help identify who was there. They identified a handful of activists as well as Sennett, who specialises in reporting grass-roots activism.

    The FBI placed the photojournalist under surveillance before raiding her home with two-dozen armed law enforcement officials, who seized memory cards, hard drives and computer and camera equipment.

    In an effort to find out more about why she was targeted, Sennett, 51, has been running a legal campaign to obtain information the bureau holds about her, using Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

    She had so far been given more than 1,000 pages of FBI documents, which the Guardian has seen, but the bureau withheld key portions, claiming they fell under an exemption intended to protect the identity of “confidential sources”. That decision has been challenged in court by Sennett’s lawyers.

    On Wednesday, district judge James E Boasberg sided with Sennett, ordering the FBI to release the contested documents, which all parties accept “could reasonably be expected to disclose the identity of a confidential source”.

    The judge said that despite three attempts, the FBI had failed to convince him the sources would have inferred confidentiality from their interactions with agents.

    Dan Metcalfe, who directed the Justice Department’s Office of Information and Privacy for more than 25 years before retiring in 2007, and has represented the FBI in dozens of similar cases, said it was “extremely rare” for the bureau to be forced to reveal the identity of a source.

    “I can think of just a handful of cases at most in which the FBI has had to disclose potentially identifying information about a confidential source over the past 40 years,” he said.

    The case, he said, was a significant blow for the FBI, which is very strongly opposed to revealing the identity of its sources, not least because doing so could discourage future informants from co-operating.

    Metcalfe, now a law professor at the American University, said the solicitor general was highly unlikely to launch an appeal.

    “I’ve read thousands and thousands of FOIA opinions,” he said. “I would put this in the top percentile for being analytically sound and written exceptionally well. Based upon the facts that one gleans from reading the opinion, this is an entirely correct outcome. I see little or no prospect for reversal on appeal.”

    Mike German, a former FBI agent now with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, said he believed the two informants in the case, one of whom is said to have attended anti-capitalist meetings, could be private investigators.

    “That is something that, having seen the documents, the judge may be less keen on keeping secret,” he said.

    German said the fact an act of vandalism against the Four Seasons was even investigated by the FBI’s counter-terrorism teams followed a pattern of investigations into protest movements that are “more about suppressing dissent than investigating serious or violent crime”.

    Detective Vincent Antignano, the federal marshall deputised to run the FBI’s investigation into the protest, said in a deposition conducted by Sennett’s legal team he believed Sennett was “like-minded like anarchists”, because she was among the 16 people captured on the hotel’s surveillance video.

    “Everyone on that video is a suspect, so that’s the way I look at it,” he said, adding that he assumed she had similar views to the protesters captured in the video “who despise their government”.

    Asked to elaborate, Antignano said that while he did not know Sennett’s dietary preference, “she could also be a vegan like … [people] who are against animal protests [sic] or animal research or won’t eat meat and stuff like that.”

    Antignano had a broad notion of what behaviour constituted “terrorism”, saying that even an assault could fall within the definition.

    “If you get assaulted and you believe you’ve been terrorised, then maybe that is terrorism,” he told Sennett’s lawyer.

    The deposition was part of a separate case, in which Sennett’s lawyers sued the FBI for damages they said Sennett suffered as part of the raid on her home, which was led by Antignano.

    Sennett said the raid was traumatising. Around two-dozen agents “yanked my 19-year-old son out of bed at gunpoint”, she said, before quizzing her about political books on her shelf and asking what “kind of an American” she was.

    Sennet said she replied: “I’m a photographer.”

    A freelancer whose images have appeared on CNN, MSNBC and the History Channel and in the Toronto Free Press, Sennett is adamant the FBI must have known she was present at the protest in a journalistic capacity. The FBI denied its agents knew of her occupation.

    Sennett was never arrested or charged. She believes undercover police or moles within the protest group may have been responsible for giving the FBI details, including a cellphone number, which allowed agents to track her down.

    Her lawyer, DC-based Jeffrey Light, argued that her status as a photojournalist should have barred agents from seizing her material, under a clause of the Privacy Protection Act.

    However in that case a district court ruled against Sennett – a decision upheld in 2012 by the court of appeal, which found that while Sennett’s occupation provided “an innocent explanation” for her presence at the protest, the FBI, when it launched its inquiry, still had “probable cause” to believe she was part of a conspiracy to commit vandalism.

    Wednesday’s court ruling by judge Boasberg, a Barack Obama appointee, was far more sympathetic to Sennett’s case.

    Boasberg said the FBI had failed to provide sufficient proof that its informants “inferred that their communications with the bureau would remain confidential”. While acknowledging the FBI’s argument regarding preserving the confidentiality of informants – “one of source protection and empowerment of law-enforcement agencies” – Boasberg added: “That solicitude, however, can only carry the court so far.”

    Light said he hoped Wednesday’s victory, which the government has 90 days to appeal, would take the capital’s protest community a step closer to discovering the identity of potential moles in their midst.

    “People want to know who is spying on them,” he said.

    Sennett said she hoped that by identification of the FBI’s informants in her case would discourage the bureau from conducting similar quasi-terrorist investigation in the future.

    “I pursued this case because I don’t think anyone – activists, freelancers, bloggers – should have to go through what I went through.”

    The US attorney’s office said it was reviewing the case but declined to offer further comment.

    The FBI also declined a request for comment.

    Paul Lewis in Washington
    theguardian.com, Friday 2 May 2014 18.01 BST

    Find this story at 2 May 2014

    © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies.

    Better This World (2011)

    The timely new documentary Better This World tells a provocative and cautionary story about the shifting fault lines of civil liberties, protest and government vigilance. Two boyhood friends from the heart of Texas, Bradley Crowder and David McKay, find themselves increasingly out of step with their neighbors as they react against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. After moving to Austin, they go to a presentation at a local bookstore about protesting the 2008 Republican National Convention (RNC) in Minneapolis-St. Paul. There they are approached by a charismatic older activist, who suggests that they work together to prepare for the demonstrations.

    Six months later, on the eve of the convention, the two young friends make eight Molotov cocktails but then decide not to use them. The matter might have ended there — but not everything was as it seemed. The FBI and other law enforcement agencies had been engaged in a two-year, multimillion-dollar counterterrorism effort leading up to the convention. The young men’s mentor, it turns out, was a government informant and had been long before meeting them; Crowder and McKay were arrested and charged with domestic terrorism.

    McKay calls home from jail
    David McKay calls home for the first time from jail
    Credit: Mike Nicholson

    Growing up in Midland, Texas, Crowder and McKay had little political education beyond their parents’ encouragement to “stand up for the oppressed” and to “stand up for what you believe in.” Somewhere along the way, partly in late-night walks through the town’s deserted streets, the friends began to form their own interpretation of their parents’ words. It was Crowder who made the first public statement of his political beliefs in 2003 when the United States declared war on Iraq. He drew an upside-down American flag with the words “No War” on a T-shirt and wore it to his high school the next day — a move that, he recounts, “became a pretty dramatic event.”

    Seeking “something else,” Crowder and McKay moved to more progressive Austin, where they met Brandon Darby, who had gained prominence as the co-founder of Common Ground, a grassroots relief organization that fed and housed thousands of victims of Hurricane Katrina. Crowder and McKay were flattered when the larger-than-life activist approached them at a bookstore in Austin about organizing together.

    Two years prior to the 2008 RNC, Minneapolis-St. Paul was designated a “homeland security site” and the FBI began “preventative” intelligence operations nationwide, including sending informants into many activist circles. As FBI Special Agent Christopher Langert says, “We . . . knew that there were . . . some people [coming] to St. Paul to do more than just demonstrate. . . . They were going to try to block delegates, cause destruction.” So the FBI tasked Darby with infiltrating Austin-based activist groups.

    Police pepperspray protesters at the 2008 RNC
    Police unleash pepper spray at protesters during the 2008 Republican National Convention.
    Credit: Courtesy of Better This World

    As several people in the film who knew Darby, Crowder and McKay recount, Darby urged the young men to become more radical — to take more extreme actions. According to Larra Elliott, one of the activists who accompanied the three to the RNC, “Brandon . . . said something that caught my attention, like, ‘Don’t you feel that firebombs and armed militias . . . that kind of . . . action is necessary sometimes?’ And Brad was like, ‘No, I don’t feel that way.’ Brandon would not leave it alone.”

    Darby echoes some of this sentiment in letters to his FBI handler about meetings with McKay and Crowder. “I told them that direct action is intense, and we could all expect to have violence used against us. I told them I was ready to deal with that, and if they weren’t, then they shouldn’t work with me.”

    On Aug. 28, 2008, Crowder and McKay joined Darby and several other activists Darby had brought together for the long van ride up to the RNC, where they would join thousands of other protestors. Within days Crowder and McKay were under arrest. The “Texas Two” faced multiple domestic terrorism charges, agonizing legal decisions and decades in prison. Darby, until then their mentor, would be the government’s star witness against them.

    Better This World reconstructs the story of the relationship between these three men and the subsequent twists and turns of their legal cases through interviews with Crowder, McKay and their family members; FBI agents and attorneys; and a wealth of intriguing surveillance and archival footage — presenting an extraordinarily well-documented account and untangling a web of questions: Why did Darby, a committed activist, become a government informant? What led these young men to build eight homemade bombs? Did Darby and law enforcement save innocent victims from domestic terrorists bent on violence and destruction? Or were Crowder and McKay impressionable disciples set up by overzealous agents and a dangerous provocateur? Or does the answer lie somewhere in between?

    Better This World probes these questions and more as it paints a gripping portrait of the strange and intriguing odyssey of these men — poignantly describing not only the problems of power and authority, but also the ultimate power of friendship, forgiveness and love.

    Premiere Date: September 6, 2011

    Find this story at 6 September 2011

    Copyright © 1995–2014 American Documentary, Inc.

    How a Radical Leftist Became the FBI’s BFF; To many on the left, Brandon Darby was a hero. To federal agents consumed with busting anarchist terror cells, he was the perfect snitch (2011)

    FOR A FEW DAYS IN SEPTEMBER 2008, as the Republican Party kicked off its national convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, the Twin Cities were a microcosm of a deeply divided nation. The atmosphere around town was tense, with local and federal police facing off against activists who had descended upon the city. Convinced that anarchists were plotting violent acts, they sought to bust the protesters’ hangouts, sometimes bursting into apartments and houses brandishing assault rifles. Inside the cavernous Xcel Energy convention center, meanwhile, an out-of-nowhere vice presidential nominee named Sarah Palin assured tens of thousands of ecstatic Republicans that her running mate, John McCain, was “a leader who’s not looking for a fight, but sure isn’t afraid of one either.”

    The same thing might have been said of David McKay and Bradley Crowder, a pair of greenhorn activists from George W. Bush’s Texas hometown who had driven up for the protests. Wide-eyed guys in their early 20s, they’d come of age hanging out in sleepy downtown Midland, commiserating about the Iraq War and the administration’s assault on civil liberties.

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    Watch an FBI Surveillance Video
    St. Paul was their first large-scale protest, and when they arrived they were taken aback: Rubber bullets, flash-bang grenades, tumbling tear-gas canisters—to McKay and Crowder, it seemed like an all-out war on democracy. They wanted to fight back, even going so far as to mix up a batch of Molotov cocktails. Just before dawn on the day of Palin’s big coming out, a SWAT team working with federal agents raided their crash pad, seized the Molotovs, and arrested McKay, alleging that he intended to torch a parking lot full of police cars.

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    Since only a few people knew about the firebombs, fellow activists speculated that someone close to McKay and Crowder must have tipped off the feds. Back in Texas, flyers soon began appearing at coffeehouses urging leftists to beware of Brandon Darby, an “FBI informant rat loose in Austin.”

    The allegation came as a shocker; Darby was a known and trusted member of the left-wing protest crowd. “If Brandon was conning me, and many others, it would be the biggest lie of my life since I found out the truth about Santa Claus,” wrote Scott Crow, one of many activists who rushed to defend him at first. Two months later, Darby came clean. “The simple truth,” he wrote on Indymedia.org, “is that I have chosen to work with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

    Darby’s entanglement with the feds is part of a quiet resurgence of FBI interest in left-wingers. From the Red Scare days of the 1950s into the ’70s, the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program, a.k.a. COINTELPRO, monitored and sabotaged communist and civil rights organizations. Nowadays, in what critics have dubbed the Green Scare, the bureau is targeting the global-justice movement and radical environmentalists. In 2005, John Lewis, then the FBI official in charge of domestic terrorism, ranked groups like the Earth Liberation Front ahead of jihadists as America’s top domestic terror threat.

    FBI stings involving informants have been key to convicting 14 ELF members since 2006 for a string of high-profile arsons, and to sentencing a man to 20 years in prison for conspiring to destroy several targets, including cell phone towers. During the St. Paul protests, at least two additional informants infiltrated and helped indict a group of activists known as the RNC Eight for conspiring to riot and damage property.

    Brandon Darby.: Couresy Loteria Films
    Brandon Darby. Courtesy Loteria Films
    But it’s Darby’s snitching that has provided the most intriguing tale. It’s the focus of a radio magazine piece, two documentary films, and a book in the making. By far the most damning portrayal is Better This World, an award-winning doc that garnered rave reviews on the festival circuit and is slated to air on PBS on September 6. The product of two years of work by San Francisco Bay Area filmmakers Katie Galloway and Kelly Duane de la Vega, it dredges up a wealth of FBI documents and court transcripts related to Darby’s interactions with his fellow activists to suggest that Darby acted as an agitator as much as an informant. (Watch the trailer and read our interview with the filmmakers here.)

    The film makes a compelling case that Darby, with the FBI’s blessing, used his charisma and street credibility to goad Crowder and McKay into pursuing the sort of actions that would later land them in prison. Darby flatly denies it, and he recently sued the New York Times over a story with similar implications. (The Times corrected the disputed detail.) “I feel very morally justified to do the things that I’ve done,” he told me. “I don’t know if I could have handled it much differently.”

    Darby “gets in people’s minds and can pull you in,” one activist warned me. “He’s a master. And you are going to feel all kinds of sympathy for him.”
    BRANDON MICHAEL DARBY is a muscular, golden-skinned 34-year-old with Hollywood looks and puppy-dog eyes. Once notorious for sleeping around the activist scene, he now often sleeps with a gun by his bed in response to death threats. His former associates call him unhinged, a megalomaniac, a manipulator. “He gets in people’s minds and can pull you in,” Lisa Fithian, a veteran labor, environmental, and anti-war organizer, warned me before I set out to interview him. “He’s a master. And you are going to feel all kinds of sympathy for him.”

    The son of a refinery welder, Darby grew up in Pasadena, a dingy Texas oil town. His parents divorced when he was 12, and soon after he ran away to Houston, where he lived in and out of group homes. By 2002, Darby had found his way to Austin’s slacker scene, where one day he helped his friend, medical-marijuana activist Tracey Hayes, scale Zilker Park’s 165-foot moonlight tower (of Dazed and Confused fame) and unfurl a giant banner painted with pot leaves that read “Medicine.” They later “hooked up,” Hayes says, and eventually moved in together. She introduced him to her activist friends, and he started reading Howard Zinn and histories of the Black Panthers.

    Some local activists wouldn’t work with Darby (he liked to taunt the cops during protests, getting them all riled up). But that changed after Hurricane Katrina, when he learned that Robert King Wilkerson, one of the Angola Three—former Black Panthers who endured decades of solitary confinement at Louisiana’s Angola Prison—was trapped in New Orleans. Darby and Crow drove 10 hours from Austin towing a jon boat. When they couldn’t get it into the city, Darby somehow harangued some Coast Guard personnel into rescuing Wilkerson. The story became part of the foundation myth for an in-your-face New Orleans relief organization called the Common Ground Collective.

    It would eventually grow into a national group with a million-dollar budget. But at first Common Ground was just a bunch of pissed-off anarchists working out of the house of Malik Rahim, another former Panther. Rahim asked Darby to set up an outpost in the devastated Ninth Ward, where not even the Red Cross was allowed at first. Darby brought in a group of volunteers who fed people and cleared debris from houses while being harassed by police, right along with the locals who had refused to evacuate. “If I’d had an appropriate weapon, I would have attacked my government for what they were doing to people,” he declared in a clip featured in Better This World. He said he’d since bought an AK-47 and was willing to use it: “There are residents here who have said that you will not take my home from me over my dead body, and we have made a commitment to be in solidarity with those residents.”

    But Common Ground’s approach soon began to grate on Darby. He bristled at its consensus-based decision making, its interminable debates over things like whether serving meat to locals was serving oppression. He idolized rugged, iconoclastic populists like Che Guevara—so, in early 2006, he jumped at a chance to go to Venezuela to solicit money for Katrina victims.

    Darby was deeply impressed with what he saw, until a state oil exec asked him to go to Colombia and meet with FARC, the communist guerrilla group. “They said they wanted to help me start a guerrilla movement in the swamps of Louisiana,” he told “This American Life” reporter Michael May. “And I was like, ‘I don’t think so.'” It turned out armed revolution wasn’t really his thing.David Mckay: Couresy Loteria Films
    David McKay. Courtesy Loteria Films

    Darby’s former friends dispute the Venezuela story as they dispute much that he says. They accuse him of grandstanding, being combative, and even spying on his rivals. In his short-lived tenure as Common Ground’s interim director, Darby drove out 30 volunteer coordinators and replaced them with a small band of loyalists. “He could only see what’s in it for him,” Crow told me. For example, Darby preempted a planned police-harassment hot line by making flyers asking victims to call his personal phone number.

    The flyers led to a meeting between Darby and Major John Bryson, the New Orleans cop in charge of the Ninth Ward. In time, Bryson became a supporter of Common Ground, and Darby believed that they shared a common dream of rebuilding the city. But he was less and less sure about his peers. “I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve replicated every system that I fought against,'” he recalls. “It was fucking bizarre.”

    By mid-2007, Darby had left the group and become preoccupied with the conflict in Lebanon. Before long, Darby says, he was approached in Austin by a Lebanese-born schoolteacher, Riad Hamad, for help with a vague plan to launder money into the Palestinian territories. Hamad also spoke about smuggling bombs into Israel, he claims.

    Darby says he discouraged Hamad at first, and then tipped off Bryson, who put him in touch with the FBI. “I talked,” he told me. “And it was the fucking weirdest thing.” He knew his friends would hate him for what he’d done. (The FBI raided Hamad’s home, and discovered nothing incriminating; he was found dead in Austin’s Lady Bird Lake two months later—an apparent suicide.)

    MCKAY AND CROWDER FIRST encountered Darby in March 2008 at Austin’s Monkey Wrench Books during a recruitment drive for the St. Paul protests. Later, in a scene re-created in Better This World, they met at a café to talk strategy. “I stated that I wasn’t interested in being a part of a group if we were going to sit and talk too much,” Darby emailed his FBI handlers. “I stated that I was gonna shut that fucker down.”

    “My biggest impression from that meeting was that Brandon really dominated it,” fellow activist James Clark told the filmmakers. Darby’s FBI email continued: “I stated that they all looked like they ate too much tofu and that they should eat beef so that they could put on muscle mass. I stated that they weren’t going to be able to fight anybody until they did so.” At one point Darby took everyone out to a parking lot and threw Clark to the ground. Clark interpreted it as Darby sending the message: “Look at me, I’m badass. You can be just like me.” (Darby insists that this never happened.)

    “The reality is, when we woke up the next day, neither one of us wanted to use” the Molotovs, Crowder told me.
    When the Austin activists arrived in St. Paul, police, acting on a Darby tip, broke open the group’s trailer and confiscated the sawed-off traffic barrels they’d planned to use as shields against riot police. They soon learned of similar raids all over town. “It started to feel like Darby hadn’t amped these things up, and it really was as crazy and intense as he had told us it was going to be,” Crowder says. Feeling that Darby’s tough talk should be “in some ways, a guide of behavior,” they went to Walmart to buy Molotov supplies.

