Privacy SOS

A modest proposal: Stop spying on dissidents and invest “homeland security” money in climate change response

Flooding in Massachusetts during Hurricane Sandy. Image: The Birkes.

While Boston Police officials were expending significant resources and employee hours monitoring the every waking move of anyone even remotely affiliated with Occupy Boston in the fall and winter of 2011-2012, these so-called “terrorism” professionals were completely unaware that the FBI had investigated Tamerlan Tsarnaev, a man officials later found was likely involved in a gruesome triple murder in Waltham on September 11, 2011. It’s hard not to wonder if officials might have paid more attention to those “dots” had they not been so obsessed with monitoring the peaceful activities of dissidents upset with the status quo.

After all, officials at the fusion center had access to the FBI’s e-Guardian database, where information is uploaded about everyone the FBI investigates. Had officials bothered to check that database, they might have found that the best friend of three people killed on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 had been investigated by the Feds after Russian intelligence informed them he was a suspected terrorist. But that takes actual investigative work—something the BRIC likely didn’t have time for, given the amount of energy its officials were investing in spying on Bill McKibben, Noam Chomsky, and the ACLU of Massachusetts, among thousands of other people and organizations advocating for social and political change.

In light of the evidence that fusion centers don’t do squat to keep our communities safe from terrorism, but have been shown to routinely violate our rights, we should either shut them down or put them to good use. One good option would be to turn them into climate change emergency response and planning centers.

Climate change will affect every single person in the state of Massachusetts and in the City of Boston, the downtown area of which is at severe risk of being washed out to sea within the next 100 years. Our city is unquestionably going to suffer disastrous floods and other climate change related crises as the ocean levels and temperatures rise. Unlike Occupy Boston, climate collapse is a grave threat to human life on planet earth as we know it.

Instead of allowing fusion centers to spy on activists who are fighting to stop climate change, or throwing away the hundreds of millions of dollars our government has already invested in the institutions, we should transform them to deal with the most pressing threat to human life in the 21st century. The computers, mapping systems, and offices are already paid for and well established. We should take them from the so-called “terrorism” analysts, who have been spending thousands of hours investigating dissidents instead of terrorists, and hand them over to city planners, scientists, engineers, food security experts, and emergency response coordinators.

In light of yet more evidence that fusion centers do more harm than good, let’s put the BRIC to positive use by turning it into a world class, cutting-edge climate response institution. Maybe officials can invite Bill McKibben, once a target of BRIC spying, to give the inaugural lecture.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.