Privacy SOS

Documents show Boston’s “antiterrorism” fusion center obsessively documented Occupy Boston

The remains of the Occupy Boston camp at Dewey Square, after the final police raid.

On Friday, the New York Times published a story about Department of Homeland Security funded fusion center spying, based on documents obtained by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund. Fusion centers, set up after 9/11 to help state, local, and federal law enforcement officials “connect the dots” in “counterterrorism” investigations, have long been criticized by both civil liberties groups and members of congress as wasteful, duplicative of other federal information sharing efforts, and violative of civil liberties. In 2012, the ACLU of Massachusetts published a report, “Policing Dissent,” based off documents we obtained from the Boston fusion center, the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC). Those documents revealed the BRIC was engaged in extensive monitoring of peaceful dissidents, labeling antiwar groups like Veterans for Peace “EXTREMISTS” and homeland security threats.

Newly revealed documents show that the so-called “intelligence reports” we obtained about Veterans for Peace, Codepink, and other anti-war organizations in Boston were just the tip of the iceberg. The BRIC, it appears, was positively obsessed with Occupy Boston. In response to public records requests from the Partnership for Civil Justice Funds, the so-called “antiterrorism” center released 1,212 pages of reports detailing the happenings at and related to Dewey Square, where activists set up camp. The documents reveal that the extensive political spying was sanctioned at the very top of the chain of command; the reports say questions or comments about the information contained therein should be directed to the director of the fusion center, David Carabin. The records also reveal that BRIC was spying on Occupy Boston weeks after the encampment at Dewey Square was raided and dispersed by police in December 2011. The last “Situational Awareness” bulletin from BRIC about Occupy is dated January 5, 2012.

The BRIC will continue to assess publicly- available open source information relative to events and actions that Occupy Boston has planned in the interest of public safety planning considerations; however, the BRIC will only disseminate products relative to Occupy Boston on an as needed basis. Law enforcement and private sector security personnel are encouraged to review the main Occupy Boston website (www.occupyboston.org) for scheduling updates.

Homeland security terrorist threats: yoga, economic theory lectures, public concerts

Nothing at Occupy Boston was too small or insignificant to note in these records, including yoga classes, religious ceremonies, educational lectures, and musical performances. The “intelligence analysts” who crafted the reports would sometimes make numerous updates daily, pushing out the detailed dossiers to unknown numbers of officials at unknown locations state- and nationwide. Attendance at Occupy related events was carefully noted, with officials checking the Facebook events pages of performances, meetings, and lectures sometimes multiple times per day, and adjusting the intelligence dossiers accordingly. It appears as if thousands of hours of law enforcement time was spent keeping detailed records of who attended what performance, and which organizations and people were building coalitions to take on issues like police brutality and economic injustice.

The BRIC surveillance specialists seemed to be particularly interested in nascent coalitions developing among black and brown residents of Dorchester and Roxbury and students from Tufts University and Boston University, through an effort called Occupy the Hood.

Tufts students are organizing a group to go to Dudley Square to show support for the Occupy the Hood occurring at 6:00 PM in Dudley Square. The students are planning to depart Tufts at 4:30 PM. As of 4:00 PM on 21 October 2011, 44 people are listed as attending and 11 listed as maybes on the Facebook event page. On BU Occupies Boston Facebook page, one person posted: “Heading down to Dewey to march to Dudley: Meet at March Plaza 4:15”. This may indicate that other schools that have participated in OB will march with OB or go directly to Occupy the Hood to show their support.

Expansive monitoring of dissent as "crowd control"?

At the top of many of the BRIC documents on Occupy Boston, called “BRIC HLS Bulletins”—presumably HLS stands for “homeland security”—is the following disclaimer:

(U//FOUO) It should be noted that some of this information describes first amendment protected activities. The BRIC recognizes that Americans have constitutionally protected rights to assemble, speak, and petition the government. The BRIC safeguards these rights and only reports on first amendment protected activities for operational planning in the interest of assuring the safety and security of the demonstrators and the public.

Another early “Situational Awareness” bulletin includes this disclaimer:

The following information is being provided for awareness due to the potential for these events to result in increased crowds or traffic conditions.

But the vast majority of activities described in the documents have nothing to do with increased crowds or traffic conditions. Indeed, many of the events the BPD officers kept tabs on did not even take place outside, at Dewey Square, or in the City of Boston. Even though BRIC surveillance specialists claim they are only providing information to other officers to contend with public safety issues like traffic and crowds, the officials dedicated significant resources to spying on and documenting the First Amendment protected speech and activity of small groups of people, many of whom met far from Occupy Boston and on private property. For example, officials extensively monitored the activities of Tufts students who planned meetings on Tufts campus, indoors. Tufts’ campus is in Medford, outside Boston’s city limits.

Despite its silly disclaimer, BRIC’s extensive spying on legal political activity violates not only the spirit of the Bill of Rights, but also likely the letter of the law. As a federally-funded entity, the BRIC is required to adhere to the Code of Federal Regulations. As we wrote in our 2012 report, 28 C.F.R. § 23.20(a) states that federally-funded surveillance projects may collect and maintain information on individuals “only if there is reasonable suspicion that the individual is involved in criminal conduct or activity and the information is relevant to that criminal conduct or activity.” In the 1,212 pages of documents about Occupy Boston activists, visitors, and organizing, there is scant mention of actual criminal activity. The spying therefore also violates the BRIC's own internal guidelines, which state that analysts should investigate crimes, not speech.

On its website, the BRIC claims it “performs and coordinates regional homeland security protection and response missions through investigative and analytical activities.” These activities are “vital to the Region’s ability to identify and interdict terrorist operations,” the website states. In the 1,212 pages of BRIC documents there is not one allegation that anyone at or affiliated with Occupy Boston had anything to do with terrorism or alleged terrorism. The ACLU of Massachusetts is mentioned twice, however.

When we exposed the BRIC’s collection and retention of so-called “intelligence” files about Veterans for Peace, Codepink, and other Boston peace activists back in 2012, the Boston Police Department told the press that the spying and retention of documents was the result of a "computer glitch."

These newly released documents confirm what we’ve long suspected. The bug is a feature.

© 2018 ACLU of Massachusetts.