    “The reality is, when we woke up the next day, neither one of us wanted to use them,” Crowder told me. They stored the firebombs in a basement and left for the convention center, where Crowder was swept up in a mass arrest. Darby and McKay later talked about possibly lobbing the Molotovs on a police parking lot early the next morning, though by 2:30 a.m. McKay was having serious doubts. “I’m just not feeling the vibe on the street,” he texted Darby.

    “You butt head,” Darby shot back. “Text me when you can.” He texted his friend repeatedly over the next hour, until well after McKay had turned in. At 5 a.m., police broke into McKay’s room and found him in bed. He was scheduled to fly home to Austin two hours later.

    Bradley Crowder: Courtesy Loteria Films
    Bradley Crowder. Courtesy Loteria Films
    The feds ultimately convicted the pair for making the Molotov cocktails, but they didn’t have enough evidence of intent to use them. Crowder, who pleaded guilty rather than risk trial, and a heavier sentence, got two years. McKay, who was offered seven years if he pleaded guilty, opted for a trial, arguing on the stand that Darby told him to make the Molotovs, a claim he recanted after learning that Crowder had given a conflicting account. McKay is now serving out the last of his four years in federal prison.

    AT SOUTH AUSTIN’S STRANGE BREW coffeehouse, Darby shows up to meet me on a chromed-out Yamaha with flames on the side. We sit out back, where he can chain-smoke his American Spirits. Darby is through being a leftist radical. Indeed, he’s now an enthusiastic small-government conservative. He loves Sarah Palin. He opposes welfare and national health care. “The majority of things could be handled by people and by communities,” he explains. Climate change is “a bandwagon” and the EPA should be “strongly limited.” Abortion shouldn’t be a federal issue.

    He sounds a bit like his new friend, Andrew Breitbart, who made his name producing sting videos targeting NPR, ACORN, Planned Parenthood, and others. About a year after McKay and Crowder went to jail, Breitbart called Darby wanting to know why he wasn’t defending himself against the left’s misrepresentations. “They don’t print what I say,” Darby said. Breitbart offered him a regular forum on his website, BigGovernment.com. Darby now socializes with Breitbart at his Los Angeles home and is among his staunchest defenders. (Breitbart’s takedown of ACORN, he says, was “completely fucking fair.”)

    “No matter what I say, most people on the left are going to believe what reinforces their own narrative,” Darby says. “And I’ve quit giving a shit.”
    Entrapment? Darby scoffs at the suggestion. He pulls up his shirt, showing me his chest hair and tattoos, as though his macho physique had somehow seduced Crowder and McKay into mixing their firebombs. “No matter what I say, most people on the left are going to believe what reinforces their own narrative,” he says. “And I’ve quit giving a shit.”

    The fact is, Darby says, McKay and Crowder considered him a has-been. His tofu comment, he adds, was a jocular response after one of them had ribbed him for being fat. “I constantly felt the need to show that I was still worthy of being in their presence,” he tells me. “They are complete fucking liars.” As for those late-night texts to McKay, Darby insists he was just trying to dissuade him from using the Molotovs.

    He still meets with FBI agents, he says, to eat barbecue and discuss his ideas for new investigations. But then, it’s hard to know how much of what Darby says is true. For one, the FBI file of his former friend Scott Crow, which Crow obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request last year, suggests that Darby was talking with the FBI more than a year before he claims Bryson first put him in touch. Meanwhile, Crow and another activist, Karly Dixon, separately told me that Darby asked them, in the fall of 2006, to help him burn down an Austin bookstore affiliated with right-wing radio host Alex Jones. (Hayes, Darby’s ex, says he told her of the idea too.) “The guy was trying to put me in prison,” Crow says.

    Such allegations, Darby claims, are simply part of a conspiracy to besmirch him and the FBI: “They get together, and they just figure out ways to attack.” Believe whomever you want to believe, he says. “Either way, they walk away with scars—and so do I.”

    —By Josh Harkinson | September/October 2011 Issue

    Find this story in September/October 2011

    Copyright ©2014 Mother Jones and the Foundation for National Progress.

    381: Turncoat (2009)

    A well-known activist—an anarchic, revolutionary activist—is accused of spying on other activists for the FBI. The strangest thing about the rumor is, it’s true. How Brandon Darby transformed from cop-hater to federal witness. Plus, a story by Etgar Keret, about a boy who betrays his people with a pair of shoes.

    Brandon Darby was a radical activist and one of the founders of the incredibly effective relief organization Common Ground. Michael May reports on how Darby changed from a revolutionary who wanted the overthrow of the U.S. government into an informant working with the FBI against his former radical allies.

    MAY 22, 2009

    Find this story at 22 May 2009

    © 1995 – 2014 Chicago Public Media & Ira Glass

    The Informant Revolutionary to rat: The uneasy journey of Brandon Darby (2009)

    Last year on Aug. 28, eight Austin activists traveled north in a rented white van to join thousands of protesters in St. Paul, Minn., for the Republican National Convention. In the trailer behind them were shields homemade from traffic barrels – cut in half, painted black, and fitted with Plexiglas windows. The shields mimic police riot gear and are often used in “black blocs,” a method of street protesting with origins in Germany that became prominent stateside at the 1999 Seattle World Trade Organization protests, during which a black bloc caused property damage to various businesses. The black bloc is sort of like the punk rock version of protest, and its alluring combination of direct action and danger similarly attracts mostly young, white men.
    On Aug. 31, a couple of days after the group’s arrival in Minnesota, St. Paul police searched the trailer without a warrant and seized the shields. The next day, two of the van’s passengers, David McKay, 22, and Bradley Crowder, 23, were arrested for disorderly conduct. McKay was released later that day, but Crowder remained in jail. According to a subsequent police affidavit, McKay met the next day with fellow activist Brandon Michael Darby, 32, who had also traveled to St. Paul with the Austin group. Angry that his friend was still being held, McKay told Darby that he and Crowder had made some Molotov cocktails (i.e., bottled gasoline bombs) and that he was planning on throwing them at cop cars parked in a parking lot.
    According to the partial transcript in the affidavit, Darby asked McKay, “What if there’s a cop sleeping in the car?” “He’ll wake up,” replied McKay. “What if he doesn’t?” Darby asked. McKay was silent. Darby pressed on, asking McKay if he would “leave the scene with a cop burning or dying.” McKay answered, “Yes.” And then, again, according to a partial transcript of the recorded conversation, McKay told Darby that it was “worth it if a cop gets burned or maimed.” These words, along with eight Molotov cocktails found in the basement of the house in which McKay was crashing, have him facing up to 30 years in federal prison for charges related to possession and assembly of “unregistered firearms,” as the weapons are defined by federal law.
    McKay did not know that his words to Darby, spoken in a moment of foolish hotheadedness that his friends say he is known for, were being transmitted to agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation via electronic surveillance gear that Darby had hidden out of sight. Nor did he know that Darby had supplied the FBI with the information that led to the seizure of the homemade riot gear. More­over, Darby had already told the feds that, in retaliation for the cops’ apparently illegal bust, the group had gone to Wal-Mart with a shopping list that might have supplied a touring Roller Derby team – elbow pads, gas cans, bike helmets, motor oil, tampons – but included also the potential fixings for some Molotov cocktails. The youths’ recklessness, as well as their implicit trust in Darby, had led them into a police trap.
    Who Is Brandon Darby?
    At first glance, Brandon Michael Darby seems a typical Austin lefty activist. He entered Austin’s radical progressive scene nearly a decade ago; through a former activist girlfriend, he became involved in a variety of small groups engaged in progressive projects: getting dirty drug needles off the streets, innocent prisoners out of jail, and recent immigrants into stable homes. He’s a boyishly handsome guy, in good shape from martial arts training, and he currently lives on several acres of farmland beyond the city limits, where he keeps chickens and a pig. He says he’s planning on getting a goat and has a “massive compost operation” going. He talks excitedly about making his home more sustainable and about the impending installation of a solar water heater. He collects rainwater for the garden and is restoring an old house.
    Darby’s now employed as a legal and investigative assistant for an attorney, work that he feels good about because, he says, his employer doesn’t buy in to the whole “how much justice can you afford” system and does a lot of pro bono work. He recently became a father, to 9-month-old Olivia, and though he and Olivia’s mother don’t live together, he says that they are “co-parenting.” All in all, a contemporary portrait in progressive rationality and sustainable ambitions.
    Prior to his latest incarnation, Darby had also acquired a considerable national reputation as a valiant and committed community activist, especially in New Orleans. There, initially in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, he had helped rescue stranded residents and rebuild housing and had been centrally involved in the work of the Common Ground Relief – a community effort focused on restoring neighborhoods, defending residents’ rights, and trying to rebuild the community from the ground up. Darby was featured in national interviews about post-hurricane New Orleans and more particularly had a reputation for defying authority and especially cops – not necessarily the profile of a potential police informant.
    But ask around Austin activist circles, and a more contradictory portrait emerges. Several local activists describe Darby as a troubled, paranoid man with a volatile history with women, a penchant for violent rhetoric, and a strong authoritarian streak. At best, Darby might be just an ordinary and confused young person, fired with generalized idealism and stumbling through this world on his own tangled, misguided mission to save it. But at worst, he might have been – might have become over the last several years – a manipulator with a hero complex, bent on inflating his own self-importance in the comfortable guise of moral superiority.
    Finding Common Ground
    For much of 2006, Darby was heavily involved with Common Ground Relief, the post-Katrina recovery effort that has gained national attention for its endeavors. Darby himself came to national attention when he and one of Common Ground Relief’s founding members, Scott Crow, the prominent anarchist community organizer behind a host of Austin organizations including Radical Encuentro Camp, Ecology Action, and Treasure City Thrift, traveled to New Orleans right after the levees broke in search of their friend Robert “King” Wilkerson, who had stayed in his home to weather out the storm.
    Crow’s detailed account of the apocalyptic journey, “It Takes a Spark to Start a Prairie Fire: Desperation, Racism and the Beginnings of Common Ground Relief,” can be read in full at Infoshop News (news.infoshop.org). (Crow’s book, Black Flags and Windmills: Anarchy, Hope and Common Ground, which also recounts the episode, comes out this year.) Their first effort failed, but the two friends decided to try again when they got a call from Malik Rahim, a former Black Panther, community organizer, and childhood friend of King’s, who reported that his neighborhood, Algiers, was being patrolled by white militias harassing unarmed black residents. The men set out once again, this time determined to bring supplies and aid to Rahim and to bring King back to Austin.
    It was on this second trip that Rahim and Crow planted the seeds for Common Ground Relief using, Crow writes, “a strategy mixed from the Black Panther survival programs, the current work in Chiapas, Mexico of the Zapatistas and good old community organizing.” It was also when Darby made national headlines by taking a dip into the dreaded “toxic sludge,” a gnarly mix of industrial waste, waterlogged carcasses, and other nastiness, to find King. Crow writes: “Brandon called me one last time before he dropped into the dark water, and Malik and I told him we would come looking for him if he didn’t return. He started swimming with his phone held in the air, and he made good progress alternating between wading and swimming, trying to keep the water out of his mouth.” Federal Emergency Management Agency agents spotted Darby and ordered him out of the water, but he would not do so until they dispatched a boat to find and retrieve King; a hero’s welcome awaited Darby when he and King returned to Rahim’s home. After celebrating the reunion, everyone went to work, doing what they could to put the world right again.
    At the time of Common Ground’s inception, the mood in New Orleans was tense. The U.S. government had completely failed the community, all the proof that most people needed that the system wasn’t working. Revolution was in the air, and Common Ground was at the forefront of envisioning a potential new world. In that heady atmosphere, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez offered the group monetary relief in the form of Citgo gas cards, and Common Ground sent a delegation, including Darby, to Caracas. On pirate radio, Crow described Common Ground as “a paramilitary organization” – a statement for which he was criticized within the group. But given the atmosphere of chaos and devastation and uncertainty, people behaved in ways they normally would not.
    As for Darby, those who were involved in Common Ground describe him as a simultaneously dynamic and divisive character, with an authoritarian streak that the mostly anarcho-hippie crowd didn’t care for. One volunteer coordinator who worked with Common Ground from January to July 2006 recounted a disturbing episode: A couple of volunteers called back to headquarters concerned they were about to get jumped, and Darby leaped into his truck to save the day – reportedly by firing his gun into the air in the middle of the street. “It just seemed like an unnecessarily violent escalation,” she recalled. “Everything I heard about Brandon Darby during my time at Common Ground was that he was crazy, and what I witnessed was that he was very prominent and very divisive. He’d come into town and everybody would be whispering, like: ‘Oh, shit. Brandon Darby’s back.’ ”
    Darby explains the perception of him as authoritarian this way: “For some, Common Ground might have been about creating a little anarchist utopia. For me, it was about helping people have their rights heard and have their homes [restored], and it was about getting things done.” Darby also denies that he has ever discharged a firearm anywhere in the state of Louisiana.
    “I know that Brandon has been trained in firearm safety, and I just don’t see him doing that,” says Andy Gallagher, a New Orleans resident who’s known Darby since he was 18 and who has lived with him in the past. “In all honesty, there have been situations that I have witnessed where Brandon has had a gun on hand and used it [in] a way that actually de-escalated the situation and protected the lives [of those] who were with him.” Though Gallagher wasn’t involved with Common Ground, he was in town at the time doing his own aid work – locating displaced foster children – and would often visit Darby.
    Another prominent organizer of the Com­mon Ground effort was Lisa Fithian, who says she has never gotten along with Darby. “He was a leader of the organization, though, and because of that, he was able to set some patterns in motion that I believe led to systemic issues of sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and violence,” she says. “He kicked the door down of a women’s center at 2am to throw a guy out; he kicked in the door of a trailer where there were volunteers with guns on them. He did a lot of Wild West shit – Mister Macho Action Hero.”
    Darby responds that this portrait is both inaccurate and unfair. “We were in an aggressive situation that was frightening; we felt like it was the end of the world,” he explains. “So if there is a man living in a women’s center illegally, against the wishes of the women in the center, and all of the women exit that center, leaving that one guy who barricades himself in and is pissing and pooping on the floor, I think it’s totally fine to kick down the door. But really, if I was so bad, why was I the spokesperson for Common Ground Relief for so long?” Darby asks. “Why, after 2006, did they have me come back and ask me to direct the organization and be the spokesperson again?”
    In retrospect, Darby’s friend Crow adds his own doubts. “He inserted himself as ‘co-founder’; he wanted that status, even as people were getting written out of the Common Ground history, people who did a lot of work organizing. He also made sure that the media followed him extensively and didn’t interview other people when he was director and also when he was just another person around,” insists Crow. “If you look at the way Brandon tells it, he did the whole Lower 9th Ward with one hand tied behind his back, when really there were a lot of people who did the work, and the organizing too, who you’ll never hear about because of Brandon’s monopoly on the media. So, did he do that just because he’s crazy, or did he do that to get more credibility for himself so that he could gather more information?”
    Bad Intentions
    Malik Rahim now fervently believes that Darby was an informant for at least part of the time he worked for Common Ground, a conclusion he describes as heartbreaking. “Look, Brandon and Scott brought weapons to my house to help me defend my home,” he says. “So my first feeling for both of them was love.” But that love, Rahim laments, soon turned to blind defense of someone with whom many in the organization, including his own family members, had problems. “It came to the degree that my son just knew that there was something too wrong with Brandon, and he searched Brandon’s possessions, because he said, ‘This guy is an agent, or he is an informant,'” Rahim recalls. “And, let me tell you, it caused a rift between my son and I, so much so that eventually, he left. Because I believed Brandon. I defended him.”
    Rahim believes that something happened to Darby while he was in Venezuela and that it was then that he became an informant, because that is when Rahim now sees that Darby began to impede the group’s progress. “I think that Brandon had a nervous breakdown in Venezuela and that when he came back he was messed up in the head,” Rahim explains. “At the very beginning, he was helpful, but after Venezuela, he became harmful. … He did everything he could to destroy St. Mary’s, which was where we were housing the majority of our volunteers, by letting a bunch of crackheads move in there. And he also drove a wedge between me and Lisa Fithian and eventually caused her to leave, too. He was doing everything you’re supposed to do as a government agent in that situation. Divide and conquer.”
    What Rahim considers sabotage and what Fithian calls patriarchal power plays Darby just sees as trying to do something good in a bad situation. Though he disagrees that his adamant refusal to turn people away from St. Mary’s was harmful, he agrees that something bad really did happen to him in Venezuela and that he came back a changed man. “I probably should have left New Orleans at that point and come back to Austin and gone to therapy. But I didn’t. I stayed,” he says. “I didn’t want to be there, but I thought I should have been there. Maybe that was my biggest mistake.” While in Venezuela, Darby says, he was informed by “someone in the Venezuelan government” that what he was doing – essentially seeking funds from the Chávez administration to undermine the Bush administration – was illegal. Darby freaked out and says that at times he was frightened for his life. He thought he might be arrested when he returned to the States, and he was angry that he had been put in that position by Common Ground, particularly Crow and Fithian. But he swears, again and again, that he was never working for the federal government while in New Orleans. Not ever.
    These activists believe Brandon Darby reported on their activities to the FBI. Those interviewed for this story include Scott Crow (back, center). Next to Crow is Ann Harkness. Simon Evans is back row, far right, and Lisa Fithian stands in front of Evans.
    These activists believe Brandon Darby reported on their activities to the FBI. Those interviewed for this story include Scott Crow (back, center). Next to Crow is Ann Harkness. Simon Evans is back row, far right, and Lisa Fithian stands in front of Evans.
    Though he refuses to give a start date, Darby says he’s been working with the FBI for less than two years. FBI documents have him making phone calls to the bureau beginning in November 2007. Though he still describes himself as a lefty and says he’s “the furthest thing from a Republican,” it was protecting the rights of Republicans, he says, that finally persuaded him to work with the feds. “One morning, I woke up and realized that I disagree with the group I was associating with as much as I disagree with the Republican Party,” he recalls. “I began to feel that a small select group of people had bad intentions, and I felt the need to do something about it.”
    The relationship began with a call to a cop that Darby knows in another city, because, he says, there was a situation that needed to be reported. He told that person what his concerns were, and that cop gave him the name of a federal agent. Darby says he met with some federal agents, told them what he had to say, and left. The agent later contacted him again, they had what Darby says was a “good conversation,” and over the course of a few months, Darby agreed to go undercover. Though he won’t say what it was exactly that made him make that initial call, he will say this about the eventual decision to go undercover: “My deal was with a small group of people whom I personally wouldn’t call terrorists but whose views and ideologies, in addition to their actions, are a little bit frightening and not in the best interest of the world. … So, with that said, I did what I can to make sure that that’s not an issue. Because I felt like I owed that to life, and I felt like I owed it to this little collective we call a nation who are trying to get through the world together.”
    This sudden bout of patriotism sounds odd coming from a guy who witnessed complete governmental breakdown in New Orleans and went to Venezuela with revolution on his mind, but Darby says that it was those very experiences that added to his shift. “I think I began to see things very differently as a result of my experiences around Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath and my experiences as a person of leadership in a large organization. I saw the absolute importance and the absolute negative effect that happens to individuals or groups whenever there’s no stability in a system,” he explains. “I began to feel that we as a radical, radical left, because of the way we pseudo-governed, I started to feel like we were a little silly, critiquing the U.S. government, when we had so many faults of our own.”
    Soul on Fire
    Some people who worked with him are frankly suspicious that Darby’s acknowledged collaboration with the FBI hints of something much larger and more sinister. Some Austin activists have formed the Austin Informant Working Group; currently focused on the McKay and Crowder cases, they are also considering the wider implications. The term “Green Scare” (by analogy to earlier anti-communist “Red Scares”) refers to the federal government’s growing interest in prosecuting environmental activist groups, particularly the Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front. Austin Informant Working Group member Simon Evans points to a report by former University of Texas law student Elizabeth Wag­goner, who said that FBI agent Charles Rasner announced to her class that Food Not Bombs and Austin Indymedia were on the bureau’s terror watch list. “It doesn’t seem unreasonable to question,” says Evans, “whether or not something larger is at play here.”
    “They’re going after me and Scott and other organizers, but they nabbed the low-hanging fruit,” said Fithian, who was also involved in the RNC protests in Minnesota. Fithian was not surprised at the news that Darby was an informant. “I always said at Common Ground: If he was not a cop or an agent of the state, he was doing their job for them, creating division and disrupting our work.”
    Crow initially came to Darby’s defense, posting a strenuous denial, when a story in the St. Paul Pioneer Press first fingered him as an informant, based on FBI documents. “It was more about defending the truth than it was about defending Brandon as a person,” says Crow. “When I asked him, he told me it wasn’t him, and I believed him. I’ve had to apologize to people like Lisa, because I gave him credibility with my initial statements. I just wanted to make sure he wasn’t being maligned. Now, I didn’t defend his misogyny or his antagonism; I defended him based on what he told me. It’s still heartbreaking, you know.” Darby eventually wrote an open letter coming out as an informant, but Crow first learned the truth by reading FBI documents furnished to him by McKay’s defense team. Crow was hurt by the news, as this wasn’t the first time he had found himself defending Darby.
    “A lot of women had been hurt by this man, and a lot of men had defended him over the years, and it’s not OK,” says Fithian. “That’s a whole part of the healing process that we are going to have to deal with as a community.” This sentiment was echoed by other sources who spoke of a particular romantic relationship in Darby’s past that they describe as emotionally abusive and Darby as paranoid, jealous, and possessive. “I was a total asshole in my early 20s,” Darby admits freely. “My entire adult life has been a process of trying to be less of an asshole. What on earth my penis has to do with this case, I have no idea.”
    Regarding Darby’s obsessive and paranoid nature, Crow says that sometimes Darby would call him 30 times a day. “I’m not a psychologist, but I would definitely say that guy’s paranoid. I mean, he sleeps with guns under his pillow. This is not something I have been told; this is something I have seen. The guy has a cache of weapons.” This depiction from Crow, who legally owns an AK-47, pisses Darby off. “I have legal firearms that I have a right to own,” he says, “and I live out in the country, and I think it’s OK. And I did have a gun in New Orleans, and as a citizen I have a right to do that.”
    Sometimes, when Darby speaks of his old friend Crow, there’s a catch in his voice – as when he says that they were close, once, but that Crow hasn’t accepted his recent invitation to his home nor met his daughter. “I will always have a bond with him because of what we went through together, and no evil or anything that he would perceive as bad would come from my hand toward that person,” he says, sounding sincere. Yet the documents reflect that during 2007, Darby secretly informed on Crow’s whereabouts and actions. His defense is that he reported what he saw. “Wouldn’t it be more frightening,” he asks, “if the person in my position picked and chose what truth they told rather than say the facts?”
    “Even though I was a shield for him in a lot of ways,” Crow now argues, “he really was marginalized in our community. A lot of people wouldn’t work with him on stuff, and even I didn’t have anything to do with him for a year before Common Ground, because he would start getting paranoid and do divisive things, like tell everyone that Lisa was out to get him, for example. For one period in New Orleans, he started to get King to think that Lisa and I were colluding against him – and I took Brandon’s calls more than anybody would. I counseled that guy many times and actually considered it more of a mentorship than a friendship. That guy asked me a lot of questions. And now of course, it all makes sense.”
    So when he had his personal epiphany, why didn’t Darby reach out to other activists and tell them about his change in world-view – rather than begin spying on them? “If I felt like the best thing I could have done to right my wrongs was to come out and say how I felt, I would have done so. I just didn’t feel like it was. I felt like I would be completely marginalized and nobody would want to hear my opinions.” Darby uses the controversial civil rights leader and Black Panther turned Republican born-again Christian Eldridge Cleaver as an example. “He wrote a book called Soul on Ice, and it sold a million copies and is touted at all the anarchist bookstores. Most people in radical communities have heard of it. Then, if you say to an auditorium, ‘Have you ever heard of a book called Soul on Fire?’ No. That’s when Eldridge Cleaver became a born-again Christian and changed his views and recanted much of what he had earlier believed. They don’t promote it. Just like the school board: They promote a version of history that isn’t historically accurate.” Like a petulant teenager whose parents just don’t get him, Darby adds: “Nobody lets you voice your opinions. Nobody cares. Nobody wants to hear it.”
    Pissed Off and Pissed On
    Fithian says she was wary of Darby’s presence in Minnesota last September. “Nothing about Brandon going to the RNC made any sense to me, and I spoke out about it, and I warned people. When he came to meetings, I actually asked, ‘What the fuck is he doing here?'” She says she pulled him aside and asked him to leave communication meetings where strategic details of actions are worked out. “He said he was there to do medical, but instead he was at all the meetings, all the comms. When he stood up at a spokes meeting [i.e., organized like ‘spokes’ on a wheel], I told him he needed to leave.”
    Gabby Hicks, a 21-year-old activist who traveled in the van with Darby, McKay, Crowder, and others, said that the Darby in the open letter – who sounds like a thoughtful guy opposed to violence – is very different from the argumentative and nonsensical Darby she met. Once, on the drive up, Darby became agitated because he needed to go to the bathroom. “He at one point threatened a driver of the van, because the person didn’t pull over fast enough, and Brandon was literally yelling, ‘I’m a 31-year-old revolutionary, and you can’t tell me when I can or can’t pee!'” Hicks laughed. “Once we pulled over, they were still fighting, and someone asked if they needed mediation. Brandon was like, ‘I can put it behind us if we can all act like adults.’ He turned the whole thing around and acted like we were the ones who had freaked out. That was his tactic. It was just weird.”
    At the heart of the Darby story remain those two young men from Midland, Texas, Bradley Crowder and David McKay, who are currently facing years in federal prison based in no small part on information that Darby gave to the FBI. Though there are no legal restrictions preventing Darby from commenting on the case, he says he declines to do so out of “respect for the bureau.” Darby is a decade older than either defendant and, as far as direct action is concerned, much more experienced. So why didn’t he simply try to talk these guys out of doing something stupid or criminal instead of turning them over to the feds?
    “Why didn’t I try to discourage them? You don’t know that I did or didn’t,” Darby insists. “For all you know, I could have gotten in trouble for violating the rules and trying to discourage somebody from doing something. I’m just saying you don’t know what the facts are yet.”
    Indeed we don’t, says Evans of the Austin Informant Working Group. “There is still the issue of entrapment: I want to be clear that we may never know Brandon Darby’s full role or motivations in this incident, as these details are omitted from the FBI documents and informant reports provided to the defense. But something I keep coming back to is: What would I have done in the same position? I consider myself a moral and ethical person; I believe in nonviolence; I’m an ‘anarchist.’ What I would have done is talk to anyone thinking of illegal action, weigh in with my experience, point out the potential consequence, and dissuade that person. If that didn’t work, I would have prevented them from purchasing the materials or going on the action. I feel that a strong community can educate and police itself.”
    Darby rejects the depiction of McKay and Crowder as kids easily influenced by an older activist. “If these two ‘kids’ had been stopped in the midst of a plot to bomb an abortion clinic, all these same people would be like: ‘Why wasn’t the government watching these people? Why weren’t they involved?'” he says, exasperated. “The guys who dragged James Byrd to death were the same age as these two, and they weren’t kids; they were monsters.” (Actually, two of the perpetrators in Byrd’s 1998 murder in Texas were 24; the third was 32.) In any case, Darby is sticking to his story. “In regards to this case, there’s no evidence that shows that I assumed a leadership role, and I didn’t,” he says. “I didn’t encourage anybody to do anything, and if you think that I should have done everything I could have to talk these guys out it, you’re not going to be let down [as the trial proceeds] a month from now.”
    Good Career Move
    Whatever his current motivations, Darby acknowledges his past mistakes. “When I was younger, I identified as a revolutionary, and I believed that many people around the world had a right to take up arms against oppression,” he says. “But I mistakenly felt that our system was one where that would be appropriate.” Then why does he feel that he deserved the benefit of maturity and hindsight, when McKay and Crowder deserve multiple years in the pen? How does he justify robbing them of their chance to go through their own maturing process and personal evolution of political ideology? “Because I didn’t actually do any of it,” he says. “Because I always had enough sense to know that I didn’t have the wisdom to make decisions that endanger people’s lives.”
    Darby does say that McKay and Crowder were not the focal point of the investigation. In the course of an ideological shift that took him from armed revolutionary to FBI mole, Darby says he began to see major problems with certain actions that were being planned for the Republican National Convention – particularly by the black bloc and a group of organizers calling themselves the Welcoming Committee. “Anytime that a group of people get together and say that they are going to use ‘any means necessary’ and have images of firebombs and all kinds of other things on their website and they organize around the country, not to protest but to specifically prevent another group of American citizens to exercise their right to assemble, the U.S. government is going to get involved,” he says. “And they should get involved, and I support it wholeheartedly.”
    Crowder and McKay, he suggests, were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, adding, “Then, if at the very end of an investigation like that, as a complete shock to everybody, a group of people decide to do something that’s insane, they’re going to get in trouble for it.”
    None of this fully explains why Darby chose to go undercover as an FBI informant and surreptitiously spy on his friends when he could have instead simply left the movement and tried to get involved in public policy in some other productive way. “I’ve watched countless activists begin to work in the Legislature and begin to do things that participate in the system; we have a system that is wide open for our involvement,” he said. “You can get involved and have a say so; if you disagree with the way our city is run, you can get involved. If you have an ideological bent that’s on social justice, you can become a law enforcement officer, you can get involved with the FBI, or a lawyer.”
    Darby says he was indeed compensated at times for his work with the feds, although he’s vague on the details except to say he turned down witness protection and a lump sum offered to people who testify in federal cases. He does say he is able to be independent because he has some money from his family. Darby sees his current role with the FBI as something akin to a “volunteer firefighter” and believes it to be a natural extension of his desire to do what’s right, no matter how uncomfortable. Yet with his decision to go undercover instead of any other of the myriad choices he had to change the direction of his life, Darby has effectively reinforced the notions that many in the activist community already had: that the Man is always out to get you, and you just can’t trust anyone.
    Activist, adventurer, hero, revolutionary, informant. For his next transformation, Darby sees a future for himself in law enforcement. His first gig was surely a foot in the door.

