Privacy SOS

Alex Jones “9/11 Truth” sticker sets off “suspicious activity” alarm in Maryland

Independent journalist Brian Hill has posted what appear to be law enforcement emails describing a "suspicious activity" in a Baltimore courthouse. The documents, apparently retrieved through a public records request, describe something suspicious initially identified by a worker at the courthouse, information which was then presumably passed on to some kind of law enforcement agency. Identifying information revealing who sent and received the email is redacted, so we aren't sure exactly which agencies are involved, apart from one.

You may want to sit down. This is terrifying stuff.

Please see the attached photo reflecting a 9-11 sticker propaganda, which found by cleaning personnel. The sticker was applied on a mirror, inside a restroom, 2nd floor of mitchell courthouse, Baltimore City Circuit Court.
Could you please let me know if I&A [Intelligence & Analysis], SLPO [State and Local Program Management Office] and other LE/IC [Law Enforcement/Intelligence Community] partners have reported similar activities? The sticker reads the following:
9-11 Was an
Inside Job
Learn the truth at
I called the MCAC [Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center — the Maryland surveillance or "fusion center"] and spoke with REDACTED and no trends as indicated above have been reported.
I am going to stand by on the removal of the sticker until I hear from you.
Thank you,

STOP THE PRESSES. Someone put a "9/11 Truth" sticker in a bathroom in a court house. Before you stop reading this to rag on the Department of Homeland Security SARs program (or start to cry, depending on how you're feeling), let's see how the unnamed officials respond to this shocking report. The original email is forwarded once, with the forwarding message entirely redacted. It's then forwarded again. Finally someone responds to the original sender:

This is a promotional sticker from REDACTED  Prison Planet and
Infowars: He's a conspiracy theorist from back in the late nineties that gets some airplay from REDACTED  but no one else takes him seriously. He believes that there's a cabal of secret global elites that control the government through secret societies like Skull and Bones, Bohemian Grove, Masons, etc.
No big deal, the unnamed analyst seems to say; it's just Alex Jones, don't worry about it. But that doesn't seem to be the message that the person who initially inquired was looking for. This first author writes back, in the final email in the chain:
Thank you very much for your quick response and REDACTED always insightful knowledge. Also, I would like to thank REDACTED for his MCAC stand-by participation on this issue.
REDACTED – If possible, I would like to have REDACTED response drafted into a formal summary, to be disseminated via MCAC Watch to our LE-IC Partners for future informational awareness on similar incidents.
Could you please inform me on this request and what I could do to facilitate, if anything.
Thank very much in advance. Respectfully,

Rest easy, those who tremble before Alex Jones: The incredibly important public safety message warning law enforcement and the intelligence community of the placement of a "9/11 Truth" sticker in a bathroom stall in a Baltimore courthouse has likely gone forth, issued via a "formal summary, to be disseminated" via the Maryland state "fusion" center to their law enforcement/intelligence community partners — just in case someone puts one of those stickers up in a bathroom stall in some other unsuspecting courthouse. If that happens, investigators will be able to "connect the dots", revealing…a bunch of people who put stickers in bathrooms in different cities?

Snark aside, the document is a perfect example of how costly and often ridiculous is the "suspicious activity reporting" program — a project which manages to waste our money, infringe on our freedom and insult our intelligence. Does DHS really think that people in the US are so foolish that we would not report truly suspicious stuff to the police? Should law enforcement and intelligence community officials be spending their time looking into utterly harmless — if unpopular — stickers placed in restrooms? 

What's the matter with SARs?

One of the lesser discussed aspects of the TrapWire corporation is its role as a manager and processor of "threat information" coming from SARs in cities nationwide, but these programs are principally managed through "fusion centers" like the MCAC in Maryland.

The suspicious activity reporting program has long come under fire from civil libertarians and people concerned about appropriate deployments of police resources for two major reasons: First, because the program doesn't work to prevent crime; and second, because it often ends up serving as official cover for racial profiling, a.k.a. reporting brown people or people who are perceived to be Muslim to the police for no good reason.

The SARs program — touted by DHS secretary Janet Napolitano, the NYPD, the Boston MBTA police, and even private organizations like the NFL — encourages people in the United States to be afraid of and hostile to their neighbors and fellow travelers — never a good idea in a democratic society. (Nonetheless, to our credit, people in the US seem to be largely immune to the little brother spying project. DHS is bummed to report that people are insufficiently afraid of their neighbors.)

DHS spent hundreds of millions of dollars building "fusion" spy centers all over the country, to enable local officials to "develop[] partnerships and help[] facilitate the two-way flow of timely and accurate information authorized by law on all types of hazards." One of their many roles is as processor of "suspicious activity reports" culled from businesses, local police and ordinary (if suspicious) people.

Maryland law enforcement and the First Amendment

The "9/11 Truth" sticker fracas should be understood in light of Maryland law enforcement's less than stellar record regarding abiding the speech and association rights of residents.

In 2008, the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center (MCAC) was embroiled in a scandal involving the State Police spying on a wide variety of activists and groups dating back to at least 2005. From a report on "fusion centers" put together by the ACLU:

According to documents released in response to an ACLU lawsuit, the Maryland State Police (MSP) used undercover officers to spy on non-violent peace activists and anti-death penalty groups. The undercover agents consistently reported that the activists acted legally at all times, yet the investigations continued for over 14 months. Information about the groups’ political activities gathered during the investigations “was shared with seven different agencies, including the National Security Agency and an un-named military intelligence official.” A longtime peace activist who was an apparent target of the surveillance, Max Obuszewski, had his identifying information entered into a federal database under the “primary crime” heading of “Terrorism—anti-government,” even though absolutely no violent activity was even alleged in the reports. The information was uploaded into a federal drug task force database that is accessible by the Maryland fusion center, the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center (MCAC).
We do not know whether the MCAC was aware of these MSP investigations or whether the “intelligence” the MSP gathered was shared through the fusion process, but fusion centers are clearly intended to be the central focal point for sharing terrorism-related information. If the MCAC was not aware of the information the state police collected over the 14 months of this supposed terrorism investigation, this fact would call into question whether the MCAC is accomplishing its mission. If the MCAC takes in information from its participating members, however, the fusion center itself should be responsible for determining whether the “intelligence” it receives is being appropriately collected. It can do that by, for example, enforcing strict guidelines and conditions of participation on its sources and participants.  
First they came for the anti-death penalty activists, then for the Alex Jones groupies?

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.