    BY DIANA WELCH, FRI., JAN. 23, 2009

    Find this story at 23 January 2009

    COPYRIGHT © 1981-2014 Austin Chronicle Corp.

    Sharp rise in environmental and land killings as pressure on planet’s resources increases – report

    Urgent action required to challenge impunity of perpetrators, protect citizens and address root causes of environmental crisis
    Killings of people protecting the environment and rights to land increased sharply between 2002 and 2013 as competition for natural resources intensifies, a new report from Global Witness reveals. In the most comprehensive global analysis of the problem on record, the campaign group has found that at least 908 people are known to have died in this time. Disputes over industrial logging, mining and land rights the key drivers, and Latin America and Asia-Pacific particularly hard hit.
    Released in the year of the 25th anniversary of the assassination of Brazilian rubber tapper and environmental activist Chico Mendes, Deadly Environment highlights a severe shortage of information or monitoring of this problem. This means the total is likely to be higher than the report documents, but even the known scale of violence is on a par with the more high profile incidence of journalists killed in the same period (1). This lack of attention to crimes against environment and land defenders is feeding endemic levels of impunity, with just over one per cent of the perpetrators known to have been convicted.
    “This shows it has never been more important to protect the environment, and it has never been more deadly,” said Oliver Courtney of Global Witness. “There can be few starker or more obvious symptoms of the global environmental crisis than a dramatic upturn in killings of ordinary people defending rights to their land or environment. Yet this rapidly worsening problem is going largely unnoticed, and those responsible almost always get away with it. We hope our findings will act as the wake-up call that national governments and the international community clearly need.”
    The key findings in Deadly Environment are as follows:
     At least 908 people were killed in 35 countries protecting rights to land and the environment between 2002 and 2013, with the death rate rising in the last four years to an average of two activists a week.
     2012 was the worst year so far to be an environmental defender, with 147 killings – nearly three times more than in 2002.
     Impunity for these crimes is rife: only 10 perpetrators are known to have been convicted between 2002 and 2013 – just over one per cent of the overall incidence of killings.
     The problem is particularly acute in Latin America and South East Asia. Brazil is the most dangerous place to defend rights to land and the environment, with 448 killings, followed by Honduras (109) and the Philippines (67).
    The problem is exacerbated by a lack of systematic monitoring or information. Where cases are recorded, they are often seen in isolation or treated as a subset of other human rights or environmental issues. The victims themselves often do not know their rights or are unable to assert them because of lack of resources in their often remote and risky circumstances.
    John Knox, UN Independent Expert on Human Rights and the Environment said, “Human rights only have meaning if people are able to exercise them. Environmental human rights defenders work to ensure that we live in an environment that enables us to enjoy our basic rights, including rights to life and health. The international community must do more to protect them from the violence and harassment they face as a result.”
    Indigenous communities are particularly hard hit. In many cases, their land rights are not recognized by law or in practice, leaving them open to exploitation by powerful economic interests who brand them as ‘anti-development’. Often, the first they know of a deal that goes against their interests is when the bulldozers arrive in their farms and forests.
    Land rights form the backdrop to most of the known killings, as companies and governments routinely strike secretive deals for large chunks of land and forests to grow cash crops like rubber, palm oil and soya. At least 661 – over two-thirds – of the killings took place in the context of conflicts over the ownership, control and use of land, in combination with other factors. The report focuses in detail on the situation in Brazil, where land disputes and industrial logging are key drivers, and the Philippines, where violence appears closely linked to the mining sector.
    This week, a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is expected to issue a stark warning that governments are failing to reduce carbon emissions(2). It is likely to show the world is on course to miss the targets required to stay within the accepted 2C temperature increase that is generally considered a line that must not be crossed to avoid climatic upheaval. Global Witness’ research suggests that as well as failing to reduce their emissions, governments are failing to protect the activists and ordinary citizens who find themselves on the frontline of this problem.
    “This rapidly worsening situation appears to be hidden in plain sight, and that has to change. 2012, the year of the last Rio Summit, was the deadliest on record. Delegates gathering for climate talks in Peru this year must heed this warning – protection of the environment is now a key battleground for human rights. While governments quibble over the text of new global agreements, at the local level more people than ever around the world are already putting their lives on the line to protect the environment,” said Andrew Simms of Global Witness, “At the very least, to start making good on official promises to stop climate change, governments should protect and support those personally taking a stand.”
    The report also underlines that rising fatalities are the most acute and measurable end of a range of threats including intimidation, violence, stigmatization and criminalization. The number of deaths points to a much greater level of non-lethal violence and intimidation, which the research did not document but requires urgent and effective action.
    Global Witness is calling for a more coordinated and concerted effort to monitor and tackle this crisis, starting with a resolution from the UN’s Human Rights Council specifically addressing the heightened threat posed to environmental and land defenders. Similarly, regional human rights bodies and national governments need to properly monitor abuses against and killings of activists, and ensure that those responsible are brought to justice. Companies must carry out effective checks on their operations and supply chains to make sure they do no harm.
    For interviews, briefings, images and other information please contact:
    Oliver Courtney, +44 (0)7912 517147, ocourtney@globalwitness.org;
    Alice Harrison, +44 (0)7841 338792, aharrison@globalwitness.org
    Notes to editors:
    (1) According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (2014) Dataset: Journalists killed since 1992, 913 journalists were killed while trying to carry out their work in the same period. Available from: https://www.cpj.org/killed/cpj-database.xls
    (2) “World needs Plan B on climate – IPCC”, available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-26922661 (Accessed 8 April 2014)
    (3) The full report and infographics will be available from www.globalwitness.org/deadlyenvironment from 0001 GMT 15 April 2014.
    Global Witness investigates and campaigns to prevent natural resource-related conflict and corruption and associated environmental and human rights abuses

    Find this story at 15 April 2014

    Copyright Global Witness

    Study says activists in more danger as competition for natural resources intensifies, partly due to climate change

    Hundreds of people have been killed while defending the environment and land rights around the world, international monitors said in a report released Tuesday, highlighting what they called a culture of impunity surrounding the deaths.

    At least 908 people were killed in 35 countries from 2002 to 2013 during disputes over industrial logging, mining, and land rights – with Latin America and Asia-Pacific being particularly hard-hit – according to the study from Global Witness, a London-based nongovernmental organization that says it works to expose economic networks behind conflict, corruption and environmental destruction.

    Only 10 people have ever been convicted over the hundreds of deaths, the report said.

    The rate of such deaths has risen sharply – with an average of two activists killed each week – over the past four years as competition for the world’s natural resources has accelerated, Global Witness said in the report titled “Deadly Environment.”

    “There can be few starker or more obvious symptoms of the global environmental crisis than a dramatic upturn in the killings of ordinary people defending rights to their land or environment,” said Oliver Courtney, a senior campaigner for Global Witness.

    “This rapidly worsening problem is going largely unnoticed, and those responsible almost always get away with it,” Courtney said.

    The report’s release followed a dire warning by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which said global warming is driving humanity toward unprecedented risk due to factors such as food and water insecurity. Global Witness said this puts environmental activists in more danger than ever before.

    Land rights are central to the violence, as “companies and governments routinely strike secretive deals for large chunks of land and forests to grow cash crops,” the report said. When residents refuse to give up their land rights to mining operations and the timber trade, they are often forced from their homes, or worse, it said.

    The study ranked Brazil as the most dangerous place to be an environmentalist, with at least 448 killings recorded.

    One case that especially shocked the country and the global environmental movement involved the 2011 killings of environmentalists Jose Claudio Ribeira da Silva and his wife, Maria do Espirito Santo da Silva.

    “The couple had denounced the encroachment of illegal loggers in the reserve and had previously received threats against their lives,” the report said.

    Masked men gunned down the couple near a sustainable reserve where they had worked for decades producing nuts and natural oils. The killers tore off one of Jose Claudio’s ears as proof of his execution.

    Though killing of environmental defenders in Brazil has leveled off, killings worldwide have continued to increase.Source: Global Witness
    Indigenous communities are particularly vulnerable, the report said. In many cases, their land rights are not recognized by the state in law or practice. These communities are often branded as “anti-development” for not being willing to leave their land and sustainable environmental practices, Global Witness said.

    It said such a label is ironic as these communities often have a strong incentive to practice sustainable development, since they earn their livelihood directly from the land. Since many of the communities are extremely remote, they often have no idea there are industrial plans for their land until bulldozers arrive, the report said.

    Remote parts of Brazil’s Amazon rain forests are threatened by intensive industrial development plans, according to Amazon Watch, a nonprofit organization that says it works to protect the rain forest and advance the rights of its indigenous peoples.

    Nearly 50 percent of the Amazon rain forest could be gone by 2020 if current levels of deforestation persist, Amazon Watch has warned, adding that almost 400 different indigenous peoples depend on the forest for their survival.

    “We hope our findings will act as the wake-up call that national governments and the international community clearly need,” said Courtney, the campaigner from Global Witness.

    April 15, 2014 6:07PM ET
    by Renee Lewis

    Find this story at 15 April 2014

    © 2014 Al Jazeera America, LLC.

    Edward Snowden: US government spied on human rights workers

    Whistleblower tells Council of Europe NSA deliberately snooped on groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International

    The US has spied on the staff of prominent human rights organisations, Edward Snowden has told the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, Europe’s top human rights body.

    Giving evidence via a videolink from Moscow, Snowden said the National Security Agency – for which he worked as a contractor – had deliberately snooped on bodies like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

    He told council members: “The NSA has specifically targeted either leaders or staff members in a number of civil and non-governmental organisations … including domestically within the borders of the United States.” Snowden did not reveal which groups the NSA had bugged.

    The assembly asked Snowden if the US spied on the “highly sensitive and confidential communications” of major rights bodies such as Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, as well as on similar smaller regional and national groups. He replied: “The answer is, without question, yes. Absolutely.”

    Snowden, meanwhile, dismissed NSA claims that he had swiped as many as 1.7m documents from the agency’s servers in an interview with Vanity Fair. He described the number released by investigators as “simply a scare number based on an intentionally crude metric: everything that I ever digitally interacted with in my career.”

    He added: “Look at the language officials use in sworn testimony about these records: ‘could have,’ ‘may have,’ ‘potentially.’ They’re prevaricating. Every single one of those officials knows I don’t have 1.7m files, but what are they going to say? What senior official is going to go in front of Congress and say, ‘We have no idea what he has, because the NSA’s auditing of systems holding hundreds of millions of Americans’ data is so negligent that any high-school dropout can walk out the door with it’?”

    In live testimony to the Council of Europe, Snowden also gave a forensic account of how the NSA’s powerful surveillance programs violate the EU’s privacy laws. He said programs such as XKeyscore, revealed by the Guardian last July, use sophisticated data mining techniques to screen “trillions” of private communications.

    “This technology represents the most significant new threat to civil liberties in modern times,” he declared.

    XKeyscore allows analysts to search with no prior authorisation through vast databases containing emails, online chats, and the browsing histories of millions of individuals.

    Snowden said on Tuesday that he and other analysts were able to use the tool to select an individual’s metadata and content “without judicial approval or prior review”.

    In practical terms, this meant the agency tracked citizens not involved in any nefarious activities, he stressed. The NSA operated a “de facto policy of guilt by association”, he added.

    Snowden said the agency, for example, monitored the travel patterns of innocent EU and other citizens not involved in terrorism or any wrongdoing.

    The 30-year-old whistleblower – who began his intelligence career working for the CIA in Geneva – said the NSA also routinely monitored the communications of Swiss nationals “across specific routes”.

    Others who fell under its purview included people who accidentally followed a wrong link, downloaded the wrong file, or “simply visited an internet sex forum”. French citizens who logged on to a suspected network were also targeted, he said.

    The XKeyscore program amounted to an egregious form of mass surveillance, Snowden suggested, because it hoovered up data from “entire populations”. Anyone using non-encrypted communications might be targeted on the basis of their “religious beliefs, sexual or political affiliations, transactions with certain businesses” and even “gun ownership”, he claimed.

    Snowden said he did not believe the NSA was engaged in “nightmare scenarios”, such as the active compilation of a list of homosexuals “to round them up and send them into camps”. But he said that the infrastructure allowing this to happen had been built. The NSA, its allies, authoritarian governments and even private organisations could all abuse this technology, he said, adding that mass surveillance was a “global problem”. It led to “less liberal and safe societies”, he told the council.

    At times assembly members struggled to follow Snowden’s rapid, sometimes technical delivery. At one point the session’s chairperson begged him to slow down, so the translators could catch up.

    Snowden also criticised the British spy agency GCHQ. He cited the agency’s Optic Nerve program revealed by the Guardian in February. It was, he said, one of many “abusive” examples of state snooping. Under the program GCHQ bulk collects images from Yahoo webcam chats. Many of these images were “intensely private” Snowden said, depicting some form of nudity, and often taken from the “bedrooms and private homes” of people not suspected of individualised wrongdoing. “[Optic Nerve] continued even after GCHQ became aware that the vast majority had no intelligence value at all,” Snowden said.

    Snowden made clear he did believe in legitimate intelligence operations. “I would like to clarify I have no intention to harm the US government or strain [its] bilateral ties,” he asserted, adding that he wanted to improve government, not bring it down.

    The exiled American spy, however, said the NSA should abandon its electronic surveillance of entire civilian populations. Instead, he said, it should go back to the traditional model of eavesdropping against specific targets, such as “North Korea, terrorists, cyber-actors, or anyone else.”

    Snowden also urged members of the Council of Europe to encrypt their personal communications. He said that encryption, used properly, could still withstand “brute force attacks” from powerful spy agencies and others. “Properly implemented algorithms backed up by truly random keys of significant length … all require more energy to decrypt than exists in the universe,” he said.

    The international organisation defended its decision to invite Snowden to testify. In a statement on Monday, it said: “Edward Snowden has triggered a massive public debate on privacy in the internet age. We hope to ask him what his revelations mean for ordinary users and how they should protect their privacy and what kind of restrictions Europe should impose on state surveillance.”

    The council invited the White House to give evidence but it declined.

    In the Vanity Fair interview the whistleblower said he paid the bill in the Mira Hotel using his own credit card because he wanted to demonstrate he was not working for a foreign intelligence agency. “My hope was that avoiding ambiguity would prevent spy accusations and create more room for reasonable debate,” he told the magazine. “Unfortunately, a few of the less responsible members of Congress embraced the spy charges for political reasons, as they still do to this day.”

    The NSA says Snowden should have brought his complaints to its own internal oversight and compliance bodies. Snowden, however, insisted he did raise concerns formally, including through emails sent to the NSA’s lawyers. “I directly challenge the NSA to deny that I contacted NSA oversight and compliance bodies directly via email,” he stated.

    Luke Harding
    The Guardian, Tuesday 8 April 2014 16.49 BST

    Find this story at 8 April 2014

    © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

    Exclusive: Inside the Army Spy Ring & Attempted Entrapment of Peace Activists, Iraq Vets, Anarchists (2014)

    More details have come to light showing how the U.S. military infiltrated and spied on a community of antiwar activists in the state of Washington. Democracy Now! first broke this story in 2009 when it was revealed that an active member of Students for a Democratic Society and Port Militarization Resistance was actually an informant for the U.S. military. The man everyone knew as “John Jacob” was in fact John Towery, a member of the Force Protection Service at Fort Lewis. He also spied on the Industrial Workers of the World and Iraq Veterans Against the War. A newly made public email written by Towery reveals the Army informant was building a multi-agency spying apparatus. The email was sent from Towery using his military account to the FBI, as well as the police departments in Los Angeles, Portland, Eugene, Everett and Spokane. He wrote, “I thought it would be a good idea to develop a leftist/anarchist mini-group for intel sharing and distro.” Meanwhile, evidence has also emerged that the Army informant attempted to entrap at least one peace activist, Glenn Crespo, by attempting to persuade him to purchase guns and learn to shoot. We speak to Crespo and his attorney Larry Hildes, who represents all the activists in the case.

    This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

    AMY GOODMAN: More details have come to light showing the U.S. military infiltrated and spied on a community of antiwar activists in the state of Washington and beyond. Democracy Now! first broke the story in 2009 that an active member of Students for a Democratic Society and Port Militarization Resistance was actually an informant for the U.S. military. At the time, Port Militarization Resistance was staging nonviolent actions to stop military shipments bound for Iraq and Afghanistan. The man everyone knew as “John Jacob” was in fact John Towery, a member of the Force Protection Service at Fort Lewis. He also spied on the Industrial Workers of the World and Iraq Veterans Against the War. The antiwar activist Brendan Maslauskas Dunn helped expose John Towery’s true identity as a military spy. In 2009, Dunn spoke on Democracy Now!

    BRENDAN MASLAUSKAS DUNN: After it was confirmed that he was in fact John Towery, I knew he wouldn’t call me, so I called him up the day after. This was this past Thursday. And I called him up; I said, “John, you know, what’s the deal? Is this true?” And he told me; he said, “Yes, it is true, but there’s a lot more to this story than what was publicized.” So he wanted to meet with me and another anarchist in person to further discuss what happened and what his role was.
    So, when I met him, he admitted to several things. He admitted that, yes, he did in fact spy on us. He did in fact infiltrate us. He admitted that he did pass on information to an intelligence network, which, as you mentioned earlier, was composed of dozens of law enforcement agencies, ranging from municipal to county to state to regional, and several federal agencies, including Immigration Customs Enforcement, Joint Terrorism Task Force, FBI, Homeland Security, the Army in Fort Lewis.
    So he admitted to other things, too. He admitted that the police had placed a camera, surveillance camera, across the street from a community center in Tacoma that anarchists ran called the Pitch Pipe Infoshop. He admitted that there were police that did put a camera up there to spy on anarchists, on activists going there.
    AMY GOODMAN: That was Brendan Maslauskas Dunn speaking in 2009 on Democracy Now! He’s now a plaintiff in a lawsuit against John Towery, the military and other law enforcement agencies.

    Since 2009, there have been numerous developments in the case. A newly made public email written by Towery reveals the Army informant was building a multi-agency spying apparatus. The email was sent by Towery using his military account. It was sent to the FBI as well as the police departments in Los Angeles, in Portland, Eugene, Everett and Spokane, Washington. He wrote, quote, “I thought it would be a good idea to develop a leftist/anarchist mini-group for intel sharing and distro.” Towery also cites “zines and pamphlets,” and a “comprehensive web list” as source material, but cautions the officials on file sharing becase, quote, “it might tip off groups that we are studying their techniques, tactics and procedures,” he wrote. The subject of the email was “Anarchist Information.”

    Meanwhile, evidence has also emerged that the Army informant may have attempted to entrap at least one of the peace activists by attempting to persuade him to purchase guns and learn to shoot.

    We’re joined now by two guests. Glenn Crespo is a community organizer in the Bay Area who used to live in Washington state, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the military and other agencies. He’s joining us from Berkeley. And with us in Seattle, Washington, longtime attorney Larry Hildes, who represents the activists in the case.

    The Joint Base Lewis-McChord Public Affairs Office declined to join us on the program, saying, quote, “Because this case is still in litigation we are unable to provide comment.”

    Let’s go first to Washington state, to Larry Hildes. Can you talk about the latest developments in this case, and what has just come out?

    LARRY HILDES: Sure. Good morning, Amy. It’s interesting. What came out did not come out from this case. It came out from a Public Records Act request from a different client of ours who was arrested in an anti-police-brutality march and falsely charged with assaulting an officer, that the civil case is coming to trial in a couple weeks. He put in a Public Records Act request because he was active with PMR and was concerned that he had been targeted, and he was then subject to a number of citations and arrests.

    And, yeah, the Army’s investigative reports claimed that, well, there may have been some rules broken, but Towery was doing this off the job in his off-hours, unpaid, for the sheriff—for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office and the fusion center. Here he is at his desk, 10:00 in the morning, using his military ID, his military email address, and identifying himself by his military titles, writing the law enforcement agencies all over the country about forming this mini-group to target and research anarchists and leftists, and it’s coming out of what’s called the DT Conference that the State Patrol was hosting here in Washington, Domestic Terrorism Conference. They created a book for this conference based on information largely from Towery that included Brendan Dunn and one of our other plaintiffs, Jeff Berryhill, and two other activists with PMR, listed them as domestic terrorists and a violent threat because of their—basically, because they were targeted by Towery and because of their activism and their arrests for civil disobedience. So, he’s taking something he created, labeling these people as terrorists, going to a conference with this information, and saying, “We should disseminate this and work on this more broadly.”

    It also puts the lie to Towery’s claim and his supervisor Tom Rudd’s claim that Towery was simply working to protect troop movements from—between Fort Lewis and the public ports of Stryker vehicles going to the occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. They’re not shipping out of L.A. They’re not shipping out of Portland or Eugene. And they’re not—none of these are agencies that are directly involved in protecting military shipments from Fort Lewis. So it’s clear there’s a much larger agenda here.

    And we’ve seen that in some other ways. There are extensive notes that we’ve received of Towery’s spying on a conference of the Evergreen State College in Olympia about tactics for the protests at the DNC in Denver in ’08, Republican—Democratic National Convention, and the Republican National Convention in St. Paul in ’08, and who was going to do what, the red, yellow and green zones, and specifically what was going to happen on the Monday of the convention. And it was the RNC Welcome Committee, which then got raided and became the RNC 8—claimed that they were planning acts of terrorism, which were in reality acts of nonviolent civil disobedience. So this goes way beyond Fort Lewis and PMR, and there’s a full—there seems to be a much larger agenda, as we’ve seen in other places, of nonviolent activism equals terrorism equals anarchism equals justification for whatever spying or law enforcement action we want to take.

    AMY GOODMAN: I want to—

    LARRY HILDES: And obviously this is not—sorry, go ahead, Amy.

    AMY GOODMAN: I want to read from your lawsuit. You write, quote, “In addition to the Army, Coast Guard, and Olympia Police Department, the following agencies are known to have spied on, infiltrated, or otherwise monitored the activities of PMR and/or related or associated activists: Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, Grays Harbor Sheriff’s Office, Pierce County Sheriff’s Office, Tacoma Police Department, Lakewood Police Department, Ft. Lewis Police Department, 504th Military Police Division, Aberdeen Police Department, The Evergreen State College Police Department, the Lacey Police Department, the [Tumwater] Police Department, the Seattle Police Department, the King County Sheriff’s Office, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Federal Protective Service, other Divisions of the Department of Homeland Security, Naval Investigative Services, Air Force Intelligence (which has created a special PMR SDS taskforce at McGwire Air Force Base in New Jersey), The Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Seattle Joint Terrorism Taskforce, as well as the previously discussed civilian employees of the City of Olympia. This list is likely incomplete,” you write. That is a very extensive list, Larry Hildes.

    LARRY HILDES: It is. And it turns out it is incomplete. And those were all agencies that we had documents obtained from Public Records Act requests showing that they were directly involved. So now we’re finding out there’s more agencies. The Evergreen State College was giving regular reports to the State Patrol, to the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office and to Towery and Rudd about activities of SDS on campus at Evergreen. And there’s an extensive discussion about the conference about the DNC and RNC protests and that the chief of police is the source for the information. But, yeah, now we’ve got L.A. This gets bizarre. And we received 9,440 pages of sealed documents from the Army as a Christmas present on December 21st that—that I can’t even talk about, because they insisted that everything was privileged. It was supposed to be privileged as to private information and security information, but it’s everything, all kinds of emails. So, yeah, I mean, it starts out sounding very encompassing, and we’re finding out we were conservative about what agencies were involved.

    AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring Glenn Crespo into this conversation, a Bay Area community organizer. You were the peace activist who John Towery, you say, attempted to persuade you to purchase guns, to learn to shoot. How did you meet him, and what happened when he tried to get you to do this?

    GLENN CRESPO: Well, this kind of relationship spanned over a two-, maybe two-and-a-half-year period of time. I first met him at a weapons symposium demonstration in Tacoma, Washington, in downtown Tacoma. I didn’t introduce myself to him at that point, but I saw him there. He came out—he actually came out of the symposium, and this was a conference where Lockheed Martin and all these other weapons manufacturers and distributors were showing their wares. He came out of that, and it appeared to me as if other activists in Olympia had already become friends with them. He was very friendly with them, they were very friendly with him. That was the first time I saw him. That was in mid-2007. Not long after that, he organized a Tacoma PMR meeting, and I wasn’t really involved—

    AMY GOODMAN: Port Militarization Resistance.

    GLENN CRESPO: Yeah, exactly. And I wasn’t very involved in that, but I did get the mass email. So I figured, because I lived in Tacoma, I might as well go check it out. He was the first person there. I was the second person there. He introduced himself. I introduced myself. And he asked me about a poster that he had made regarding an upcoming demonstration, and he said he was going to bring it to the group and see if we could get consensus on whether or not it was OK if he put it up. And I told him that—I looked at the poster and said, you know, “This is pretty general.” There’s no particular reason I really think that he has to get consensus on whether or not he can put a poster up that’s kind of basically just time and place and description of the event. And that was the first time I met him.

    He later on used that conversation as a way to boost our rapport between each other, when he said that he thought that that conversation was really profound to him, that he believed that it was interesting that I kind of wanted to—or suggested that he bypass some sort of consensus process regarding this poster, so that he can just do—you know, that he could do what he wants. You know, he could put the poster up if he wants to. That was very interesting. I realized that in retrospect, that that was a way that he tried to broaden or expand upon our friendship in the beginning.

    AMY GOODMAN: And then, where did the guns come in?

    GLENN CRESPO: Probably within the six to seven months after meeting him, so late—late 2007. He had started coming to events at the house I was living at in Tacoma. We were doing—we did a lending library. And we were doing a lot of organizing regarding the Tacoma Immigration and Customs detention center, so the ICE detention center. He would go to those meetings. He would come over for potlucks. So both public and private events, he kind of worked his way in as a friend.

    He produced handgun to me in our kitchen, just between he and I. He carried it in his side pocket. He said he always carried a handgun on him. And he emptied it. He put the magazine out. He cleared the chamber, and he handed it to me. And he said he always carries one on him. And that, that was the first time he really talked about guns with me. And I was caught off guard, because at the time I was in my early twenties. I had never held a—I don’t even think I had seen a handgun, really, like that before. And that was kind of the beginning of him starting to talk more about guns. And he said—he had said that if we ever wanted to go shooting, being me and my friends, or myself in particular, that he would take us shooting, or, you know, he knows where all the gun shows are at, so we could go to gun shows if—you know, if we’re interested. And then, later on, these things did happen, when he prompted myself and others to go to the Puyallup Gun Show and purchase—purchase a rifle. And then, that went into going to shooting ranges that he was already a member of. He would drive us to all of these things, take us to these shooting ranges.

    And this seemed fairly innocuous to me, in the beginning. I mean, Washington is a pretty gun-owner-friendly state. It didn’t—it didn’t really surprise me, because he wasn’t saying anything crazy or really implying anything crazy at that point. But about a year into that, there was a significant shift in his personality. Whereas in the beginning he was very optimistic and very—seemed very hopeful and kind of seemed lonely—I mean, he was, you know, in his early forties, early to mid-forties. He primarily surrounding himself with people who were in their early twenties. And he just came off as if he was kind of a sweet, harmless guy and was kind of lonely and wanted to hang out with people that he felt like he had something in common with, as far as his ideas went. But like I said, into a year into that relationship, he started to become a little bit more sinister and dark in his demeanor, in his—the things he would talk about.

    And this continued to go into him giving myself and another friend a set of documents that were military strategy documents, and he said that he—he suggested that “we,” whatever that meant, use those documents in “our actions.” And these were documents on how to properly execute military operations. And then, following that, he showed people at my house, including myself, how to clear a building with a firearm. And these things were prompted by him. He would basically say, “Hey, do you—you know, check this out. Look, I could explain this stuff.” And he would just go into it, on how to, for example, in this case, clear a building with a firearm. So he had a mock—you know, he would hold a rifle up, or a make-believe rifle, and clear—stalk around the lower levels of our house and up the stairwell, all the way up the second stairwell into the attic, and the whole time talking about how he would—you know, how he was clearing corners and checking angles and all this stuff that nobody particularly had any interest in.

    And around the same time, he had, you know, conversations with me about how he believed that anarchists were very similar to fascists, in a—almost in a positive light, where he was saying that they both don’t care about the law and don’t use the law to get what they need or what they want, and that he believed that the only way anarchism or anarchy would ever work, in his words, would be if five billion people died. So this is kind of in his—in the midst of his weird, sinister behavior that started to happen, that I thought that he was depressed. I thought that he was basically going through some sort of like maybe existential crisis, or maybe he was fed up with things. I wasn’t really sure. He always talked about him having issues at the house—at his home. He had implied that his wife was concerned that he was cheating on her, and that’s why we could never go to his house, because his wife didn’t like us, his other friends, or whatever.

    He submitted an article in the same—like the last—you know, that last half of the time that I knew him as a friend. He submitted an article to a magazine that I was editor of in early 2009, that was written from the perspective of 9/11 hijackers. And I remember this very specifically, because he gave me a copy, a physical copy, when we were on our way to go get coffee. And I remember reading it, and probably about a quarter of the way through realizing I didn’t even feel comfortable touching it, like touching the physical document with my hands. It was the weirdest thing in the world, because it was kind of—it was basically implying—or seeming sympathetic with the 9/11 hijackers. And he wanted me to publish this in his—in the next issue of the magazine I was editor of. So I just—I actually—because he was being so forceful, I just didn’t do the magazine again. That first issue was the last issue. And once he submitted that paper, I didn’t publish it ever again.

    AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask your lawyer, Larry Hildes, is this entrapment, I mean, when you’re talking about this whole progression that Glenn Crespo went through with the man he thought was named John Jacob, who in fact is John Towery, working at Fort Lewis? He’s military personnel.

    LARRY HILDES: I think, absolutely, it was an attempted entrapment. He went step by step. He misjudged our folks. He thought our—he correctly saw that our folks were angry and upset about what was going on, but misjudged them. It feels like we could have ended up with a Cleveland Five or an 803 situation very easily, if he had had his way. Fortunately, our folks’ reaction was: “This is really weird and creepy. Get away from me.” And it speaks to how little he understood the nature of the antiwar movement and how little he understood people’s actual commitment to nonviolent action, to not seeing the troops themselves as the enemies—

    AMY GOODMAN: Larry—

    LARRY HILDES: —but seeing the war—yeah, I’m—yeah, go ahead.

    AMY GOODMAN: Larry Hildes, we don’t have much time, but I just want to ask about Posse Comitatus and the laws that separate the military—I mean, they’re not supposed to be marching through the streets of the United States.

    LARRY HILDES: Yeah, right.

    AMY GOODMAN: What about this issue of investigating? And how far and extensive is this infiltration campaign, where you put in people, they change their names, and they try to entrap or they change the nature of what these actions are?

    LARRY HILDES: I think they crossed the line. They claim they’re allowed to do some level of investigative work to protect military activities, military shipments. But entrapping people—attempting to entrap people into conspiracies where they can get charged with major felonies they had no intention of committing, dealing with law enforcement agencies around the country to keep tabs on activists, following them to protests in Denver and St. Paul that have absolutely nothing to do with military shipments, they crossed the line into law enforcement, into civilian law enforcement.

    And they did so quite knowingly and deliberately, and created this cover story that Towery was working for the fusion center, reporting to the sheriff’s office, not doing this during his work time, because they were well aware—in fact, he got paid overtime for attending the RNC, DNC conference at Evergreen, by the Army. So the Army was expressly paying him to monitor, disrupt and destroy these folks’ activism and their lives. I mean, we had—at one point, Brendan Dunn had four cases at the same time in four counties, because they kept stopping him. Seven times he got arrested or cited; Jeff Berryhill several times; Glenn Crespo. People would get busted over and over and over. Towery was attending their personal parties, their birthday parties, their going-away parties, and taking these vicious notes and passing them on about how to undermine these folks, how to undermine their activities, how to destroy their lives. This is way into Posse Comitatus. This is way beyond any legitimate military role.

    And it’s exactly why Posse Comitatus exists. The job of the military, as they see it, is to seek out the enemy and destroy them, neutralize them. When the enemy is nonviolent dissenters and the First Amendment becomes the enemy, as Chris Pyle, our expert, who was the investigator for the Church Committee, put it—the First Amendment, the Fourth Amendment are an inconvenience to the Army; they ignore them; they’re not sworn to uphold them in the same way—it becomes a very dangerous situation. And yes, they are way over into illegal conduct. They’re into entrapment operations. They’re into trying to silence dissent against them, and apparently much larger. This case just keeps getting bigger as we go. And we’re set for trial, I should say, on June 2nd—

    AMY GOODMAN: And we will continue to cover this.

    LARRY HILDES: —at this point.

    AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us. Larry Hildes, lead attorney representing the antiwar activists spied on by the military, civil rights attorney with the National Lawyers Guild, speaking to us from Seattle, Washington. And Glenn, thank you so much for being with us. Glenn Crespo is a plaintiff in the lawsuit, a community organizer in the Bay Area of California.

    This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, spies in the movement. We’re going to go back some time to the civil rights movement. Stay with us.

    TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 25, 2014

    Find this story at 25 February 2014

    Creative Commons License The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

    Christopher Pyle, Whistleblower Who Sparked Church Hearings of 1970s, on Military Spying of Olympia Peace Activists (2009)

    The news of peace activists in Olympia, Washington exposing Army spying, infiltration and intelligence gathering on their groups may strengthen congressional demands for a full-scale investigation of US intelligence activities like those of the 1970s. We speak with law professor and former Army whistleblower Christopher Pyle, whose 1970 disclosure of the military’s widespread surveillance of civilian groups triggered scores of congressional probes, including the Church Committee hearings, where he served as an investigator. [includes rush transcript]

    This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

    AMY GOODMAN: We turn to a follow-up on our exclusive broadcast yesterday. We spent the hour looking at a story out of Olympia, Washington, where antiwar activists exposed Army spying and infiltration of their groups, as well as intelligence gathering by the Air Force, the federal Capitol Police and the Coast Guard. Declassified documents obtained by the activists revealed that an active member of Students for a Democratic Society and Port Militarization Resistance in Washington state was actually an informant for the US military. The man everyone knew as “John Jacob” was in fact John Towery, a member of the Force Protection Service at Fort Lewis.
    The infiltration appears to be in direct violation of the Posse Comitatus Act preventing US military deployment for domestic law enforcement and may strengthen congressional demands for a full-scale investigation of US intelligence activities, like the Church Committee hearings of the ’70s.
    Well, Christopher Pyle was a captain in Army intelligence in 1970, when he first disclosed the military’s widespread surveillance of civilian groups. The disclosure triggered fifty congressional inquiries within a month. Pyle went on to work for Senator Sam Ervin’s Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights and Senator Frank Church’s Select Committee on Intelligence, that led to the founding of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
    Christopher Pyle joins us now from Chicopee, Massachusetts. He teaches constitutional law and civil liberties at Mount Holyoke College, and he’s the author of four books. His most recent is called Getting Away with Torture.
    We welcome you to Democracy Now!
    CHRISTOPHER PYLE: Good morning, Amy.
    AMY GOODMAN: I wanted you to first start off by talking about the significance of these revelations yesterday, with the young activists on Democracy Now! having simply applied under Freedom of Information Act [ed: public records request] for any information on anarchists or on their organizations in Olympia, Washington, and finding this one email inside that referred to this man named John Towery. They started doing some digging, and they realized it was their friend. Well, they knew him as “John Jacob.” He came out of Fort Lewis base. Christopher Pyle, the significance of this?
    CHRISTOPHER PYLE: I think the significance is less that the Army is monitoring civilian political activity than that there is a network, a nationwide network, of fusion centers, these state police intelligence units, these municipal police intelligence units, that bring together the services of the military, of police, and even private corporations to share information about alleged terrorist groups in cities throughout the country. I was fascinated by the story of the Air Force officer from New Jersey making an inquiry to the police in the state of Washington about this group. This is an enormous network. It’s funded by the Homeland Security Department. Police departments get a great deal of money to set up these intelligence units. And they monitor, largely, lawful political activity, in violation of the First Amendment and, when the military is involved, in violation of the Posse Comitatus Act.
    AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to play just two clips from yesterday. This is one of the activists in Olympia who exposed that his friend John Jacob was actually John Towery, a military informant and a member of the Force Protection Service at Fort Lewis. I asked Brendan Maslauskas Dunn, the Olympia activist with Students for a Democratic Society and Port Militarization Resistance, what his first reaction was when he found out.
    BRENDAN MASLAUSKAS DUNN: John Jacob was actually a close friend of mine, so this week has been pretty difficult for me. He was — he said he was an anarchist. I met him over two years ago through community organizing and antiwar organizing I was involved with in Tacoma and Olympia with other anarchists and other activists.

    And he was really interested in Students for a Democratic Society. He wanted to start a chapter of Movement for a Democratic Society, which is connected to SDS. He got involved with Port Militarization Resistance, with Iraq Vets Against the War. He was — you know, knew a lot of people involved with that organization.

    But he was a friend of mine. We hung out. We gave workshops together on grassroots direct democracy and anarchist struggle. I mean, he was a friend. A lot of people really, really did like him. He was a kind person. He was a generous person. So it was really just a shock for me this week when all of this was determined.

    AMY GOODMAN: Brendan Maslauskas Dunn went on to describe exactly what his so-called friend, John Towery, said when he confronted him with the evidence.
    BRENDAN MASLAUSKAS DUNN: He admitted that, yes, he did in fact spy on us. He did in fact infiltrate us. He admitted that he did pass on information to an intelligence network, which, as you mentioned earlier, was composed of dozens of law enforcement agencies, ranging from municipal to county to state to regional, and several federal agencies, including Immigration Customs Enforcement, Joint Terrorism Task Force, FBI, Homeland Security, the Army in Fort Lewis.

    So he admitted to other things, too. He admitted that the police had placed a camera, surveillance camera, across the street from a community center in Tacoma that anarchists ran called the Pitch Pipe Infoshop. He admitted that there were police that did put a camera up there to spy on anarchists, on activists going there.

    He also — one other thing he spoke of — I don’t know if this is true. I mean, honestly, I don’t know what to believe from John, but he said that the police in Tacoma and Olympia had been planning for a while on raiding the anarchist Pitch Pipe Infoshop and also the house I lived in with several other activists in Olympia. And they had approached John several times, saying, you know, “Do they have bombs and explosives and drugs and guns and things like that?” which is just disgusting to even think that they would suggest that. They’re just trying to silence us politically. They’re going after us for our politics and for our work, you know, around Port Militarization Resistance and around antiwar organizing. And, of course, John told them, no, we didn’t have any of those stuff. He told them the truth.

    But he also mentioned that there were other informants that are amongst us.

    AMY GOODMAN: Brendan Maslauskas Dunn, the Olympia activist with Students for a Democratic Society and Port Militarization Resistance, the one who put in the Freedom of Information Act request [ed: public records request] and found out his friend, who he thought was named “John Jacob,” was John Towery out of Fort Lewis base in Washington state.
    Christopher Pyle, you’re now a professor. You were in military intelligence, a captain. When you started to uncover the military, what, almost forty years ago, investigating civilian groups, give us the history.
    CHRISTOPHER PYLE: Well, I was teaching law at the US Army Intelligence School, and I was asked to teach a class on CONUS intelligence and spot reports. CONUS is the acronym for continental United States. So I delivered a lecture about the need for the use of the military to put down riots, which did not require identifying any persons. You simply go in, clear the streets, declare a curfew, quiet things down, restore order.
    And an officer came up to me after class and said, “Captain Pyle, you don’t know much about this, do you?” And I said, “No.” And he said, “Well, I can arrange a briefing.” And he did.
    He took to me across the post to the headquarters of the US Army Intelligence Command’s CONUS Intelligence Section. There I discovered thirteen teletype machines reporting on every demonstration around the country of twenty people or more. The reports were coming from 1,500 Army plainclothes agents working out of 300 offices. They had it all covered.
    They showed me a mug book of persons who could be rounded up in case of a civil disturbance. The military really believed that if you had a civil disturbance or a protest, it was very important to know the names of the people who might be protesting, because, you never know, they might be connected with a cadre of agitators and communists behind them.
    Well, the same pattern is now developing under the Northern — the US Army’s Northern Command, which coordinates domestic intelligence work for the US Army and tries to prepare for what they call “military assistance to civil authorities.” It was out of this that the TALON reports came, but I also helped to disclose, reports on lawful, constitutionally protected antiwar activities. And so, history is repeating itself.
    AMY GOODMAN: Who were some of the people in the mug shots, Christopher Pyle?
    CHRISTOPHER PYLE: Well, the first one —-
    AMY GOODMAN: Who did they say could be rounded up?
    CHRISTOPHER PYLE: The first volume, under letter A, was Ralph David Abernathy, who was head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and a close associate of Dr. Martin Luther King. And there were many more of that type.
    AMY GOODMAN: So, you’re saying -—
    CHRISTOPHER PYLE: Perfectly law-abiding citizens.
    AMY GOODMAN: So, you’re saying some protest happened somewhere, or a riot, and they can go to where Ralph David Abernathy is, in a wholly different place, and round him up.
    CHRISTOPHER PYLE: Yes, today, particularly, with the power of computers and internet communications and monitoring the public airwaves, this network of seventy-two fusion centers, plus all of the subordinate groups that provide information and seek information, can follow you and me and just about anybody all around the country. They don’t have to put transponders in our cars. They could use E-ZPass on the highway. But in your case from the state of Washington, they apparently used a transponder in an antiwar protester’s automobile. This is the kind of surveillance society this country does not need.
    AMY GOODMAN: Who else was listed at the time?
    CHRISTOPHER PYLE: Say that again?
    AMY GOODMAN: Who else was listed at the time, both individuals and organizations that you saw targeted?
    CHRISTOPHER PYLE: Well, one of the printouts that the military gave me of their surveillance for a particular week in 1968 included the infiltration of a Unitarian Church. In more recent years, surveillance of Quaker groups, the infiltration of Quaker groups in Florida, who were planning to protest military recruitment in their local high school. These are the people who, according to the TALON reports, are considered to be potential threats to military security.
    AMY GOODMAN: And explain what you mean by TALON.
    CHRISTOPHER PYLE: TALON is a collection of intelligence reports of threats to military bases that were collected by an unknown group for many years after 9/11 called the Counterintelligence Field Activity. It had a thousand employees. It was located in the Pentagon. And it was monitoring civil disturbances around the country, following a pattern very much like the 1960s and ’70s.
    The idea was that if you could follow enough protesters in the — protests in the country, or enough disturbances, you could tell when the country was going to overheat and the military would have to be called in. In the 1960s, they thought that if they could tell how many protests there were on college campuses, they could then predict riots in the black ghettos of the major cities of the United States. It was ludicrous intelligence work, but that’s what they had in mind.
    AMY GOODMAN: So, you left there that day, saying you were going to write an article. You were going to expose this. You learned about huge databases, places like in — where? In Baltimore, Maryland.
    CHRISTOPHER PYLE: Well, a big center was in Baltimore, Maryland, and — but there were six other computer databanks back then. Computers were still in their infancy. They were still being fed with computer punch cards. Nothing like we have today. They were bush league compared to what now exists in these fusion centers, that you’ve reported on, from the state of Washington.

    AMY GOODMAN: And what happened as a result of this information? You’re a military intelligence captain. You’re appalled by what you see: the targeting of civilians. You write an article. What ensued?
    CHRISTOPHER PYLE: Well, what was really interesting is I began to hear from my former students, who had been doing this work on active duty. And I eventually recruited 125 counterintelligence agents to tell what they knew about the domestic intelligence operations of the US Army. I shared this information with the press and with congressional committees. Senator Ervin, in the Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights, held hearings, which I organized and disclosed the existence of this system. The military was embarrassed by the system and eventually disbanded it and burned all the records. I checked on that by interviewing the guys who did the burning of the records.
    AMY GOODMAN: There’s a discussion right now among the people who are involved — Congress member Barbara Lee; in New Jersey, Rush Holt, congressman; chair of the Judiciary Committee, Conyers — weighing a committee be set up to once again investigate, as the Church Committee did, intelligence in this country and its far-reaching effects. For example, the example we brought out yesterday of the military infiltrating peace groups, and this was just one individual that we looked at. Talk about what came from the Ervin and the Church Committee hearings.

    CHRISTOPHER PYLE: Well, the Church Committee did the most extensive investigation of all the agencies. Ervin’s committee just did Army intelligence. But nobody had ever done anything to investigate intelligence agencies before Senator Ervin took it upon himself to do so. Once Ervin proved that there was extensive misconduct and abuse of authority, then others got interested. And the House created a committee under Otis Pike, and the Senate created a special committee under Frank Church. They had to create special committees, because there were no standing committees to oversee the intelligence agencies.
    And as the result of the work of those two committees, we now have standing congressional committees whose job is supposed to be to oversee the work of the intelligence committees. So the proposal for yet another select committee to do the work of existing committees seems to me a political nonstarter, but maybe Barbara Lee knows something more about the politics of Capitol Hill than I do.
    AMY GOODMAN: What do you think needs to be done right now?
    CHRISTOPHER PYLE: I think that we need to prosecute the torturers. I think that’s the biggest single message that we could give to the intelligence community, that it is not above the law. That’s even more important than the domestic intelligence, and the domestic intelligence, to me, is extremely important. That’s the untold story that you’ve begun to tell, but there have been many other abuses of authority. And when you get into torture, kidnapping, secret illegal detention and assassination, it seems to me you’ve gone over the hill to the most serious abuses any intelligence community can possibly commit, and that’s the place to start. Don’t lose our focus on that.
    And then, after that, we need to investigate ways of curbing domestic intelligence activity. And there’s an area of this which has not yet become publicly known, and that is the role of corporations working with the intelligence agencies, corporations which do data processing and data mining, which are totally exempt from any state or federal privacy laws. There’s no control on them at all. And when they’re part of this network, they can use Google and techniques like Google, sophisticated techniques, to gather a great deal of information on the personal lives of the young men you had on your program yesterday.
    AMY GOODMAN: Christopher Pyle, this is just the beginning, and we’re going to have you back. Your new book, Getting Away with Torture

    . Christopher Pyle was a military intelligence captain when he exposed the surveillance of civilian groups in this country, now a professor at Mount Holyoke College. Thank you for being with us.

    Creative Commons License The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

    WEDNESDAY, JULY 29, 2009

    Find this story at 29 July 2009

    Democracy Now! Broadcast Exclusive: Declassified Docs Reveal Military Operative Spied on WA Peace Groups, Activist Friends Stunned (2009)

    Newly declassified documents reveal that an active member of Students for a Democratic Society and Port Militarization Resistance in Washington state was actually an informant for the US military. The man everyone knew as “John Jacob” was in fact John Towery, a member of the Force Protection Service at Fort Lewis. The military’s role in the spying raises questions about possibly illegal activity. The Posse Comitatus law bars the use of the armed forces for law enforcement inside the United States. The Fort Lewis military base denied our request for an interview. But in a statement to Democracy Now!, the base’s Public Affairs office publicly acknowledged for the first time that Towery is a military operative. “This could be one of the key revelations of this era,” said Eileen Clancy, who has closely tracked government spying on activist organizations. [includes rush transcript]

    This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

    ANJALI KAMAT: We begin with a Democracy Now! broadcast exclusive. Peace activists in Washington state have revealed an informant posing as an anarchist has spied on them while working under the US military. The activists are members of the group Students for a Democratic Society and Port Militarization Resistance, which protests military shipments bound for Iraq and Afghanistan.
    Before his true identity was revealed, the informant was known as “John Jacob,” an active member of antiwar groups in the towns of Olympia and Tacoma. But using documents obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request [ed: public records request], the activists learned that “John Jacob” is in fact John Towery, a member of the Force Protection Service at the nearby Fort Lewis military base.
    The activists claim Towery has admitted to them he shared information with an intelligence network that stretches from local and state police to several federal agencies, to the US military. They also say he confirmed the existence of other government spies but wouldn’t reveal their identity.
    The military’s role in the spying raises questions about possibly illegal activity. The Posse Comitatus law bars the use of the armed forces for law enforcement inside the United States.
    AMY GOODMAN: The Fort Lewis military base denied our request for an interview. But in a statement to Democracy Now!, the base’s Public Affairs office publicly acknowledged for the first time that Towery is a military operative. The statement says, quote, “John Towery performs sensitive work within the installation law enforcement community, and it would not be appropriate for him to discuss his duties with the media.” Fort Lewis also says it’s launched an internal inquiry. We invited John Towery on the broadcast, but he didn’t respond to our interview request.
    In a Democracy Now! broadcast exclusive, we’re now joined in Seattle by the two activists who exposed John Towery as a military informant. Brendan Maslauskas Dunn counted John Towery, or “John Jacob,” as a close friend. But he discovered Towery’s identity after obtaining government documents under a Freedom of Information Act request [ed: public records request]. Brendan is an Olympia-based activist with Students for a Democratic Society and Port Militarization Resistance. We’re also joined in Seattle by Drew Hendricks. He is an Olympia activist with Port Militarization Resistance who worked closely with John Towery, aka “John Jacob.” This is their first broadcast interview since coming forward with their story.
    Brendan, let’s begin with you. Just lay out how you found out about this military spy.
    BRENDAN MASLAUSKAS DUNN: Well, thanks for having us, Amy.
    I actually did a public records request through the city of Olympia several months ago on behalf of the union I’m in, the Industrial Workers of the World, and the records request I did, I had asked for any documents or emails, etc., that the city had, especially in discussions or any kind of communications between the Olympia police and the military in the city generally, anything on anarchists, anarchy, anarchism, Students for a Democratic Society or the Industrial Workers of the World. I got back hundreds of documents from the city.
    One of the documents was an email that was sent between personnel in the military, and the email address that was attached to this email was of John J. Towery. We didn’t know who that was, but several people did a lot of research to find out who that was, and they identified that person as being John Jacob.
    AMY GOODMAN: And what was your first reaction? Who was John Jacob to you?
    BRENDAN MASLAUSKAS DUNN: John Jacob was actually a close friend of mine, so this week has been pretty difficult for me. He was — he said he was an anarchist. I met him over two years ago through community organizing and antiwar organizing I was involved with in Tacoma and Olympia with other anarchists and other activists.
    And he was really interested in Students for a Democratic Society. He wanted to start a chapter of Movement for a Democratic Society, which is connected to SDS. He got involved with Port Militarization Resistance, with Iraq Vets Against the War. He was — you know, knew a lot of people involved with that organization.
    But he was a friend of mine. We hung out. We gave workshops together on grassroots direct democracy and anarchist struggle. I mean, he was a friend. A lot of people really, really did like him. He was a kind person. He was a generous person. So it was really just a shock for me this week when all of this was determined.
    ANJALI KAMAT: And, Brendan, what did John Towery, who you used to know as “John Jacob,” say to you when you confronted him?
    BRENDAN MASLAUSKAS DUNN: Well, after it was confirmed that he was in fact John Towery, I knew he wouldn’t call me, so I called him up the day after. This was this past Thursday. And I called him up; I said, “John, you know, what’s the deal? Is this true?” And he told me; he said, “Yes, it is true, but there’s a lot more to this story than what was publicized.” So he wanted to meet with me and another anarchist in person to further discuss what happened and what his role was.
    So, when I met him, he admitted to several things. He admitted that, yes, he did in fact spy on us. He did in fact infiltrate us. He admitted that he did pass on information to an intelligence network, which, as you mentioned earlier, was composed of dozens of law enforcement agencies, ranging from municipal to county to state to regional, and several federal agencies, including Immigration Customs Enforcement, Joint Terrorism Task Force, FBI, Homeland Security, the Army in Fort Lewis.
    So he admitted to other things, too. He admitted that the police had placed a camera, surveillance camera, across the street from a community center in Tacoma that anarchists ran called the Pitch Pipe Infoshop. He admitted that there were police that did put a camera up there to spy on anarchists, on activists going there.
    He also — one other thing he spoke of — I don’t know if this is true. I mean, honestly, I don’t know what to believe from John, but he said that the police in Tacoma and Olympia had been planning for a while on raiding the anarchist Pitch Pipe Infoshop and also the house I lived in with several other activists in Olympia. And they had approached John several times, saying, you know, “Do they have bombs and explosives and drugs and guns and things like that?” which is just disgusting to even think that they would suggest that. They’re just trying to silence us politically. They’re going after us for our politics and for our work, you know, around Port Militarization Resistance and around antiwar organizing. And, of course, John told them, no, we didn’t have any of those stuff. He told them the truth.
    But he also mentioned that there were other informants that are amongst us.
    AMY GOODMAN: Brendan, we’re going to break. Then we’re going to come back to this discussion. I really want to talk to Drew Hendricks about John’s involvement in IT, in the technical aspects, the coordination of the LISTSERVs.
    Today, a Democracy Now! exclusive, an exposé on a military spy in peace groups in Olympia, Washington. Brendan Dunn is our guest, Olympia activist with Students for a Democratic Society and Port Militarization Resistance. He discovered that his friend, fellow activist “John Jacob,” was actually a military spy. And Drew Hendricks will be joining us in a minute, talking about his involvement. John Towery, their friend, “John Jacob.” Stay with us.
    AMY GOODMAN: Today, a national broadcast exclusive. A military spy in the ranks of antiwar activists in Olympia, Washington.
    We have a number of guests. We’ve just been speaking with Brendan Maslauskas Dunn, Olympia activist with Students for a Democratic Society and Port Militarization Resistance. He discovered, through an FOIA request, a Freedom of Information Act request [ed: public records request], that his friend, fellow activist “John Jacob,” was actually working with Fort Lewis base in Washington state, was a military spy in his organizations.
    Drew Hendricks is with us, as well, in Seattle, also an Olympia activist with the same groups, Port Militarization Resistance. He worked with John Towery, his real name — “John Jacob” is how they knew him — before the exposé that has now coming out.
    Drew, tell us how you met John and how he was involved in the organizations.
    DREW HENDRICKS: I first met John in September of 2007, and he approached me as somebody who claimed to have base access, which turned out to be true. He did admit that he was a civilian employee for the Army. And what he was offering me were observations and inside knowledge of operations on Fort Lewis.
    I let him know that I wasn’t willing to have any classified information from him and that I wasn’t engaged in espionage. I was looking for open source information and looking for insight into movements of military materials over the public roads, so that people other than myself could organize protests or organize blockades, as they might see fit, and it wasn’t appropriate for me to be involved in their plans. It was only appropriate for him let me know things that I could confirm from open ground, from public spaces. He abided by those rules, for the most part.
    And he did not reveal his role to me that he was actually part of a force protection cell, that he was actually reporting to DES fusion and part of the intelligence operation of Fort Lewis. He wasn’t admitting to me that his reports were going to Washington Joint Analytical Center, which is a function of the Washington State Patrol and the Federal Bureau of Intimidation — I’m sorry, Investigation.
    But he did provide what he purported to be observations of operations on Fort Lewis, and he was involved with the group for a few months before I mistakenly and stupidly, in retrospect, trusted him with co-administration of our LISTSERV, our shared means of talking to each other over electronic media.
    AMY GOODMAN: And the LISTSERV involvement, how much control he had over who was involved in your groups, Drew?
    DREW HENDRICKS: Well, he could tell from that access who all was subscribed to the LISTSERV. He couldn’t control who was coming into or out of meetings, but he could find out who people were, if they were subscribed to the LISTSERV. And he did challenge some people who were attempting to get to the LISTSERV for their credentials, for people who could vouch for them being people who were not law enforcement or people who were not military intelligence who were coming into that activity. He wasn’t in control of what messages people could send, but as an administrator on RiseUp, he could have unsubscribed people, and there were some people that were disruptive that he did unsubscribe, in a way that the other LISTSERV administrators, for the most part, agreed with.
    He wasn’t found to be abusing his authorities as a LISTSERV administrator directly, although he probably reported that list upwards in his chain of command or his chain of employment. And that served a significant chilling role for him as a military employee. He’s a civilian employee, but he is a former military-enlisted person. And so, he understood, or should have understood, that what he was doing was legally inappropriate. I’m not a lawyer, but in my opinion and from the history I’ve read, what he was doing was rather extraordinary, from the histories that I’ve read.
    ANJALI KAMAT: I want to bring three others into this discussion. Joining us from Washington, DC is Mike German. He’s the National Security Policy Counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. He previously served as an FBI agent specializing in domestic counterterrorism from 1988 to 2004.
    Also joining us here in New York is Eileen Clancy. She’s a founding member of I-Witness Video, a video collective that has documented government surveillance of activist groups for years. Her group was targeted by police raids last summer during the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota.
    And on the line with us from Bellingham, Washington is Larry Hildes, an attorney and National Lawyers Guild member who has represented Washington state-based activists with Students for a Democratic Society and Port Militarization Resistance in criminal and civil cases.
    Larry, I want to go to you. Can you talk about your involvement with this and on what bases you have represented these activists?
    LARRY HILDES: Absolutely. Good morning, by the way.
    Yeah, I’ve been — I got involved — there was a sit-in at the gate of the Port of Olympia back in May of 2006 to protest use of the port for military shipments to Iraq and Afghanistan. And it’s been a wonderful experience. I have represented these folks through several rounds of criminal cases throughout Pierce and Thurston Counties, Tacoma and Olympia. And now we are suing, based in part on spying, in conjunction with the Seattle office of the ACLU.
    And it got strange fairly early. We were in trial in March of 2007, arguing that these folks were not guilty of criminal violations for sitting at the gate, when they weren’t allowed into the port itself. The prosecutors kind of hinted that there was — that they had inside information that they shouldn’t have had. And the fourth day of the trial, as it’s clear that we have the jury, prosecutor’s office came out with a confidential jury analysis sheet that my office had done, that was circulated only on the internal attorney-client LISTSERV that was exclusively for the defense team, and announced that this was all over the internet and got a mistrial.
    And we’re trying to figure out in the courtroom what’s going on here. Never seen anything like this. We know it’s not on the internet. And the person who set up the LISTSERV — so we’ve got LISTSERV stuff going on even before Mr. Towery’s involvement — person on the LISTSERV discovers that there’s two people who we never heard of, who they had not subscribed, he had not allowed onto the list. Those two turned out to be Tacoma police officers. And we’ve now found that the Tacoma police knew that this document was going to be revealed, knew it would probably be a mistrial, and was speculating — and knew exactly when it would be and was speculating what the effects would be. So, the spying started early.
    It was very clear that they treated these folks — the worst thing they’ve ever done is acts of civil disobedience, peacefully, nonviolently trying to stop military blockades by standing in front of tanks and Strykers — that they were treating this like a very, very serious situation. So we knew that early. And it’s become clear that there was a lot of spying going on throughout this process. We kind of knew that this was coming.
    Right now I’m defending a group of demonstrators who were arrested in Olympia in November of ’07, allegedly trying to block a troop convoy or a Stryker convoy from coming out of the port to go back to Fort Lewis to be repaired and sent back to Iraq again. And the police reports talk about —- the incident commander talks about the fact that they had Army intelligence sources reporting to them detailed discussions that were going on in private meetings that Port Militarization Resistance was having, where they were discussing tactics and strategies. And based on that information, they decided that our clients from that action, who were sitting in an empty road outside of a closed gate, with no military vehicles in sight, were intending to blockade traffic and were arrested for attempted disorderly conduct, a charge we’ve never seen in our lives.
    So we started trying to find out what’s going. We got the judge to agree to sign subpoenas, which were immediately refused by the head of the civil division of the US attorney’s office in Seattle, Brian Kipnis, saying they had no standing and they weren’t going to respond, and ordered the Army not to give us this information. So -—
    AMY GOODMAN: Tell us more about this US attorney. And also, isn’t he the attorney who prosecuted Ehren Watada —-
    LARRY HILDES: That’s exactly -—
    AMY GOODMAN: — the first officer to say no to going to war in Iraq, refusing to lead young men and women there for a war he felt was immoral?
    LARRY HILDES: That’s exactly right, Amy. He handled the Ninth Circuit appeals and stood up in the courtroom and said, “OK, he’s had his appeal. Now we need to go forward. He needs to be prosecuted. We want a second court-martial,” and continued to argue that. And the day that the decision came — Ninth Circuit decision came down saying, “No, this was double jeopardy; you can’t do this,” he said, “Well, we’re going to prosecute him on the remaining claims anyway,” which, of course, has not happened.
    He was also involved in a number of the Guantanamo cases and has been arguing that evidence of torture shouldn’t come out, because it would reveal confidential information about how Guantanamo was set up. So, his role has been, throughout this, to obstruct.
    I sent him a letter saying, “OK, now we have this information. I ask for your help in investigating this, because this is a crime.” Under the Posse Comitatus Act of 1887, it is a crime for the US military to become involved in civilian law enforcement. And they’ve chipped away at it, but it’s still a crime. I got a letter back now telling me I have to ask the Army. I got this yesterday, saying, “You have to go through channels with the Army.” I’ve gone through channels with the Army, and the Army has told me they’re not allowed to talk to me, because he told them not to. So we’re going back and forth with this guy.
    He has been in the US attorney’s office throughout much of the Bush administration. And apparently his job is to obstruct and punish those involved in protesting the war and those protesting torture. Interesting character. I had never heard of him before this. Apparently has a close relative — there aren’t that many Kipnises, but there are some —- who runs a security firm that specializes in analysis of national security issues. So it’s a cozy little family network there. So -—
    ANJALI KAMAT: I’d like to turn to Mike German and bring him into the conversation, National Security Policy Counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, DC. Mike German, what’s your response to all of this?
    MIKE GERMAN: Well, I think his analysis is exactly right. This is a pretty clear violation of Posse Comitatus. Now, what the military would argue, and has argued, is that they have a right to engage in force protection, which obviously, in its normal understanding of that term, is a defensive sort of capability, i.e. they can put guards at the gates of military bases and protect from threats from without. But they seem to have been, since 2002, considering that as an offensive capability, where they’re actually sending operatives out to spy on community activists, which is, of course, prohibited and something that, you know, the First and the Fourth Amendment become engaged.
    And, you know, this is something that we found out through a FOIA back in 2005 the military was engaged in through a group called the Counterintelligence Field Activity. And they had a database of activists called TALON that, again, collected this US person information that the military has no business collecting. And that was shut down. But unfortunately, you know, they just created a new mechanism. This appears to be the fusion centers and these fusion cells that they’re using that, they seem to think, give them a method of circumventing Posse Comitatus and the restrictions on military intelligence gathering in the United States.
    AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you mean, Mike, by fusion centers.
    MIKE GERMAN: About two years ago, me and a colleague at the ACLU started investigating a lot of federal money going to what were called intelligence fusion centers. And I was only two years out of federal law enforcement at that point, and I had never heard this term, so I became concerned. And what these centers are is multi-jurisdictional intelligence centers that involve state, local and federal law enforcement, as well as other government entities — you know, a lot of times there are emergency services type of entities, but actually can’t involve any government entity — but also involve oftentimes the military and private companies.
    So we produced a report in November of 2007 warning of the potential dangers that these multi-jurisdictional centers had, because it was unclear whose rules applied. Were we using federal rules? Were we using state rules? Local rules? And what was military and private company — what rules govern their conduct? So we put out this report in November of 2007. At that point, there were forty-two fusion centers. By July of 2008, we had found so many instances of abuse, we put out an updated report. At that point, there were fifty-eight fusion centers. Today, the DHS recognizes at least seventy-two fusion centers. So these things are rapidly growing, without any sort of proper boundaries on what activities happen within them and without really any idea of what it is the military is doing in these fusion centers and what type of access they have to US person information.
    AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn back for a moment to the two activists in Olympia. They’re speaking to us from Seattle today, first time they’re speaking out nationally, Brendan Dunn and Drew Hendricks. Just give us a sense, Brendan, of why you got involved in activism. People might be listening and watching right now and wondering, “I’ve never even heard of Port Militarization Resistance,” or perhaps the new Students for a Democratic Society, based on the old. What’s your background, Brendan?
    BRENDAN MASLAUSKAS DUNN: Well, I guess I really started to get involved with activism and organizing — it was in high school, but it wasn’t until after high school, when my friend’s brother was shot and killed by the police in Utica, New York. His name was Walter Washington. And the community developed a response to that, and, you know, that’s what really started to get me thinking and actively organizing. That’s really when I got involved.
    I moved to Olympia a little over three years ago. Since then, I’ve been involved with a lot, with Students for a Democratic Society. And, you know, the more police repression I’ve learned about or experienced and just repression, generally, that it’s moved me in a more radical direction. That’s when I started to pick up anarchist politics and organizing.
    So I’ve been involved with Students for a Democratic Society and Port Militarization Resistance — just makes sense to me, because the military — this is one of the most highly militarized areas of the country, if not the world, western Washington is. And it just makes sense to me that if we want to throw a gear in the war machine, the best way to do it is in our own backyard, our own towns. And in our case, it’s in the Port of Olympia, the Port of Tacoma, the Port of Grays Harbor in Aberdeen. And that’s where direct action makes sense and community struggle makes sense.
    AMY GOODMAN: And, Drew Hendricks, your involvement in Port Militarization Resistance, known for trying to stop some of the — for example, the Stryker vehicles from being sent to Iraq?
    DREW HENDRICKS: Yes. My primary activity with Port Militarization Resistance is as a coordinator for intelligence collection, so that people have the time that they need to make good decisions about what it is that they’re going to do. I’ve taken one direct action myself against said activity early on in the end of May 2006. I blocked a couple of gates shut overnight and was arrested during that action and found and put in jail for a few hours. But for the most part, my role has been to collect information and disseminate it to the people who need to know, so that they can make timely decisions.
    AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, then come back to this conversation. We are doing a national exposé today on a person who worked in the military spying on peace groups in Washington state. His name — well, they thought his name was John Jacob. His name is John Towery. We asked that he come — we wanted him to come on the broadcast, but he didn’t respond to our request. We also asked the military to join us; we read the statement earlier, yes, admitting that John Towery worked with them. We’ll continue this conversation in a minute.
    AMY GOODMAN: We bring you this exclusive on peace activists in Washington state revealing an informant posing as an anarchist has spied on them while working under the US military — the activists, members of the group Students for a Democratic Society and Port Militarization Resistance, which protests military shipments bound for Iraq and Afghanistan.
    Yes, this is Democracy Now!, and we urge you to go to our website at democracynow.org, where we’re video and audio podcasting, where you can see the documents that they got under Freedom of Information Act [ed: public records request].
    ANJALI KAMAT: The government documents also show that intelligence officers from other government and military agencies inquired Olympia police about the Washington state peace activists. In an email to an Olympia police officer from February 2008, Thomas Glapion, Chief Investigations/Intel of New Jersey’s McGuire Air Force, writes, quote, “Good Morning, first let me thank you for the effort. To the contrary you were quite the help to me. You are now part of my Intel network. I’m still looking at possible protests by the PMR SDS MDS and other left wing anti war groups so any Intel you have would be appreciated…In return if you need anything from the Armed Forces I will try to help you as well,” end-quote.
    Now, we contacted the McGuire Air Base, and they also denied our interview request. They released a short statement saying only, quote, “Our force protection specialists routinely research local and national groups in response to potential risks and threats to Air Force installations and to ensure the safety of our personnel,” end-quote.
    Another declassified email from February 2008 comes from Andrew Pecher of the US Capitol Police Intelligence Investigations Section in Washington, DC. The email is also addressed to an Olympia police contact. It says, quote, “I am just droppjng [sic] in to see if you had a problems with the below action that we had talked about a few weeks ago. Any information that you have would be helpful. Thank you!!” end-quote. The “action” Pecher refers to is the “Northwest DNC/RNC Resistance Conference,” an event that was held at Evergreen State College to prepare for protests at last summer’s Democratic and Republican conventions.
    I want to go to Brendan Maslauskas Dunn. Brendan, how did you find this information? When you first saw this information, can you talk about your reaction?
    BRENDAN MASLAUSKAS DUNN: Well, when it all surfaced through the public records requests, I wasn’t surprised. I guess I had been expecting this, especially with the level of activity that activists have been involved with in Olympia, in the last few years, especially. But, I mean, it still was a shock. I didn’t know it was that extensive. I guess that’s why it was a shock to me.
    I didn’t know that the Air Force from New Jersey was interested in activities that activists in Olympia were involved with. And I didn’t know that the Capitol police in Washington, DC was trying to extract information from people in Olympia, as well.
    So I always suspected that there was surveillance going on. It was obvious it was going on locally from local agencies and local police agencies. I had no idea how widespread it is. And I think this is just the tip of the iceberg. I have no clue what’s below the water.
    AMY GOODMAN: Eileen Clancy, I’d like to bring you into this conversation. You have long been documenting police and federal authorities’ activities in antiwar and peace protests at the conventions in 2004 and then 2008. You, yourselves, at I-Witness were targeted. You were detained by police. The places that you were setting up video to video police actions on the streets were raided by the police in St. Paul. Your reaction to what you’re listening to and watching today?
    EILEEN CLANCY: Well, I have to say, I think this is one of the most important revelations of spying on the American people that we’ve seen since the beginning of the Bush era. It’s very clear that there’s no such thing as one spy, especially not in the Army. So — and it’s very clear that this problem is national in scope, in that sort of casual manner that these folks are interacting with each other.
    It’s really like in January 1970. Christopher Pyle, who was a former US Army intelligence officer, revealed in Washington Monthly that there was an extraordinary program of spying by the Army on political protest groups. And he said that — well, what was written in the New York Times was that the Army detectives would attend some of these events, but the majority of material that they gathered was from police departments, local governments and the FBI. And at that time, they had a special teletype, pre-internet, that connected the Army nationwide and where the police could load up their information on this stuff. They also published a small book that was a blacklist, which is similar now to the terrorist watch list, where the police share information about activists with maybe no criminal basis whatsoever. And at the time, in January 1970, Pyle said that there was a hope to link the teletype systems to computerized databanks in Baltimore, Maryland, which, of course, is the general area of the National Security Agency, which does most of the spying for — it’s supposed to be foreign, but apparently they do domestic spying, as well.
    So this now, what we have here — and after these revelations, there was a Church Committee. There was a great deal of investigating that went on. And while a lot of it was covered up, the military was pushed back for a while on this front. But because now we have the capability of gathering an extraordinary amount of information and holding onto it and sharing it, through the internet and through other means, we really have this 1970s problem amped up on steroids, twenty-first-century-style. And this had been going on for a while.
    Something terrible has been going on in the Pacific Northwest in terms of police spying. There are other documents that had been revealed — the Tacoma police, Homeland Security, meetings, minutes. And you can see that one of the essential problems with this kind of model and the fusion center model is that in the same meeting, they’re talking about a Grannies Against the War group handing out fliers at the local mall, and they’re talking about new information about what al-Qaeda is going to do. It’s a model that doesn’t make any sense whatsoever, and it’s a model that’s based really on hysteria.
    When you see those pictures that were just shown on the screen, pictures of people with no weapons standing in the middle of a road with giant Army vehicles in front of them, you know, it’s clear that the protest is of a symbolic nature. There’s no violence involved on the part of the activists. It’s a traditional sit-in type of protest. The idea that the Army, the Navy and the Marines would become hysterical at this threat, I mean, it is the Army, it’s the Navy, it’s the Marines. And when — that’s the reason the Army shouldn’t be involved in this, because the job of an army — and they’ll tell you this — is to kill people and break things. The motto of the Stryker Brigade Combat Team that’s housed at Fort Lewis, that this force protection cell was trying to protect, their motto is “strike and destroy.” They’re really built for one thing, and it’s certainly not policing. It’s certainly not dealing with community activist groups, Grannies Against the War, or local activists in Olympia.
    AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask about Rush Holt, the New Jersey congressman — we’re talking about McGuire Air Base, actually, in New Jersey — who has just in the last weeks been calling for a Church-like, Pike-like investigation of the intelligence community, starts by talking about the CIA. He’s raised this with the Washington Independent, with the Newark Star-Ledger, even raised it on Lou Dobbs a few days ago. And the significance of something at this level of the Church Committee hearings that investigated spying — Sy Hersh exposed it decades ago in a major article in the New York Times. Mike German, at this point, the significance of something like this? And do you think we would see this under President Obama?
    MIKE GERMAN: I would hope so. You know, when we first came out with our report on fusion centers and warned about the military presence, you know, people told us that that wasn’t something we needed to be concerned about. And, you know, so this is a very important revelation, that there is actual evidence of abuse, that hopefully will open the eyes of the people who are responsible for overseeing these types of activities. And I believe something like a select investigative committee to investigate such activities is certainly called for. And, in fact, Representative Barbara Lee had introduced back in April a bill that would allow a select committee to investigate national security policy and practices. So, we’re hoping that this will bring support to that effort.
    AMY GOODMAN: I also wanted to ask Brendan Dunn about the evidence of other spies in your organization. In fact, didn’t John — “John Jacob,” now known as John Towery, who worked at Fort Lewis — didn’t he tell you about others that he actually wanted out of the organization sometimes and called the military to get them out?
    BRENDAN MASLAUSKAS DUNN: Yeah, that’s true. I mean, that’s his story, at least. He admitted that there were a few other informants that were sent.
    He had a weird story, which, you know, we know isn’t true, based on the public records and the documents that we have in our hands, that he was, you know, forced into this position to spy on us, that he didn’t do it for pay, that he only reported to the Tacoma police and wasn’t connected to the military whatsoever. I mean, it’s a good cover story to, you know, let the military free and blame it on a bunch of Keystone cops in Tacoma, but there was actually another email I got through the records request that was sent between a couple Olympia police officers, and they had mentioned something about their Army guy that was working for them and something else about someone in the Coast Guard that was also perhaps, still perhaps, currently acting as an informant.
    AMY GOODMAN: We also, in doing research on John Towery, have information, addresses that he had at both Fort Drum, Upstate New York, and also in Brussels, which we associate with NATO. Is there any understanding or knowledge you have of this, either Brendan or Drew? Did he talk about this in his past?
    BRENDAN MASLAUSKAS DUNN: This is actually the first I’ve heard of it. I’m actually surprised, because I used to live near Fort Drum. I used to go to school near Fort Drum before I moved out to Olympia. So this is news to me. I’ve never heard anything.
    AMY GOODMAN: Right now, in figuring out how you go forward, I wanted to bring Larry Hildes back into this conversation. Information about one activist actually having a locator put in his car to figure out where he was going from one protest to another, can you tell us about Phil Chin, Larry?
    LARRY HILDES: Yes, I can. And we’re actually suing about this in conjunction with the Seattle ACLU now. Mr. Chin was on his way to a demonstration at the Port of Aberdeen. It was going to be a peaceful march, not even any civil disobedience. His license plate was called in, and Washington state patrol sent an attempt-to-locate code — we didn’t know what an attempt-to-locate code was until this — saying, “There are three known anarchists in this car, in this green Ford Taurus. Apprehend them, and then let the Aberdeen police know.”
    So he gets pulled over for supposedly going five miles an hour under the speed limit in heavy traffic and charged with DUI, despite the fact he hasn’t had anything to drink, hasn’t done any drugs, total — every single test comes up absolutely negative, except for the fact that he had trouble standing on one foot because he had an inner ear infection. The lab tests come up negative. And they still go forward with this, until we move to dismiss and ask what this attempt-to-locate code is. And we find out that it’s — we’ve got the tape, the dispatch tapes of them calling in this car with the three known anarchists — by the way, none of whom was Phil. But on the dashboard of the car that takes him away is a picture of Phil’s other car.
    ANJALI KAMAT: Eileen Clancy, we just have a minute left. What does this, all of this information that’s come out, what does this do for activists? Does it create a climate of fear? What you, who have been spied on, who have had so much experience with this — what are your final words?
    EILEEN CLANCY: I think people should try not to be afraid. They should consider what these fine activists have done here, which is done an extraordinary public service by putting this information out. This could be one of the key revelations of this era, if this is followed up on. It’s very important that people be aggressive about this. And thank goodness they did it.
    AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you all for being with us, Eileen Clancy of I-Witness Video; Mike German of the American Civil Liberties Union; Larry Hildes, National Lawyers Guild, based in Bellingham; and the two activists who have exposed this story through their Freedom of Information Act request [ed: public records request], Brendan Maslauskas Dunn, Olympia-based activist, and Drew Hendricks, as well. Thank you both very much for being with us.

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    TUESDAY, JULY 28, 2009

    Find this story at 28 July 2009

    Obama’s Military Is Spying on U.S. Peace Groups (2009)

    Anti-war activists in Olympia, Wash., have exposed U.S. Army spying and infiltration of their groups, as well as intelligence gathering by the U.S. Air Force, the federal Capitol Police and the Coast Guard.

    The infiltration appears to be in direct violation of the Posse Comitatus Act preventing U.S. military deployment for domestic law enforcement, and may strengthen congressional demands for a full-scale investigation of U.S. intelligence activities, like the Church Committee hearings of the 1970s.

    Brendan Maslauskas Dunn asked the City of Olympia for documents or e-mails about communications between the Olympia police and the military relating to anarchists, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) or the Industrial Workers of the World (Dunn’s union). Dunn received hundreds of documents. One e-mail contained reference to a “John J. Towery II,” who activists discovered was the same person as their fellow activist “John Jacob.”

    Dunn told me: “John Jacob was actually a close friend of mine, so this week has been pretty difficult for me. He said he was an anarchist. He was really interested in SDS. He got involved with Port Militarization Resistance (PMR), with Iraq Vets Against the War. He was a kind person. He was a generous person. So it was really just a shock for me.”

    “Jacob” told the activists he was a civilian employed at Fort Lewis Army Base, and would share information about base activities, which could help PMR organize rallies and protests against public ports being used for troop and Stryker military vehicle deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan. Since 2006, PMR activists have occasionally engaged in civil disobedience, blocking access to the port.

    Larry Hildes, an attorney representing Washington activists, says the U.S. attorney prosecuting the cases against them, Brian Kipnis, specifically instructed the Army not to hand over any information about its intelligence-gathering activities, despite a court order to do so.

    Which is why Dunn’s request to Olympia and the documents he obtained are so important. The military is supposed to be barred from deploying on U.S. soil, or from spying on citizens.

    Christopher Pyle, now a professor of politics at Mount Holyoke College, was a military intelligence officer. He recalled: “In the 1960s, Army intelligence had 1,500 plainclothes agents watching every demonstration of 20 people or more. They had a giant warehouse in Baltimore full of information on the law-abiding activities of American citizens, mainly protest politics.”

    Pyle later investigated the spying for two congressional committees: “As a result of those investigations, the entire U.S. Army Intelligence Command was abolished, and all of its files were burned. Then the Senate Intelligence Committee wrote the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 to stop the warrantless surveillance of electronic communications.”

    Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., Rush Holt, D-N.J., and others are pushing for a new, comprehensive investigation of all U.S. intelligence activities, of the scale of the Church Committee hearings, which exposed widespread spying on and disruption of legal domestic groups, attempts at assassination of foreign heads of state, and more.

    Demands mount for information and accountability for Vice President Dick Cheney’s alleged secret assassination squad, President George W. Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program, and the CIA’s alleged misleading of Congress. But the spying in Olympia occurred well into the Obama administration (and may continue today). President Barack Obama supports retroactive immunity for telecom companies involved in the wiretapping, and has maintained Bush-era reliance on the state secrets privilege. Lee and Holt should take the information uncovered by Brendan Dunn and the Olympia activists and get the investigations started now.

    See/hear/read the full exclusive hour broadcast exposé on Democracy Now!:

    Declassified Docs Reveal Military Operative Spied on WA Peace Groups, Activist Friends Stunned

    Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

    Amy Goodman Amy GoodmanHost, executive producer of Democracy Now!, NYT bestselling author, syndicated columnist
    Posted: July 28, 2009 08:20 PM

    Find this story at 28 July 2008

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    FBI Infiltrates Iowa City Protest Group (2009)
    He was very well dressed. He claimed he’d been in the military. But he said when he was ordered to go to Iraq, he refused and was granted conscientious objector status.

    That’s how activists in Iowa City are now recalling a person they believe was working undercover for the FBI.

    He went by the name of “Jason,” and later changed his name to “Val,” they say.

    And he joined their group as they were planning protests for the Republican National Convention in St. Paul last year.

    “He was an active organizer,” says David Goodner, of the University of Iowa Anti-War Committee. “He gave speeches with other Iraq vets against the war and played a very high-profile role in our group.”

    He even served as moderator for at least one of their meetings, a web search shows. The meeting was held at the Iowa City Public Library on August 21, 2008, just ten days before the Republican National Convention. He then went to St. Paul with the group, ostensibly as a medic.

    “He knew the activist lingo,” Goodner says. “He could speak the slang. And he had instant credibility because he said he was a CO.”

    Another Iowa City group, the Wild Rose Rebellion, first publicly aired the accusation that “Jason”/“Val” was informing to the FBI in an Infoshop News posting of December 17. “The purpose of this statement is to warn all radical organizations and people,” read the posting, which was signed WRR.

    The Des Moines Register then busted the story wide open on May 17.

    Robert Ehl, who goes by the name Ajax, was one of the founders of the Wild Rose Rebellion. The informant “was at the very first meeting at the library,” says Ehl, adding that he didn’t have an inkling that he might be undercover. “We would go and hang out with him—me and him and a couple of people at a bar or somebody’s apartment.”

    Ehl was imprecise about how he found out about the informant.

    “Through a series of events that I can’t go into, it became apparent that he was,” Ehl says. “I confronted him. He admitted it.”

    Three FBI documents obtained by The Progressive show the extent of the monitoring of the Iowa City activists.

    Entitled “Confidential Human Source (CHS) Reporting Document,” each one was written by FBI Special Agent Thomas J. Reinwart on the material provided by the informant, who was “in person” at the events.

    The first one, with a reporting date of August 6, 2008, began: “CHS is aware of a group of individuals who could be considered an anarchist collective in the Iowa City, Iowa, area.” The group was formed, the document says, “to organize for various protest activities at the Republican National Convention (RNC) and the Democratic National Convention (DNC).” It said the people in the group could be divided into “green,” “yellow,” and “red.” The “green” people would provide medical and legal assistance. The “yellow” ones “were described as peaceful protestors.” The “red” ones are “willing to risk arrest and who will potentially be involved in criminal activities.” The group was meeting at the Iowa City Public Library, the document notes.

    The second document, dated August 18, 2008, went into great detail describing some of the activists, “based upon CHS’s knowledge of each person.”

    For instance, one is “described as a white female, 5’10”, 140 pounds, blonde hair and glasses.” The informant provided her cell number, and the document says, “She drives a little dark green four door hatchback.” She is characterized as “Absolute Green.”

    Another is described as a “26 year old white female, shorter maybe 5’4”, skinny, reddish shoulder length hair and glasses.” The document gave the street that she lived on and said she was “more ‘green’ than ‘yellow.’ ” It added: “She helps put together a lot and organize meetings, travels a lot with [name blotted out] and goes to a lot of anarchist, socialist, communist type conventions.”

    A third person was described as an “Anarchist communist” and “Anti-authoritarian.”

    The document also identified where several activists worked.

    The “criminal acts” that the document said the group might be planning consisted of “blocking a bridge in the vicinity of the convention center” or “block off-ramps on an expressway north of the convention center via bike blockade or tipping a car.”

    The document says that “CHS is not aware of any specific threats to any candidates, dignitaries, or delegates.”

    The informant noted that on a map of the St. Paul area put out by a national activist group, “there were various company headquarters highlighted on the map, such as Lockheed Martin. There were no specific threats toward the highlighted companies.”

    But it appears that the informant raised the possibility with the Iowa City group of going after those companies. “CHS took these highlights to show people what companies are in the area in case they wanted to [blanked out] or do something.”

    The last document, dated August 20, 2008, first describes a meeting of activists at a local restaurant. “CHS was suppose to be called about this meeting by [blanked out] but was not.”

    It then describes “two males” who “gave a presentation at a [blanked out] conference at the University of Iowa” over the past summer. One was described as “a white male, short, approximately 5’7”, skinny, thick glasses, mullet type hair style and talked with a lisp.” The other: “a white male, 6’0”, 190 pounds, short brown hair, clean shaven.”

    The document goes into detail about those who attended an activist meeting on August 16 again at the Iowa City Public Library. One is described as a white female with a southern accent, “heavy-set, 5’5”, 200 pounds, short hair a bad complexion, and wearing a bandana.”

    At the end of the document it says: “Based upon a previous tasking, CHS provided a listing of known email addresses for members.” It proceeded to list them, though they are blotted out on the document The Progressive obtained.

    Reached by The Progressive, the FBI spokeswoman in Omaha, Sandy Breault, declined to respond to specific questions about this story.

    “Our legal counsel would not let me say anything,” she said. “Sorry, I wish I could say more.”

    Randall Wilson, legal director of the ACLU of Iowa, said his group is not currently planning on taking legal action, though he has been in contact with some of the activists.

    “We’re disappointed but not surprised,” he says. “We’re not surprised because it’s not the first time FBI has been exposed in recent years putting peace groups under surveillance. We’re disappointed because we believe the FBI has better things to do.”

    Iowa City Mayor Regenia Bailey had a similar response.

    “Yeah, it’s surprising,” she says, “but is it surprising? It’s been happening for years.” She says she’s received some correspondence from constituents about this, and one person made a public comment about it at the May 19 city council meeting.

    “I haven’t heard from my colleagues about what we’d like to do,” she says, though she did express displeasure at the spying at the city’s public library. “It is concerning,” she says.

    The activists are concerned, too, since the infiltration has corroded morale in their groups, says David Goodner.

    “There’s been a lot of effect on group unity and group cohesion,” Goodner says. “This guy was with us for a year. A lot of people thought of him as a friend. Issues of trust have been brought up. We’re trying to work through it. But it’s put a lot of people on edge. How is it going to affect their lives? Could people get fired? Some people are in custody battles for their kids and worry that their exposure could affect the outcome.”

    Dr. Susan Goodner is not amused that her son was spied upon, though it did bring back memories.

    “I was part of a campus anti-war group in Iowa City that was infiltrated by the FBI in 1970,” she says. Her reaction to the current infiltration: “It’s pretty pathetic.”

    By Matthew Rothschild, May 26, 2009

     Find this story at 26 May 2009

    Copyright 2013, The Progressive Magazine


    Bahraini Human Rights Activist Zainab Alkhawaja Freed from Prison, Father Still Behind Bars

    On Monday, Democracy Now! spoke to human rights activist Zainab Alkhawaja upon her release from prison by the Bahraini government after nearly a year behind bars. At that time she faced a return to prison pending her appearance in court today on charges of damaging police property, defacing a picture of the king and insulting a police officer. But her sister, Maryam Alkhawaja tweeted today that Zainab’s case had been postponed until March 3. Alkhawaja’s father, longtime activist Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, remains behind bars, serving a life sentence.

    The U.S.-backed monarchy is home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which is responsible for all naval forces in the Gulf. Alkhawaja’s release came on the heels of rallies marking the third anniversary of the pro-democracy protests that began on February 14, 2011. Protests against the Sunni regime have been crushed by martial law and a U.S.-backed Saudi Arabian forces. Scores of people were arrested ahead of protests on Friday, when police fired bird shot and tear gas at demonstrators. Tens of thousands of people defied the crackdown to march on Saturday.

    Watch all of Democracy Now!’s coverage of Bahrain.

    AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

    NERMEEN SHAIKH: In Bahrain, human rights activist Zainab Alkhawaja has been released after nearly a year behind bars. Her release came on the heels of rallies marking the third anniversary of the pro-democracy protests that began on February 14th, 2011. Protests against the Sunni regime have been crushed by martial law and a U.S.-backed Saudi Arabian forces. Scores of people were arrested ahead of protests on Friday, when police fired bird shot and tear gas at demonstrators. Tens of thousands of people defied the crackdown to march on Saturday.

    AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to Bahrain, where we’re joined by Zainab Alkhawaja. She’s joining us by Democracy Now! video stream. Her father, longtime activist, Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, remains behind bars, serving a life sentence. Zainab has a large following on Twitter. Her account was silenced since her arrest until her release Sunday, still featuring a hashtag that calls for the release of her father.

    Zainab, it’s great to have you back. First of all, how does it—

    ZAINAB ALKHAWAJA: It’s great to be back.

    AMY GOODMAN: How does it—how does it feel to be free?

    ZAINAB ALKHAWAJA: Wow! It feels like a dream. I keep expecting to wake up and see myself inside my cell.

    AMY GOODMAN: Talk about your time in prison. You’ve been in prison for almost a year.

    ZAINAB ALKHAWAJA: Mm-hmm. Well, what I feel about prison is that it’s a place where they try to break a person. It’s a place where you feel like you can be humiliated at any minute and on any given day. So, it can be a very stressful situation if you don’t look at the bigger picture and the cause that you’re sacrificing for.

    My time in prison was a little bit difficult. The prison in Bahrain is a very, very dirty, filthy place. Seeing cockroaches and bed bugs and all kinds of insects is a daily thing. The number of prisoners inside the prison is way too many. We have people sleeping on the ground. There’s not enough beds. The rooms are very small. We cannot move in and out of our cells a lot. And also, we had a very difficult time convincing them to let us go out and get some air and get some sunlight. So, actually, for the first six months in prison, I was not let out of the prison. So sometimes it does feel like a grave.

    But when I came out, the first thing I did say was, one year in prison is nothing. And I say that because it’s nothing compared to what we’re willing to sacrifice for our goals, for democracy in our country.

    NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Zainab Alkhawaja, you’ve described the conditions in the prison. Now, the prison you were in only housed political prisoners, is that correct?

    ZAINAB ALKHAWAJA: Oh, no, there are a lot of prisoners. We’re a minority. And I’m separated, actually, from the other political prisoners. So, the prisoners that share a cell with me and share the same ward with me are actually not political prisoners.

    NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Zainab, what do you expect will happen on Wednesday? There’s some concern that you might return to prison? And could you outline what precisely you’ve been charged with?

    ZAINAB ALKHAWAJA: Well, what happened since I was imprisoned is because they have very small cases against me. I keep getting new cases, two- to three-month sentence, two to three months. And I think this time I got out basically just on a technicality, on a glitch. And they’re just preparing the new cases against me. Tomorrow, I do have court, and my lawyer has told me that I might get arrested from court and taken back to prison. And that’s why, actually, I’ve left all my things in my cell in prison, and I’m expecting that I might have to go back tomorrow.

    AMY GOODMAN: And what are your feelings about that?

    ZAINAB ALKHAWAJA: Well, my feelings are—I mean, even coming out, I have very mixed feelings, coming out from prison. I miss my daughter a lot. This year has been very difficult being away from her. I always dream about just the smallest things—reading her a bedtime story, taking her to kindergarten, giving her a hug. You know, it’s not the same when you have to meet her once a week with police sitting next to you, watching you, hearing every word you say. But at the same time, when I came out from prison, I realized that I left a lot of people back in prison. I left half my family back in prison—my brothers, my uncles, my father, all the revolutionaries who are sacrificing for all of us before they’re sacrificing for themselves. So, we’re willing to make these sacrifices, and I’m willing to go back. And I want the government in Bahrain to realize that their prisons don’t scare us. I’m going to go to court tomorrow, and if they arrest me, that’s fine. I’ll go back to my prison cell. And we’re going to continue on this path. We started on a path, and we’re determined to continue on it until we reach our goal.

    AMY GOODMAN: What is your goal? What are you calling for?

    ZAINAB ALKHAWAJA: We’re calling for a country where every Bahraini is respected, every Bahraini is treated equally. We’re calling for a country where we feel we have rights, where we feel we have dignity, where people can’t step all over us, can’t torture and kill and get away with these things. We’re living in a country, basically, where the criminals are the most powerful people in the country, and where a lot of us actually feel proud when we’re in jail, because we know that in Bahrain, when you go to jail, it means you did something right and not wrong. It should be the other way around. It should be that people who are activists, people who are calling for rights, they should be the ones who are on the outside and working, and criminals, people who are killing, people who are torturing, they’re the ones who should be in jail. But it’s all the other way around. But at the same time, I say that in Bahrain I do not feel pity for all those people who are in prison, all the injured protesters. I feel proud when I see them. I feel pity for our oppressors, because what they do is breaking them inside. We’re not broken. We sacrifice, but we feel proud, and we hold our heads up high.

    NERMEEN SHAIKH: Zainab, how do you respond to criticism of the anti-government movement that claims that it’s being funded exclusively by Iran in an attempt to make the region more Shia-sympathetic? Just today in The New York Times there’s an op-ed by someone called Sarah Bin Ashoor titled “Bahrain’s Hijacked Reform Efforts,” which makes exactly that claim. Do you see this struggle as a sectarian one?

    ZAINAB ALKHAWAJA: Definitely, definitely not. I mean, in Bahrain, Sunnis and Shias have lived side by side for generations. There’s intermarriage. We have—like, all friends are Sunnis and Shia, and we usually can’t even tell each other apart. The people who are trying to make it into a sectarian thing is the government. They’re the ones who are really trying, putting all their effort into making it a sectarian thing. Another thing is that Bahrainis are very proud Arabs. We have nothing to do with Iran. We started this revolution calling for our rights. I mean, we’ve lived under the same monarchy for more than 200 years. It’s actually—it’s really strange that nothing has happened before. This revolution is long overdue. People are supposed to stand up and call for their rights. It’s the 21st century. Everywhere we go, we see democracy, we see freedom, in other countries. We see civil liberties. And over here, we’re supposed to keep quiet just so that nobody accuses us of doing something just because we’re Shia. I think it makes a whole lot of sense what’s happening in Bahrain. We’re inspired by—we were inspired by what happened in Egypt, and we consider our Egyptian brothers our brothers. And they started this, and the Tunisians, and we’re doing the exact same thing. We’re calling for our rights. We’re calling for a country where we can live freely and with our dignity. This has nothing to do with Shia and Sunni. We want these rights for all Bahrainis, whether they are Shia or Sunni.

    AMY GOODMAN: Zainab, I want to ask you about Bahrain practice of jailing some of the children who have been at protests. Last month, Bahrain’s juvenile court ordered the release of 10-year-old Jehad Nabeel AlSameea and 13-year-old Abdulla Yusuf AlBahrani, who were arrested for throwing stones at police during a demonstration outside the capital. Zainab, your sister, Maryam Alkhawaja, tweeted a photo of two more young boys, Hussain Jameel and Mohammed Alshofa, who were arrested Saturday in Salmabad.

    ZAINAB ALKHAWAJA: The government in Bahrain is actually trying to punish everybody for this revolution that has happened, this uprising that has happened in Bahrain. They do not differentiate between children and grown-ups, men and women, activists and otherwise. To them, everyone just needs to be controlled and to be put in a state of fear. Throughout these three years, we’ve seen a lot of this. We’ve seen a lot of children being beaten, being tortured, being imprisoned. We’ve seen children in courts who did not even understand what their crime was, who did not even understand what the judge was saying. This is one of the things that actually really hurts us when we see that. We don’t want the children to suffer. We, as human rights activists, want there to be some kind of protection. But as you know, in countries like ours, in dictatorships, sometimes there’s no differentiation at all. I mean, if even doctors get punished for treating people, children get punished for going on the street. And, I mean, it’s only—a lot of these children who are going on the streets are children of detainees, are children of martyrs, people who were killed during clashes. And you can understand why they would be angry. But I could never understand why the government would target children in their—in trying to just achieve this crackdown on the people of Bahrain.

    NERMEEN SHAIKH: Zainab, what do you see is the role of Saudi Arabia in this conflict? And what do you think the U.S. should be doing?

    ZAINAB ALKHAWAJA: Well, one of our biggest problems here in Bahrain is Saudi Arabia, because sometimes it feels like we’re not just trying to rise up against the al-Khalifa regime here, but the small population of Bahrain is trying to rise up against the Gulf states with all their dictators. And this is what makes it very difficult. Even though the Bahraini people are united, even though they’re rising in very big numbers, but the Saudis are standing very strong behind the al-Khalifa regime, supporting them in all they do. And, actually, the Americans are doing the same thing. The American government is doing the same thing and supporting the Bahraini regime, despite all what’s happening, despite all the evidence that’s going out on a daily basis from Bahrain about the mistreatment, about the human rights conditions, about the, I think, now almost 3,000 political prisoners in Bahraini prisons. And still, the American administration are standing beside the Bahraini government and supporting them and considering them allies.

    AMY GOODMAN: Zainab, talk about your father, Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, who is in prison. He has a life sentence now?

    ZAINAB ALKHAWAJA: Yes. My father is sentenced to life in prison. He has now been in prison for almost three years. My father is my rock. He’s one of the strongest persons I have ever known. I have never seen him weak. After three years in prison, he’s as strong as ever. And my father has always been my role model. He’s been a human rights activist for almost all his life. He has been trying to do something not only for our country, but for the region, as well. He had been, before the revolution, been going from country to country throughout the Arab world training people on human rights, on how to write reports about human rights abuses. My father tries to put seeds in the ground, so that some day those seeds would grow into something that would benefit our region and our world. And I really believe in his work. He has been working very hard for the past maybe—more than 20 years. It’s not something that he started doing today and yesterday.

    And this is why he’s one of the people that the government has been targeting for a long time and has used this situation now to just give him a life sentence, put him behind bars, so they could silence him. My father is one of the most outspoken people in the country talking about what’s happening here, about conditions here. So, putting him behind bars, I think the only reason for that is to silence him, like they’ve done with other activists, like Nabeel Rajab, for example. They’re behind bars so that there’s no one to represent the people of Bahrain.

    But I think what makes us proud is, even though almost all human rights activists are either out of the country or in jail, even though a lot of the civil society leaders are in prison, a lot of the activists are in prison, still the Bahraini people go out, and they protest, and they demand their rights, which is very difficult. When you’re standing there with activists, you know that there’s someone covering what you’re doing, someone there who might try to protect you. But even without this protection, on this past February 14, we saw very, very big numbers of people go into the streets, still making the same demands, showing that they’re not backing down.

    NERMEEN SHAIKH: And what are the prospects, Zainab, for any kind of change in Bahrain? What is the state of negotiations between opposition groups and the government? And what prospects do these political prisoners—3,000, you said, including many of your family members—have of being released or having their jail sentences diminished?

    ZAINAB ALKHAWAJA: Well, here’s the thing. Prison can be difficult. Actually, it is very difficult. And a lot of people, they want to get out of prison. They want to go to their families. But this is not the end goal. We don’t just want to get out of the small prison into the bigger prison we call Bahrain. Bahrain is a big prison for us. A lot of Bahrainis don’t feel safe until they’re on a plane heading outside of their country, because here in this country you might be arrested on any day. You might get beaten up on any day. So, as a Bahraini, you do not feel safe. So, our end goal—a lot of prisoners say this. They say, “We don’t want to just get out of prison. After three years of suffering, of giving, of doing as much as we can, we want real results. We want democracy. We want to be represented. We want rights.”

    And I think that’s why if the government tries to solve the situation just by releasing some political prisoners, that’s not going to be the real solution. The government must give up some of the power and control that they have. And, I mean, the people of Bahrain, they want ultimately to have a full democracy. They want a country where they can vote for a president. The al-Khalifa regime is a regime that has been forced on the people of Bahrain. The al-Khalifa regime is just—is a hereditary regime, and we have no choice in who’s ruling this country. And I think this is one of the biggest problems. This is not something that the people here accept.

    AMY GOODMAN: Zainab, we’ve talked about Iran, about Saudi Arabia, about, you know, Bahrain itself. What about the United States, a major force? It has the Fifth Fleet there. What is the role of the United States with the Bahraini monarchy?

    ZAINAB ALKHAWAJA: I mean, my sister Maryam has been going to the States, meeting with officials, trying to speak to them about the situation here, about what the people of Bahrain are going through. And I think the conclusion she reached is she’s lost a lot of hope in them. She says, “I haven’t lost hope in humanity, but I have lost hope in the foreign governments, who tend to speak a lot about human rights and about democracy, but when you come on the ground, you see them taking the side of the dictators, especially in Bahrain.” And they do that for self-interest. They have to make a choice. I’ve been saying that since the beginning of the revolution. You either stand with the people who want democracy, who want freedom, and you try to protect them, or at least you stop supporting the dictators and the oppressors who are torturing them, who are killing them, just so that they can remain in power.

    America, unfortunately, in Bahrain has a very, very bad name. They have a very bad reputation. They stand by the regime. They sell them weapons. They stand aside and watch what’s happening to the people of Bahrain. And I think maybe a lot of people here did have hope in the beginning that the Americans would stand with freedom and justice and human rights and all those things that they talk about a lot, that the American presidents always talk about, but unfortunately now I think that no one has that hope anymore. They see that America only acts upon their—what they think is their interest in Bahrain.

    NERMEEN SHAIKH: But what interests of the U.S. are served by supporting the al-Khalifa regime in Bahrain?

    ZAINAB ALKHAWAJA: Of course, as you said, the Fifth Fleet is a big part of this. And the relationship between the U.S. and the al-Saud regime, they want to be on their good side, I guess. So, a lot of things together just, they—I guess they don’t see how supporting human rights in Bahrain is going to do them any good. And that’s not how the government of America should be thinking. If they feel like they represent freedom and democracy, they should be thinking first about the people and about the freedom that they’re demanding, about the democracy that they’re demanding, not thinking first about how their interest in the region is served by supporting dictators.

    AMY GOODMAN: Zainab, if you are not sent back to prison, will you stay in Bahrain or leave?

    ZAINAB ALKHAWAJA: I will stay in Bahrain. I was born in exile. I lived in exile most of my life. The first time I saw my country, I was a 17-year-old. And I love my country so dearly. I prefer prison to exile. I prefer, you know, living with a daily risk of injury, of getting arrested, all those things, rather than leaving my country. I’m staying here alongside my people, and I’m going to fight with them for as long as it takes. And I’m going to risk—I’m going to take the risk just as they do. I don’t think that I can leave my country. It’s very difficult.

    NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Zainab, very quickly, before we conclude, could you talk about the significance of the terrorism law in Bahrain, when it was introduced and how it’s been used to prosecute protesters and those involved in the demonstrations?

    ZAINAB ALKHAWAJA: Well, in a lot of countries in the region, not just Bahrain, the terrorism law and the terrorism, just the word itself, has been used so much to punish people who are justly calling for their rights. And a lot of times—and there’s obviously no proof. And as you know, the justice system here in Bahrain—I mean, there’s no real courts. They just keep using the courts and the justice system to just punish activists. So this word “terrorism” is being thrown all over the place, even though the revolution in Bahrain is one of the most peaceful revolutions. People go out on a daily basis with nothing in their hands. All they do is shout slogans. And yet, they are being sent to prison. One of those people is my father and the rest of the leaders who are with him in prison right now. They call for human rights. They teach people how to go out and demand those rights. And then suddenly they’re in prison for charges that have to do with terrorism or trying to overthrow the regime, which they consider as terrorism. In this day and age, everybody should know that trying to change a regime is a people’s right. It’s not considered terrorism. But I guess they’re using what’s happening in the world—fear, the fear that people have of terrorism—they’re using that word to—as an excuse to punish people who are calling for their just demands.

    AMY GOODMAN: Zainab, how many members of your family are in prison?

    ZAINAB ALKHAWAJA: Right now, my father and my uncle are in prison.

    Zainab Alkhawaja, a pro-democracy activist in Bahrain who was just released from jail after nearly a year behind bars. Her father, prominent human rights activist Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, remains imprisoned, serving a life sentence.

    February 19, 2014

    Find this story at 19 February 2014

    Did an undercover cop help organise a major riot?

    The wrongly convicted activist John Jordan claims the Met helped plan serious civil disorder. An independent public inquiry is now vital

    From the Stephen Lawrence inquiry we learned that the police were institutionally racist. Can it be long before we learn that they are also institutionally corrupt? Almost every month the undercover policing scandal becomes wider and deeper. Today I can reveal a new twist, which in some respects could be the gravest episode yet. It surely makes the case for an independent public inquiry – which is already overwhelming – unarguable.

    Before I explain it, here’s a summary of what we know already. Thanks to the remarkable investigations pursued first by the victims of police spies and then by the Guardian journalists Rob Evans and Paul Lewis (whose book Undercover is as gripping as any thriller), we know that British police have been inserting undercover officers into protest movements since 1968. Their purpose was to counter what they called subversion or domestic extremism, which they define as seeking to “prevent something from happening or to change legislation or domestic policy … outside the normal democratic process”. Which is a good description of how almost all progressive change happens.

    Most of the groups whose infiltration has now been exposed were non-violent. Among them were the British campaign against apartheid in South Africa, the protest movements against climate change, people seeking to expose police corruption and the campaign for justice for the murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence. Undercover officers, often using the stolen identities of dead children, worked their way into key positions and helped to organise demonstrations. Several started long-term relationships with the people they spied on. At least two fathered children with them.

    Some officers illegally used their false identities in court. Some acted as agents provocateurs. Seldom did they appear to be operating in the wider interests of society. They collected intelligence on trade unionists that was passed to an agency which compiled unlawful blacklists for construction companies, ensuring that those people could not find work. The policeman who infiltrated the Stephen Lawrence campaign was instructed by his superiors to “hunt for disinformation” about the family and their supporters that could be used to undermine them. When their tour of duty was over, the police abandoned their partners and their assumed identities and disappeared, leaving a trail of broken lives. As the unofficial motto of the original undercover squad stated, it would operate By Any Means Necessary.

    The revelations so far have led to 56 people having their cases or convictions overturned, after police and prosecutors failed to disclose that officers had helped to plan and execute the protests for which people were being prosecuted. But we know the names of only 11 spies, out of 100-150, working for 46 years. Thousands of people might have been falsely prosecuted.

    So far there have been 15 official inquiries and investigations. They seem to have served only to delay and distract. The report by Sir Christopher Rose into the false convictions of a group of climate change protesters concluded that failures by police and prosecutors to disclose essential information to the defence “were individual, not systemic” and that “nothing that I have seen or heard suggests that … there was any deliberate, still less dishonest, withholding of information”. Now, after an almost identical case involving another group of climate activists, during which the judge remarked that there had been “a complete and total failure” to disclose evidence, Rose’s findings look incredible.

    The biggest inquiry still running, Operation Herne, is investigating alleged misconduct by the Metropolitan police. Of its 44 staff, 75% work for, er, the Metropolitan police. Its only decisive action so far has been to seek evidence for a prosecution under the Official Secrets Act of Peter Francis, the police whistleblower who has revealed key elements of this story. This looks like an attempt to discourage him from testifying, and to prevent other officers from coming forward.

    Bad enough? You haven’t heard the half of it. Last week, the activist John Jordan was told his conviction (for occupying the offices of London Transport) would be overturned. The Crown Prosecution Service refuses to reveal why, but it doubtless has something to do with the fact that one of Jordan’s co-defendants turns out to have been Jim Boyling, a secret policeman working for the Met, who allegedly used his false identity in court.

    Jordan has now made a further claim. He alleges that the same man helped organise a street party that went wrong and turned into the worst riot in London since the poll tax demonstrations. The J18 Carnival Against Global Capitalism on 18 June 1999 went well beyond non-violent protest. According to the police, 42 people were injured and over £1m of damage was done. One building was singled out: the London International Financial Futures Exchange (Liffe), where derivatives were traded. Though protesters entered the building at 1.40pm, the police did not arrive until 4.15pm.

    After furious recriminations from the Lord Mayor and the people who ran the Liffe building, the City of London police conducted an inquiry. It admitted that their criticisms were justified, and that the police’s performance was “highly unsatisfactory”. The problem, it claimed, was that the police had no information about what the targets and plans of the protesters would be, and had no idea that Liffe was in the frame. The riot was “unforeseen”.

    Jordan was a member of “the logistics group that organised the tactics for J18. There were about 10 of us in the group and we met weekly for over six months.” Among the other members, he says, was Boyling. “The 10 of us … were the only people who knew the whole plan before the day itself and who had decided that the main target would be Liffe.” Boyling, he alleges, drove one of the two cars that were used to block the road to the building.

    It is hard to think of a more serious allegation. For six months an undercover officer working for the Metropolitan police was instrumental in planning a major demonstration, which ended up causing injuries and serious damage to property. Yet the police appear to have failed to pass this intelligence to the City of London force, leaving the target of the protest unprotected.

    Still no need for an independent public inquiry? Really?

    A fully referenced version of this article can be found at Monbiot.com

    George Monbiot
    The Guardian, Monday 3 February 2014 20.30 GMT

    Find this story at 3 February 2014

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